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Vacation used to be a rare opportunity to spend time with the family. The parents would take time off from work. The kids wouldn’t be at after-school activities or running off to hang out with their friends. For once, everybody would spend some time together.
But after months of staying home, family time is ubiquitous. That’s why some people are forming small groups to travel together, mixing their household with another for safe socializing. The Washington Post is calling it a vacation pod.
Traveling with your pod, squad, multigenerational family or whatever you want to call it is different than group travel before the pandemic. Everyone has to share similar comfort levels around social distancing and mask-wearing practices. Accommodations are no longer just a place for everyone to sleep, with people squeezing onto extra air mattresses or crashing on the couch. Group travel these days is about giving everyone more space both inside the lodging and out. But it’s also more intimate. Separate households might have to agree to spending a lot more time together and taking the shared risk of exposure to COVID-19.
Travel rewards might be able to help make your group trip more comfortable for everyone, whether it’s using your points for an upgrade to a larger room or pooling points to cover an award stay. Here are some ideas of how members of a vacation squad can share their travel rewards.
1. You might be able to pool your points
You can multiply your redemption power if you have several members of your vacation squad earning the same type of points. This method is especially useful for sharing hotel points. World of Hyatt lets you share points with any other member. You have to fill out a PDF form and then email it back. Marriott Bonvoy also allows you to transfer points to another member, but you have to call the loyalty program to do so. Keep in mind there are also some restrictions around transferring points to new members, and the maximum you can transfer to other accounts is 100,000 points per calendar year. Hilton has the easiest process of the major hotel brands: You can do it online and even start a “Points Pool,” which allows up to 11 members to share points.
2. Flexible credit card points might be more useful than airline or hotel-specific points
If your vacation squad doesn’t share the same brand loyalties, you might still have some options to either share your credit card points or redeem those points at the same hotels.
Chase allows you to share points only with another member of your household, so Chase Sapphire cardholders are out of luck if they’re trying to transfer points to another family. American Express Membership Rewards are limited to sharing only with authorized users on your card, so that isn’t a viable option for most vacation pods.
On the other hand, Citi ThankYou points and Capital One Miles are easily transferable between cardholders, and the recipient doesn’t even have to be in your household. Citi has a maximum on the number of points you can transfer in a year (100,000) and also requires that the recipient use the transferred points within 90 days.
The other option is for each family to book a stay with points separately. This is where having a flexible currency from one of the major credit card issuers may give vacation pods more options, instead of being limited to one hotel brand. If you can’t find the hotel you’re looking for through the credit card’s travel booking portal, don’t forget you might be able to transfer your points to a hotel loyalty program. Here’s a rundown of American Express and Chase Ultimate Rewards’ transfer partners.
3. Explore points + cash redemptions
Big travel rewards enthusiasts might shy away from points + cash redemptions in normal times to maximize the value of their points. But this might be a good time to revisit them, especially if you’re traveling with a group.
This type of redemption might help you get a larger living area or outdoor space as you’re trying to get more room for your extra family members or friends. For example, Hyatt premium suites in a Category 4 hotel usually require 30,000 points to book an award stay. You can stretch your points for a few more nights if you’re willing to pay half of the suite’s price in cash, so that premium suite stay at a Category 4 property will only cost 15,000 points per night, plus the cash. This might make it easier to split the expenses, too, if your vacation pod doesn’t have the points to cover the entire stay.
4. Cooking for a big group? Get a place with a kitchen
Since dining out at a restaurant might not be an option at your vacation destination, it’s key to book accommodations with a kitchen big enough to feed your squad. Vacation rentals might be the first option to come to mind, but the downfall is that you can’t easily redeem points for those types of stays.
Don’t forget about hotel brands that may offer similar amenities like Staybridge Suites, which you can book with IHG Rewards Club points. Marriott Bonvoy offers some unique options including Studio Commons at their Element hotels, which come with a kitchen and living area for up to four adjoining rooms. They also allow travelers to book vacation rentals at private homes with points or cash through the Marriott Homes & Villas program.
5. Share your status benefits
If you have elite status with a hotel, it might be worth asking if you can extend some of your benefits (like automatic upgrades) to other rooms booked under the same reservation for the rest of your vacation pod. World of Hyatt allows Globalist members to do this through their Guest of Honor program. Other brands may be willing to do the same if you call ahead — you never know what you might be able to negotiate.
The bottom line
Traveling with a group inherently comes with some risks during the coronavirus pandemic. You’ll want to agree on steps you can take to minimize exposure and getting tested before you travel. Be sure to check the spread of coronavirus at your destination, and know the hotel or vacation rental cancellation policies in case things change. Once you decide to go, using travel rewards to book bigger rooms or share benefits might give you and your vacation pod a little more peace of mind and save you some money along the way.
How to Maximize Your Rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2020, including those best for:
Airline miles and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
Flat-rate rewards with no annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Premium travel rewards: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card