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5 Ways to Make Reward Travel Cheaper for Families

02/26/2015 03:38 pm ET | Updated Apr 28, 2015

Earning enough points and miles to cover the cost of a family vacation can be difficult when just two adults are eligible to earn and redeem travel rewards. Fortunately, there are ways to save points and miles by as much as 50 percent -- a welcome reprieve for families on a budget. Here are five tricks for making reward travel more attainable for you and your clan.

Consider redeeming for vacation rentals, instead of hotels
With some hotel rewards programs requiring upward of 50,000 points per night for a single room, earning enough points for two or more rooms can be challenging. But rather than focusing on hotels, it's often more prudent to book a vacation rental. For example, instead of reserving a two-bedroom villa at the Marriott Waiohai Beach Club in Kauai, Hawaii, for 40,000 points per night, opt for an Airbnb rental at $295 per night. What makes this the cost-effective choice? If you have a Barclay Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard, you can redeem your miles for Airbnb bookings. This particular property would require 26,560 miles per night. Considering you earn two miles per dollar spent with the Barclay Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard, this is a much cheaper option than redeeming Marriott Rewards.

Use airline companion passes
Companion tickets are one of the best tools for families looking to save on airfare. The Southwest Companion Pass tops them all, mainly because it can be used in conjunction with Southwest Rapid Rewards. To be eligible for the Companion Pass, you must fly 100 flight segments or earn 110,000 Tier Qualifying Points within a calendar year. After achieving this status, you'll have the opportunity to designate a companion who gets to fly with you free of charge (excluding taxes and fees), regardless of whether the fare is paid for with cash or booked with Rapid Rewards points. For a family of four or more, using a companion ticket could cut the cost of airfare in half if each parent is able to quailfy for the pass and designate one child as their companion.

Use airline companion passes
Companion tickets are one of the best tools for families looking to save on airfare. The Southwest Companion Pass tops them all, mainly because it can be used in conjunction with Southwest Rapid Rewards. To be eligible for the Companion Pass, you must fly 100 flight segments or earn 110,000 Tier Qualifying Points within a calendar year. After achieving this status, you'll have the opportunity to designate a companion who gets to fly with you free of charge (excluding taxes and fees), regardless of whether the fare is paid for with cash or booked with Rapid Rewards points. For a family of four or more, using a companion ticket could cut the cost of airfare in half if each parent is able to quailfy for the pass and designate one child as their companion.

Book air and hotel awards
Several hotel loyalty programs, including Starwood Preferred Guest and Marriott Rewards, allow members to redeem points for flights. These air and hotel packages make redemptions much cheaper for families. For example, Starwood Nights & Flights awards require 60,000 to 70,000 points. In return, members receive 50,000 frequent flier miles and five nights at a category three or four hotel. Booking one of these Nights & Flights awards can save members 18,000 to 20,000 hotel points across five nights, depending on the hotel category.

Take advantage of discounted awards
Many rewards programs offer discounted award redemptions that can lighten the burden of accruing enough points for a family vacation. Some hotel rewards programs, including Starwood Preferred Guest, Marriott Rewards and Hilton HHonors, offer the fifth night free every four nights you redeem points. This equates to a points savings of 20 percent, which may not sound like much, but when you're booking two or more rooms for a family, it adds up.

Airline frequent flier programs offer their own redemption discounts. American Airlines is the most generous, offering an off-peak award chart available for all AAdvantage members. Off-peak awards can be a great bargain, offering discounts of up to 33 percent if you're willing to forego traveling during peak times. Award redemptions to Europe, which normally cost 60,000 miles, are discounted to 40,000 round-trip. Fancy a trip to Japan? Travel between October 1 to April 30 and you're looking at redeeming 50,000 miles round-trip instead of 65,000. On four award tickets, that's a saving of 60,000 miles. Plus, if you're a Citi AAdvantage credit cardholder, you can take advantage of Reduced Mileage Awards. This quarterly list offers discounts of 5,000 to 7,500 miles round-trip to select destinations in the U.S. and Canada.

American Airlines AAdvantage isn't the only frequent flier program offering discounted award redemptions. US Airways also has an off-peak award chart. Air France's Flying Blue program occasionally offers some bargain redemptions through its Flying Blue Promo Awards. The downside to these redemptions is that the program does impose heavier taxes than American Airlines and US Airways, but on premium award redemptions they might still be a good value.

Utilize credit card redemption discounts
Rewards credit cards aren't just a great way to accrue more miles for family travel, they can make award redemptions cheaper. Both the Citi AAdvantage and US Airways Dividend Miles MasterCard offer cardholders a 10 percent discount on award redemptions (up to 10,000 miles per year). Those combined 20,000 miles are almost enough for a round-trip economy-class ticket within the U.S.

Perhaps one of the most generous reward credit card discounts is offered by the Club Carlson credit cards: Cardholders who book two or more award nights get the last night free. On a two-night stay, this equates to a 50 percent discount on award redemptions. For a family with two credit cardholders, this benefit can substantially reduce the number of points required for two or more rooms.

About the author: Ariana Arghandewal is a travel writer who enjoys helping others navigate the world of travel hacking though her blog, Pointchaser. You can follow Ariana on Twitter or connect with her on Google+.

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