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Over the years, I have blogged only occasionally about my hobby of earning frequent flyer miles for travel on the cheap. Friends and frequent readers who have seen my posts on the topic know, however, that miles and points are critical to funding our family’s frequent travels. I have been travel hacking in some form since before I had kids. Yikes – I’m apparently going on close to a decade!
A huge part of travel hacking is getting travel rewards credit cards and using them smartly and responsibly for maximum rewards. There are a million miles and points blogs out there that tell you how to do just that. As those blogs have become increasingly expert, however, they’ve left a real gap between the obsessed and the clueless. People seem to either dive in head first to the travel hacking world and become all-consumed by the minutiae or they get totally overwhelmed and give up before they start.
It doesn’t have to be that way. I know of so many friends and readers who are tired of being in the overwhelmed and clueless category but who also don’t want to invest the time and take the risk to do as the miles and points blogs do. These are regular traveling parents who just want to get one or two good rewards cards for their families. And keep them and use them. What a novel concept!
Many of these travelers have a credit card that either offers no rewards or offers rewards that are vastly inferior to credit cards out there in the market today. I get emails and have conversations regularly with traveling parents who just want a little guidance for switching to the right card or two for them.
If you are a busy parent without the time to become a full-blown travel hacker, there is no reason you shouldn’t be earning some basic and lucrative rewards with the right credit card. I definitely have some ideas for that below to get you started.
One final editorial note: I now have credit card affiliate links on the blog (which means I get a commission when you get a card using my links), which I definitely resisted adding for quite awhile. Credit cards get many people into financial trouble. I have warned often that these travel rewards cards are not for you if you have debt issues or cannot pay balances off in full every month. The interest fees will far exceed the rewards. But if you are responsible user of credit and are just looking to maximize your rewards for the spending you do, this post is for you. And I appreciate the support of my site when you use my links.
Best Credit Cards for Traveling Families
1. Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard®
What works for busy families with this card is that there is no time wasted looking for airline award seats that may or may not exist. You use the card to purchase travel (flights, hotel stays, etc.) as normal spending and then reimburse yourself with the points you have earned later. Earning points can be done quickly with this card since it earns at a 2x rate.
Who It’s Best For: Family travelers who aren’t airline or hotel chain loyal.
What to Watch Our For: Remembering to reimburse yourself for travel purchases within 120 days.
2. Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
If you are a parent, chances are you are feeding a hungry family and spend a lot of money at grocery stores. You are probably also carpooling your kids everywhere and spending a lot of money on gas. That’s why I love this card for traveling parents. It rewards the everyday spending that families regularly do at a much higher rate – 6% back at grocery stores up to $6000 in spending and 3% cash back at gas stations. And the rewards come in the form of cash back which allows you to book travel however you want to book it without the stress of airline award seats not being available. Check out this card’s complete features and current bonus offers on CardRatings.
Best Features: Lucrative bonuses for grocery and gas
Who It’s Best For: Big families with big everyday expenses.
What to Watch Out For: Signup bonus not as lucrative as many travel points cards
3. Chase Sapphire Preferred
This card has been in my own wallet for over three years so I can recommend if from experience. With the Chase Sapphire Preferred, you earn flexible Chase Ultimate Rewards points on spending. These points can be used to redeem for travel with a fixed value in the Chase portal or can be transferred to a number of other point currencies: United miles, Southwest points, Marriott Rewards points, and many more. With double points on travel and dining and no foreign transaction fees among its many benefits, it is a good fit for frequently traveling families.
Bigger spenders might want to consider its cousin, the Chase Sapphire Reserve (a card I also have). The Reserve has a much more significant annual fee which may scare many beginners, but it comes with some other perks that may be well worth it for more frequent travelers.
Who It’s Best For: Families who have significant travel and dining expenses, international travelers looking for no foreign transaction fees
What to Watch Our For: Annual fee ($99; waived first year)
4. Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card
While Southwest isn’t an airline every family traveler has access to, it is greatly preferred by many travelers with kids who have it an an option close to home. Southwest is the airline I recommend most for family travelers and take most often myself. So it goes without saying that a card offering Southwest points is just the right fit for families who “luv” flying the airline.
Southwest Rapid Rewards points are the easiest for families to use of any major airline rewards program. If there is a seat on the plane, you can book it with points (no availability restrictions and ridiculous saver vs. regular redemption tiers that make you spend double or triple the points on a flight like on other airlines).
Who It’s Best For: Domestic U.S. travelers
What to Watch Out For: Annual fee not waived the first year, Southwest doesn’t fly everywhere (yet!)
5. Fidelity® Rewards Visa Signature® Credit Card
Sometimes worrying with bonus categories to earn travel rewards can be frustrating. If your family uses more than one credit card like mine, it’s not always easy for everyone to remember that grocery spending goes on this card, travel spending on that card, office supply stores on this other card, etc. For families who truly need no fuss rewards, it doesn’t get any simpler than this card from Fidelity. You earn 2% cash back on every purchase everywhere.
Best Features: Simplicity, more rewarding that most all other cash-back cards on the market.
Who It’s Best For: Travelers who don’t want to mess with miles and points and prefer cash rebates.
What to Watch Out For: Must have Fidelity account for depositing rewards.
Do you have other cards that have worked well for your family for easy travel hacking? I’d love to hear what works and why!