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How I'm teaching my kids about points and miles

Sept. 28, 2019
10 min read
Waldorf Astoria Grand Wailea Jasmin Kids
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One of the greatest joys in life is experiencing travel through the eyes of a child — especially when they delight in things veteran travelers might take for granted, like airport lounge access or a hotel upgrade. Thanks to points and miles, my three children have been traveling since infancy and have visited dozens of destinations, ranging from family favorites like Walt Disney World in Orlando to more international locales like the Philippines and Abu Dhabi.

I'm a firm believer in the idea that travel is the best education, and my kids have hopped on the bandwagon. They're now authorized users on several of my credit cards, can recognize the hotel brands that belong to each chain and are able to navigate an airport or hotel check-in counter like seasoned pros. My friends and family think I'm nuts, but there's a method in my madness. Once the kids are adults, they'll have a world of free travel open to them from learning these points and miles fundamentals at a young age.

The kids at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi.

Learn (responsible) credit card usage

Never paying with cash (if you can help it) is a no-brainer for points and miles old-timers, but children are often taught that using credit cards is a fast track to accumulating debt. I've shown the kids that earning rewards from travel credit cards, when done responsibly, is an excellent method for unlocking the ability to travel for free.

As they've gotten older, I've added them as authorized users on several of my cards, including:

  • Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card — Earn 4% cash back on dining, entertainment purchases, and popular streaming services, 3% at grocery stores (excluding superstores like Walmart and Target) and 1% on everything else. My kids use this card frequently when they grab a meal with pals or go to the movies.
  • Chase Freedom — (No longer open to new applicants) This card comes in handy when the rotating 5% cash-back bonus categories (on up to $1,500 in combined purchases each quarter when you activate the bonus) align with the kids' typical spending. Past categories have included department stores and Amazon purchases, plus it has no annual fee.
  • Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card — I added my hungry teen to this card because it earns 7x Hilton points per dollar at U.S. restaurants, and it won't hurt to develop her history with American Express (more on that in a second).

The information for the Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card and Hilton Aspire card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Related: The best authorized user credit cards

My kids respect the boundaries I've set for using their cards and, if they decide to make a purchase with their own money, they'll pay with their card and withdraw cash from their bank accounts afterward to pay me back. While they're usually pretty good about remembering each card's bonus categories, I'm always tickled when my teen texts me asking, "Mom, which card should I use again?"

Build (and protect) your credit score

While they can't apply for a credit card until they turn 18, adding kids as authorized users is an excellent way to build your child's credit. My kids have learned to treat their authorized user cards like debit cards, and never spend more than they can afford to pay back in full and on time each month to avoid fees and interest. Learning financial management skills and discipline at an early age will hopefully help them once they're college students, and beyond.

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Related: How credit scores work

By adding the kids as authorized users, they'll build a credit history and a relationship with the bank. That way, by the time they're adults, they'll have a much better shot at being approved when they apply for their first credit cards. Although the government doesn't have an age restriction on who can be added as an authorized user, some banks impose a minimum age:

BankMinimum age
American Express13
Bank of AmericaNone
Capital OneNone
U.S. Bank16

If you choose to go the same route with your kids, be mindful of the fact that any charges they make will be your responsibility. It's also worth considering backing off from adding them as authorized users once they turn 16 or so, because Chase will include authorized user cards in their 5/24 count (although if you're denied because of this you can call the Chase reconsideration line and ask for these accounts to be ignored).

Never leave miles and points on the table

Using a credit card for all purchases is just part of the equation. The kids are now all too familiar with the fact that if they spot an item at the mall they want or need supplies for back-to-school shopping, they're probably not going to get it that day. Instead, we'll make the purchase online through a shopping portal to earn bonus points, miles or cash back.

Related: Back-to-school shopping strategies for points and miles

This is especially lucrative when we can double-dip rewards by using a card that earns a bonus in the store's category, like next quarter's Chase Freedom 5% cash-back bonus at department stores (combined with Chase Pay and PayPal). For example, if they want to buy something at Macy's, I'll check Cashback Monitor or another shopping portal aggregator to see which shopping portal is giving the best return, and make the purchase that way.

Starting your shopping through an online shopping portal can supercharge your miles and points earning. (Image courtesy of Cashback Monitor)

This strategy has another beneficial effect: delayed gratification. The kids have found out that taking time between spotting an item they want and actually shelling out cash for it is a good way to temper impulse purchases they might later regret. And if they do end up buying, they've learned patience ("Is it coming today, Mom?") and have a little something to look forward to when the mail truck swings by.

Work toward a travel goal

Points and miles don't grow on trees, although when my kids were younger they sure thought so. Now, they're cognizant of the fact that planning a trip takes time, diligence and patience. Between deciding on a destination, figuring out which miles and points can get you there and how to save up enough to book the trip, I've allowed them to participate in the planning process. They also have their own frequent flyer accounts, so when we do take paid flights they accumulate rewards for themselves.

Related: Why we love travel

My kids know that rewards go a lot further when we book coach flights or stay in lower-category hotels, and that's how we usually travel. This makes it all the more special when we splurge on a fancy five-star accommodation or blow a lot of miles on an international business-class itinerary.

Flying Japan Airlines business class between Tokyo and Vancouver was a real treat for the kids, but it doesn't happen often.

Stretching our points and miles so we can take more trips isn't lost on the kids — and they know having a stash readily available can make for last-minute travel opportunities. When they found out they'd have a couple of extra days off around the Columbus Day long weekend, for instance, immediately they asked where we'd be going and what kinds of miles we had at our disposal. (Shh... I've planned a trip but the destination is a secret).

Understand points and miles open doors, but so do manners

Being organized, setting goals and being financially responsible are all necessary skills to learn if you plan to succeed in the points and miles world. However, once you're on the road, being polite and well-behaved is equally important.

Traveling with points and miles has exposed the kids to situations that haven't always been ideal, from delays to disappointments when things haven't gone our way. They've also learned that good manners and being friendly can be easily as valuable as hotel elite status. We've been upgraded at hotels where I have low-tier or even no elite status simply because we've asked nicely (and yes, sometimes the kids beat me to the punch by asking, with a smile: "Are there any upgrades available to a bigger room so we can have more space?"). They've become fearless (but not too fearless).

Related: How to keep kids safe while traveling

Miles and points have given the kids lots of travel etiquette practice, especially when we've traveled in premium cabins and stayed at luxury properties, where it's often challenging for little ones to behave appropriately (and where grownups might look on their presence with disdain). The kids have learned to never brag or speak loudly about getting a flight or stay "for free" or act in a boisterous, loud manner. I'd like to think these experiences have helped them become better people in other aspects of life as well, like making new friends (they still keep in touch with pals they've met during our travels to Cuba, the Philippines and Canada) and conversing with adults.

Bottom line

It's never too early to start teaching your children about points and miles. Not only will they benefit from participating in the travel planning process, but also learn about the importance of keeping organized and setting goals. By adding kids as authorized users to your own travel rewards credit cards (when you're comfortable with it), they'll get a head start on building a credit history and have a better chance of being approved for cards of their own when the time comes.

Most importantly, my kids have discovered that being in this crazy hobby of ours can open up amazing opportunities for adventure. My wish for them is that they carry these skills forward in their adult life and continue their points and miles journey, wherever it may take them.

All photos by the author unless noted otherwise

Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.