We’ve gotten deeper into traveling with points and miles, but I’v realized something critical: many resources out there don’t do a great job of tweaking their suggested travel credit card strategies to account for traveling with kids.
We love our kids and love exploring the world with them, but they are definitely takers rather than givers when it comes to the money side of travel. When you’re trying to figure out the best credit cards for family travel specifically, there are a few pain points to consider since kids can’t get their own credit cards (and can’t even be authorized users until they’re teens in some cases):
- Kids can’t earn miles through credit card sign ups or spending, so adults need to earn twice as many
- You’ll have to find award flights with enough seats for the whole family
- Many hotels outside of North America only have rooms with occupancy of 2 or 3 – and they’re strict about it
- Lounge access may only apply to the card holder (sometimes with one guest allowed)
So what’s a family to do? Be very strategic in choosing the best travel credit card for families and often have each adult in the family open the same card. In the list below I’ll share some of my top picks and which families they’re best for. Some of the best credit card for travel options have low or no annual fee, while some come with a hefty fee that can make sense if you’ll use the included benefits.
It’s good to keep in mind that the people who are constantly jetsetting around the world for free with points and miles are doing that by opening multiple new credit cards per year – and paying them in full every month. Every card they open comes with a huge sign up bonus in exchange for meeting a minimum spend within the first few months. Some of the minimum spends are higher or lower than others, so be honest with yourself about your finances and never spend more than you have or can afford just for the sake of earning rewards.
If it all sounds overwhelming to keep track of, check out the Travel Freely app. It’s a great way to keep track of your progress and get personalized credit card recommendations. There are a million options out there, but it’s ok to start slow with a single awesome credit card for family travel.
Chase Sapphire Reserve
There’s no one best family travel credit card, but I’ll start with one of the most popular options out there – and one that our family took around the world for two glorious years. The Chase Sapphire Reserve is a solid family travel credit card because of the great benefits it provides:
- Priority Pass Select lounge access for the card holder and a guest (supposedly it includes two guests but in my experience many lounges don’t allow a second guest)
- Top-notch travel insurance
- Primary rental car insurance (which kicks in before your regular insurance)
- TSA PreCheck or Global Entry fee reimbursement every four years
- Earn triple Ultimate Rewards points on travel and restaurants
❗Many Chase credit cards earn Ultimate Rewards points, which are amazing. You can get great value by transferring them to partners like United, Southwest, KLM, British Airways, Hyatt and a dozen more. The flexibility to transfer to so many different programs is absolutely invaluable – often there’s availability on partner airlines like using British Airways to book discounted tickets to Hawaii on several US carriers. Mind blowing, right? There’s also the option to redeem them directly in Chase’s own travel portal, but that’s not usually the best way to use them.
It also comes with a healthy bank of points to start you off once you meet the minimum spending requirement – you can check the current offer here. It should be enough for one or two round trip flights between the US and Europe on KLM, several nights at an all-inclusive in Mexico or some other amazing adventure you can dream up!
The annual fee is a hefty $550, however your first $300 in travel expenses are automatically credited back on your statement every single year. That brings the annual fee down to $250. There are a bunch of non-travel credits and benefits thrown on there as well, but even without those we think it’s a fantastic option.
You can also add an authorized user for a reasonable $75 per year. Their spending will contribute to your bank of Ultimate Rewards points and they’ll get their own Priority Pass access (along with a guest). If you’re a two-parent family with two kids, one Chase Sapphire Reserve with one authorized user will get lounge access for everyone (plus all of the other benefits for the primary cardholder) for $625.
One great strategy in a two-parent family is to have both parents sign up for the Chase Sapphire Reserve. At the end of the first year, one of the parents can downgrade their card to a free Chase Freedom Unlimited card and get added as an authorized user on the Sapphire Reserve. You’ll earn two sign up bonuses, which can be combined across your household, you can both get TSA PreCheck or Global Entry, and everyone will still have lounge access all the time. But your annual fee after that first year will drop tremendously!
Chase Sapphire Preferred
If you like the sound of Ultimate Rewards points mentioned above but don’t travel enough to justify a huge annual fee, check out the Chase Sapphire Preferred. You can only get a Sapphire welcome bonus (for either card) once every four years and the Preferred was offering extra points when it was time for us to get a new one, so my husband and I each have this card now. Chase won’t let you have both Sapphire cards at the same time though you can upgrade if you want the lounge access and extra travel benefits of the Reserve.
The big upside to the Chase Sapphire Preferred is that you get the same or similar sign up bonus with a much lower annual fee. This is a great choice for a first travel credit card if you’re hesitant about paying big fees or if you don’t anticipate using lounge access very much. Even plenty of experts crown this as one of the best credit cards for travel!
It’s worth noting that the travel insurance on the Chase Sapphire Preferred is good but not as robust as the Reserve. You’ll also earn fewer points on travel purchases, so if you’re trying to have just a single travel credit card (as opposed to opening many) you won’t earn as many points going forward with the Preferred.
❗We also supplement our Ultimate Rewards points with lots of points from the excellent Chase Ink Business credit card series (except the Premier, don’t get that one). These earn massive sign up bonuses, and are perfect for spending on my business expenses. It can be a little confusing to understand whether or not you’re eligible for a business credit card, but this article does a great job explaining.
Southwest credit cards
While they may not be the most exciting or flexible travel options, if you’re a family that likes to travel within the US, Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean you need to look at Southwest credit cards. With enough points earned during the year, you’ll be award a Southwest companion pass that allows you to bring a guest of your choosing on every single flight for just the cost of taxes.
Spring break in Hawaii? Just $5.60 each way for my daughter’s ticket! President’s Day weekend at the beach? $5.60 for that too. Couples getaway to Nashville? I brought my husband for the same $5.60. There’s no limit to how many times you can use your companion pass and you can change your companion a few times per year.
Obviously this incredible deal is only relevant if Southwest serves an airport close to you. If it does, you should learn more about Southwest companion pass.
The 30 second summary of how to earn your companion pass is that you generally need to open two Southwest credit cards, first a business card and then a personal card. It doesn’t matter which one you choose from each set. Once you hit the very reasonable minimum spend requirement for both cards, you’ll be awarded a companion pass that’s valid for the rest of the year and all of the next year. The least expensive set is the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus card and the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business card – you can get them both at this link.
If you are an avid Southwest flyer, consider the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority card on the personal side thanks to its $75 annual flight credit. Let me apologize on Southwest’s behalf for making the card names so similar.
It’s best to wait until ~November/December to apply for these cards, and be sure not to hit the spending requirement until the beginning of the year. That’ll get you basically two full years of free flights!
If you’re a two parent family with two or more kids, you can each do this and then bring the kids for free on every family vacation for almost two years!
Capital One Venture X
This is our newest family travel credit card and I’m excited to have it in our wallets! Why? The Capital One Venture X is the best credit card for family lounge access.
While the excellent Chase Sapphire Reserve allows one (or theoretically two) guests to enter Priority Pass lounges with the cardholder, Capital One Venture X takes it to the next level. Every cardholder gets to bring two guests but it’s free to add authorized users to your card and they get lounge access with guests too! You’ll also all get access to tons of Plaza Premium lounges around the world and the new set of Capital One lounges popping up.
Only one person in the household needs to get this card, but they can add anyone over 18. While Priority Pass has gotten more limited in the US over the last few years, it still offers a robust network overseas (Europe has twice as many and Asia has three times as many).
You’ll also get a TSA PreCheck or Global Entry credit, a $300 annual travel credit (which has to be redeemed through Capital One’s travel portal unfortunately), primary rental car insurance and more.
When you meet the spending minimum on the Venture X you’ll get a juicy sign up bonus (current offer here) that can be transferred to some great airline partners like British Airways, KLM, Turkish and more. As with Chase Ultimate Rewards, these flexible points can give you great value when you transfer them, even allowing you to book domestic flights through international partners. The Capital One transfer partners aren’t quite as strong for families (no Southwest, United or Hyatt) but still very good.
One particularly good transfer option for families is Vacasa, which is a vacation rental service that’s bookable with Wyndham points – and thankfully Wyndham is a Capital One transfer partner! It’s priced at 15,000 points per bedroom regardless of location. That means you could book a one-bedroom + sleep sofa on Maui for five nights just using your sign up bonus.
While the Capital One Venture X comes loaded with premium benefits, the annual fee is much lower than the comparable Chase Sapphire Reserve.
IHG One Rewards Premier
If your family travels a lot in the US, especially to places like National Parks, you might love the IHG One Rewards Premier card – and the nifty features it offers. In case you aren’t familiar with IHG, that’s the parent company of huge brands like Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express. They’re everywhere! Everyone has stayed at a Holiday Inn before, and they’re a solid choice for families thanks to free breakfast, rooms that accommodate the whole crew and usually pools on site.
The new IHG One Rewards Premier card stays true to the brand’s value roots. For just $99 per year you get:
- A big sign up bonus to start you off (the amount varies but it typically enough for at least four nights)
- Platinum Elite status (which landed us in a two-room suite on our Michigan road trip!)
- 4th night free when you redeem points for 3 nights
- Free night certificate every anniversary – you can combine with the 4th night free to make a 5 night trip
- TSA PreCheck or Global Entry fee reimbursement every four years
These are serious benefits for a card that only costs $99 per year! You can stretch your points at a Staybridge Suites in the US or splash out at an Intercontinental overseas. This would also be an ideal credit card for travel sports families, as those costs add up quickly and you can almost always find an IHG hotel near weekend tournaments.
If you plan to fly anywhere, this is the cheapest credit card that covers TSA PreCheck. Each adult needs to have their own PreCheck, so it could make sense for them to open their own IHG One Rewards Premier card at least for the first year. But plenty of miles and points experts rate this card a “hold” thanks to the free night certificate you’ll receive on every anniversary.
More options for credit cards for family travel
While my top picks for the best credit card for travel with kids are listed above, there are a few others worth considering in some circumstances. Consider these my personal “runners up” for the best credit cards for families who love to travel. You can also check out this month’s best credit card deals overall.
- Amex Gold credit card – This is a mid-level card that doesn’t offer tons of travel-specific benefits, but it earns 4 Membership Rewards points for every dollar you spend at restaurants and US grocery stores. It offers a healthy sign up bonus as well. Membership Rewards points are also incredibly flexible and have great transfer partners, just like Ultimate Rewards points.
- Alaska Airlines Visa Signature – If you live in a market dominated by Alaska Airlines (or even if you don’t) this card can be extremely valuable. Despite its low annual fee, it’s easy to earn a Companion Fare that lets you bring a buddy – or your child – with you for just $122. Sometimes sign-up promotions bring that down to only $23.
- Citi Premier Card – An old version of this was my first rewards credit card before I even know what travel hacking was! It has a low annual fee and earns 3x points for travel, restaurants and groceries so it’s easy to rack up tons of points. You can transfer to a decent number of airlines like JetBlue, KLM, Turkish and more but the Citi program isn’t as robust as what you’ll get with the Chase Sapphire Preferred.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, it can be really confusing to keep all of your rewards credit cards straight once you start getting involved in travel hacking. You can always consider testing out Travel Freely (which is completely free) to help you stay on top of sign up bonuses, annual fees and new opportunities!
For more tips on making family travel affordable, but sure to read our budget travel articles. They’re loaded with actionable tips to help you travel more while spending less!
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