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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. I have been earning miles and points in some form since before I had kids more than a decade ago. Friends and frequent readers likely already know that miles and points are critical to funding our family’s frequent travels, even if I don’t write about it that regularly. Travel rewards credit cards are a big part of my overall points-earning strategy. I decided it was long overdue to pass on credit card recommendations that have worked for my family and may for yours as well.
Families Need to Get Smarter About Credit Card Rewards for Travel
A huge part of earning miles and points 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 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. In a lot of cases, parents still have the credit card they first signed up for in college! 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 miles and points enthusiast, 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 important editorial note: 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.
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Best Credit Cards for Traveling Families
The Chase Sapphire Preferred was in my own wallet for over four years, so I can recommend it from experience. This card helps you earn flexible Chase Ultimate Rewards points. These points can be used to redeem for travel with a fixed value in the Chase portal. But they can also be transferred to a number of other point currencies: United miles, Southwest points, Marriott Bonvoy points, World of Hyatt points, and many more. The flexibility is truly tremendous.
With double points earning on travel and dining spend and no foreign transaction fees among its many benefits, it is a good fit for traveling families. It doesn’t have a huge annual fee or a lot of complicated rules or exceptions, so I find it ideal for beginners and intermediates in the travel rewards world.
Bigger spenders or more frequent travelers might want to consider its cousin, the Chase Sapphire Reserve (a card I personally have at the moment in lieu of the Chase Sapphire Preferred). The Chase Sapphire Reserve has a much more significant annual fee which may rightfully scare off beginners, but it comes with some other additional perks that may be well worth it for more frequent travelers.
Best Features: Highly flexible points, earning double rewards on travel and dining
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)
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 supermarkets. 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 US supermarkets up to $6000 in spending and 3% cash back at US gas stations.
And the rewards come in the form of cash back. Cash allows you to book travel however you want to book it without the stress of airline award seats not being available. Not everyone wants to learn a lot of airline, hotel, or even credit card point currencies. If that sounds like you, a cash back card like this one could serve you well.
READ MORE ABOUT THIS CARD.
Best Features: Lucrative bonuses for US supermarkets and US gas stations.
Who It’s Best For: Big families with big everyday expenses.
What to Watch Out For: Welcome bonus not as lucrative as many travel points cards.
While Southwest isn’t an airline every family traveler has access to, it is greatly preferred by many travelers with kids who have it as an option close to home. Southwest is the airline I recommend most for family travelers and take most often myself. (Related: Complete Guide to Flying Southwest with kids). 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).
There are actually three Southwest credit cards right now, so be sure to check out my comparison guide to pick which Southwest card is right for you. The Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card carries the lowest annual fee of the bunch, so for more infrequent travelers, chances are good it is the right pick for you. More frequent Southwest flyers should likely choose the card that is currently in my wallet — the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card.
Best Features: Usually fairly generous signup bonuses with accompanying low minimum spend; simplicity of an easy-to-use single airline program.
Who It’s Best For: Domestic U.S. travelers near airports served by Southwest.
What to Watch Out For: Annual fee not waived the first year, Southwest doesn’t fly everywhere (yet – remember Southwest to Hawaii is coming in 2019!)
4. American Express Gold Card
For families who spend a lot of money on both groceries and dining out, the American Express Gold Card is a credit card that does some heavy hitting. The card earns 4x Membership Rewards points on both US supermarkets and restaurant spending worldwide (capped at $25,000 per year). My family just added this card to our wallets in early 2019 after finding it to be a very good rewards-earning match for our lifestyle.
Membership Rewards is another flexible points currency that gives your family a wide variety of travel options instead of locking you into a single airline or hotel program. These points transfer to other programs like Hilton, JetBlue, and Hawaiian, but their value can really be magnified by some of the foreign airlines partners like British Airways Avios (which can be used to book flights on American Airlines). This is definitely the card for families in the more intermediate category.
The card also comes with a $100 airline incidentals credit (but be aware that you must select your airline in advance before making the charge for the credit to apply). For families who know they will have some out-of-pocket airline costs, this credit helps offset the higher annual fee.
READ MORE ABOUT THIS CARD.
Best Features: Earns flexible American Express Membership Rewards points.
Who It’s Best For: Big supermarket spenders or frequent restaurant customers.
What to Watch Out For: High annual fee ($250); need to pre-select airline to claim $100 airline credit; Amex not always accepted everywhere (including often at smaller local restaurants)
5. Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard
(Editor’s note: this card has been discontinued. Look for an update to this post with new cards coming soon!) Last but certainly not least is the 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. Then you “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.
Best Features: Not beholden to particular airline or hotel, lucrative sign-up bonus.
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.
Do you have other cards that have worked well for your family for earning easy travel rewards? I’d love to hear what works and why!
Track Your Cards More Easily with Travel Freely!
One of the major reasons so many busy parents don’t take advantage of travel rewards with credit cards is that keeping track of everything can be a major time suck. But it doesn’t have to be that way. A new tool from Travel Freely does it all for you. Simply input the date you signed up for a card and it will track everything – when you need to complete minimum spending requirements to earn welcome offers, what cards you are eligible for and when, and when any card annual fees are coming due. It’s game-changing for the casual miles and points enthusiast.
Sign up for Travel Freely here – it’s totally FREE to use!
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