Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Rethinking Family Travel Strategies

In a few months, I will turn 3 years old. Wow. I feel so old!

But turning 3 won't be nearly as big of a deal as when I turned 2 years old. As you may know, that's when I officially turned in my Lap Child status and had to start paying for my own tickets. Well, rather, my parents had to start paying for my own tickets.

After several months of traveling in my own seat, I've flown just over 49,000 miles, visited 11 places in 7 different countries and secured "lifetime" Star Alliance Gold Status through Aegean Airlines. Many of these trips were subsidized or enhanced by my father's relentless pursuit of frequent flyer miles and reward points.

However, as we look ahead to the future, we may have to rethink our travel points strategy now that we're going to consistently be traveling as a group of 3.

We still have a ton of American Airline and United Airline miles (500,000 and 300,000, respectively), but we'll probably only find 2 award seats available in business/first class on long haul flights to Europe and Asia. In fact, our last premium cabin trip to Europe was actually two separate bookings (one using United miles for 2 seats and another using bank points for a "paid" seat).

Since I am my father's daughter, I've done all the math and looked at every possible combination and permutation. Unfortunately:
  • My mother will refuse to let me sit by myself in economy while my parents are up in business/first
  • My mother will refuse to sit by herself in economy while my father and I sit in business/first
  • My mother will refuse to let my father relax sit by himself in economy while she deals with me by herself in business/first
So I guess that means we're going to be flying together all the time in economy. Not the worst thing in the world, and it will allow us to have more frequent flyer miles in our accounts (since business awards are about 2x the cost in miles of economy awards). But that just means that we'll be left with a lot more airlines miles than we're likely to use each year.

With that dynamic shift, my father's been transitioning his credit card spending to cards that will accrue him either (a) cash back, (b) hotel points or (c) flexible bank points. Fortunately, he's well equipped with the right credit cards in his wallet to use on our regular monthly spend.

For cash back, we're going with our Amex Blue card that gets us 5% cash back on all gas, grocery and drugstore spend. We also take advantage of the fact that CVS, Duane Reade and Rite Aid sell retailer gift cards, so we're also earning 5% back on our Amazon and Best Buy purchases among others.

For hotel points, we're continuing to build up our beloved Starwood SPG points using our personal and business Starwood Amex cards. After all, when we go on vacation, we spend a few hours on the plane, but we'll spend multiple days enjoying our Platinum status benefits at Starwood's St Regis, Westin or W properties. The SPG Amex only gives us 1 SPG point per dollar spent on non-Starwood purchases, so we usually limit this card's usage to non-bonused spending (my father's small business expenses, shopping at retailers that don't sell gift cards and other random spend). Plus, as I get older, I think we'll need more space, so we'll have to use more SPG points to redeem for suites if we don't get a complimentary upgrade.

Of course, Starwood isn't always an option to every place we go, so we like the fact we can bank Chase Ultimate Reward points as well using our Chase Freedom and the Chase Ink Bold cards. Right now, we use the Freedom for our gas and 7-11 spend (they have a 5x bonus this quarter) and the Ink Bold for our cell phone, cable/internet and office supply spend (hint: Staples also has a lovely gift card rack). Since we have at least 1 premium Chase UR card (the Ink Bold), our UR points can be instantly transferred to Hyatt Hotels and Intercontinental Hotel Group (IHG). And if we wanted, we could even use our UR points as currency to book hotels at a fixed value of 1.25 cents/point through their Chase Travel portal.

So despite just being approved for our new Chase United Explorer Visa and Citi American Airlines Mastercard, we're probably only going to reach the minimum spend required to unlock the sign-up bonuses and then put the cards away until their annual fees come up 12 months from now. No urgent need for a ton more airline frequent flyer miles.

Sorry guys, looks like you were just a One Night Stand Card!

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