Traveling with a family requires adapting to different needs. Add to that the ever-changing miles and points landscape, and what worked for me a few years ago doesn’t necessarily work today. Thankfully, there are all sorts of options on where to go, what to do, and how to make travel fit into our family’s budget by leaning (heavily) on miles and points.
My New Go-To Points
I’ve recently seen a number of questions on the TPG Family Facebook group (that you should totally join if you travel with a family) about points-bookable hotels in Europe that are suitable for families. The honest answer: There are some — here are examples in London and Paris, but traditional hotel awards are not always the best option in places like Europe. I’m currently planning my fifth trip to Europe in as many years, and when there are four of us traveling, points hotels are pretty much out of my equation as two teens and two parents in one tiny room is virtually impossible (especially in Europe).
Instead of trying to shoehorn my family into a hotel room, I’ve moved us into vacation rentals, where we are much more comfortable. Here’s a photo of the private pool in the villa we’re visiting in June for less than $250 per night. But, this transition doesn’t mean that the era of using points is over. For example, I used “miles” from the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard to offset part of the cost. Other fixed-value credit card points that can be used for travel could also be a solid choices.
Another great way to use miles from the Barclaycard Arrival card is for a Disney or other theme park vacations. If you buy your theme park tickets through Undercover Tourist or another third-party vendor, they often code as travel and then Arrival miles can be redeemed toward them. Note that this only works if you use a broker/travel agent. Tickets purchased directly from Disney, for example, code as entertainment, not travel, unless they are part of a hotel package.
Related: The Best Credit Cards for Entertainment Spending
(Photo by Ryan Wendler / Walt Disney World)
You can use Arrival miles to offset any travel expense over $100. You have 120 days from the date of purchase to redeem miles but you can’t redeem a second time for that purchase later in the 120 days, so redeem all the miles you want the first time. On a large purchase you might want to wait until you are closer to the end date because you may have more miles to redeem at that time after they post each month.
How to Earn Arrival Miles
Barclaycard Arrival offers a compelling 70,000-mile sign-up bonus after you’ve spent $5,000 in the first 90 days after account opening. That actually translates to $735 in free travel because you get back 5% with every redemption you make. The annual fee is $89 and is not waived in the first year, but you can use miles to pay the fee after the first year.
Once you have the card, it earns at a very simple 2 miles per dollar on everything you spend. I give this card to my category-challenged husband so he doesn’t have to worry about which card to use for any given expense.
Earn Bonus Arrival Miles
While everyday spending is the most common way to earn Arrival miles, there’s another fun way: The Barclaycard Travel Community is a forum where people can share their travel stories. Barclaycard will give you 100 miles for a story, 50 miles for a photo and 10 miles for a location pin. Anyone can join and if you’re an Arrival Plus card member, the miles go right to your Arrival account. If you’re not, they’ll cash out as Amazon gift cards but a much lower rate: 2,500 points gets you $25 toward travel spend on an Arrival Plus card or a $5 Amazon gift card. You’ll even get 500 miles just for completing your profile. You also earn 10 miles if someone gives your story a like.
The best part: You only need 100 words per post and you probably have more ready-made content than you realize. How many reviews have you posted on TripAdvisor and Yelp? What about your Facebook and Instagram streams? You’d be amazed how easy it is to get to the 100-word mark. I make sure the words are my own, but I’ve pulled ideas from all sorts of places. You can also get 10 points for “pins”: 10-word snippets about a specific restaurant, hotel or location. Note: I recommend editing what you’ve written elsewhere so it’s not exactly cut and paste. Then use your reviews as inspiration and to jog your memory.
The biggest limit I’ve hit is that you can only post five stories per city, ever. Other than that, you can post up to 100 stories a month, every single month. Now that I have practice, I can write up to 20 posts and 100 pins per hour: 3,000 miles earned while binge-watching “The Office” or catching up on TPG Podcasts.
Simplicity can be your best friend when you’re trying to plan your family’s travel, especially as award charts are all over the place (or more accurately, disappearing). With flexible points like Barclay Arrival miles, you can stop worrying quite as much about every movement and category change from hotel chains and airline alliances and focus on what matters: making memories with your kids (while still keeping some money in your wallet).