FI Personal Finance Travel

Travel Hacking for Families

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It’s a big day for Eat Sleep Breathe FI… for the first time ever, I’m featuring a guest post from another blogger! That’s right—it only took 18 months, but I’m finally passing the mic!

Why no guest posts… until now

Like most decisions I make, this was a very deliberate choice. I didn’t accept guest posts so that I could focus on sharing my story in my own unique voice. In doing so, I hoped that it would help my readers get to know me better. (I hope it’s worked!)

Now that my blog’s a little more established, I’ve started to reconsider my stance on guest posts. Could it be the right time to give them a try? Well, an unexpected thing happened, and my decision was quickly made. 

I was tweeting with Barry Choi from when out of the blue, he offered to do a content swap. What? With little old me? No way!

About Barry

If you didn’t already know, Barry is one of Canada’s top personal finance and travel experts. He makes frequent media appearances (how cool) and has heaps of excellent content on his blog. Yep, Barry’s kind of a big deal! 

I was a little awestruck by his offer, and had to verify that he was serious. (Did he realize how much lower my domain authority is?!) Barry graciously confirmed that he still wanted to do the swap, and I enthusiastically agreed.

About Barry’s post

Barry’s guest post covers a topic that I’m keenly interested in: travel hacking for families. I find there’s a major lack of info on this topic, so I was thrilled that Barry offered to share his knowledge.

Barry often travels in style without paying very much (and is also dad to a sweet little girl named Scarlett). In my opinion, he’s the ideal expert for this topic. I hope you enjoy his post as much as I did. With that, take it away, Barry!

Travel hacking for families

Travelling is a luxury, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be expensive. Like anything else in life, if you’re smart with your dollars, you can make them stretch. While staying at hostels or road-tripping everywhere are great ways to save money on travel, it’s not exactly something most people want to do.

So how do you have an affordable family vacation when you’re trying to reach financial independence? By travel hacking of course. Some people view travel hacking in a negative way, but I think if you’re smart about how you do things, there’s really no harm. What it comes down to is figuring out a strategy that makes sense for you.

Determine what your goal is

Before you can start travel hacking, I recommend you set your travel goals. That could be a trip to Europe or Korea, taking a cruise or a family vacation in Disney World. Once you have your goal in mind, you can start looking for deals.

For example, cruises often have great promotions with long booking windows, so you should casually monitor their websites for any great offers. If you’re headed to Europe, set up a price alert with Google Flights so you can see any price drops. Pro tip, if you’re fully flexible with your dates and locations, then you’ll find some wicked prices.

The real trick to reaching your goal is to use one or more of the best travel credit cards in Canada. Every card earns you different points or miles so you need to look at your travel goals and get credit cards that will help you get there.

Most people think of business class flights when travel hacking, but that doesn’t really work for families. With business class flights, you need a lot of points/miles and you need to find the seat availability for 3-4 passengers which may be difficult. It’s likely easier to focus on free hotel nights or points that offer you flexibility.

If you can meet the minimum spend requirement, the Marriott Bonvoy American Express gives you up to 51,000 points as the welcome bonus which can be worth up to five free nights at select hotels. Then there’s the BMO World Elite Mastercard which has a sign up bonus of 35,000 points, which has a real value of $250.

Plan your credit card applications around major spending

What makes credit cards appealing is the massive sign up bonuses that are given to new applicants. The problem is, many of these bonuses require a minimum spend of $1,000 up to $7,000 in the first three months of card membership. That’s not exactly easy for families that are used to keeping their expenses low. Or is it?

Families who practice financial independence likely still have expenses. For example, your auto and home insurance could easily add up to $2,000+. I had my insurance provider adjust my yearly billing date so they’re due in the same month. Since I know I have that major bill coming in July, I typically apply for a new credit card in June so I can get that sign up bonus.

Other major expenses that may come up in your life include auto repairs, home renovations, home furnishings, new laptops/cell phones, children’s activities, daycare, medical expenses, groceries, clothes and more. Those things can add up quickly so you might as well earn some points by charging them to your credit card.

Besides what I listed above, keep new credit cards in mind when you’re making one-off major expenses. For example, when I bought a new car, my dealer told me I could charge up to $5,000 on credit. At the time, the American Express Platinum Card had a sign up bonus of 60,000 points when using a referral link as long as I charged $5,000 to my card in the first three months. That’s 65,000 points I earned after one purchase.

Practical examples of using sign up bonuses for travel

Let’s say you’re a family of four living in Western Canada and you want to go to Disney World. Your flights alone can be $600+ CAD each, but you can quickly reduce your costs if both parents get the WestJet World Elite Mastercard. With the card, you get $250 WestJet Dollars after your first purchase, an annual companion voucher starting at $119, the first checked bag free for up to 8 people and travel insurance. Although each card has an annual fee of $119, you clearly come out ahead.

  • $500 WestJet Dollars sign up bonus ($250 total)
  • $450 Saved from the two companion vouchers (approximate value)
  • $240 Saved from checked bags (4 X checked bags)
  • $200 Saved from travel insurance (approximate value)

That’s a total of $1,390 in savings. Subtract the combined annual fees of $238 and you’re still ahead by $1,152. That’s a crazy good deal considering you only need to make one purchase to get the sign up bonus.

As mentioned, I earned 65,000 points via the American Express Platinum Card. I converted those points to Marriott Bonvoy at 1:1.2 ratio which gave me 78,000 points. My wife and I both signed up for the Marriott Bonvoy American Express which gave us another 108,000 Marriott Bonvoy points for a total of 186,000  points. That was enough for 3 nights at The London EDITION Hotel which would have cost us $3,050 had we paid cash.

The MBNA Alaska Airlines World Elite Mastercard is also good for families in Vancouver since there are plenty of flights and it comes with a companion voucher. (Barry reviews this card in his post, The Best Airline Credit Cards in Canada.)

Go for low hanging fruit

Okay, not everyone is going to be able to meet the minimum spend requirements to get the sign up bonuses, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of some great offers out there.

As mentioned, the WestJet World Elite Mastercard gives you the bonus after one purchase. There’s also the MBNA Best Western Rewards Mastercard and multiple CIBC credit cards that give you a welcome bonus after making your first purchase. Heck, you don’t even need to make any purchases to get the sign up bonus that comes with the RBC Visa Infinite Avion

Are you worried about the annual fee that comes with credit cards? Some banks including TD and Scotiabank will waive the fee for select cards if you have a premium chequing account with them.

Alternatively, if you have no interest in the travel hacking game, you should at least get a credit card with no foreign transaction fees so you don’t need to pay more than you have to when buying something that’s not in Canadian dollars.

Keep in mind that you don’t need to use a travel credit card to save on travel. If you use a cash back credit card and then put the cash back earned towards your vacations, you’re still saving. Just look for a card that lines up with your spending.

Final thoughts

Applying for a new credit card will usually drop your credit score by 10 points, but it’ll go back up after a few months if you pay your bills on time. It’s been proven that people spend more when using credit over cash, so make sure you’re not making purchases just so you can travel for less. 

Share your thoughts!

Are you ready to earn some travel points for your next trip? Do you have any family travel hacking tips of your own to share? I’d love to hear from you—please leave a comment below! 

Thanks again to Barry for sharing his valuable expertise. If you’d like more great travel and personal finance content, be sure to check out Barry’s blog, Money We Have.

Support this blog

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As always, however you show your support for this blog—THANK YOU!

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  • Reply
    Family Money Saver
    June 30, 2020 at 9:05 pm

    Excellent tips and advice for families trying to make air travel more affordable! I would also add that if you get in this miles and points landscape, make sure you have a good system in place for tracking multiple cards. Ensure you pay them off in a timely fashion, as mistakes in managing your cards can quickly negate your gains.

    Also be careful with the AMEX bonuses. They have recently cancelled many accounts of those who are “not using the card for intended purposes”, thus forfeiting your points balance.

    • Reply
      July 1, 2020 at 11:37 am

      Hi Family Money Saver—you’re absolutely right that you have to be organized when earning miles and points. I hadn’t heard about AMEX cancellations. That’s upsetting and worrisome. Do you know what counts as “unintended purposes”?

  • Reply
    Family Money Saver
    July 1, 2020 at 11:40 am

    Churning multiple cards, hitting minimum spends and then not using the card anymore. Other data points are extremely vague, best people exercise caution.

    • Reply
      July 1, 2020 at 11:53 am

      Ah, that’s what I figured. Didn’t realize they were actually starting to crack down on this kind of behaviour! I will have to be more careful from now on.

  • Reply
    July 2, 2020 at 12:42 pm

    Love this topic! There are some great money saving opportunities in combining credit card bonuses, earned points and hotel membership rewards. I’ve barely scratched the surface with our family travels but I’m excited that there’s so much to learn.

    This was a wonderful read with some inspiring savings. Thank you for your insight.

    • Reply
      July 4, 2020 at 11:06 pm

      Hi Ana—there really is so much to learn. You’re very fortunate to live in the US. Your credit card rewards are far more lucrative than ours!

  • Reply
    Maria @ Handful of Thoughts
    July 5, 2020 at 6:30 am

    Although we have “travel hacked” in the past we were never that intentional and it wasn’t really hacking.

    I really like the idea of having a goal and then making a plan. We usually just collect points and then try to figure out what to do with them ha ha.

    • Reply
      July 6, 2020 at 10:59 pm

      Hi Maria—until our recent podcast interview with Ricky from Prince of Travel, I was also mostly an “earn first, plan later” kind of travel hacker!

      Reading Barry’s thoughts on the topic further reinforces that I need to reverse my thinking and plan ahead!

  • Reply
    July 7, 2020 at 10:37 pm

    So great to have Barry as your first guest post. It’s all about those bonus points when your first sign up for a credit card and definitely agree to plan out when to sign up for one so you can use it on those big purchases like renewing your insurance policy. I did that for my first travel rewards card last year. I used it on my auto insurance renewal and a got my bonus points a few weeks later.
    I just wish schools would accept credit cards as a form of payment for tuition, those reward points would add up at a faster rate.😐

    • Reply
      July 8, 2020 at 3:56 pm

      Hi Kris—it was so nice of Barry to offer the content swap. What an awesome first guest poster for me! 🙂

      LOL, imagine if schools allowed credit cards. That would be amazing—especially for the crazy tuition rates at San Francisco preschools!

  • Reply
    July 13, 2020 at 9:00 pm

    I just got my 15,000 Aeroplan Miles this week from a credit card sign up! 🙂 I love family travel hacking, it makes things so much more affordable. When I hear of how much other families are spending for a trip, I am shocked since we manage to keep things pretty low cost still. Though I’m sure that will change once my kids are full fare.

    • Reply
      July 15, 2020 at 11:23 pm

      Hi GYM—you’re an excellent travel hacker. I’m always so impressed to read about the amazing savings your family is able to take advantage of with points!

      I am always shocked by how much we spend on travel, LOL. It is NOT cheap travelling with kids once their fares (and food) cost as much as adults! More travel hacking would definitely help!

  • Reply
    Teresa - MIL
    July 16, 2020 at 4:22 pm

    We are retired and used to travel a lot until C-19. Now I can spend more time to learn about travel hacking which I know Chrissy is expert in. Thanks also to Barry for his detailed information which will also keep me busy learning.

    • Reply
      July 16, 2020 at 11:15 pm

      Hi Mom—you flatter me too much! I am just a baby travel hacker compared to people like Barry! You and I can learn more together. 🙂

  • Reply
    Mr. Dreamer @
    March 4, 2021 at 8:42 pm

    I am late to comment “again” but hey, I am new to this addictive world! I finish day job then start this job. Haha.
    I am over 110,000 in Aeroplan Points now (90% from Credit Card bonuses) but I am reserving it to book flights to the Territories. Usually those cost a fortune but with Aeroplan it is much cheaper. That is when you get the most value of the points (Using them to go to Europe or Central America won’t make sense as there are always deals there).

    And regarding traveling, before Covid we used to travel at least once a year (Mostly twice) and no NOT to Mexico or the Caribbean only. That is boring! We had a 3 weeks journey around Scandinavia (Denmark, Sweden, Norway), we had a 3 weeks journey all over Spain, Portugal, Andorra (And a bit of France, where my daughter practiced her Canadian French lol), and some trips to Central and South America. Last one was to Colombia.
    Sadly, our Belize for March was cancelled same as Argentina for July.

    And it is all so CHEAP! Colombia was $220 CAD round trip per person. Denmark was $280 CAD per person. Argentina was supposed to be $460 per person.

    The trick: Do not pick the destination! Let the destination picks you. And almost always RENT A CAR! It is a HUGE saver. Example, in Barcelona, we stayed in a big house among mountain and trees 35 min from Barcelona center by car. It was an Airbnb. Cost us $220 CAD for 4 nights and free parking, kitchen, 3 bedrooms, etc. It cost more than $220 for 1 night hotel in Barcelona city center. Wouldn’t have been possible to rent there without a car.

    And there are more tips Haha

    • Reply
      March 4, 2021 at 9:54 pm

      Hi Mr. Dreamer—okay, I think I need to binge-read your blog so I can absorb more of your super-frugal knowledge. This is a next-level tip, to rent cars in order to save on accommodations! Travel is such a HUGE expense for my family (especially since my kids are now too old to qualify for any kids’ discounts).

      I also love your observation that it’s not worth it to use points for destinations with cheap flights. (Japan, one of our favourite destinations is one of these places.) This is exactly what I’ve observed as well, but I’ve never read this tip before! Thank you for sharing!

      I can tell we’re going to be very good friends, Mr. Dreamer. You clearly think outside the box—that’s my favourite kind of thinking!

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