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My Vacation Cost Almost Nothing Thanks to My Rewards Credit Card

by Staff

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  • My kids were excited for their first trip on a plane — and it was thanks to our rewards credit card.
  • We used our card for every purchase and got enough points to cover a flight to the Outer Banks.
  • Because we were staying with family, our vacation came at almost no cost to us.

“Is this their first time?” my seatmate asks.

“It is,” I respond, smiling at my beaming son bouncing in his window seat. “For all three of them!”

“They must be so excited.”

“They are!” I say, laughing at the understatement.

My kids had spent years asking us what it was like to fly on planes, when they would get to go, and how old my husband and I were when our parents took us. You know, the usual guilt trip. And finally, at the ages of 11, 9, and 7, they were 40,000 feet up, soaring across the US to spend a week on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

I felt guilty that it took so long for us to get them on a plane because, to their point, I took my first plane ride when I was 1. And yet, here they were in elementary and middle school, taking their first plane ride. But we have three kids. When planning a vacation, budgeting our stay, our meals, and our activities, the last thing we can afford is five round-trip plane tickets.

And while we’re far from wealthy, this isn’t because we’re struggling to make ends meet. We swing a family vacation every year; we just always drive to our destination. So, what made our vacation to the Outer Banks different? This time, we saved up for it, not with money but with rewards credit card points.

An introductory bonus covered one person’s ticket

By taking our time and being strategic, we amassed enough travel points to fly our family of five from Kansas City, Missouri, to Norfolk, Virginia, and back again, and we had points left over.

Our strategy was simple. First, we applied for a credit card that offered introductory bonus points that would cover at least one person’s round-trip ticket — and that was before we started earning. Before we started using the credit card, we agreed on a plan for using the points we would earn. From there, we paid for everything with that card. And I mean everything.

We still paid off our credit card from our checking accountevery month, but the initial expenses were always charged to our credit card first. Our utility bills, our gas, our groceries, Christmas presents, birthday gifts, home improvement, weekend hotel stays, and even a short family vacation to the Ozarks. By taking our time and earning every point we could, we earned enough points for our family to fly to Virginia.

We saved by staying with family

But our savings didn’t stop with credit card points. My husband’s parents invited us to join them in the Outer Banks and generously paid for our accommodations while we were there. Between a free stay and free flights, and local friends who let us use their car — our epic nine-day vacation cost us only the price of food.

While our situation was unique to us, it illustrates a creative way to get the most out of your travel points. Whether you have long-distance friends who would love to have you stay, relatives with timeshares they’re happy to let you in on, or, like us, you have loved ones invite you to share their vacation rental, the opportunity for a free place to stay comes up much more frequently than the offer of free travel.

Saving up your travel points in anticipation of these occasions will make it easier for you to seize those opportunities when they come, and it will help you take a vacation for an incredibly low cost.

It feels like spending free money

Also, many travel rewards credit cards don’t limit your point rewards to airplane tickets. If you can save up enough travel points, you can use them for your travel as well as your destination by using them to rent a hotel room.

Racking up these kinds of points can take a long time. Patience is necessary, but so is strategy. While I like the method of using your travel credit card for all your major and minor purchases, you can likely get even further faster by paying close attention to what types of purchases will earn you double and triple points.

What I like about credit card points is that, in many ways, it feels like you’re spending free money. I wouldn’t normally blow thousands of our hard-earned dollars flying our entire family to North Carolina when we could drive for half the price, but this didn’t feel like an expensive indulgence. Instead, it felt like a gift we gave ourselves with forethought and a little financial maneuvering. And we used this gift to make a memory for our kids that will last them a lifetime.

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