019 | Our Family Travel Rewards Strategy

Learn how we optimize our travel budget, find family friendly options for travel, and learn the rules to travel rewards from a family perspective.

Spring (sigh).  While 40 degrees and sunshine does something special to my soul after a winter freeze, it also quickly turns into a muddy sloppy mess.  Since we are in the midst of another major home renovation phase (2 of 3) it feels like a mess or spring might just be the season of life I am in right now.  

 If you have never had real maple syrup, it is very light and truly delightful.  I love it fresh from the boil on top of vanilla bean ice cream, but my kids have become maple syrup snobs and will eat waffles, pancakes and french toast everyday of the week in order to get their maple syrup fix.  I know buddy the elf and maybe the Trina from episode 003 and 005 might put it on spaghetti and others in my Facebook Group enjoy it on oatmeal.  

Last week’s episode with Melissa Lagerquist on Family Travel Rewards tips, which can we just say how awesome she was, set the foundation for travel rewards with families.  For something as complicated as travel rewards she really translated into such human terms.  As promised I am going to build upon the tips from Episode 018 and share our family’s travel rewards strategy.  I’ll give you a sense of our travel budget, our timeline of travel rewards, which cards we use, how we optimize the benefits and how we have utilized redemptions. 

Our travel budget has never been luxurious, generally speaking it is about $2,500.  As a family of 5 that can be really tricky so while we would sometimes camp, or build a network of friends and family we can stay with, find cheap or free things to do, or benefit from a good fare sale (Scott’s Cheap Flights being one of my favorite sources).  The last few years the game changer for us has been adding travel rewards through the use of credit card sign on bonuses.  

My first travel rewards credit card was through my local credit union and it was the least effective reward card because there were no sign on bonuses to leverage in the accumulation phase, very few 2x or 3x earning bonuses, and overall poor travel redemption rates. However it was a starting point and you never get it perfect out of the gate.   

I really upped my travel rewards game in 2018 when I began studying the rules of travel rewards and designing a strategy that worked for us.  If you want the DIY version I do recommend the ChooseFI.com/travel online course.  It goes deep but gives you a good sense of all the nuances.  But if you prefer DIY with a guide on the side, that’s where Ordinary Sherpa can help you design a strategy for your family.  

If you download my Family Guide to Travel Rewards, available at Ordinarysherpa.com/rewards some of the questions I walk you through are your location and airports near you, Potential destinations, Preferred airlines and accommodations, Financial behaviors, and timeline for travel with whom.  Living in NE Wisconsin the two airports close to us are Appleton and Green Bay, with the hub airlines of American Airlines, Delta, and United.  

Because we are a family of 5 and my husband is a teacher, most of the traditional strategies didn’t work for us because we didn’t have the flexibility to travel in off-season.  It’s frowned upon to let a stranger take care of your 3-yo during a cross-country flight.  We needed to find options where we could sit together, and redeem points for 5 at a time, which takes a substantial stash of points. Which led us to Southwest Airlines as our first choice due to their companion pass.  

Southwest Companion Pass is achieved by earning 125,000 points in a calendar year.  A companion pass through Southwest Airlines allows you to bring a traveler with you on unlimited flights for the year you achieved CP and the entire following calendar year.  There are other airlines that offer Companion Pass (such as Delta and Alaska Airlines), but Southwest has the Platinum edition. 

I earned my companion pass in August of 2019 and learned the hard way.  Ideally you want to open both cards if possible in late October, early November.  You’ll need a plan to hit the minimum spends and often Christmas helps out.  Just make sure you don’t hit the minimum spend before January, or the bonuses will be applied in December.  My husband and I both have Companion Pass so each of us can bring a child for free and the stash of points we accumulated can be redeemed for our flights and one of our children’s flights.  The other highlight for us was that we could use Companion Pass at any time during the year as long as there is a seat available on the flights.  

Strategy 1: Choose a co-branded Credit Card that aligns with brands you prefer or that have routes that align with your departure or desired destination.  If you are interested in Southwest you can explore the Card options and benefits by going to Ordinarysherpa.com/sw

Strategy 2: My next recommendation is to select a card/cards that offer Flexible Point currency such as Chase Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership points, or Citi Thankyou points.  These points are flexible because they can be transferred to many different brands. Many of these flexible currencies include things like a reimbursement for TSA Precheck or Global Entry which allows you to expedite the security process.  In addition to other perks like trip insurance and airport lounge access.  We opted to do Chase since they aligned with Southwest and also included hotels and car rentals.

Again we are in 2 player mode.  I went with Chase Sapphire Reserve and my husband went with Chase Sapphire Preferred.  We each opened a business card too which was Chase Business Ink (to learn more go to Ordinarysherpa.com/chase).  We are just beginning to draw down on our Ultimate Rewards points and find them helpful to cover car rentals or accommodations.  

Strategy 3: Lastly, I would suggest getting a Travel Eraser Card such as Capital One Venture or Discover also has one.  Capital One Venture was actually our second card so we could use the points for things like Airbnb stays, or in 2020 RV rentals.  Anything that codes as travel on your statement can be wiped out with points.  These can also wipe out other travel related expenses such as tours or tickets.  For example if you are going to Disney, purchase your tickets from undercover tourist and you can use the eraser card to redeem points for those expenses.  You can learn more about Capital One Venture Card at Ordindarysherpa.com/venture

This framework is for the DIY version of travel rewards. To learn details about travel rewards take the free online course at ChooseFI.com/travel. If you need a guide on the side, inquire about Travel Rewards coaching by contacting us on our online form at ordinarysherpa.com/contact and we can start the discovery and strategy process.

Key Takeaways

  1. Choose a co-branded card that aligns with your destination and traveler needs
  2. Southwest Companion Pass is a great goal for family travel rewards
  3. Know the rules and timelines for earning the sign on bonuses
  4. Add a flexible use rewards currency to allow for other aspects of your travel to be supported by rewards.  Beware of the Chase 5/24 unwritten rule.
  5. A travel eraser card redeems points toward any expense coded as travel on your statement.  
  6. For a downloadable guide to Family Travel Rewards with tips, our 5 card strategy, and a rewards planning template, go to Ordinarysherpa.com/rewards 

UPDATE: If you want to see detail of how we flew to Hawaii round trip from Wisconsin for under $500 total, make sure to check out episode 032.

Resources mentioned on this episode:Episode 018 | Travel Rewards tips for families with Melissa Lagerquist: https://ordinarysherpa.com/familytravelrewards/

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Scott’s Cheap Flights: ordinarysherpa.com/scott

Travel Rewards Credit Cards Mentioned:
Southwest Credit Card: ordinarysherpa.com/sw
Chase Cred: ordinarysherpa.com/chase
Capital One Venture: ordinarysherpa.com/venture

To download the FREE Family Guide to Travel Rewardshttps://ordinarysherpa.com/rewards/

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