Travel Hacking our Family Vacations {Part 3}

This is part 3 of a series. You can read part 1 here and part 2 here. This series details how I use credit card points to subsidize our family vacations. In part 3, I discuss how I use points on our upcoming trip to Colorado in December.

I have a lot of anxiety in my day-to-day life, so it’s really no surprise that my travel anxiety is on a whole other level. So when my husband’s family decided that we would all take a trip this December around Christmas to visit family in Colorado, my anxiety kicked into high gear.

This is a trip a mere 5 months away. Being a planner, this threw me for a loop. I was already planning for a 2019 trip to Universal Studios and a 2020 trip to Disney. I did not have plans for a trip this year and thus, my travel hacking kicked up into high gear.

If you read part 2, you know that my car limit is 6 hours. I certainly wasn’t going to make it to Colorado if we needed to drive. So I immediately started looking at how I could subsidize the cost of our trip with points.

My generous mother-in-law offered to rent a townhouse that we could all stay in so we are set on lodging – with the exception of 2 nights.

I logged into my Southwest account to see how many points I would need for our family of 4 to fly. Initially planning to fly out on the 26th, I realized it took was less points to fly out on Christmas day. It was also really important to me to book a direct flight as my kids haven’t flown before and I’m not really sure how they will be on the flight.  So I booked a direct flight from New Orleans to Denver on Christmas night, returning on direct flight New Year Eve. I needed about 123,000 points but only had 53,000 in my account.

So here’s what I did.

I transferred 35,000 points from my Chase Ultimate Rewards to my Southwest account. They have a 1:1 transfer rate. But I still needed 35,000 more points. Luckily I was able to buy them for about $700.

So all told, my flights worked out to be about $175 each for direct flights.

But we were now flying in on Christmas day and we wouldn’t have the townhouse until the following day.

So I logged into the Chase rewards portal and booked a hotel near the airport with a free 24 hour shuttle for 11,000 points.

But we aren’t staying in Denver and we need to get to Keystone the following day. So I opened another credit card (Citi ThankYou Premier) for 60,000 bonus points which I  used to get our rental car totally covered (47,000 points for a minivan for 5 days). 

I also used it to book a hotel on Dec. 30 because our flight leaves early on Dec. 31 in Denver and Keystone is about 3-4 hours away. If you have ever flown out of Denver, you know how crazy the security lines can be.

To that end, I also signed up for Clear so we could get through the security line faster and also registered for TSA Pre-check. Clear will cost us $149 for the year. Normally it’s $179 + $50 for a family member (my husband) BUT if you use your Delta SkyMiles number, you save $80. For TSA Pre-Check, it would have cost us $170 for 5 years ($85 each) – but I was able to use 20,000 United Miles from an old United credit card I forgot about (10,000 each for my husband and me) to get credits to cover the Pre-Check fee. The kids do not need to be registered for either. These are not totally necessary things, but having regular anxiety and super travel anxiety, I know that the peace of mind it will give me is priceless.

To recap, here are the cards we used/are using to subsidize this trip:

Chase Southwest Premier

Sign-up bonus: 50,000 miles

Annual Fee: $69 / year

Part of these points covered our flights.

Chase Sapphire Preferred

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.

We transferred points to Southwest to lower our cost and we booked a hotel for Christmas night.

Citi ThankYou Premier

Sign-on Bonus: 60,000 points

Annual fee: $95 / waived the first year

We will use these points to cover our rental car and our hotel the night before our flight.

Being a crazy planner, I also budgeted out remaining items for our trip like food, gas, airport parking in New Orleans, dog boarding, cold winter clothes and activities. I made a plan to save a certain amount from each paycheck to cover these costs and have already found amazing off-season deals for our winter clothes.

While I wasn’t planning on this trip and it initially threw me for a loop, I am thrilled to have been able to subsidize our trip with points – saving us over $3,000.

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.