best-travel-awardsI have at least 4 different books and pdfs regarding travel hacking and it is so interesting. Ask the average person how to get airline mileage points and they will answer, “By flying my preferred airline a lot.” But there are so many different ways of adding airline and hotel points to your programs, many taking no more than a few minutes of your time. This is the art of “travel hacking.” True experts spend a lot of time on this and, as such, manage to get amazing deals on airlines and hotels. For the average parent, full time travel hacking isn’t realistic, but, as a parents myself, I can tell you my favorite and best travel awards programs and how to maximize them.

First, the obvious. Flying. I recommend signing up with your favorite three airlines. I am a member of United Mileage Plus, American Advantage and Southwest Rapid Rewards. The great thing about airlines like United and American is the partnership they have with other airlines, giving you multiple rewards in one. For example, United is a member of the Star Alliance, which also includes Lufthansa, Singapore Air and Aer Lingus, making flying to Europe or Asia free of charge an actual possibility.


Credit cards. If you don’t have a mileage credit card of some sort, get one. I have an American Advantage Visa, a Chase Sapphire and a United Explorer Visa. Not only do these credit cards build up your miles, they also have other benefits. Of course, it goes without saying that you should really only use points/mileage cards if you are responsible about paying off your credit cards every months. Carrying a balance defeats the purpose.

  • Chase Sapphire – The Chase Sapphire is the number one choice amongst travel hackers. Why? Not only do you gain points that can be converted into cash for a vacation, you get double the points in restaurants and any travel, it covers car rental insurance and there are no foreign transaction fees. In addition, it’s chip protected and, if you sign up and spend $3000 in your first four months of using it, you get an addition 40,000 points right off the bat. For a family of four, $3000 in four months is easily attainable simply by using the card exclusively for those four months. In addition, booking through Sapphire’s travel professionals gets you some serious discounts on flights and hotels. It also gives you various trip insurance benefits, which are so important to a big vacation. This is one of the best travel awards cards out there.
  • United Explorer Visa – This card gives you 2 miles for each $ spent with United Airlines, no foreign transaction fees and your first checked bag is free. You also get priority seating on all United flights, receive two one-time passes to the United Club per year and are eligible for room upgrades at over 700 resorts worldwide.
  • American Aadvantage Visa – This card has advantages similar to the United card only on American flights. Checked bags are free, discounts on American flights when using the card, earning 2 miles for every $ spent on American Airlines travel and the chance to earn up to 10% of your earned miles back per calendar year. That’s an extra 10,000 miles earned per

Shopping. Yes, shopping can earn you miles and points! Check your mileage program to see which stores they have agreements with. For example, United  shows which stores you can shop at in exchange for free points here. Everything from school supplies to clothing to wine. Wine and free miles? Yes please.

Surveys. Along the same lines as shopping, go to your milage program online and check to see if there are any surveys offered to earn free miles. You can earn up to 600 miles for taking a five minute survey.

Hotel booking agents. Booking agents such as and reward you with miles when you book hotels through them. You can earn up to 2000 miles depending on the hotel, how long you’re staying and what time of year it is. By using and booking a hotel through them using one of your mileage airline credit cards, you essentially get points through the booking engine AND get points/miles through your credit card. Win win.


How to pull it all together

To maximize your miles and points, you need to sit down and think a little. There are several websites that can help you keep track of your various credit cards, hotel rewards programs, etc., such as Or you can keep track of it simply by keeping a log. Currently I just write everything down, hence the reason my office is a crazy mess, but I haven’t joined yet. I do subscribe to The Travel Hacking Cartel, a great website that alerts you to various deals and ways to maximize your points and I take full advantage. Last week, I received an email via the cartel that Starwood was offering 2,500 bonus Star Points (for use at Starwood hotels) for staying at a Starwood hotel between August 1st and October 31st. I knew that we were going to Phoenix in early October so I signed up with the Starwood Preferred Guest program. Then I went on to check to see if the W hotel in Scottsdale was giving miles for staying there. They were.  I then used my Chase Sapphire card to book the hotel. In the process, I earned 2,500 Starwood points, 2000 American Aadvantage miles and 1,800 points on my Sapphire account. Getting creative really helps maximize points and miles.

If you take even a couple of hours a week combining things and looking for deals, you can definitely earn at least one or two flights or hotel stays completely free every year, which means…..more travel and more family time! 🙂 Since June, we have:

  1. Amassed 51,985 Ultimate rewards on our Chase Sapphire card.
  2. Earned 2000 points on my Chase Ink business Visa (this is a card I use strictly for my photography business). Before June, I had earned 45,000 points, which we cashed out in June for our Mexico trip.
  3. Earned 2000 American miles via Pointshound.
  4. Earned 2400 points via my Aadvantage credit card to add to my 162,000 miles already in my account.
  5. Earned 500 American miles for staying at the Fairmont when we went to Mexico in early July.
  6. Earned 6000 miles traveling from Denver to St. Thomas in early June.
  7. Earned 3000 United miles via Rocketmiles for an upcoming trip to Breckenridge.
  8. Earned 2350 United miles for flying to and from Cancun.
  9. Earned 541 United miles for shopping for school supplies via United’s shopping portal.
  10. Collected 13,000 points on Keith’s United mileage account between our United Explorer credit card purchases and extra points for upgrading to Mileage Explorer from regular Mileage Plus.
  11. Earned 300 miles on United for taking a 5 minute survey.

That’s over 83,000 various miles and points between my husband and I, utilizing some of the best travel awards programs out there. There are sooo many options out there for earning points. Don’t be afraid to ask every hotel you stay at, every restaurant you eat at and every booking engine you use if they give you points or miles for patronizing them. It’s worth it and can really help a family on trips like this.

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