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The following is a guest post from Jamie, an Air Force officer who lives in Hawaii with his wife and three kids. Jamie shows us how you can apply military travel hacking strategies to travelling with a family of five! Jamie uses several credit cards to achieve his travel hacking strategy and get his family from Hawaii to the East Coast for 50% off. You can see what Jamie's up to on Instragram @c17jamie
Traveling with kids can be incredibly challenging and often very expensive. For military members and their families, there are a number of credit card benefits you can take advantage of that will make the budget for your family vacation a little easier to swallow.
With the right tools and a good travel hacking plan, you can save big on your airfare, rental car, and hotels during your next family vacation. Here’s a recap of how we traveled as a family of four last summer.
Travel Hacking for Military Families with Kids
For airfare, my wife and I each have the Amex Delta Reserve card (Amex Delta Reserve review) which normally carries a $450 annual fee. However, for active duty members like me, this card is free! Amex also waives the fee for my spouse, so we get $4,000 value of these free cards.
The Delta Reserve offers a free companion pass each year after your first card anniversary. And even better, if you live in Hawaii like we do, Delta allows you to use the companion pass on a flight from Hawaii to the mainland and back. The flight must be a roundtrip starting in Hawaii.
My wife, two kids, and I can fly for 50% of the normal cost! Most of our family lives on the East Coast, so it easily costs over $4,000 for us to all fly back home to Atlanta or Philadelphia. In fact, in June, the roundtrip cost for four of us would have been $4,600 in economy had we not utilized these strategies!
Any day you can get a $4,600 itinerary for $2,300, that’s a big win, especially since you don’t have an annual fee to pay on either card. One downside of flying Delta though is the Sky Club access that comes with our Amex Platinum cards does not include free guests with us.
My wife and I usually take turns going into the lounge for food or quiet time if there’s not a better Priority Pass or Amex Centurion lounge available. We loved a recent layover in Houston where the Amex Centurion lounge had a separate family room where kids could play and be loud!
While on board the flight, we used our Amex Platinum $200 annual travel credit to cover in-flight snack purchases and other incidental fees that come up during the trip. On the way home from Philadelphia to Honolulu, I upgraded my wife to first class from PHL-MSP and to Delta One from MSP to HNL. It was incredibly roomy and comfortable for a pregnant and tired mom, but because of all the tricks we used to save money, I didn’t feel guilty about the splurge.
Car Rental Discounts for Military Families
When we land, we were all tired, so we used our Hertz Gold Plus benefit via our Amex Platinum to head straight to our pre-reserved car and skip the lines. My wife and I each have an Amex Platinum card as well, which are also both free for military members and their spouse.
Traveling with kids will likely prevent you from renting a small car, which is usually the cheapest option. We like to travel in minivans because it makes it easy with all the bags, strollers, toys, iPads, snacks, etc. that the kids need. Ignore losing some cool points because you’re a parent now and enjoy the comfort! We like to use AutoSlash to find the cheapest rental car available.
Auto Slash allows you to select possible discounts for your rental, then it’ll e-mail you the best deals for your itinerary via the Priceline interface. You can book right there via Auto Slash, on Priceline, or you can view what coupon code they’re using, and book directly from the rental car company.
Then, when you book a car, Auto Slash will track it for price changes for you, all for free! For an added bonus, use the newer version of eBates called Rakuten (Jamie's referral link) to get free cash back. For example, Hertz reservations bring in 2.5% cash back just for activating their Google Chrome plugin or starting your online shopping from their site.)
Costco Travel is usually very competitive as well. We paid for the rental car with our Chase Sapphire Reserve card (full Chase Sapphire Reserve review). My wife and I each have one of these cards as well, and again, we pay nothing. Chase waives the $550 annual fee for both of us too.
My favorite part of the CSR is the $300 annual travel credit. This credit is available immediately upon card approval and activation, and it will trigger for any travel related expense such as a hotel, rental car, airfare, etc. So, the $300 credit often covers our rental car or at least a huge part of it, and the CSR also has nice insurance for the rental car.
Hotel Credits Cards for Military Families
Lastly, for hotels, I have both the Amex Hilton Aspire (full Amex Hilton Honors Aspire review) and the Bonvoy Brilliant Amex (full Amex Bonvoy Brilliant review). I personally prefer Hilton family of hotels when traveling with my kids. We love the Homewood Suites or Embassy Suites as each offers free breakfast, evening reception (most week nights), and larger rooms (sometimes even with a separate bedroom).
There isn’t much room for upgrades as these brands, but there are other Diamond member benefits from your Amex Aspire to take advantage of. These hotels are great for families, so we can use points or our free weekend night that the Hilton Aspire offers to book the room. You can also compare the 4 best hotel credit cards for military servicemembers.
If you don’t want to use points, you can also use your annual $250 Hilton Resort statement credit available immediately upon approval and activation. I would recommend saving the free weekend night for a romantic one-night get away at a swanky hotel in a big city or something like that.
This year, we plan to use our free weekend night in Maui at the Grand Wailea, A Waldorf Astoria Resort where a standard room often runs for 95,000 Hilton Honors points or more than $800 per night.
Maybe with your Diamond status, we’ll get an upgrade to a premium room! As another bonus, when you redeem points or an award certificate at a Hilton brand hotel, they waive any resort fees.
On this trip, we’ll pair it with a second night at a Marriott hotel using our Free Night Award from the Bonvoy Brilliant (you get this after your first card anniversary). You can also use your $300 annual Marriott Bonvoy statement credit to cover a room or two and hope for a nice, space available upgrade with your Bonvoy Gold Elite status the card gives you. If you do pay for your room, Rakuten gives Diamond members 1% cash back on Hilton and Marriott stays.
Traveling with children can be so expensive and exhausting to even think about planning. However, with a little bit of research and strategy, you can maximize your card benefits and keep working your way towards financial independence!