I’m not a parent, but as the mileage manager in my family, I make sure everyone is doing their part to earn enough miles for family vacations. With the exception of my younger sister, everyone is over 18 and able to pull their weight and compensate for her. If your kids are a burden on your mileage account (and you mean that in the most loving way possible), it might be time to get them involved in the mile earning game. While they can’t get their own credit cards, there are a few things they can do now to contribute to your mileage balance:
Learn About Credit
It’s never too early to teach kids responsible spending habits and how credit works. When the time comes for them to get their first credit cards, they’ll be better equipped to handle it. Even if they decide to help out with meeting spending requirements instead, it’s good to know how credit cards work and what happens if you don’t pay them off on time.
I had a friend in college who didn’t so much as have her own debit card. Her parents discouraged her from even opening a checking account because of the risk that she might get herself into debt. Even when she got a job, she took her checks to a check cashing place and then paid for everything in cash. That’s playing it too safe and it didn’t work because she never learned how to manage her credit responsibly. By the time you’re 22 years old, you have to know how to handle credit if you’re going to be a responsible adult. Teaching your kids about how to use credit is a better long term strategy than avoiding it altogether, and it will make their future in the travel hacking game much smoother.
Checking Accounts and Debit Cards
If your child is responsible/old enough for their own checking account, you should look into options that allow them to earn earn miles. The UFB Direct Airline Rewards checking account has no monthly fees and comes with a mile-earning debit card. If your child has a job, they’ll need a place to deposit their earnings. While saving $10 per month on checking account fees may not sound like a big deal to most of us, it’s substantial enough to a kid earning minimum wage while working a part time job. They get a free checking account and you earn miles every time they use the debit card. Everybody wins.
Prepaid or Gift Cards
I wouldn’t go as far as adding your child as an authorized user on your credit card account. It has its advantages, but there are all kinds of ways it can go wrong. Instead, get them a prepaid or gift card, loaded with a set amount that they can use for their spending. Whether it’s gas money, back to school shopping, or paying for events like Homecoming or Prom, putting their allowance on a prepaid card ensures that you earn miles while your kids stick to their budget.
While the American Express for Target prepaid card is great for easy reloads and ATM withdrawals, Visa cards have the advantage of being accepted pretty much everywhere. However, Visa prepaid cards tend to come with monthly fees, so I would opt for a customizable Visa card which allows you to add your kid’s name on it.
If you go the gift card route, be sure to take the following precautions:
- Buy them at a bonus category merchant to maximize point earnings
- Use coupons or cash back portals to minimize gift card fees (i.e. Safeway’s gift card promotions)
- Stack your grocery store gift card purchase with gas rewards promotion
- Write down the card number in case your child loses it and you need a replacement
Having been a kid not too long ago (give or take 10 years), I know how expensive raising them can be. The great news is that the majority of their spending occurs at bonus category merchants. Back-to-school shopping? The office supply store has you covered with 5 points per $1 on the Ink Plus card. Clothes shopping? Pick up some gift cards at Staples or check your quarterly Freedom card bonuses. Stocking up on school lunch items? The grocery store earns upwards of 6 points per $1. The bonus category merchants your kids shop with can translate into thousands of extra miles each year.
Many kids these days do some of their shopping online at their favorite retailers. They’ll come back and ask for your credit card number so they can buy that ubiquitous navy blue hoodie from Hollister or a new pair of Toms. In return for footing the bill, ask them to research the highest shopping portal payouts and use it to generate extra miles or cash back on their purchases.
Pay for School Trips and Events
My younger sister is on her high school debate team and every semester they have an event that requires hefty registration fees. I taught her well because when it came time to pay the $2,000 registration bill for the team, she brought me an envelope full of checks in exchange for my mile-earning credit card. I knocked off $2,000 in spending requirements and got reimbursed immediately.
If your child’s school or extracurricular activities have events like these, volunteer to make it easy by paying for it with your credit card and having everyone else reimburse you. If payment is required in the form of a check, load up your American Express Serve or Bluebird and use either Bill Pay or a physical check to send payment to a person or organization. School events and extracurricular activities can be a great opportunity to rack up extra points and miles.
Before you know it, your kids will be all grown up and playing this game harder than you. Until then, you can ensure their spending brings in enough miles to lighten the load a bit.
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