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How to Maximize Travel Rewards Points and Perks for Your Family

Experts share their top tips for optimizing award travel.

U.S. News & World Report

How to Maximize Travel Rewards Points and Perks for Your Family

Family Arriving at a Hotel Reception Desk.

Get travel benefits the whole family can enjoy.(Getty Images)

After logging hundreds of thousands of miles, staying in brand-backed chains and boutiques and using travel rewards credit cards to collect loyalty points and elite membership privileges, you're probably yearning for a vacation. But in an era of dollar-based earning structures and evolving program policies that devalue elite membership benefits, attaining meaningful rewards can be challenging for one person – let alone a group. And with frequent flier miles and hotel rewards points often getting shuffled into different accounts, navigating how to combine loyalty points without diminishing their value is a feat in itself. Fortunately, there are some clever tricks to reap rich rewards for yourself – and your relatives. U.S. News sought guidance from industry experts to bring you smart tips for acing your rewards strategy.

Pick a Program That Allows You to (Cheaply) Pool Points

JetBlue Airways' TrueBlue program makes it simple to collect and integrate JetBlue points – at no extra cost. You can always share or gift miles, but it's not a good deal on other airlines, says George Hobica, president of booking site Airfarewatchdog.com. Here's how it works: Up to two adults (ages 21 and older) and five children can add a fixed percentage of frequent flier points per year – without a transfer cost – to a Family Pooling account. While it may not seem like a major incentive to pool points for one family member's account (the head of household), when you consider that members earn six points per dollar spent for booking flights on JetBlue's site, it's easy to see how the pooling plan makes it easy to rack up points quickly as a group.

Hawaiian Airlines also allows members to share miles with other HawaiianMiles members, but only holders of Barclaycard's Hawaiian Airlines World Elite Mastercard can receive accumulated miles without paying transaction and transfer fees. Conversely, "family pooling is very common across non-U.S. programs," explains Gary Leff, author of frequent flier site View From the Wing. For example, British Airways allows its Avios members to link up to seven household accounts. But there is a caveat: When you redeem Avios points, you'll draw points from all accounts, Leff cautions. British Airways is ideal for people living at the same address to pool points to rack up free flights quickly, Hobica adds. Korean Air also allows family members to bundle SkyPass miles, while Etihad's Guest Program enables you to combine miles in a single account and Quantas' loyalty program enables members to transfer accumulated miles to relatives' accounts.

Beware of Hidden Fees and Other Caveats

In many cases, "the miles will go into the account of the person [who's] actually flying on the ticket," explains Zach Honig, editor in chief of the points advice site The Points Guy. So, "for the most part you can't combine miles," he says. And while you can theoretically pool your points together for one specific reward if you participate in a program that allows you to combine miles, keep in mind it can be difficult to be accommodated on the same award trip if each family member is individually booking their own award reservation, he cautions. Honig advises calling the airline to request to be seated next to one another if you're redeeming from separate accounts. And when transferring points from one account to another, remember that unless you're using a program that allows you to pool points, you're going to pay a steep fee. Most programs will go through a third-party site, such as Points.com, and require a transfer fee, Honig explains.

Pick Programs That Allow You to Earn Transferable Points or Extend Perks to Others

If you prioritize value, it pays to stick with a program that allows you to easily transfer points between different hotel and airline accounts, Honig says. He highlights the Starwood Preferred Guest program as an ideal choice for those who want flexibility. The SPG program lets you to combine points together with other household members and transfer points for eligible partner flights with Delta. It's not always an instantaneous process to transfer points, Honig cautions. "Say everybody only took two flights in the last year. If you pool those points, you're not going to have enough [award] points for everyone," he explains. If there's a vacation goal you have in mind, plan in advance and "make sure your points are pulled together before you pull the trigger," he adds. Meanwhile, Hyatt Gold Passport elite Diamond members can extend their status privileges to family or friends when they book their hotel stay, thanks to the program's "Guest of Honor" perk, Leff explains. Benefits can include anything from a late check-out to a complimentary United Club airport lounge pass and even room upgrades, depending on availability.

In terms of frequent flier programs that extend membership privileges to families, it's hard to match Southwest's Rapid Rewards program, which offers Companion Pass status (after collecting 110,000 Rapid Rewards points). With this privilege, you can bring a guest for free on any Southwest flight through the end of the following year, enabling you to save big if you're traveling with others.

Choose a Flexible Credit Card

Aside from generous sign-up bonuses, many co-branded travel rewards credit cards allow travelers to bolster balances across different accounts. For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card not only grants members a 50,000-points sign-up bonus for spending $4,000 on purchases within the first three months of creating an account – you can also add a variety of authorized users to earn extra points bonuses. Honig recommends that you and your significant other both sign up for an affiliated rewards card to quickly rack up miles. Once you each reach about 70,000 miles, you can enjoy round-trip award tickets in economy to many destinations, he explains.

With some cards, elite perks extend to other family members. Take the Citi Prestige Card, which grants up to two family members lounge access, Leff says. Meanwhile, the Platinum Card from American Express includes complimentary Delta Sky Club access in the $450 annual enrollment fees, along with a Priority Pass Select option that enables you to bring a companion for an additional $27 (per guest).

Stay Organized

To ensure you leverage award travel and points bonuses among your group, Leff recommends that one diligent family member manages all accounts. He suggests using an online points and miles tracking tool, such as AwardWallet, to monitor a variety of accounts. And to optimize comfort, he suggests you get your seat assignment at the time of booking and keep track of flight changes. If you want to sit together, set up a seat alert on ExpertFlyer.com, which notifies you when specific spaces on an aircraft become available, he says.

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