One of the reasons I love to read about earning travel rewards is that the authors seem to live a charmed lifestyle. These writers, typically young single men, perpetually travel around the world in a style way beyond their means. As a married father of two, I enjoy the opportunity to live vicariously through their travels while I take on the much more daunting task of planning family travel.
The challenges of family travel
While I could bore you with the logistics of pit stops and diaper bags, the real behind the scenes challenge is earning enough points and miles to make the trip happen, and finding the best awards when it comes time for a vacation. While singles and couples need to find only one or two award seats on a plane, families are faced with an exponentially greater challenge of finding three or more award seats.
Here is how I have been able to succeed:
- Plan way in advance. I recently found three award seats in first class on United Airlines for a trip to Hawaii, but only because I booked the trip 11 months in advance, as soon as the flights are bookable. While this trick doesn’t always work, it can’t hurt to try.
- Pick your programs well. Delta Airlines is infamous for releasing barely any award seats at its lowest mileage levels, as is US Airways. United is slightly more generous, while award availability on American almost reminds me of the good old days. At the same time, programs like Southwest, JetBlue, and Virgin America tie their award seats to their revenue inventory and have little capacity restrictions. For example, any seat that Southwest offers for sale in their lowest fare class, “Wanna get away” is available as an award and will cost one point for each 1.8 cents in price. Therefore, it is as easy to find several award seats on the same flight as it is to find actual paid tickets. In fact, a family that earns one or more companion passes can double the value of their points as companions fly free even on award tickets.
- Divide and conquer. Many families who are richer in points and miles than they are in dollars, find that it is impossible to find four or more award seats on a single aircraft. They either have to pay for a portion of the seats in dollars, or they can book multiple itineraries. When dad travels with some of the family members, and mom travels with others, there can be some advantages. Smaller groups can navigate airports more quickly, are always easier to control, and the journey can be less stressful.
Traveling as a family can be difficult, but the rewards for your efforts will be great. By adapting your travel rewards strategies to the specific needs of your family, you will discover that the only thing better than a family vacation is one that is nearly free.