While the focus of my blog is usually on the planning, preparation, logistics, and mechanics of family (mostly air) travel, I have some other travel interests as well. Those of you who know me in real life know that I’m a bit of a frequent flyer geek. I have participated in the miles and points world for nearly 4 years, collecting airline miles and hotel points in an effort to afford to travel more and travel better.
A Little Miles & Points Editorializing
There are folks who blog about miles and points topics extensively and exclusively who can tell you more than you will ever want to know, so I don’t write about these topics often except when they intersect with travel for everyday families.
But I always share with friends the fact that I regularly use miles and points to be able to travel more with my family as well as to (very occasionally) fund some aspirational trips that we would never pay for in cash. Only fair that I share this fact with readers who might be interested, but otherwise uninitiated, in this world.
Contrary to what you might hear on the miles and points blogs, I don’t think the “game” is for everyone. A big part of it is signing up for credit cards, and if you don’t have the credit score or financial discipline to do this responsibly, it isn’t for you. Not only isn’t it for you, I’m telling you now NOT to do it. At all. Full stop.
Additionally, not everyone has the time for this hobby and not everyone wants to make the time. Busy parents of young kids don’t have hours to spend scouring secret forums on FlyerTalk to find a way to snag an extra 500 Hyatt points. But for parents who want to travel a bit more without having their family travel budget suffer, I try to share the basics because it isn’t that time consuming when compared to the benefits you can accrue.
So, what’s the biggest part of strategy? Simple. I sign up for a few credit cards each year with travel bonuses. (To be sure, I do a lot more, but I’m not going to make your eyes glaze over by explaining it all!)
The biggest question that I hear from those who are new to this world is “doesn’t it destroy your credit?” The short answer is no. But do your research before you believe me. Here are a few consenting opinions if you are wary: Points with a Crew’s Beginner’s Guide & Mommy Points FAQ.
My Husband’s Latest Applications
About once or twice a year, my husband and I sign up for one or two new travel-related credit cards. Our last applications were nearly a year ago in August 2013 (I blogged about our applications prior to that in December 2012). This kind of spacing is an eternity in the miles and points world. We were long overdue for some new signup bonuses. So my husband pulled the trigger on two new cards last week.
Here’s what he got and why:
Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
I have had this card for nearly a year. The annual fee was waived for the first year, so I will have to pay $69 to keep this card at the one year mark in August. The signup bonus for this card is usually 25,000 SPG points, but once a year (for the past several years at least), the bonus goes up to 30K (with a $5000 minimum spend in 6 months) for a short period of time.
When we spotted the increased bonus in June (it has ended now; current offer is 25,000 SPG points for signing off), I knew the time was right for my husband to snag the card to position ourselves to cancel mine. This way, we get one more year of benefits from the card as a family, plus we get one more sign up bonus. (Note: I think one partner getting a card and the other partner getting the same card the next year after canceling the first is a great strategy for married couples. This is best when you have no immediate joint need for the particular miles/points offered. It extends your time to take advantage of other benefits.)
Even as flexible as SPG points are (they can be transferred to many other airlines), I don’t think the SPG Amex is something we are going to hold long-term based on our spend and travel patterns. But with my cancelling my card and my husband getting his for the next year, at least this delays the ultimate decision for us by another year.
Chase Sapphire Preferred
I have also had this card myself for nearly a year and it has become our go-to card for travel and dining expenses, where it earns double points. Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer to several airline and hotel partners, including Southwest and United. Best of all, they transfer nearly instantly, which allowed us to top off our United accounts earlier this year when we saw a great use of United points for Air Canada first class seats (review coming soon).
Even though my annual fee is coming due and my husband now has the card, I’m actually planning to keep this card this year because it pays an annual 7% points bonus on earned points (Note as of 5/9/2017: The Chase Sapphire Preferred card no longer pays a 7% bonus). And we’ve earned A LOT of points in the last year due to our heavy use of the card. So it’s worth the annual fee to get that bonus for us. We’ll probably cancel my husband’s card next year when the annual fee is due.
Next Up: Applications For Me!
Next up are two new cards for me. I’m still weighing my options, so chime in if you have any opinions. I’m considering a US Airways card (get ’em before they’re gone!, Note as of 5/19/2017 – this card is long gone, like the airline), Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® (all the cool kids have them!), or one of the Alaska Airline cards (because Alaska is a great airline with lots of partners!).