Credit Card Points with a Military Family in Hawaii

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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 Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card (Amex Delta Reserve review) which normally carries a $550 annual fee. (rates and fees).

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.

AMEX Delta Reserve card free for US military

Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card

Annual Fee: $550 per year, waived for US military servicemembers and spouses to $0

Welcome Bonus: Earn 50,000 bonus Skymiles and 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQM) after you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months of card membership.

  • Plus earn up to $100 in statement credits for eligible purchases at US restaurants within the first 3 months of card membership
  • This is my TOP recommended Amex Delta card for military
  • $550 annual fee waived for US military (active duty and Title 10/32 Guard/Reserve)
  • Annual Companion Certificate – earn a domestic First Class, Delta Comfort+, or Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate every year on your account anniversary. Government taxes and fees of no more than $75 may need to be paid, see terms and conditions
  • 3x miles on Delta purchases, 1x on all other eligible purchases
  • Complimentary Delta Sky Club (airport lounge) access when travelling on a Delta flight in any class
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck (military should get Global Entry)
  • Priority boarding (main cabin 1)
  • Earn up to 60,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQM) with Status boost every year. After you spend $30,000 on your card, you can earn 15,000 MQMs four times per year. MQMs are used to determine Medallion Status and are different from the miles you earn towards flights.
  • No foreign transaction fees, terms apply (rates and fees)

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!

Military SCRA MLA AMEX Platinum
  • The Platinum Card® from American Express – learn how to apply
  • Annual fee of $695 waived for US military personnel and spouses (rates and fees)
  • Best Ever Public Offer: Earn 100,000 Membership Reward Points welcome bonus (valued at $2000+) when you spend $6000 in the first 6 months
  • Earn 10x points at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the US up to $25,000 in combined purchases for the first 6 months (an extra 250,000 points potentially!)
  • Earn 5x points on airfare booked directly with airline or on amextravel.com up to $500,000 per calendar year
  • Earn 5x points on prepaid hotels at amextravel.com
  • $200 annual Hotel Credit: Get $200 statement credit on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts or the Hotel Collection booked on Amex Travel and paid for with your Platinum Card
  • $240 Digital Entertainment Credits: Up to $20 in monthly statement credits when you use your Platinum card to pay for: Peacock, Audible, Sirius, and the New York Times. Enrollment Required.
  • $200 Uber Cash: Uber VIP status and up to $200 in Uber savings on Uber Eats and rides
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year in baggage fees and more at 1 qualifying airline
  • $100 annual Saks Fifth Avenue credit, can be used for gift cards, enrollment required
  • 40 Centurion Lounges and 1200+ Priority Pass airport lounge access for free
  • $179 CLEAR Credit: Get through airport security faster with CLEAR
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Heavy metal card that looks and feels really cool
  • The Platinum Card® from American Express – learn how to apply
  • Read my full review of the Amex Platinum card for military, terms apply

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 in Hawaii

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.

Chase Sapphire Reserve No Annual Fee for Military
  • Learn how to apply for the Chase Sapphire Reserve
  • $550 annual fee waived to $0 for US military + spouses with Chase MLA policy
  • Earn 50,000 Chase Ultimate Reward Points after $4000 of spend in the first 3 months – $750 value when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • $300 annual travel credit – through Dec 31, 2021 gas station and grocery store purchases also count towards your travel credit
  • 10x points on hotels and rental cars & 5x points on air travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards after the first $300 spent on travel annually
  • 3x Points on other Travel (airfare, hotels) after earning the $300 travel credit
  • 3x Dining restaurants, takeouts, delivery)
  • Ultimate Reward Points redeemed through the Chase travel portal are worth 1.5 cents, a 50% bonus
  • Priority Pass lounge and restaurant access with over 1300+ airport lounges worldwide
  • Up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry
  • Primary car rental auto insurance and trip cancellation/interruption insurance
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Learn more in the Chase Sapphire Reserve review

Hotel Credits Cards for Military Families

Lastly, for hotels, I have both the Amex Hilton Aspire (full Amex Hilton Honors Aspire review) and the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card (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).

Free Diamond Status at Hilton Hotels for Military
Amex Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant

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.

Amex Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Free for Military
  • Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card – learn how to apply
  • $450 annual fee 100% waived for US military personnel (rates and fees)
  • Earn 75,000 Marriott Bonvoy points after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months of card membership. Resort fees may apply.
  • Plus, earn up to $200 in statement credits for eligible purchases at US restaurants in the first 6 months of card membership
  • $300 Annual Marriott Statement Credit on all charges to your room including spa, restaurants, room service, laundry, and nightly rates
  • Earn 6 points per dollar spent at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels
  • Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card account anniversary. Redemption up to 50,000 points for one night, certain hotels have resort fees.
  • Complimentary Gold Elite Status at all Marriott Bonvoy properties (Westin, St. Regis, Ritz Carlton, Sheraton, etc)
  • No foreign transaction fees, terms apply

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.  

Free Diamond Status at Hilton Hotels for Military
  • American Express Hilton Honors Aspire Card
  • $450 annual fee waived for US military servicemembers and spouses
  • Complimentary Diamond Status at all Hilton brands (suite upgrades, breakfast, check in gifts, etc)
  • 150,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points welcome offer after $4000 of purchases in the first 3 months
  • 1 weekend night reward after opening your account and every year on renewal
  • $250 Hilton Resort Credit
  • $250 airline fee credit
  • 14x Hilton Honors Bonus Points at Hilton properties
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Full review of Amex Aspire card, terms apply

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!

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