Years ago, a wise colleague recommended to my husband that he begin using travel rewards credit cards. At the time, Brent traveled occasionally for work. And we took what we now affectionately refer to as “DINK Trips” (Dual Income, No Kids.) In other words, totally extravagant vacations. So although we didn’t see much need for a rewards card- like most things you do in your early 20s- we signed up without doing any research or giving it much thought.

Then we used the card sporadically, at best. And only for travel.

Fast forward 5 years. Life. Happened.

The country went through a major recession. We moved. Twice. A baby was born and I quit my job. Brent got promoted to a job that required quite a bit more travel. I learned how to budget, change diapers and meal plan all in the same year. We gradually began traveling with our baby. We moved once again. But the bottom line to all of this is: we did NOTHING special or extraordinary with our rewards credit card. I don’t even recall if I had my own copy. There might have just been one in my husband’s wallet.

One day when our daughter was 3-years old, Brent casually mentioned “hey, I think we might have enough points to go on a Disney Cruise.” SAY WHAT?

As you might have guessed from the pictures, I didn’t need to be told twice. Our family was able to take a 4-day Disney Cruise for free. (Side note: I should probably use the term “free” loosely because some might object. To clarify, our card does have an annual fee. Additionally, we did spend quite a bit of money to earn the free cruise.)

The reason I share this story is because I face a lot of push-back from people reluctant to sign up for a travel rewards credit card. They think it takes an enormous amount of work to strategically earn enough points to do anything. Or they think they must be frequent travelers to make it worthwhile. To say that we truly did nothing outside of our typical lifestyle and spending to earn the Disney Cruise is no exaggeration.

Now though, we are totally smitten with our travel rewards credit cards. We play the game, and we play it well.

We do everything we can to pay everything we can on our card. We stopped limiting our card use to travel, and began using it for everyday expenses. Since our initial Disney Cruise, we’ve taken several other vacations for “free” with our earned points. The one caveat that can’t go unmentioned- it’s imperative to pay off the card each month. Otherwise, you’re paying tenfold for what you’re earning!

The Blackstone Chicago…Nothing like redeeming a free room from points, and being upgraded to a suite based on status earned through points. Oh, and then taking advantage of the free food in the concierge lounge!

When people ask me about signing up for a travel rewards card, I like to tell them how our family has benefited directly:

  • Vacations: As I’ve already mentioned we pay for entire trips (or items such as a flight or hotel room) using earned points.
  • Upgrades: While this may not sound important- consider the value when you’re traveling with children in paying for a studio room and being upgraded to a 2-bedroom suite! Likewise, I don’t hate the extra space on an airplane.
  • Free Food: Our cards helped us earn status with particular hotel brands. And the status gives us access to concierge lounges stocked with food.
  • Free Luggage: We also have the option to check bags on a flight without paying the hefty fee associated with most checked luggage.

To be fair, I should also mention the downside:

  • Annoyance: It’s not that we dislike other brands…but we’re much happier when we are able to maintain loyalties and fly or stay at hotels in our card network.
  • Fee: As I mentioned, there is almost always an annual fee associated with travel rewards credit cards. Additionally, the interest rates on these types of cards is usually pretty high.

Overall, the positive outweighs the negative in our situation. If you are considering signing up, a fabulous resource is a study just published by U.S. News and World Report on the Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards. Their article is full of great information and comparisons on the various cards. A word of caution- I’m thankful for how naively we went into our first card. There are a lot of options and each one offers something just a tad different. Don’t get handcuffed by indecision- pick one and start earning points!

You might also enjoy reading:

6 Airline Hacks For Flying With Kids

The Most Interesting Place I’ve Ever Been

Disney Cruise: 13 Things To Expect Your First Day

Marriott Rewards

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