We typically try to take at least a one week summer vacation. These costs can add up with two kids, especially when flying somewhere. I’ve become a big fan of playing the credit card points game to help subsidize our travel and hotel costs. Last year I signed up for a Marriott rewards card and received 80,000 points. I also just signed up for an American Airlines card and received 60,000 points.
In both cases we needed to spend a minimum amount in the first 3 months, so I would typically sign up before major purchases like our annual homeowners insurance renewal ($1,000). Once we charge the minimum, we either go back to using our standard credit cards or I use an app like Wallaby to determine the best credit card to use for some purchases to maximize our points.
This summer we’re lucky to make a few trips that should cost us less than $500 excluding food. We were initially planning a trip to Legoland for a few days and were going to use the Marriott points down there. Fortunately, a family friend happened to offer their condominium to us in Palm Springs the same weekend for free. Taking this offer helped me change our summer plans to also go out to the east coast for a week to see family.
Marriott is running a rewards special where your fifth night is free when using rewards for the first four nights. We were able to book a great hotel in Boston for points (and some cash where I lacked points) for $400. This typically would have cost over $1,500. I also happened to have 80,000 miles leftover from a business trip, so combining this with my new American Airlines credit card signing bonus is paying for our round trip flights! I know we may not be able to do this every year, but I definitely see the value in shopping for credit cards if you have good credit and are strategic with signing up for programs that meet your needs.
Sometimes the hardest thing for me is to keep an eye on which credit cards to keep using and which ones to cancel. I always pay off our monthly balances, but I have forgotten about a card before and received late payment penalties when forgetting about a small purchase on a rarely used card. They usually waive these fees if I’m nice and haven’t done it before. For cards that don’t give great ongoing rewards, I typically cancel within a year or two of receiving the initial bonus. This also helps reset the clock on that card as some allow you to come back as a new customer (with a signing bonus) in two years.
You also have to be careful about watching the renewal terms and potential fees on cards. For example, the Marriott card has an $85 annual fee after the first year that happen to come with a free night stay at a lower tier hotel. This seemed worth it to me for this year as we still plan to go to Legoland for a weekend and this will likely save us $50-$100. I may cancel the card this year so I can reset the clock.
This summer I estimate we saved at least $3,000 using points and we’re doing more than we typically would if we didn’t have the points. For example, I’m not sure I would have paid $500 per ticket for our flights to the east coast. This allows us to venture out farther and see family we’d rarely otherwise see.
I’m very excited for these trips and plan to continue playing the credit card game in the future. Good vacations make me feel like I’m not in the rat race (or at least make me feel like the rat race isn’t so bad when I get a nice break).