So many people ask me, how can I save money for my trip. There are tons of ways – saving a little bit every day, using a special vacation savings account.
But one of the most overlooked ways to save money on your trip is to take advantage of rewards programs! I simply love all the various rewards programs out there. I mean – what is better than earning free perks from companies that you already use? Whether it’s earning a free flight somewhere or getting a simple basket of chips and salsa from a restaurant, rewards programs do a good job of living up to their names: rewarding people.
Here are my top ways to hack travel rewards programs to save you money on your next vacation.
Credit Card Rewards
- The Basics: Earn rewards off of your everyday purchases. On certain credit cards, for every dollar you spend, you earn points that can be redeemed for various travel services like flights, hotel rooms, rental cards, restaurants and so much more. Some rewards cards offer perks like special airport lounges, lost luggage reimbursement, free checked luggage, and other priority treatment. Check out this comparison chart of travel rewards cards from Credit Karma.
- The Hack: If you get the Disney Chase Visa card, for instance, you can earn dollars to spend at Disney by making your everyday purchases, like groceries, gas and eating out. You also earn double the rewards at Disney locations. Then you can use those real-world dollars towards a Disney vacation. Friends of mine recently paid for all of their food and beverages for a ten day stay at Disney World with their Disney Rewards points! How can you beat that??
Airline Rewards Programs
- The Basics: Earn miles for every trip you take. Make sure that everyone with a paid ticket is signed up for your airline rewards program, children and adults included. Even if you are flying with a carrier you rarely use, it is still a good idea to sign all of your children up for their frequent flyer program. Many airlines are moving to a plan where miles never expire, so even occasional flights can start to add up to free tickets.
- The Hack: Some airlines allow families to pool their miles together to earn free tickets more quickly. This is a great perk, but only a few airlines in the United States offer this perk. JetBlue and Frontier Airlines both offer family pooling. If you are traveling internationally, there are a lot more choices in terms of airlines who offer family pooling of miles, and one of the good things about using a travel agent (aka me) is that I will help you figure this out.
Additionally, some miles rewards programs allow you to use rewards on rental cars and hotel stays, which can significantly reduce the out-of-pocket costs of your next trip.
Hotel Rewards Programs
- The Basics: Get rewards for each night you stay. Just like with frequent flyer programs, there is no harm in signing up for their program even if you rarely stay at their properties.
Simply being a member of a hotel reward’s program can increase your chance of receiving a room upgrade, even if you are not a VIP or frequent guest. In addition to room upgrades, you are more likely to get rooms in prime locations or be able to have a later check-out time. Some rewards programs include other little perks that just make life nicer as soon as you sign up like free bottled water, reduced room rates, free Wi-Fi and more.
- The Hack: With so many large hotel chains, some of your favorite hotels might be part of the same rewards program, so sticking with resorts from the same rewards program really add up. Your family might stay at the Waldorf Astoria in Orlando for Spring Break, followed by a wedding where you stay at a Hampton Inn, and finally a stay at a DoubleTree for your next business trip. All of those are part of the Hilton Honors program, so your points are accumulating faster than you may think.
- The Basics: One of the best parts of traveling is to dine at local restaurants, especially ones that are unique and privately owned. However, sometimes it is just easier and more efficient to duck into a fast food or sit-down restaurant that is part of a big chain, especially when traveling with children. If you have children with sensory processing special needs or kids who are just picky eaters, a well-loved chain where you know there is something that they will eat without argument can be a haven now and then.
Most fast food chains have mobile apps that you can download. You can use these apps to order ahead and pay using your mobile phone, which can make life easier when ordering for a family. Their rewards programs are also run through their mobile applications, and you often receive exclusive coupons and deals that are only available through the app.
Casual sit-down restaurants also offer rewards programs where you can earn free food and beverages. Points usually add up quickly, especially with a family. Many also utilize apps that allow you to add to your order or pay your bill, two functions that can be particularly handy when dining with small children who are at the end of their ability to wait patiently for the check.
- The Hack: Coupons and freebies are nice for saving a bit of money, but as a parent, the real glory of a restaurant rewards program happens when you get to skip the line, especially when your kids are hangry and just not up for a long wait. Places like TGI Fridays offers a Jump the Line pass, and Landry’s Select Club offers priority seating. Landry’s has many Orlando area locations, so if you are headed to Disney World, you could really rack up some benefits at very popular restaurants like TRex, The Boathouse, Rainforest Café, and the Yak & Yeti.
Making Travel Rewards Work for You
The best part about rewards programs is that you do not necessarily have to use rewards for a particular purpose. Airlines, hotels, and credit cards love to partner with each other, so you can use airline miles to book hotels, rental cars, cruises, and even magazine subscriptions, or use hotel rewards to book airfare. This is true for credit card rewards and some hotel rewards programs. For example, Hilton Honors has a partnership with United Airlines, which is partnered to 40 other airlines through the Star Alliance network. There are dozens of different hotels within Hilton Honors, giving you a lot of variety in terms of where you earn rewards and where you redeem them.
There is at least one business that acts as a third-party aggregator of points to allow you to get all of your points in a single account, but our research has not yielded great reviews. Points are such precious commodities that you are safer to use them within established partnerships rather than using third-party companies.
Also remember that if you have a credit card to earn airline miles, you can usually use those points for other types of travel. This is a great resource for you to use to read about some of the popular travel rewards programs and how you can use them to your advantage.