After my grandmother’s birthday in New York, my whole family couldn’t stop planning our next family reunion. My husband and I started thinking, well how can we travel hack our next family trip? The only person that came to my mind was Aunt Kara, aka Tia Kara. She’s always sharing how her family travel hacks with credit card points and other hotel reward perks. Now that I have a family of four and every bottom needs a seat, I’m all ears. I asked Aunt Kara to share some tips on how we can travel hack to our next family trip.
Caution before reading!!!
As a caution, these tips are not for everyone and where you’re at in your financial journey does matter. Do not jump into a credit card or any reward program that you’re not able to handle responsibly. By handling responsibly, I mean paying your credit card off in full and not go into debt over any miles or discounts. The whole point of travel hacking is to take advantage of the travel perks without paying more for your trip.
I want to be fully transparent and share that I currently do not have a travel reward credit card. Due to family health issues and our debt-free journey, traveling was not our priority. But now that things are calming down, we will be waiting until the timing makes sense to get a travel credit card. We are in no rush and you shouldn’t be either.
Now if the majority of your debt is in credit cards, then this blog post might not before you. I recommend working on building a strong financial foundation with an emergency fund and very little debt. And once you’re ready to use credit cards, build the habit of using your credit card like a debit card. By only swiping your card if you have the money in your account to pay your credit card in full.
What’s Travel Hacking?
Travel hacking is one of the hottest ways to save big on flights and hotels. One of the most popular hacks is to use travel credit cards that offer large signup bonuses for free flights. A non-credit option is to use loyalty reward programs to get discounts on hotels, car rentals and flights. During my American Airlines flight to NYC, they offered a Black Friday signup bonus of 60K miles plus an extra 30K miles if you signed up during the flight. I didn’t sign up for the airline credit card, but it did sound like a good deal. Once I got home, I asked Aunt Kara what should we be looking for or doing to travel hack our next family trip? And here are some of her tips.
Tip #1 – Set travel goals
“Some beginners just start signing up for travel credit cards or other programs without a defined goal”, says Aunt Kara.
Start by setting travel goals to help you determine your best strategy for travel hacking. “Some beginners just start signing up for travel credit cards or other programs without a defined goal”, says Aunt Kara. Instead, she recommends start travel hacking by answering these three questions first.
- Where and when do you want to travel to?
- What airline and hotel options do you have?
- How many points and miles will you need?
Some of the top things I consider when setting travel goals are where my family lives, so we can visit. We’ve noticed that we get the best flight prices to visit family in the month of October. This is right before everyone starts traveling for the holidays, so the flights tend to be cheaper. After that, I like to see which airlines can continually give us the best rate from our home airport. We always get stuck between American Airlines for visiting my family and Delta for visiting my husband’s family. Where and when you travel matters when trying to maximize your travel budget.
Now, here is what Aunt Kara recommends once your family agrees one question 1 and 2. Start looking at where you want to stay at. Because you might be able to travel hack not just your flight, but your hotel and dining accommodations as well. To do this you have to figure out how much your points/miles are worth and how you can earn them. Every credit card and rewards program calculates and offers points differently.
If you want to learn more about how to calculate points and miles check out Aunt Kara’s Instagram post.
Tip #2 – One card doesn’t fit all
Now, this section I had to break up into two sections. Picking the right travel credit card is probably the most homework intense part of travel hacking. Aunt Kara recommends to take your time and really look at which card offers you the most perks. This won’t be the same for everyone, so you have to do your homework and list out the pros and cons. Because one card can offer perks that another won’t and that can make it difficult to make a final selection. Here two routes to look into:
Airline Credit Card
Chances are you might already have a favorite airline that goes to all of your favorite destinations. If you’re not sure, do a quick google flight search to see which airlines frequently fly to your favorite destinations. For me visiting our family is a top traveling priority, so I always check if the airline flies into NYC, Dominican Republic, and Alabama. Two of my favorite airlines that fly to my favorite destinations are American Airlines and Delta Airlines. If you’re flying to the midwest or to Hawaii Aunt Kara highly recommends to check out Southwest Airlines.
If I see that my favorite airline isn’t flying into my preferred destination, I check to see if they have any sister airlines. This allows you to collect travel miles and use your miles with that airline. That way your able to max out your benefits if you need to travel with another airline. I personally do this to collect my airline mile rewards. Once you’ve decided on an airline that works for most of your flight destinations you can check out their credit card options. A few things to consider when reviewing airline credit cards is the earning rates per dollar, signup bonuses, and annual fees.
Non-Airline Travel Credit Cards
Are you not sure where you’ll be traveling to and want more flexibility on which airline you can use? Then using a non-airline travel credit card might be a better fit for you. Some of the most recommended non-airline travel credit cards are the Chase Sapphire cards, Capital One Venture, and the American Express cards. Some of these do come with pricy annual fees and some of the credit cards do offer airline-specific cards as well. Being aware of other travel credit cards options is key to picking the right card for you. Also, some of these cards do offer many other travel perks as TSA pre-check-in, airport lounge access, and insurance protection.
Tip #3 – Stay organized or it will cost you
When it comes to travel hacking, Aunt Kara recommends staying organized while saving for your travel hacking goals. A good tip is to track your progress towards your travel goals on an excel sheet. Kara keeps track of when she signed up for cards, when the annual fee is due, and if she collected all of her points. These small notes are so important to your travel and personal budget. The last thing you want to happen is to forget that your annual fee is due or that you haven’t collected enough points for a trip.
Another thing to keep an eye on is inflated flights that require more points. Meaning that you will have a very limited amount of flight options for lower point tickets. This happens a lot during the hot traveling season like spring break and major holidays. Meaning you won’t be able to maximize your miles when the kids are out of school and on break. This is a big bummer when trying to plan trips during the hot travel season. One good tip Aunt Kara shared was to take advantage of traveling on the slow seasons if your kids aren’t in school yet.
Tip #4 – Travel hack as a team
This was a great tip I probably wouldn’t have considered. Wow, layering your travel credit cards with your spouse. One way to double up on the signup miles is for you and your spouse to get the same travel credit card separately. This way you both get the miles and are able to transfer miles to each other since your married. To be clear this strategy is best done when picking the same credit card so you both get the same perks.
A small tip to consider is to maybe stagger opening the cards 1-3 months apart. A lot of cards offer the miles only if you spend $3,000, for example, within the first 3 months. But others do offer a $1 minimum spend amount, which allows you to access the miles very quickly. Since most cards do have a high minimum spend amount, it’s important to plan ahead. You can do this by reviewing your budget and seeing if you have any large expenses that are coming up that can be charged onto the card. The goal is to hit the minimum spend amount only on purchases you can pay right back, so you don’t go into debt. The point is to take advantage of the miles, not go into debt for them.
Tip #5 – Consider the Companion Pass
This is probably one of the biggest game-changer perks to traveling hacking with credit cards, the companion pass. Southwest Airlines, for example, offers a companion pass for one person to fly with you for free (plus tax and fees) if you make 100 qualified one-way flights or collect 125,000 qualified points. A lot of credit cards are following behind Southwest Airlines and are offering their own companion pass/certificates. When I was on my flight to NYC, American offered a companion certificate for a $99 fee with their card. A great tip Aunt Kara gave was to use the companion pass for your kids. This is a way you can make traveling more affordable as a family. If you layer your travel credit cards you’re able to fly each kid as a companion for only $99 or free plus tax. Now that is a travel hack I’m interested in.
Feature thank you
To conclude all of these amazing credit card travel hacking tips I want to thank Tia Kara. Which you can find on Instagram @Aunt.kara. As a family of four, we hope that traveling as a family continues to be in our future. I see a lot of benefits with these travel credit cards. I’ll be getting into the travel hacking game once we start traveling more and have purchased our home. I say that to be transparent and to show you that it’s important to make sure you’re in the right position financially before travel hacking. But if you’re in the position to travel hack and want more information definitely check out Aunt Kara on Instagram for more tips.
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