I roped my parents into pursuing travel rewards - here's why more baby boomers should do the same
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- Pursuing travel rewards makes the most sense for people with great credit and a debt-free lifestyle. Many people from the baby boomer generation meet both those criteria.
- Travel rewards make it possible to travel further from home and stretch your vacation budget as far as it can go.
- If you love to travel with your parents but don't have the cash to pay for everyone, travel rewards offered through credit cards can help you save on the biggest components of travel including airfare and hotels.
The internet and modern technology have made it easier than ever to create a travel lifestyle on your own terms, which is exactly what my husband and I have done. Since we're self-employed, we can travel wherever we want for three or four months of the year. We still have to work, but we work remotely and on our own terms. Because our kids are on a modified, year-round school calendar, we even get to bring them along most of the time.
My husband and I do all our own travel research online and use websites like Google Flights and TheFlightDeal.com to find amazing airfare discounts. We also lean heavily on points and miles to fund part of our trips, which helps us save even more.
It would be difficult to imagine living this way just a few decades ago, wouldn't it? Back then, you would have to be fabulously rich to travel most of the year and you would likely need to work with a travel agent to plan it.
Today's world also stands in stark contrast to the world my parents, who are both in their 70s, grew up in. Since both my mom and dad came from families with financial struggles, most of their childhood trips were cross-country road trips to visit family or friends. Even if they had wanted to traverse the globe, they couldn't afford to go far.
And while airline and travel credit cards have existed in various forms since the 1980s, people didn't obsess over their rewards as much back then. They didn't have blogs like The Points Guy (an Insider Picks e-commerce partner) to show them the way, after all.
Read more: 5 great benefits you might not realize your credit card comes with
While my parent's upbringing taught them to be credit averse, I still figured out a way to talk them into pursuing their own credit card rewards - not too much at a time, mind you, but a reasonable amount of rewards at their own pace.
Here are a few reasons I tried to get them on board, and why you might want to consider the same strategy in your own life:
1. They're debt-free and have great credit
The biggest roadblock stopping people from pursuing credit cards rewards is usually credit, and this makes sense since credit score requirements for travel credit cards tend to be high. While different card issuers have their own framework that dictates who they'll approve, you usually need "very good" credit - or a FICO score of 740 or above - to get approved for the most lucrative travel credit cards.
Since the average credit card interest rate is now over 17%, it's also true that travel rewards are best for people who don't carry any debt. If you're earning 1-3% back on your spending but paying over 17% APR on your balance each month, it's obvious that you're not really getting ahead.
In either case, the financial side of credit card rewards is one area where the older generation has an advantage. Many people in their 70s are debt-free (or should be), and they're more likely to have a good credit score and a lifetime of credit history working in their favor.
Read more: 11 lucrative credit card deals you can get when opening a new card in December - including a 200,000-mile bonus
2. They get to book caviar travel on a beer budget
If you have good credit and a debt-free lifestyle, a solid travel rewards strategy can help you travel further from home and more luxuriously than you could otherwise afford. Thanks to rewards, my parents have been able to upgrade our family trips quite a bit over time, changing things up from the beachfront condo rentals I grew up with to all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean, cruises, and even trips to Europe.
For older generations living on a fixed budget, travel rewards can offer outsized value and make it possible to book trips that were only a pipe dream years before. For older people with some money to spend (but not an unlimited source of funds), travel rewards can be utilized to stretch a travel budget as far as it can go. When you're living on a fixed income, rewards can even mean the difference between checking off your travel bucket list and staying home.
Read more: How I book free flights using my credit-card points and frequent-flyer miles - it's easier than you think
3. We can coordinate our rewards
My husband and I earn approximately 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points per month with our Ink Business Preferred Credit Card thanks to our business ventures. We also sign up for quite a few new cards each year to earn big sign-up bonuses. However, that's not always enough to pay for 3-4 months of travel per year - especially when we bring other people along.
This brings me to the final reason I convinced my parents to earn their own rewards; I want to go on vacation with them a few times per year without forking over the entire cost of international travel for six.
While I sometimes use my rewards for other people when it makes sense, it helps when my parents earn some of their own. We usually coordinate our points and miles strategies as well to make sure we have the same type of rewards when it's time to book.
Read more: 4 reasons anyone who cares about credit card points and miles should be using Chase Ultimate Rewards
For last year's spring break, for example, we hatched a plan to start racking up Southwest Rapid Rewards points, World of Hyatt points, and IHG Rewards points more than a year in advance. Once we had all the points we needed, we booked round-trip flights from Indianapolis to Jamaica on Southwest Airlines, three nights at the all-inclusive Hyatt Ziva Resort in Rose Hall, Jamaica, and four more nights at the all-inclusive Holiday Inn Jamaica Resort in Montego Bay.
In the end, we each got a seven-night, all-inclusive vacation for the cost of airline taxes and fees, transportation to and from the airport, and tips. I called each of our hotels ahead of time to ask if we could have rooms close together, and both were happy to oblige.
We typically pursue a strategy like this at least once per year. We figure out where we want to go and how to get there, then we figure out which rewards programs to pursue. From there, we decide to sign up for new cards or refocus on regular spending to earn points in specific rewards programs. It may sound complicated, but it's not that hard to plan a coordinated trip like this if you start early enough.
The bottom line
If you wish your parents would travel further from home or outside their comfort zone, it may be time to get them into the travel rewards game. Doing so can help them earn points they can use to offset their travel expenses and see the world at a price they can afford.
And maybe - just maybe - you'll get to plan a special trip you'll remember long after they're gone.
To get started, read all about our favorite credit cards with good rewards programs and great new member offers that make it easier than ever to rack up a lot of points, including the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Amex Platinum.
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