Travel Hacking Our Family Vacations {Part 1}

I am not a huge fan of credit cards. They make me nervous and with my already-tenuous relationship with money, they just straight-up scare me. So it may surprise people to know that my husband and I actually have 9 credit cards between us. 7 of which were opened this year alone.

Now, I know what you are thinking. That I have somehow lost my mind and that I’m ruining my credit.

You are half right.

I have somewhat lost my mind – in the world of travel hacking. But my credit score has never been better.

It all started when my husband and I were starting to plan our family’s first Disney trip. We slated it for 2020 to give ourselves enough time to save up – and as I started to research, I was overwhelmed by all of the information and the sheer amount of money this would cost us. We knew we wanted to fly, and we knew we wanted to do it right and not worry about the bottom line. But flights for 4 people? We are talking about thousands of dollars.

It was enough to make me close the laptop and walk away. But my obsessive personality didn’t allow that for long.

Almost right after we started to plan our Disney trip, I got a credit card offer for the Disney credit card. At the time, I hadn’t applied for a credit card since I was an intern fresh out of college – it had been at least 11 years. Remember – I’m scared of them so I tend to turn blinders on when I receive offers. But a Disney card? And we’re planning a Disney vacation. That got my wheels turning.

After some research, I realized that the card itself wasn’t going to get us much closer to our Disney vacation with points, but it came complete with perks like 10% off dining and souvenirs and special cardmember only photo opportunities at the park. With a $200 statement credit after spending $500 in the first three months, it was a no-brainer. We got the card (ours has BB-8 on it) and our foray into travel hacking began.

As I researched more about the card, I realized there was a whole world of travel hacking – dedicated to earning huge sign-on bonuses by opening certain cards. Immediately my wheels were turning again – I could get my flights covered. I could amass enough points to cover our rental car and subsidize our park tickets.

But I was also scared.

family vacationOpening tons of credit cards felt risky. And scary. As I dug in deeper, I learned that opening cards could actually improve my credit since my credit line would increase. And I can attest to that – both my husband and I have seen an uptick in our scores.

And so I dove in.

Following the Disney card was the Citi AAdvantage card and the Barclays Red Aviator. Once we met their minimum spend requirements, we suddenly had enough points to cover our roundtrip flights for 4.

And meeting the spending requirement was easy. Being afraid of carrying a balance, I signed up for Debitize. It’s free and basically links your credit cards to your checking account. As you spend on your cards, Debitize pulls money out of your checking account and holds the funds until it is time to pay your credit card bill – which it also handles. I was essentially meeting minimum spend requirements and racking up points by using my credit card like a debit card.

Suddenly, it wasn’t just a Disney vacation we were thinking about; we started to think about Universal Studios and are now planning a trip to Colorado with my husband’s family this December. At least a part of each of these trips is being subsidized by credit card points.

For our Disney vacation, this is our current strategy:

Chase Disney Premier

We plan to use this card for mostly the perks we will get on-site. We currently use this card whenever we need to get gas since we get double points on gas purchases.

Annual Fee – $49 / year. There is a no-annual fee card but we felt the annual fee was worth it and we could always Product Change down to the no-fee card.

Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite

Sign-On Bonus: 60,000 miles

Annual Fee: $99 / year (waived the first year and we plan to Product Change to the no-fee card once we use our points).

Note: This card has changed since we received it – the sign-on bonus is not as high and the minimum spend is different. Always do research to make sure you are getting the highest bonus available. For this card, I actually was able to get 75,000 miles because of some help from Reddit finding another offer link.

Barclays AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard

Sign-on Bonus: 60,000 miles

Annual Fee: $95 (not waived)

The neat thing about this card is that we only had to spend $1 to get the sign-on bonus. Unlike most cards that require at least $1,000 – $3,000 spend in 3 months.

Chase Sapphire Preferred

We plan to use these points to subsidize our rental car. We could use it for hotel / tickets to Disney but we plan on using a Disney travel agent (hey Marissa!) so we have made a savings plan to cover those items instead.

Sign-on Bonus 55,000 (50,000 points + 5,000 when you add an authorized user)

Annual Fee: $95 / year – waived the first year. We will keep this card and not product change it  because Ultimate Reward (UR) points from Chase are very valuable and can be transferred to several travel partners – like Southwest.

So that is our current Disney strategy – and it will at least save us about $2,000 on airline tickets! For parts 2 and 3 of this series, I will outline how we plan to subsidize Universal Studios and our upcoming Colorado trip with points.

Laurel Hess
Laurel Hess is a mother to 2 young boys, a rescue pup, an off-balance cat and likely a few foster pups. She spends her days as President of a local marketing agency, helping craft integrated digital strategies and leading a team of creative collaborators. Once at home, however, Laurel is just trying to find peace with being the World's Okayest Mom. A Dallas transplant in a Louisiana world, Laurel graduated from Loyola University New Orleans in Broadcast Production. She met her husband while she was evacuated in Lafayette during Hurricane Katrina. They lived 5 wild, kid-free years in New Orleans while Laurel served as the Sales and Marketing Manager for the Superdome, Arena and Champions Square, before finally returning to Lafayette and into the wildest phase of life yet ... Parenthood.


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