How to use card rewards, points, miles to make traveling with kids easier

From family boarding to free dinners and point pooling, these perks will help your travel with your family stress-free

Rebecca Lake
Personal Finance Writer
Making complex credit topics simple

Traveling with kids: Credit card rewards tips

The content on this page is accurate as of the posting date. Please review our list of best credit cards, or use our CardMatch tool to find cards matched to your needs.

Traveling with children in tow isn’t always a picnic.

The good news is that whether you’re flying with children or taking a road trip, rewards credit cards and travel loyalty programs can pack family-friendly benefits for your next trip.

The key is knowing how to find and take advantage of them.

“It can be tough to find airline and hotel loyalty programs that favor families,” says Barry Kirk, vice president of loyalty at Maritz Motivation Solutions, a designer of loyalty, incentive and engagement solutions for businesses.

Kirk says travel loyalty programs tend to cater to business travelers who make dozens of trips per year. “By comparison, families might travel once or twice a year, making them a far less attractive target.”

To make planning your next trip easier, here’s a rundown of the best travel rewards credit card and loyalty program perks to look for when traveling with your brood.

See related: 5 money-saving credit card tips for savvy family travelers

Traveling with kids: A 9-set rewards guide

  1. Start with your flight: Use frequent flyer programs to reap perks.
  2. Enroll your children in frequent flyer programs, too.
  3. Take advantage of family boarding.
  4. Pool, share points with your family.
  5. Get priority access through airport security.
  6. Check in to family benefits at your hotel.
  7. Consider a hotel card to earn free nights.
  8. Don't forget about rental car rewards.
  9. Stack card and loyalty program rewards.

1. Start with your flight

Your airline’s frequent flyer program might be the ticket to a free seat.

“The big thing to look for in airline programs is the companion pass,” says Kirk. “Southwest Airlines has probably the best offer, with companion passes available after you earn 110,000 points within one year. That can save you a lot if you and your spouse are both members and both achieve the benefit, since you can get two children on board for free.”

Not all airlines, however, offer companion passes, he says. In some cases, this perk is only available when you sign up for a co-branded credit card.

The Delta Reserve Card from American Express, for example, offers one free companion ticket annually. This card has a $450 annual fee, so you’d have to think carefully about whether it’s worth it to get a free fare.

You don’t necessarily need to have a co-branded credit card to earn a companion pass with Southwest, but it could put you on the fast track to snagging one.

See related: Rewards card companion fares, passes cut cost of travel

2. Enroll your children in frequent flyer programs, too

Kirk says if you’re enrolling in an airline’s loyalty program to remember to sign your children up as well, so they earn points or miles on their tickets.

“Most programs require that a passenger be enrolled before points can be earned for their ticket,” he says.

You may need to set up an email address to enroll your child, but it can be worth the few minutes it takes to earn additional travel rewards.

"The big thing to look for in airline programs is the companion pass."

3. Take advantage of family boarding

Family boarding is another must-have benefit when traveling with children.

“Southwest allows family boarding if you have a child aged 6 or under to allow you to easily sit together,” says Dan Miller, founder of travel blog Points With a Crew.

Frontier Airlines has a similar policy. Families board directly after Zone 1/priority passengers. Frontier also offers other family-oriented benefits, such as flexible booking, pre-assigned seating and a special membership program that offers discounts on tickets.

  • If you sign up for the Frontier Airlines World Mastercard, you can earn 5 miles per dollar on purchases at flyfrontier.com, plus get a $100 flight voucher annually when you charge $2,500 or more to your card.
  • Those miles can help you earn free travel for future family trips.

4. Pool, share family points

While not necessarily kid-specific, point or mile pooling is another frequent flyer program benefit that could come in handy for family travel.

“JetBlue allows for its TrueBlue points to be pooled among family members free of charge,” says Kirk. Frontier also permits pooling of myFrontier miles.

Other U.S. airlines that let you pool miles include Hawaiian Airlines and Sun Country Airlines.

See related: Sharing points: These credit card rewards programs allow it

5. Get priority access through airport security

Streamlined screening can help you get through airport checkpoints in less time.

“One of the best ways to breeze through the airport and start that hard-earned family vacation faster is by enrolling in TSA Precheck or Global Entry,” says a Capital One representative. “And it’s never been easier to get reimbursed by your credit card company for these benefits.”

  • Children under 12 traveling with you can use the designated TSA Pre lanes if you have TSA Precheck. 
  • If your children are 12 years old or older, consider enrolling them in TSA Precheck, too.
  • The number of credit cards offering TSA Precheck or Global Entry credits continues to grow. 
  • These days, not only premium cards such as Chase Sapphire Reserve, include them.

Capital One Venture Rewards Card members ($95 annual fee, waived the first year) can now get up to $100 back when they pay application fees for either program with their card. This is issued as a one-time statement credit and members are eligible for this benefit every five years.

The United Explorer Card from Chase ($95 annual fee, waived the first year) also recently began offering TSA Precheck/Global Entry credits, too.

"One of the best ways to breeze through the airport and start that hard-earned family vacation faster is by enrolling in TSA Precheck or Global Entry."

6. Check in to family benefits at your hotel

Your choice of hotel matters in setting the tone for a family trip.

Miller prefers hotel chains that offer suites, which more easily accommodate his family of eight.

He regularly books with Residence Inn, Homewood Suites and Staybridge Suites to get a larger room. These chains come with the added bonus of free dinner, which also helps cut down on costs.

  • When looking for a hotel loyalty program, look for perks that will make traveling with children a more pleasant experience.
  • These may include: online check-in, free breakfast and points pooling.
  • Checking in online via the hotel loyalty program’s app lets you skip the front desk and take children straight to your room on arrival. 
  • Hotel programs that offer online check-in include Hilton Honors and Marriott Rewards.
  • Free breakfast at the hotel saves you the time and expense of shuffling children to a restaurant first thing in the morning. 
  • It’s a perk that’s included for Diamond Status Hilton Honors members, Gold and Platinum Elite Marriott Rewards members, and Radisson Rewards members.

See related: Hilton Honors guide: The best way to earn and use Hilton Honors points

7. Consider a hotel card to earn free nights

Points pooling can make it easier to book free nights if extended family is coming along for the trip. In addition to Hilton Honors and Marriott Rewards, World of Hyatt, Ritz-Carlton Rewards and IHG Rewards allow points pooling.

  • Each of these programs also offers a co-branded credit card, allowing you to stack rewards by earning them with your card and through the loyalty program. 
  • The IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card offers 10 points per dollar spent at IHG hotels. 
  • The Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card is even more generous, offering 12 points per dollar spent at eligible Hilton resorts and hotels.

Miller says families shouldn’t overlook the value of earning free stays with their credit card. He recommends Citi Prestige, which gives you the fourth night free on most hotel stays when you book through the ThankYou Travel Center.

Both the Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card and IHG Rewards Club Premier also give you a fourth or fifth night free.

Co-branded hotel cards can also help you earn free nights on family travel if they offer a large introductory bonus.

Sign-up bonuses are going to be where you’ll get your biggest bang for your buck, says Miller. “I always recommend to people to first figure out where they want to go and only then sign up for the cards that can help them get there.”

See related: Maximizing card rewards after you've earned the sign-up bonus

"I always recommend to people to first figure out where they want to go and only then sign up for the cards that can help them get there."

8. Don’t forget about rental car rewards

Loyalty rewards don’t stop at airlines or hotels. Several rental car companies also offer loyalty programs you can take advantage of when you’re hitting the road with the family.

  • Hertz Gold Plus Rewards, Avis Preferred, Enterprise Plus and National Emerald Club are just some of the programs you can join, depending on your preferred rental car provider. 
  • These programs let you earn points toward free car rentals when you book a rental and, in the case of Hertz, when you buy gas or use the company’s NeverLost GPS service.

See related: How to save on your next car rental

Even if you don’t join one of these programs, you can still earn travel rewards through your frequent flyer program. Southwest, Delta and American Airlines, for instance, allow you to earn points and miles respectively when you book a rental car with a partner agency using the card.

9. Stack card, loyalty program rewards

Finally, take advantage of rewards stacking on family road trips.

You can double dip on rewards by booking through the loyalty program using a travel credit card that offers points or miles on car rentals, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.


Join the discussion
We encourage an active and insightful conversation among our users. Please help us keep our community civil and respectful. For your safety, do not disclose confidential or personal information such as bank account numbers or social security numbers. Anything you post may be disclosed, published, transmitted or reused.

If you are commenting using a Facebook account, your profile information may be displayed with your comment depending on your privacy settings. By leaving the 'Post to Facebook' box selected, your comment will be published to your Facebook profile in addition to the space below.

The editorial content on CreditCards.com is not sponsored by any bank or credit card issuer. The journalists in the editorial department are separate from the company's business operations. The comments posted below are not provided, reviewed or approved by any company mentioned in our editorial content. Additionally, any companies mentioned in the content do not assume responsibility to ensure that all posts and/or questions are answered.




Weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, advice, articles and tips delivered to your inbox. It's FREE.


Updated: 10-17-2018