111 | Family Travel Hacking Strategy with Rachel West

Family Travel Rewards Strategy
In this episode we help families navigate travel rewards so they can travel more for less. Rachel walks us through her 5yr travel planning process and workflow.

Today’s episode is a little different from a typical interview.  Our guest today is a member of our Family Travel Hackers membership where we help families travel more for less.  The Family Travel Hackers Membership is a way to support families who want to explore travel rewards but are overwhelmed.  As one of my guests described travel rewards “the learning curve is steep but once you get that first free trip you’re hooked.”  The Family Travel Hackers membership also dives deeper into how to travel authentic travel experiences.  While I don’t think you HAVE to travel to experience the benefits of adventure, it is a huge value in many family’s values so I wanted to create a space to support that desire.  This episode offers insight into the membership and how we source and curate topics and guests to support what the members’ needs are. In this session, we elevated a member of the group to share her planning and travel rewards strategy.  What makes this episode extra special for me is that Rachel is a long-time listener to Ordinary Sherpa and one of the biggest supporters of the show.  From the beginning I wanted this podcast to feature the best of everyday ordinary families.  While I certainly can feature experts, I wanted it to be extremely relevant to everyday working families.  Rachel doesn’t have a platform or a personal brand.  She is just a traveling family guru with a passion for travel rewards and willing to help others, a prime example of the sherpa philosophy of this community.  

I invite you to join Rachel, I and the other families interested in traveling more for less.  As a bonus, yesterday was my 43rd birthday and I have decided for the remainder of 2023 I am going to offer a $43 discount on the annual membership.  If you head to the link in the show notes and at checkout use the code:HAPPY43 If you join before next week Tuesday (3/22/23) you will get to participate in “Tips for Cruising” with my friend Josh Overmyer.  We’ve had topics on Rewarding Experiences, and have upcoming sessions to deep dive into Travel Tech, Working while Traveling, and Hacking Hawaii. The one thing that makes this community unique is that I am not an affiliate for any of the credit cards.  We encourage sharing and using referral links within the community so you can earn more miles and support others in the community.  

Show Notes for this episode: https://ordinarysherpa.com/047
Join Family Travel Hackers Membership to help families travel more for less.  https://ordinarysherpa.com/FTH
Use Coupon Code: HAPPY43 for $43 off your annual membership at checkout. 

Thanks to her parents, Rachel caught the travel bug when she was 14, and she’s never recovered. Despite assumptions to the contrary, having kids didn’t slow her down. Now she, her husband, and two boys travel as much and as often as possible. Some of their favorite points redemptions for their family include trips to England, Portugal, and Spain, and this year points are helping them travel to Whitefish, Montana; Curaçao; and Hawaii. Rachel West, a fellow member of Family Travel Hackers Membership is here today to share her tips and strategies for family travel hacking with kids.  

Key Takeaways

  1. Loosely plot out the years with destinations you’d like to travel.  Include the children’s ages, defined school breaks and any restrictions to keep in mind to offer the best experience for that destination.  Certain time periods have expiration dates, having a multi-year strategy allows Rachel to be intentional with her family travel planning. 

  2. Their 5-year plan is a place to dream.  She and her husband can put their wish list down and begin the joyful process of research and exploring future destinations.  She creates a folder of each trip and when she finds something interesting she puts it in the folder.  When she is ready to begin putting dates on the calendar this helps her get started. 

  3. Using tools like Google Flights, Skyscanner, and Flight Connections.com helps her begin to map out which airlines and routes will work best and how many points and miles they will need to get their flights covered. 

  4. There are limited reward seats available, especially for international flights.  There is no way to know how many reward seats are available per flight, for this reason Rachel makes it her goal to book flights using points and miles as soon as the flight calendar is open.

  5. Don’t worry about redemption values.  Some travel rewards websites will indicate that points are worth 1.8 cents, etc.  The best redemption value are the points that help your family fly more for less!

  6. Points and Miles strategy doesn’t need to be complicated. Eventually it becomes a habit for how you spend money or find things online.

Resources referenced in this episode

Google Flights
Family Travel Hackers Membership

Connect with Rachel West: Member of Family Travel Hackers membership or Free Ordinary Sherpa Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/ordinarysherpa

Show transcript

Rachel has been traveling since she was 14 and never quite recovered. And despite all these contradictions of having kids and thinking you have to slow down, that was not necessarily the path that Rachel took. She, her husband and their two boys travel as much as possible. and some of their favorite redemptions have been trips to England, Portugal, and Spain. This year they travel soon to Whitefish to go skiing in Montana to Kiis out and to Hawaii. So I just wanted to give you guys some different perspective on how people approach travel hacking and h approach travel planning with a family. So Rachel West, thank you so much for joining.

Yes. Happy to be here with y’all.

My two boys are seven and nine, just for context. And travel is one of our top family values. It’s something we enjoy tremendously. It allows us to have new experiences and new adventures together, and we, we can learn new skills and new languages when we need to. And we also view it as a form of education for all of us.

So we invest in it. In order to travel, we use a mix of cash and points. So earning points and miles lets us go on more trips than we would otherwise be able to afford. And so we got started with this in 2009. We made our first redemption in 2010 with a trip to New York City and since then we’ve taken a lot more trips thanks to points and miles.

So we do a mix of domestic and international travel with a goal of doing at least one international trip per year. For international travel, our goal is at minimum to get some, but preferably all of our flights to that country for free. We focus primarily on flights for our redemptions when we’re thinking about a destination because generally those are the most expensive parts of a trip.

And we also found that once you get there, there are a lot of options for where to stay and how to get around within the country. So you can often adjust that if you need to, to stay in your budget. And so Heidi has already covered a lot of the basics of travel hacking, you know, the flexible points cards, and the signup bonuses.

So I’m not gonna, I’m gonna be building on what she’s already covered. I’m really gonna be focusing on international travel and share how we get organized and how to figure out what points you need and then make a plan for accumulating the points and then spending your points. So as you’ll see that we are planners, and I’m gonna share how we approach international trips with our system.

You do not have to be as detailed as this if you don’t want to, and I’m gonna share tips that are useful for the planners and the more spontaneous travelers among us. But we are also spontaneous. We, not all of our trips are planned but the big things are the ones that are gonna take a lot of.

So to organize all of that, we use what we call our five year travel plan. And this is really our travel wishlist. The list of places that we wanna go is very, very long. So this started as a way for my husband and I to compare notes and prioritize where we wanted to go. And really those places that we each individually dreamed of going, we could kind of combine them and figure out what order to go in.

And then the actual more detailed five year plan came about when we had kids. So in the plan, we loosely and I emphasize loosely plot out where we wanna go each year, over the next five years. And this became even more important to do when the school schedule restricted our travel to certain dates. So.

In the five-year plan, I have it divided by year and I always list my kids’ ages so I don’t have to think about it. They’re just right there. And then within each year, each school break, so spring break or fall break or whatever you have is listed since it’s an opportunity for a trip. And you could certainly do this if you are not restricted to a school schedule.

If you’d just like to go on September or February or. And then each listing or school break usually includes multiple options for where we might wanna go. So for example, this spring break, we knew based on our other travel plans for the year that we wanted to go somewhere in the Caribbean, since it’s a shorter flight and there’s minimal differences in time zones.

So we had written Carrisa and Puerto Rico and Grand Cayman, and that was what we came up with in, with our in order of our preference. So I’ll explain how we figured out where to go in a moment. In the plan, we only plot out the big trips that involve the flights or longer distance driving, not smaller, more spontaneous weekend trips.

It’s things where we conceivably will use points of miles for flights or Airbnbs or hotels. . And one of the reasons I find the five year plan is so helpful is that if there are particular places you’re really interested in going, there may be ideal ages for children or whoever you’ll be traveling with that you’ll wanna take into consideration.

And there may also be expiration dates to think about too. So our five-year plan really helps us keep track of that. We have things listed like when our kids are gonna have their fourth grade national Park pass or. . If there’s a minimum age or height or weight restrictions for certain experiences, we place those trips in the appropriate slots in our five-year plans with those things in mind.

So if you wanna go to Antarctica or go caving in Belize or. Cage diving with sharks in South Africa, whatever you wanna do, you can kind of plot that out. And you may find that you still, you may still wanna go those destinations, but if there’s a particular experience you wanna have in that place, you need to find out about any restrictions before you go.

So you won’t be disappointed when you spend all that time and effort and points and money getting there. And then, Can’t do that thing that you really wanted to do. So while our five year plan keeps us organized and focused, it is really most importantly, a place for us to dream. It’s a way for us to be intentional about our travel goals.

It gives us a specific goal to work towards, which is helpful, you know, in those moments. So when you have to make decisions about ways to save money you can have that specific picture or an experience in your mind to keep you going and keep you motivated. And I also get a lot of joy from reading about other places and cultures and researching those places.

Knowing what’s on our list for the next five or so years gives me time to bookmark things or take notes for specific trips that I have in mind for the future. So on Instagram and on my laptop, I have folders for each country that we’re most interested in visiting. Or I might divide the folders up by trip.

So, Like a safari. We wanna go on safari, but we don’t know exactly which countries we wanna go go to or southeast age, or where we might wanna go for longer and visit multiple countries. So when I see something interesting, I can save it in the folder even if I don’t have time to read it at that moment.

And this just helps make planning easier when the time comes because I already have resources and images to help get me started. And then having a five-year plan also helps when planning our points in mile strategy. So when you’re getting started with your own strategy, I find it really helpful to have a place in mind.

But if you don’t have a specific place in mind, it’s helpful to at least have a general idea of where you wanna go. So Europe or South America or the Caribbean. And then once you determine a destination or a continent, but before you apply for any credit, , it’s really good to start looking at flights, like flights of specific cities, the country or the continent, whatever information you have to see what airlines fly there, and then roughly how many points you’ll need to get there.

And this really helps you narrow down all of those credit cards and signup bonuses that you see so that you can get a plan for what you wanna focus on. And. Here’s how I do it when I’m thinking about what card to apply for next, and it’s, I think it’s helpful no matter where in the journey you are with travel hacking, whether you’re a beginner or whether you’re advanced, I always find it helps to start with flights.

So I use Google Flights Explorer and you can search that to see costs at various times during the next year or so. But another one that you can use that I like is Skys Scanner. And that divides flights by best, cheapest, and fastest, which can be really interesting to look at. And then it also divides by airline alliances, which can be really helpful too.

But I’m gonna talk specifically about Google flights since it’s really common. So you can search by your home airport and then. , any other airports that are within driving distance to give you the most options. You can set when you wanna travel, if you’re bound to certain dates or just put in a length of time that you think you wanna go for around the time of year you wanna go.

So March, sometime in March, and then leave the destination open. . And then you can see the results on the map to explore a region or a continent to see those prizes. You can see the entire region. And then if you have specific dates and a specific place, just go ahead and put all that in. And you can also use the map to see how other airports in or near your final destination compare.

So if you’re going to Germany, you can see Frankfurt and Berlin and Munich. You can see all of that. And so this is what we did for spring break. We. Specific dates. And we were most interested in going to Carousel Puerto Rico in Green came in, but I was also basically looking at all the other islands in the Caribbean.

And so the map view allowed us at a glance for the precise dates that we needed to check the prices for my home airport in Birmingham, Alabama, and then do another search out of Atlanta, which is an easy drive for us. And we could just see how they compare to each other and any kind of trends over time.

And one good thing in Google flights, there’s an indicator that says that these fares are low or above average or whatever, that give you some guidance too. And so this will give you an idea of what airlines fly to that destination for the best price. Yes.

Rachel, can I interrupt you for a second? I have a question.

Yeah. So Brie actually has a question related to this. Yeah. And I know it’s one of those you, you often see. How far out are you planning in terms of figuring out how many points it’s going to take to get there? So what her question is specifically that she read an article saying that points required for flight redemptions has increased.

Have you noticed this? And then how does that affect your plan and how you use your. I

think right now it’s probably higher than normal. You know, even just last year when we were booking things in 2021 for 2022. We’ve got some amazing deals. So I think it’s really just because travel has returned so fiercely in 2022 and I think they’re also anticipating that for 2023 people are just getting back out there.

That, that because of dynamic pricing that’s gonna affect the points prices. So I think eventually we’ll get to more normal when, you know, people are traveling at normal capacity. They’re fully staffed at airlines in terms of pilots and crew. But in TER in general, how we kind of plan? I think it depends.

So we generally, and I’ll kind of get to this later, but for planning purposes, I think it’s helpful to kind of start getting an idea at least you know, If, you know, like a year and a half, two years out from a, when you wanna take a trip, just because it can take a while to accumulate points or to find the card that you want and accumulate the points that you need.

And then it’s great to have a long lead time on, you know, when you’re ready to book. Because you know, airlines will put out there, and it varies by airline, but they’ll put out their calendars for the next nine to nine months to a year. So, you know, you can start looking then and they have limited award seats on flights.

So if you can be one of the first to book, that’s super helpful. But yeah, I generally, if I’m gonna know, I’m gonna need a card to book a trip I really like, ideally like a year and a half just to get all the stuff in order and then to make sure that you can get a good flight that you like.

And if I could just add the one challenge is with Southwest only puts out their calendar usually six months in advance.

So you’re kind of, I still think though, looking a year in advance is helpful because you still have a sense of what it’s going to be. You may not have the exact redemptions or anything like that, but having enough lead time to get a sense of how many points you need is helpful.

Right, right. I, yeah, totally agree.

Another. Tool that I use when researching flight. So if you have a specific country or city that you know you wanna visit, I like to use flight connections.com. And so I’m actually using this now for a trip that we wanna take in the summer of 2024. And so flight Connections can tell you what airlines fly to and from certain airports so you can figure out transfer partners.

, and this is helpful when, like, when you’re figuring out the transfer partners, but also general, general routing particularly for more complicated itineraries that you may be planning. So for example, we’re planning to go to Greece in 2024, somewhere of 2024, but we wanted to bypass the Athens Airport for various reasons.

So we were looking at airlines and cities within Europe that have direct flights to Santorini or menos, and we’re starting to figure out what points we’ll need to get the flights for free. So now, That’s a year and a half out that we’re kind of planning now. So once you know what airlines fly, are we gonna go, you can search specifically on that airlines website to figure out the points, prices, and then you can work backwards to identify, you know, what airlines or flexible points, cards are going to help you get to your goal.

So it might be, it might be a flexible points card, like say, chase are preferred that has a lot of transfer partners. Or it could be a Delta Airlines card or American or United, where you can earn a big chunk of points from the signup bonus. And so every person’s strategy is going to be a little different because it depends on where you are coming from and where you wanna go.

But once you’ve identified the card and signed up and are working towards a minimum spend, keep looking at your search to the destination over the next few months and that. You can track the cost and points so you can stay up to date on what is a good points. . And then once you have your points, you’ll be able to grab a deal when you see it.

So we did this for our spring break trip, and I checked the prices pretty religiously. They were consistently high and weren’t coming down, and I thought for sure it wasn’t gonna happen. And so I started kind of thinking about like plan B options. But then one day, I mean like sort of random, I think it was a Friday I to check and the points price dropped for the flights to carousel to where we needed it to be for what we had like our available.

And we were able to book our flights. So we just are the, the trip is at the end of March and we just booked those on November 7th, which that’s pretty late for us. So we booked two tickets for 92,000 American Airlines miles, and then we paid for the remaining two. And it wasn’t, you know, the best redemption, but we had the points, we’d earmarked them for that trip and now we get to go somewhere that was on our wishlist for a lot less money.

And so that, that’s the best deal. Another example was my husband was booking our flights to London last year on points and doing a search, you know, was a regular part of his routine. So he had a good baseline knowledge and was able to jump on it when he saw a great points price. So we actually got an amazing deal and we we earned way more points than we ended up using because we had researched and been tracking the flight and knew what the average points price was for those flights.

So when we saw the deal, we just booked. A s a P and now we just have those extra points to use for another trip. But for reference, we got four flights from Birmingham to Heathrow for 150, 2000 Delta Sky miles, which is 38,000 per person. And then we had to pay $800 in taxes. So anyone who’s interested in going to London, and I believe Christie, this is on your wishlist, but y’all should know about this.

There is really no avoiding those high taxes. They have, London has the highest fees in the world, I’m pretty sure, for flying into their airports. So there’s certain things that you can do to get around that. But so those flights that we booked were $2,000 per ticket at the regular price outside of the taxes.

So the total would have been. Eight, $8,800. So it was, that was an excellent redemption. But even if you are and we mentioned this, but like if you’re more than two years out, you can still search flights to the destination during, you know, the rough timeframe that you wanna go. If you wanna go in the summer or the fall for the next year.

I mean, it’s ideal if you can pinpoint the month, but that way you can at least get an idea of how many points you’ll need. And that’s what, that’s what I’m actually doing now and have been doing for probably about six months, for summer of 2024. And I mean, the flight calendars are going to be restricted generally to the next year.

And certainly for Southwest, it’s generally the next six months. But the prices often are roughly the same for the same time of year since high season and low season and shoulder season tend to be the same. So it’s still really helpful for planning purposes. And if you, I just wanna, sorry. Yeah, Rachel, I just

wanted to mention too, I do have a little benchmarking tool to help people understand like, what’s a good price to wear?

Because I think that was part of my challenge too, was figuring out like, what’s, when you’re getting started, what’s a good points? Redemption, right? Mm-hmm. . So I started to figure


With different places, like what’s the amount of money and then roughly how many points is that? So when I see a good deal, I know to grab it as opposed to like grabbing it and it, I think when I was early on, I just grabbed whatever I could cuz I didn’t know if this was gonna get better or not.

So I do have a benchmarking tool that could, that I can share

as well. Yeah. And it’s gotten a lot more complicated. It used to be that there was standard pricing, it was like 40,000 to make it to South America or something. And now the dynamic pricing, it just makes. More complicated, but . So you have to do a little bit more research.

But yeah, I mean, if you get into this routine you’ll, and it’s just kind of part of your routine, you know, once a week or every other week or whatever, and you’ll get a baseline of what it’s gonna cost. So you can make sure you not only have enough points, but what looks reasonable, what’s a deal, what’s overpriced.

So when you actually go to book and the question of when to book, I mean, we talked a little bit about this, but. We personally like to check as soon as the flight schedule opens and that that varies by airlines. One is and Heidi, I know you’ve talked about this before, but Scott’s Cheap flights, so that’s now known as going, they often mention the Goldilocks window for booking, which for international trips is two to eight months out.

But this is for cheap flights paid in cash. Mistake faires are one offs that you generally have to book pretty quickly. It’s not necessarily flights booked with points and miles and airlines often. Limited award suits on their flight. So you may wanna book as soon as the flight schedule opens, if there’s a certain route that you wanna take at a certain time so that you can ensure that you get one of those award tickets.

The airline certainly may open some of those up later, but it’s not guaranteed. So if you’re really set on going to a particular place, a particular time, then you may wanna go ahead and book it just for the peace of mind, even if it’s not like the optimal redemption. And if you have more flexibility in when you go or you don’t care where you go or both, you can certainly find some great points.

Prices But you know, like, so for a couple of examples, our trip to England and Wales, which we took that at the end of March and end into April of 2022. We booked those flights in October, the beginning of October of 2021. And that was a little late for us, but it, it worked in our favor as I mentioned earlier.

And I really think we lucked out on that because of where we were in terms of the pandemic with travel. You know, not as many people were traveling internationally at that point still. And, and when we got to England, many people. There were, were like, they were surprised that we were tourists. Like they thought we lived there.

They just hadn’t seen American tourists in a while. So I think it, it was just kind of timing and that can certainly happen at any time. You know, you, you know, you don’t know. So that’s another, you know, another reason to kind of check habit. Its routine where you check for these dream destinations that you have in mind.

And yeah, Rachel, To

talk more about your routine you just go to, what does that look like each week when you’re saying like, yeah, you just get in a routine and you check like where are you checking and kind of what are you looking for and when do you decide? Do you have a system that you and your husband both say, okay, we’re going with it, or, you know, talk us a little bit through

that Yeah.

Routine for you. So again, we really ideally will look as soon as if we have on our five-year plan and we wanna know the next thing we need to. Is for September of 2023, whatever. Yeah, September, 2023. We, I would definitely be looking now for that flight because they probably, in some airlines, they might have just opened the awards redemptions.

So I would be checking a lot. Like I would be checking, my husband would probably be checking, and that way we would just know You know, if it, and if it had just opened and the points were like we could book it, we’d probably just go ahead and book it. Because two, with travel the way it is right now and the limited you know, like with staffing as it is and more people wanting to travel and just sometimes not enough room.

I would book it like as soon as I could get an awards flight there, just because of how things are at the moment. But, and when you say you’re

checking, sorry. Okay. When you say you’re checking, are you checking on the credit card rewards? Are you checking Google flights? Where exactly? Are you checking that airline


Right? Yes. Normally. Okay. So if I’ve done my research and I know. Say, I’m going to London, and I mean, I wish I was going to London in September, but say I’m going to London. And I knew that generally the best rewards for that for me personally, from my airports is probably gonna be Delta. And if I have a stash of Delta points just sitting there waiting, or if I have, if I have American Airlines points, just kind of whatever I.

And points that I know they go to London, I will check their website that I will go and search Birmingham to London Heathrow for the dates that we want and just monitor that. If I have enough points and there’s an award flight, I’ll book it right then, just given how travel is right now. So that, that’s generally the routine.

If I, if I’ve built up points through my research, I know Delta’s gonna. The best flights for points for where I need to go, that’s the website that I’m checking. If I’m kind of more open-ended, like, oh, like the spring rink trip to Ural, I would be searching on probably generally we, we got American, I’d done my research and so we knew that we needed American Airlines miles for that trip generally cuz they were flying generally everywhere we wanted to go in the Caribbean.

So I was checking American Airline. at one point daily for to see what those award redemptions. But also I was also checking and this kind of messes you up with some of the differences in the airlines. Like with Southwest being so short only six months out, I was sometime cuz we also wanted to go to Grand Cayman or Puerto Rico and those are both Southwest options.

So I would also check Southwest. , I think really it, it goes, it’s based on your research that you’ve previously done and then what miles you actually had to work with. Does that make sense? Does that answer it? Yeah, I think so. So the research you

talking about earlier, you know, with yes. The, the Google flights is kind of where you start to figure it out.

The Sky Scanner might be helpful as well, and then Flight Connections kinda helps you do that initial research of what are the flight options to that

place to figure out what

airline you’re gonna travel.

Right, right. What points to earn. If you have like Chase ultimate rewards points that you can transfer, you might be searching a lot of different places, but if you yeah, but it’s based on that kind of initial research that you did in order to earn the miles that you have now sitting there in order to book.

so you’re kind of several steps in, if that makes sense. Yeah, yeah. I just wanted to go

through your workflow a little bit. Yeah. To get a bit, get inside your brain a little bit. Yes. So people understand like it’s a couple, once you have your five year plan, you now have a, a little bit more of a flow.


And that’s why I like to start early because I mean, if some of these airlines will release some a year out or 10 months out, and like if you don’t have your stash appoint in there, you might miss out and. I don’t wanna miss on an amazing trip, just cuz I didn’t plan for it so. But again, you can get the great redemptions later on too.

So anyway. And then another example of a redemption that we did. So in June of 2022, we did a trip to Portugal and the Azores using points, and we booked those flights at the beginning of September of 2021. So that was a. almost as soon as the flight calendar opened up, because we wanted, there was a direct flight from the US to Lisbon that we’d seen, and we knew that the airlines only had so many award seats available on that flight when they first released the flight information.

And you don’t, you don’t know how many award seats they have allocated for each flight. So there’s no way, and there’s, there’s really no way to find out. So we, we wanted to be like the early birds that got the worm basically. And so for that one, we. 200,000 American Airlines miles. And then for that one we only had to pay $258 in taxes and fees.

So we did check on that flight on and off after we’d booked and the points, prices never went below what we paid, so we were, we were pretty happy we’d gone ahead and booked you know, for the, the deal, but also like peace of mind again, which to me can sometimes be priceless. And. As an aside, that’s also true domestically, as we mentioned with Southwest.

So for example, this summer we’re going to Hawaii on points and some of the direct flights that we booked as soon as the calendar opened up are no longer even available for any amount of points right now. So that’s something to consider too. You know, there are deals to be had anytime, but if you’re working with a restricted time in which to travel, planning ahead and booking early will really help to ensure that you get where you wanna go.

And then of course the more points you save when booking, the more trips you can take, obviously. But also, I really wouldn’t stress too much over redemption values. I don’t even calculate that like some people do. I mean, spending those points will be the difference in taking the trip or not. Like that’s always the best redemption, just taking the.

But one another tip on timing. If you notice that during a specific time, you’re looking at going to that destination, that the price or the points are consistently high or higher than you wanna pay, even when they are like, you know, quote, average. Try searching another window of time that’s also in one of your slots, in your five-year plan, just to see how that affects the prize.

You know, like if you were going, if you were thinking you wanted to go on a particular trip in March for spring break, you know, try searching that destination at the start of summer when that’s the summer break starts and just see how they compare. Because depending on what you find that may change when you decide to travel there you know, going in the summer instead of spring break if you can go for.

Fewer points or less money. This is certainly something that I learned recently. Or reinforced it too, because we know in the next few years we really wanna go to Iceland. We were initially thinking we wanted to go in the summer since longer days and nicer weather, but it’s also at the height of tourist season and when it’s the most expensive.

So after doing some research we’re thinking now we may go during spring break. It’s gonna be colder and darker, but a plus to that is that we could potentially see the Northern Lights, which. Has been on our wishlist for a long time, and it would also be significantly. Less expensive to go at that time.

And another thing I’ve learned about redeeming points for flights is that being creative can really, really pay off Sometimes, you know, like you may decide that you wanna go to Rome, but you happen to see a great deal in a flight from your home airport to Frankfurt. . And the thing about Europe and, and certainly other parts of the world is that once you get there, you can take a short, cheaper flight or a train to get to your final destinations.

And that’s flight connections can, can help you there that can identify those airlines. You know, the Ryan heirs, which is like the budget, European airline or some of those more in-country. Airlines that we are just not as familiar with here in the US cuz they don’t service the us. And you can also sometimes see if they’re part of an alliance and you can look up, you know, how they’re, they’re transfer partners.

And you’ll save money. You can possibly, you know, see another part of the world because of it like that you didn’t, that you weren’t anticipating. There’s also, you can do stopovers. You can schedule a longer layover so you can go out and explore. And Iceland Air has a particularly good stopover program for Iceland.

There are other major airlines that do it too. You know, and I’ve talked mainly about flights, but you can of course expand this if you have, if there’s a certain resort or a hotel specifically that you wanna stay in. And it’s just gonna add another level to your strategy. But, you know, i h g or Hyatt or Marriott cards or there’s a ton of options, but you know, just depending on what your goals are and for things.

Airbnbs, or, you know, potentially other vacation rentals. You can certainly look into an eraser card like the Capital One Venture Cards. Mm-hmm. , you know, there’s, there’s, you couldn’t kind of just start with flights and then build on that, build it out from there. Yeah.

Rachel, I wanna ask Erin has a question.

Can you describe an award seat? So you’re talking with airlines, you had mentioned they, there’s only so many award seats available, so what is the difference between an award seat and a regular seat?

So there’s really nothing. It’s the same seat, but when you go to search on these airlines websites, there’s you can click, you know, that you wanna search by award.

And then instead of like the, the price is popping up for the different options, you’ll see a points price. And those are just the same. They’re generally economy. I mean, there’s probably some business class ones too, but we are not business class people at this point in our lives, . So it’s mainly the economy ones that we’re looking at, but.

it’ll just, it’ll look literally just like if you had searched him in, like the price, it’ll just say, this is 50,000 American airlines miles, or whatever the amount is, and that way you can see what it, it’s gonna cost you. But the, the, the seats are no different. It’s really just how many that they allot per flight.

I’ve read anywhere that it might be, I’ve read from several places that it could be you, maybe there’s only four. Awards seats on that flight or that particular flight that you want. So it’s like if you’re a family of four or even five or you know, you gotta get on it. So that’s kind of I, when I read that, I was like, Ooh, you know, that’s kind of what encouraged me to start looking literally as soon as the calendar opened, just to make sure that we were literally the first people

who got this flight.

So, and are there, is that true based on airline? Like I know you mentioned you don’t necessarily know how many award seats are available, but are there airlines that use award seats have limitations on award seats and airlines that don’t

or, I think it changes too. You know, just like with the how, where we are with travel at the moment, I think it’s probably changing daily.

You know, they might. Five or six seats on a certain flight, but depending on what’s happening with like pilots or their staffing or their playing, you know, like I think it’s just always changing. So. Cool. There’s another question

from, sorry, there’s another question from Erin. When are you

going to Iceland?

Oh, I don’t know. Probably it’s gonna be, I think we’re aiming for spring break of like 20 25, 20 20. So I gotta kind of get on that. I’m doing a lot of Iceland Air research at the moment, . So but yeah.

And I, I just wanna piggyback on that comment. You know, it’s, it’s easy. I like how you suggested that if you are restricted on when you can travel, so again, I was married to a teacher.

Our spring breaks were determined for us. Most of our vacations were determined for us, but I would find the windows when it was low season. There if possible. And usually for us, early June was a really good travel season in a lot of places. Cuz for example, Canada was still in session until almost late June with school.

So traveling to BAM and, and Jasper was very inexpensive in Calgary and all those places. They were like, well, why are your kids outta school? And I was like, well, we’re from

America. Like we’re done .

So it was kind of funny, but I think there’s ways to, to be even on the like very edge of their season and still optimize for down season.

It still

worked for us. So there is

ways to figure that out. And like you said, You know, traveling when it’s a little colder. We saw a ton more wildlife in June than we would’ve seen in July, cuz it was a late spring and the, the black bears were out, you know, like, so I think there’s benefits that sometimes we don’t see.

We only see like the marketing travel calendars of when the best places to go at what time. But there’s, there’s really no wrong. I’ve had good travel experiences off season. A lot of times, even when they say like, the weather’s supposed to be bad, I don’t know. Like it’s hard to,

it’s hard to predict the weather, that’s for sure.

Yeah. I mean, we went to, and this has been a number of years, my kids were babies, but we went to Costa Rica during the quote, what season, and we got a great place and we had a great experience and it rained, but it wasn’t, it certainly wasn’t that bad. We had plenty of, you know, great weather too. , they call it the wet season, you know, or the, you know, not great season.

But yeah, there’s, you’re gonna find good stuff. And like you said, you can see animals or have different experiences that would never happen in another season. So anytime you get to go to a new place, I’m like, whatever the weather’s doing, I’ll figure it out. . And then I just, I can kind of close with some other general tips that I think can help earn points or travel more.

So one of the biggies for. Always consider volunteering for vouchers to go on a different flight. So this may be prompted like when you’re checking in for your flight, either online or in the app. If you have that, there might be a question that comes up like that they know your flight is oversold and so sometimes they’ll be able to list like a dollar amount that you would take, that you would cons like that would be the minimum that you would consider changing your.

And if it fits their needs for what they’re gonna offer, they’ll get in touch with you. Or they may just announce it at the boarding gate. So unless you absolutely 100% have to be on that flight, like always, always go talk to the gate agent and see if it would be worth it because. Just because you don’t talk to them, that doesn’t mean that you have to give up your seat and it can really be lucrative.

Like, I don’t know if y’all saw that story in the news, I think it was last year, but there was a flight to Mexico from Texas, I think it was Houston or Dallas, and they gave away $10,000 per ticket. In vouchers, like I would’ve probably been up there if it was $2,000. Like they wouldn’t have even had, I wouldn’t even, never even made it to 10,000, but it was because I had oversold the flight.

But I guess everyone was desperate for a vacation at that point. . But like for example, with our trip to England last year, we got a prompt when we were checking in. Our flight was oversold and they were offering vouchers. And actually the new flight that they were offering was way better than our first one.

Like we were gonna have to get up early and have a long layover. I think we were flying through Philadelphia and they gave us a later flight, which worked out perfectly. And so we. I think it was $1,200 in vouchers that then paid for our trip that we’re about to take to Whitefish. So we got a free trip out of getting a better flight for, you know, what we wanted to do.

So that was a really nice win. And then of course, if you don’t care where you go, Scott shoot flight, which I already mentioned, and that’s now going that can be an amazing resource. I used to have the premium membership. As I’ve mentioned, we’re planners, so we dig skin, didn’t get that much value out of it.

Since we’re planners and we also use points and if you have flexibility or you don’t have your travel already planned or both, it can really be amazing. But it does require paying in cash. And you can certainly use both strategies, cheap point, cheap flights. And points to go more places. And if you think the Cheap Flights method might be, you know, like the way you want it to go you can certainly do a contingency here that you can book it on an eraser card, like the Capital One Venture Card and then still get the FRI flights for free.

So that’s, Kind of the best of all worlds. And then if you don’t know where you wanna go and just wanna start collecting points, you can start with something like a flexible points card, like a Chase Sapphire card. Those, those always a great starting point since it has so many transfer partners or something like a Points eraser card like Capital One, since that has so much flexibility with it.

And then after that, you could then look at. You know, your home airports are nearby airports that have airlines with international destinations and then look into their point of miles program. So we, we fly out a lot of, of Birmingham, a lot. So that’s United and American and really big. But then we also have the option to fly out of Atlanta.

So Delta is also a good option for us. So there’s really multiple ways to set up your strategy. And I’ll just kind of wrap up by saying that your points on mile strategy doesn’t have to be complicated or time consuming. I’m certainly always on the lookout for new information that will help, but you don’t really have to spend that much time on figuring things out.

You know, it can certainly feel overwhelming in the beginning because of, of the learning curve and learning all the lingo and how things work. But even. It just becomes a habit that’s naturally incorporated into how you spend money or how you search things online, just when you have those five minutes to spare and also how you plan your travel.

And I’ve certainly found that the time I’ve invested in learning about travel hacking over the years has allows, has allowed us to see many more new places and have so many wonderful adventures. We could never dreamed about when we started it back in 2009. So I think it’s definitely worth it.

Cuz you can certainly do a lot with it, but I don’t know if you’ll have any more questions. I’m happy to answer anything or clarify.

Well, Rachel, thank you. I think it’s been, it’s always fun to connect with like a fellow travel family and, and like you said, it can be overwhelming and I think that sometimes can be a barrier to entry, so to speak.

I would also echo what you stated though, that the time we’ve invested in learning, it has given us more options and it’s maximized our budget so we can see more places for less that I probably would not have put on our travel list, but I’m really glad they have been. So Erin, I see your hand is raised.

Do you have a question? Yes.

Hello. Thank you for being here. So I am curious, what would you say? So we have a big family. We have five kids and we’re looking to adopt more so and so having more kids in our family. And so for us, sometimes it can feel very overwhelming to think of, okay, so if we do point stuff, will that like separate us on flights or is it even worth it?

So like how. How do you speak to families like us to keep it simple and not feel overwhelmed, or are there any different tips you would give for bigger

families? .

I think it’s you can certainly, there are ways, so we actually had this recently and I only have two kids, so it’s, you know, a little bit different.

But in terms of like keeping your family together, you know, even if we had a really complicated redemption recently where some points were off my husband’s account, some were off mine and then we paid cash for our kids and it was like a whole thing. But you can call them and have them link your reservation so that you will not be separated.

And then I think transportation department is also kind of working on that to make sure that it’s like families are protected. So I feel like that can be, it doesn’t, it sounds scary, especially probably when you have a big family, but you can, there’s ways to work around it. But in terms of points, I think the strategies I outlined are still really valid.

It may take you a little bit longer to earn all the points if you wanna get a hundred percent of the fight flights for free, but there are certainly deals out there to get where you wanna go or. You know, or it may just take you a little bit longer to build up the point. So I would, I still think it’s worth it.

You know, and like for us, sometimes it’s just a matter of you know, doing the points, but also finding the cheap flights if we have to pay cash for part of it. So that can take a little bit more time. But yeah, it’s again, it just kind of, if you really have a desire to go somewhere, And you kind of just put in a little even, I mean the whole research that I’m talking about checking that can sometimes take me like two minutes, you know, I’ll check the flight and be done.

It’s like checking your email . So I don’t know that I have any kind of specific super helpful tips for big families just that. It’s certainly possible, you know, to do this with just your, your normal spend, you don’t have to spend crazy. And I know Heidi shared some of the other strategies like you know, the shopping portals and you know, will do certain cars at certain times based on whatever bonuses they have going.

And again, that doesn’t have to be complicated cuz it’ll just be like an email that arrives in your inbox, email like, oh, just, I literally move the. in my wallet to like the front spot, so I know, use this card. I don’t have labeling systems, nothing. It’s literally like this one slot that I have that I know that’s the card to use.

But yeah, it doesn’t, it doesn’t have to take a lot. But you’re probably like, if you have a big family, you’re at the grocery store, you’re at Target, you’re at, you know mm-hmm. . You don’t have to spend labs so you can just do your normal stuff and still get, still get really great places.

And in terms of redemption, I mean, one way when we started, we did not try to get everything figured out, right?

I felt like that was too overwhelming. So all I was trying to do was to conserve our travel budget and do less cash spending on our travel. So our first flight, we just got one person free, and I was like, okay, now I figured, like now I know what it’s like. So I don’t feel like I had to figure all of it out.

We just did some small trips. . But I would say those, the tips that you mentioned too, Rachel, of just calling the airline has been really, I mean, they advocate for kids. They want kids to feel safe and connected and attached to another family member. So we’ve had really good luck with airlines understanding and working with us and making sure our family’s stuck together.

Sometimes it was like, mom took half the kids and dad took half the kids, but they always make sure that the kids are attached to

an adult. Yeah. We’ve never had an issue with that either.

Thank you. That’s

awesome. Great. Yeah. Congrat, congratulations for attempting to travel with a large family. I give you credit. I think it’s for sure. Awesome. That’s that you’re willing to continue doing that and exploring it. Brie or Christie, do you have any questions that you wanna ask Rachel or just go deeper on any of the topics that were discussed?

I don’t have any more. Thank

you though. This has been really helpful. I appreciate the

time. Awesome. Great. Good. Awesome. Last quick question before we sign off, we have a couple minutes left. Is there a topic or a guest that you’d be interested in? So I know, I think it was Erin, you mentioned Disney might be on your list or a cruise might be on your list.

I don’t know. Is anyone have anything on their travel goals that you would like to get a little bit deeper on that I could invite a guest on or we could go deeper on our topics for February and.

Those would be my two right away. Okay. ? I’m sorry, Brie, did you have. That’s good. No, I was gonna say

like working and traveling at the same time, oh, is something that probably is gonna be happening for us. So kind of like dips and tricks on maneuvering that and, oh, you know, getting internet abroad and like, all those types of things.

And then the second one that comes to mind, I think I mentioned to you, Heidi, maybe is like being able to use rewards for experiences when you’re traveling. So, covering, right, like, I don’t know, some type of adventure experience in a destination.

Yeah, those are good.


All right. Anything else before I sign off? So I have I’ll get you the February schedule here by the beginning of next week so you guys have an idea of what the dates are. It seems like these Friday afternoons might be better. It seems like we have more engagement in the afternoon, so I think I’m gonna aim for these Friday at noon if that works.

Unless anyone’s like, no, it’s not gonna work. But in, we’ll, I think we’ll just keep ’em on Friday. It seems like we’re doing a little bit better with people able to join. But if you have any questions in the meantime, shoot me an email or if you have a thought or a question follow up from this, again, reach out, let me know.

I’d be happy to support you or connect you with other resources. I will this recording, I’m actually gonna stop recording. This recording will also be available too, so you can always re-listen to it.

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