How my family of 4 uses points and miles to maximize our travel experiences
It's no secret that travel is both a privilege and an expense — and with the increase in demand, the cost of travel will continue to increase as more and more people begin to travel again. For a family of any size, travel expenses can quickly add up and even the cost needed to redeem points and miles can be steep.
That's why my family of four uses a mix of points, miles and cash to maximize our travel spending in the way that works best for us. We prioritize what's most important to us on a particular vacation and our points and miles goals vary from one trip to another. In this article, I'm sharing exactly how my family does this and my one piece of advice to every family — any traveler, really — that wants to use points and miles to travel more.
Redeeming points for hotel nights
Often times we choose to redeem miles for airfare or points for hotel rooms. Because there are four of us, we sometimes just elect to pay cash for flights instead of redeeming airline miles for all four of us — plus, I think those miles can be better spent in business and first-class, which my husband and I don't fly when we're with our kids at this age (currently 1 and 3 years old). For the most part, we prioritize a nice hotel over flying in the front of the plane — at least when we travel with our kids.
I stay mostly at Marriott hotels unless I'm saving my Bonvoy points for something extra special. I enjoy World of Hyatt on occasion as well because of their low points redemption rates depending on the hotel.
The reason why I love Marriott hotels is that — whether or not I'm staying at one of their luxury brand hotels like a St. Regis or a budget option like Springhill Suites — I trust that my experience will be positive and I will get what I need out of my stay. For example, I know that at a Fairfield Inn and Suites I can expect a larger, no-frills room and breakfast included in my stay — a clean and comfortable room that I probably won't spend much time in. And when I stay at a Ritz-Carlton, I trust that I'm getting more amenities, a restaurant, room service, probably a spa, etc. No matter what type of hotel stay I need, I can redeem Bonvoy points for the room and the fifth night is always free.
Related: Which Marriott Bonvoy credit card is right for you?
Some of my favorite hotel redemptions include the JW Marriott Venice Resort and Spa during our first trip to Italy and the Hyatt Regency Phuket over New Year's Eve. Next month we will spend a week at the JW Marriott Los Cabos Beach Resort and Spa.
One reason why I prefer to focus my travel rewards accumulation on luxury hotel redemptions is because of the amenities and services available that make traveling with kids so much easier. After our stay at the Four Seasons Punta Mita when my son was 6 months old, I knew that was the only way I wanted to travel from then on. Amenities like a baby welcome basket with sunscreen and face wipes, a diaper genie in our room, and even a Pack 'n Play for use at the pool made our first family vacation so much easier and enjoyable — they even had extra bibs and baby utensils for him to use at the restaurant.
Redeeming miles for flights
I've traveled with my children as lap infants for as long as I could and was lucky enough to travel to six countries and Puerto Rico with either one or both of my kids before the pandemic began. Traveling with a lap infant is a great benefit to take advantage of when your children are younger than 2 years old — and I will miss the savings greatly when my daughter turns 2 in September.
So now that we will soon need to purchase airfare for all four of my family members, we will be redeeming our miles more often than we have in the past. Before now, we stacked miles for dream trips in business and first-class that my husband and I planned to take sans kids. However, after last year's dream trip to the Tokyo Olympics was canceled, we've decided to make better use of them.
When traveling domestically, we almost always pay cash for our flights, unless we are traveling Southwest. Southwest has great redemption rates and I can transfer Ultimate Rewards instantly whenever I need to. When we travel internationally, we redeem miles for at least two of us to reduce the cost of our cash out of pocket while not emptying our miles' banks.
Despite my infrequent travel on Southwest, I have been loyal to American Airlines and Oneworld for as long as I can remember. Though not the largest airline alliance, Oneworld member airlines include British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Qatar Airways, Japan Airlines and more — all airlines that I have flown or plan to fly in the future.
Related: Your ultimate guide to American Airlines AAdvantage
Another caveat to whether or not my family uses miles or cash for flights also has to do with the airline we want to fly. Two summers ago when we traveled to France and Switzerland by way of London, we flew Premium Economy on Virgin Atlantic and paid cash. We simply didn't have enough points or miles to redeem for the seats we wanted and decided that the cash rate was worth the comfort we'd have traveling with a then 18-month-old — not to mention I was very pregnant at the time.
Staying at home rentals
Home rentals from Airbnb, VRBO and Marriott Homes and Villas are the most comfortable way to travel with a family, in my opinion — and often the most cost-effective as well. You can elect to have more than one bedroom, multiple bathrooms and even a yard or a pool for your kids to enjoy some outside space. I like that I can choose to rent an apartment in the center of a city or a larger space a little farther out — and is usually cheaper than renting a hotel room, especially for the return on investment. We've been renting homes on Airbnb since 2015, our most recent being a home right outside of the French Quarter in New Orleans.
Related: Maximizing points and miles on vacation rentals with Airbnb and VRBO
This year, I opened the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card for the 75,000 Venture miles sign-up bonus after $4,000 spend in the first three months of card membership. And while I'm excited about new transfer partners and airport lounges being added this year, I'm most excited about being able to use these miles to virtually cover the cost of my Airbnb stays by redeeming them for statement credits. The card also lets you use miles for statement credits on other travel expenses as well including train tickets and rental car purchases.
Utilizing perks from credit cards
I take advantage of a lot of perks that come with my cards. Even though The Platinum Card® from American Express has increased its annual fee to $695 (see rates and fees), Amex offers, travel credits and Centurion Lounge access have more than made up for the annual fee for me and my family the last couple of years. I also get elite status at select rental car companies, monthly Uber credits that we use for Uber Eats, and I can book through Amex Fine Hotels and Resorts through Amex travel for added benefits like late check-out, resort credits, and room upgrades at select properties.
I get Priority Pass with a few different credit cards so even if there isn't a Centurion Lounge at the airport I'm at, my family and I can almost always relax and regroup in a lounge on travel days.
I exclusively use my Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card for 3x points for dining at U.S. restaurants and my Chase Freedom Flex for its rotating bonus categories. Almost all of my everyday spend currently goes on my Capital One Venture Credit Card for 2x miles.
Related: These are the best credit cards for everyday spending
My best advice for families traveling on points
I really only have one piece of advice that I would tell any family hoping to make the most of their vacations with points and miles: decide on the vacation you want and then earn the rewards you need to get there.
When you have a redemption in mind — whether it's flying 33 family members to Hawaii or flying one of the best luxury suites in the sky — find out what it takes to make that dream a reality and then start to accrue points and miles accordingly. By doing it this way, you avoid what some call "shiny sign-up bonus syndrome" (I just made that up) where you sign-up for every credit card with a new big bonus and end up with points and miles in a bunch of different places but never enough in one place to actually be useful.
Traveling with a family on points and miles isn't impossible — it just requires a little more planning and strategy than if you only traveled solo or with a partner. I like to stick to one hotel brand and one airline alliance — for the most part — so that I can earn as many points and miles as I can to redeem for free travel. I also don't exclusively travel on points and miles and sometimes use cash to pay for one or the other. I prefer using my travel rewards for nice hotel stays to flying premium airline cabins for the amenities and service I get at luxury resorts.
I also really enjoy home rentals and think that they are a great option for families that enjoy having more space. While home rental companies such as Airbnb and VRBO do not currently have loyalty programs, you can redeem statement credits for travel expenses with credit cards like the Capital One Venture credit card.
And lastly, my one piece of advice for families to best maximize their points and miles is to decide on the trip they want to take before starting to collect travel rewards. It's better to collect the right points and miles rather than having points and miles in too many places and not enough to use any of them for your family trips.
For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum card, click here.