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Top 3 Credit Cards For Family Travel

by on July 25, 2013 · 15 comments

in Barclays, Chase, Credit Cards, Family Travel, Southwest

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Update: My links for the 50,000 point Southwest offer are no longer working. You may be able to find working links at Chase.com.

Even though I don’t have any (human) children myself, my siblings’ families are all growing as they have more kids and I’m actually in charge of planning a big family trip in 2014. The logistics of traveling with so many children and trying to book award travel for everyone has really started to open up my eyes to family award travel planning.

Be sure your electronic ticket does allow for a lap child.

Family travel can be rewarding – especially if you have the right credit cards.

I’m frequently asked, especially by my own siblings, which credit cards and award programs are the best for family travel, so it’s been on my mind a lot lately and I’ve come up with the top 3 credit cards that every family should consider getting and why. This is by no means the “ultimate and final” list of credit cards for families- different products will make more sense based on your spend and redemption goals. However, I selected these three based on flexibility, versatility and value- things that many families need in their miles and points to make trips a reality.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Sign-up Bonus Value= $800

While the Southwest cards are very good products, one of the key points I make whether you’re an individual or a family, and whether you’re traveling in domestic economy to international first class and everything in between, is that flexibility when it comes to using your points is paramount. So building points in a transferrable points program such as Chase Ultimate Rewards is key to any successful points strategy.When leveraging transfer partners like Hyatt and United, I usually gets 2 cents per point in value so 40,000 Ultimate Rewards points at 2 cents a piece will bring me $800 in value.

Transfer Partners: To do so, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is winner in my book because it allows you to transfer Ultimate Rewards points to 10 different transfer partner options: British Airways, Korean Air, Southwest, United, Virgin Atlantic, Hyatt, Marriott, Priority Club, Ritz-Carlton and Amtrak. Whether you need air, hotel or train, you can use those points potentially at huge value.

Ultimate Reward Transfer Partners

Sign-Up Bonus and Other Benefits: The Sapphire Preferred currently comes with a sign-up bonus of 40,000 points when you spend $3,000 in 3 months, but it’s also got a lot of other great benefits including no annual fee the first year ($95 thereafter), no foreign transaction fees, and a slew of Visa Signature benefits.

Pay With Points: Although I get the most value from my Ultimate Rewards points by transferring them to travel partners and booking classic award tickets and nights, cardholders also have the option just to redeem points directly for travel through the pay with points feature at a rate of 1.25 cents apiece. That’s better than the 1 cent per point any of the personal American Express Membership Rewards cards will get you, and gives travelers the flexibility to book the travel they want when they need it using their points at a decent fixed rate.

The Sapphire and Sapphire Preferred normally earn 2X on dining.

Earning and Category Bonuses: One of the best features of the Sapphire Preferred is that cardholders earn 2.14 points per dollar (including the 7% annual points dividend) on several bonus categories including travel and dining – and the travel category doesn’t just include the usual suspects like airfare and hotels, but also public transport, parking, tolls and taxis among other vendors, meaning you can rack up bonus points on everyday purchases without even having to think about it.

Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Visa:Sign-up Bonus Value= ~400

The Southwest credit cards (and the airline itself) are great for the average family with kids who want to all travel together domestically, who don’t have as much flexibility in their travel timing, and who need to check bags without having elite status

There are a lot of reasons to love Southwest which make it my top option, including the fact that each passenger gets two free checked bags and there are no change or cancellation fees.

Easy Changes: Let’s say your child gets sick and you need to change your tickets at the last minute. Most US airlines will charge you $200 per ticket plus the fare difference to rebook, while Southwest will give you your money back in the form of airline credit and then you just use that to pay the new fare.

Flexibility: The current Southwest Rapid Rewards program is a fixed-value program, which means that you can use Southwest points to book any ticket on any flight since as long as there’s a seat free. You get the best value with Wanna Get Away fares (about 1.8 cents per point), but if you need more flexibility and you have the points, you can pretty much book any open seat at any time using point, just as if you were paying for it, which makes this program a great option for families that need to snag multiple seats on the same flight.

The Companion Pass: If you can wrangle the 110,000 points within a calendar year necessary to earn the Southwest Companion Pass, this can be a huge money and point saver. Essentially, with every Companion Pass, you are getting two tickets for the price of one, whether you are paying for them with money or with point. If you were to get two of the current limited-time 50,000-point sign-up bonuses within the same year, you’re over 90% of the way to getting a Companion Pass.

Southwest has the largest presence at San Diego.

Southwest has tons of family-friendly features like free checked bags and no cancellation or change fees.

Drawbacks: Though I’d rate Southwest as mostly positive and a great program for families in general, there are drawbacks such as the fact that the airline doesn’t fly to every city and only has a few international destinations thanks mainly to its ongoing merger with Airtran. The Southwest credit cards might also not be the most lucrative way to earn tons of Southwest points based on spending either. For that you might consider…

Barclaycard Arrival Sign-up Bonus Value= ~$440

The new card that I think all family travelers should pay attention to is the Arrival from Barclaycard.

High Sign-Up Bonus: The card currently comes with a historically high sign-up bonus of 40,000 miles when you spend $1,000 in 3 months and the annual fee of $89 is waived the first year.

The Barclaycard Arrival was a popular choice thanks to a historically high bonus and other card perks.

The Barclaycard Arrival is currently offering a historically high bonus and other card perks.

Bonus Earning and Good Value Return on Miles: Instead of 1.25 cents per point you get using pay with points with the Sapphire Preferred, or the 1.8 cents per Rapid Rewards point you get on Southwest, the miles you redeem from this card get you the equivalent of 2.2% back on all of your spend when you redeem them for travel. That’s because you earn 2X miles per $1 on all purchases, and then you redeem those miles for 1 cent apiece towards travel and you get a 10% mileage refund on redemptions. Plus, you don’t even have to book the travel through a specific airline or credit card travel site to redeem the miles, you simply purchase the travel you want – whether it’s a car rental in Argentina or a train ticket in Italy – then redeem miles for a statement credit.

Use On All Kinds Of Travel: What makes the miles you earn with this card really valuable is the fact that you can use them for travel expenses that you can’t ordinarily use other miles or points for such as staying B&B’s, cruises and even just booking through a travel agent. You can even use this card to pay for fuel surcharges and taxes on other award tickets and then redeem miles for those expenses, so your total out-of-pocket spend is minimized and you can put those dollars towards their college fund instead.

You can redeem Arrival miles for all kinds of travel expenses including online and traditional travel agencies.

You can redeem Arrival miles for all kinds of travel expenses including online and traditional travel agencies.

Never a Zero Miles Balance: As I mentioned above, one of the key benefits of this card is that you get a 10% refund on miles you redeem for travel, so your mileage balance will never be zero. For example, if you redeem 100,000 miles for $1,000 worth of travel, you’ll get 10,000 miles, or $100 worth of future travel redemptions, back. That means you can keep growing your balance even while you put your miles to use.

Want to learn more about family travel? See these posts also:

Tips for Using Frequent Flyer Miles For Family Travel

Is It Possible to Combine Award Tickets Booked in Different Accounts Onto the Same Itinerary?

How to Plan Award Travel With An Infant Or Lap Child

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Jim

    Brian, these are all great. I would also suggest the USAirways World Mastercard. I know there are various points (30 or 35,000) that come with the first purchase. A great thing about this card is that, as you know, it comes with TWO $99 companion certificates….that is one or two companions on the same itinerary. For our family of three, this card has been awesome, saving us literally almost $2,000 as we have used that option four or five times over the past years. A paid round trip for three, with a base of $500 is no longer $1500, but about $750 with all taxes added in. When you have to fly and pay, this card is GREAT!

  • Jon

    great post.

  • http://first2board.com/thedealmommy Dia (The Deal Mommy)

    Thanks for a great topic. Just back from a month in Europe with kids and I’d have to nominate the Club Carlson Visa. You can book family sized rooms at 1.5x regular sized rooms and the last night is free on points bookings. Combined with the huge amount of availability in Europe (especially central Europe) and the gold buy 2 get 2 free weekend extend paid rates and it saved us thousands on our trip.

  • Kay

    I’ve heard great things about the Barclaycard Arrival, but if you are a stay at home parent it might not be a card that you can get. With a credit score of 800 I thought I could easily snag this card. Not so – they turned me down and when I called to talk to them about it they said that since I didn’t have an income I was too big a risk for them to give me the card. Which is weird because I was able to easily get a different barclaycard last year. Just FYI for other families that think this would be a convenient card to have, but don’t have personal income.

  • Kimberly Rotter

    Thank you! Great tips for parents. Traveling comfortably with my family is one of my great missions in life. :) Great tips from commenters, too.

  • Gary (Dad to GO)

    I have to second the Southwest card(s) and companion pass. Having family that lives in Illinois it allows my wife and myself to visit her family with our 7 month old more often since one of the tickets is always “free”.

  • Bob

    I know this doesn’t fit with all the people trying to get upgrades and fancy clubs on this site, but if you have a large family you should consider the Spirit MasterCard from BOA. Always 2 miles per dollar and a ticket can be had for as little as 5000 miles round trip. Yes, it’s Spirit but if the point is getting from point A to point B for a large family it’s a pretty good deal. I am taking six kids to Florida this winter. Pretty sweet deal for $35.

  • DaveRamseyIsDangerous

    I would put 2 hotel cards at the top:

    1. Churn SPG cards for Walt Disney World Swan/Dolphin stays
    2. Churn HHonors cards for Disneyland area stays

    Then…
    3. Pick your airline cards to churn (I personally rack up Avios, Aadvantage, Dividend Miles, and MileagePlus.)

  • DaveRamseyIsDangerous

    Also…

    Barclaycard Arrival Drawback:

    The signup bonus offer is not valid for Puerto Ricans or Iowans.

  • jay

    I
    will be traveling from SGF to LAS in early December. I’m wanting to
    know how to best use the current points/miles I have. Here they are:
    Barclay Arrival= 80,000 (2 accounts of 40K). IHG= 80,000 (plus another
    80K if I get my wife’s bonus pts in time). I see that Barclay does a
    statement credit for travel with points, while IHG makes you transfer
    your points to an airline reward program (10K points = 2K miles). I’m
    new so go easy on me if this is simple. Thanks!

  • LarryInNYC

    How do you identify the family-sized rooms? I haven’t had that much luck finding them at Carlson properties.

  • http://first2board.com/thedealmommy Dia (The Deal Mommy)

    Hi Larry,
    When you put in the right number of people in the search (as in 2 adults, 2 kids) it will default to the room that fits…usually business class.

  • Mark

    I agree with Jim on the US Airways card because it comes with 2 $99 companion passes per year. I have 3 kids and used the companion passes on a recent flight. Then used points for the other 2 family members. Not sure how much longer this card will be around because of the merger.

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