Best Family Vacation Ideas & How To Take Them For Free

Family vacation on lake and mountains
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Today I not only want to show you the best family vacation ideas but how to take each for free (or close to it) with credit card rewards.

While you can take these trips without rewards, it may surprise you how easy it is.

And if credit card rewards are not your thing, you’ll still get valuable tips for saving money on your trip.

Whether you have teenagers or toddlers or whether you’re looking to travel during winter, spring break or Summer, here are seven family vacation ideas your kids will love.

A Quick Intro to Awards Travel

Using credit card rewards for travel is the best way to maximize their value.

Most reward programs allow you to exchange your rewards for cash-back or gift cards at 1 cent per point — i.e., 10,000 points are worth $100 in cash.

But if you were to use those same 10,000 points for travel, there are ways to make 10,000 points be worth $500 or more.

There are three primary ways to book award travel:

  • Loyalty programs. You can transfer points to a specific airline or hotel loyalty program — e.g., transfer points from Chase Ultimate Rewards to Southwest to book flights.
  • Travel portals. You can book through a specific credit card travel portal — e.g., Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Statement credits (aka, fixed rewards). You can exchange points for statement credits — e.g., spend $500 in travel, then use points to get a $500 statement credit.

Each method has its place, and in this post you’ll learn where and why.

Two more things before we get started:

  • Credit card offers change a lot. I’ve created a page that’s updated regularly on the best credit card offers for travel.
  • Reward travel can get complex. However, learning the ins-and-outs has saved me tens of thousands of dollars. To help you do the same, I wrote a detailed guide that will teach you everything to need to know (plus everything I wish I had known when I was getting started.)

Best Family Vacation Ideas

Family Vacation Idea #1: Disney World

Disney World needs no introduction.

The big question is how can you afford it.

There’s flights, hotels and food. And then, of course, the tickets.

So, how do you cut the cost of your trip?

If you’re flying from the east coast or midwest, Southwest Airlines and British Airways have affordable award fares.

British Airways is a member of OneWorld. You can transfer points to British Airways and book on a OneWorld partner airline like American Airlines.

What’s also great about British Airways is they use a distance based award chart. The shorter the distance of your flight, the less miles it costs.

For example, you can book tickets from both Chicago and New York for 15K miles round-trip to Orlando.

Southwest has “Want To Get Away Fares” where you can book from New York for as little as 11.8K miles round-trip.

That means you can fly round-trip a family of four to Orlando from New York/Chicago signing up and earning one credit card bonus. 

My pick for credit card to get would be the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, which has a 80,000 point bonus after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months.

Once you earn the bonus, transfer the points to an airline to book the reward.

Flying from the west coast is more expensive. British Airways and United, which is a member of Star Alliance, offer round-trip tickets for 25K. So, you’ll need 100K points to book a trip for a family of four.

You’re then looking at a combination of two credit card sign-up bonuses. Keeping in mind, both you and your spouse can get the same card.

As for hotels, families have two options:

  • Stay at a Disney World Resort, vs.
  • Staying outside the park

If you’re staying inside the park, the Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista – Disney Springs is a popular option.

At around 50K points per night, you can pay for a good chunk of your stay with a card like the Hilton Honors American Express Ascend.

Or, get the card for both you and your spouse, and you can get 5-nights for free after you earn both bonuses.

Learn more about this card.

Staying outside the park has its benefits, as you can get more for your money. It also opens up options such as Airbnb, which is great for large families.

If that’s the case, I’d look at the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. This card gives you a statement credit for travel purchases.

Or, you can look to book a cheaper hotel that’s not associated with Disney, using these hotel hacks.

What about tickets?

Capital One considers park tickets a travel purchase. As such, it qualifies for statement credit if you use your card.

Family Vacation Idea #2: Hawaii

Hawaii, specifically northern Kauai, is my favorite travel spot.

My wife and I have taken our kid(s) twice now. Once when our oldest was two and four years later when my youngest daughter was two.

The second trip I talked at length about on The Points Guy.

The flight from Chicago isn’t easy but worth it.

The island with the most award availability is Honolulu. They also offer the most direct flights from the continental U.S.

If you’re coming from New York, you can book through AirFrance’s Flying Blue at 30K points for a round-trip ticket.

AirFrance is a partner of SkyTeam, which includes Delta Airlines.

You can transfer points to AirFrance from:

  • American Express Membership Rewards
  • Chase Ultimate Rewards and,
  • Citi ThankYou Points

So, there are tons of options to earn points,  although it may require earning two sign-up bonuses.

For specific card, my recommendation would start with the Chase Sapphire Preferred.

What I like about the card is that Chase Ultimate Rewards is a transfer partner of United Airlines. And when it comes to inner-island flights, United Airlines tend to have the best reward redemptions.

If you’re coming from Chicago, you can book flights via Singapore Airlines’ loyalty program KrisFlyer for 25K points.

Similar to AirFrance’s Flying Blue, you can transfer points from American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, and Citi ThankYou Points to KrisFlyer.

From L.A., flights can be booked for 24K miles via KrisFlyer.

As for hotels, there are a lot of options on every island.

As we tend to stay longer, we’ve booked twice now from OceanFront Realty, who does long-term rentals in Kauai.

If you’re going to spend a good chunk of points on a hotel, consider the Chase Sapphire Reserve.

Points are valued at 1.5 when redeemed for travel through Chase. This is compared to 1.25 when booking with the Chase Sapphire Preferred.

For larger redemption, that makes the fee worth it.

Family Vacation Idea #3: National Parks

National Parks are always an incredible way to spend time as a family.

As for which to visit, the top National Parks include:


  • Yosemite
  • Glacier National
  • Grand Canyon
  • Rocky Mountain National Park
  • Zion National Park
  • Yellowstone/Grand Tetons


  • Great Smoky Mountains


  • Acadia National Park

Most families can get to a National Park by car.

The best way to experience a National Park is staying at the park lodge or hotel. (Tip: They fill up fast).

Your best way to book a hotel inside the park is with a fixed-value card like the Capital One Venture Rewards.

Each point is worth .01 per when redeemed for travel.

With a 50K bonus and the ability to earn 2 points per dollar spent, you can pay for your entire stay with this card.

Family Vacation Idea #4: Road Trip to a Resort Town/Hotel

A nearby resort town is an affordable family vacation idea.

Some popular resort towns in the U.S. are


  • Asheville, North Carolina
  • Atlantic City, New Jersey
  • Hilton Head Island, South Carolina]
  • Myrtle Beach, South Carolina


  • Branson, Missouri
  • Lake Geneva, WI
  • Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin


  • Palm Springs, California
  • Park City, Utah
  • Scottsdale, Arizona
  • South Padre Island, Texas
  • Big Sky, Montana
  • Jackson, Wyoming

If you want to book your hotel with credit card rewards, your three options are:

  • Book through a hotel loyalty program
  • Book through a credit card travel portal
  • Get statement credit via a fixed-value credit card redemption

Unless there’s a great family resort, my preference is an Airbnb. A kitchen helps keep food costs low. Plus, separate rooms give my wife and I some space to hang after we put the kids to bed.

As such, I’d look to a card like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card.

Say you were able to earn the bonus and accumulate $15,000 in total spending until your trip. That’s $800 you can use towards an Airbnb.

That’s impressive for a card that has a $0 first year annual fee.

Family Vacation Idea #5: Big City

There is no shortage of things to do in the U.S.’s big cities.

Whether you’re looking to learn history in Washington D.C., hang out in Central Park, or check out the Space Needle in Seattle–you’ll be happy to know big cities offer amazing award opportunities.

Since how to book flights is dependent on where you’re flying from and to, check out the post 4-Steps To Booking Your First Rewards Trip for instructions.

Nonetheless, I thought it would be a great learning experience to see how easy it is to take a popular hotel, i.e., The Crowne Plaza in Times Square in a popular spot, i.e. New York City and learn how you can book it with rewards.

Let’s dive in!

The Crowne Plaza is the # 1 Best Value on Trip Advisor and is listed as family-friendly.

Crowne Plaza is a member of the IHG Rewards Club.

When I search for the hotel I learn a two-bedroom room costs 60,000 points per night.

Right now, the IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card comes with an 80,000 point sign up bonus. I can get at least one night-free if I were to get the card and earn the bonus.

Another option is to see if the Crowne Plaza Times Square can be booked within a travel portal, like Chase Ultimate Rewards.

When I check to see if the hotel is available, I’m surprised to see it is. And even better, a room with two-double beds is 9,413 points per night!

Screenshot of booking Crowne Plaza in New York via Chase Ultimate Rewards

So, I can actually stay 5-nights if I earn 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards!

(Keep in mind, rates change by date)

You can do this quite easily with a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred.

Family Vacation Idea #6: Overseas

There are many great family destinations in Europe.

Amsterdam, Florence, Paris, and London are consistently listed as Europe’s most family friendly cities.

Award availability is easy to come by for many of these popular cities.

Take London for example.

From New York City and Chicago, award fares to London start at 26K round-trip per person via British Airways.

British Airways is a member of both American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards, so there are a number of combinations to earn the points you need.

My recommendation would be for you and your spouse to earn the 50K bonus points on the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, then transfer the points to your airline of choice.

Family Vacation Idea #7: Caribbean/Central America/Mexico

If you want to travel internationally without the long-flight, considering visiting the Caribbean, Central America, or Mexico.

Spots consistently on best family vacations lists include:


  • Anguilla
  • Bahamas
  • Dominican Republic
  • Jamaica
  • Turks & Caicos


  • Cancun
  • Los Cabos
  • Playa del Carmen
  • Mexico City
  • Riviera Maya

Central America

  • Belize
  • Costa Rica

A few tips to booking your reward flights and hotels:

  • Southwest flies to a number of destinations within this region.
  • Travel portals like Chase Ultimate Rewards offer great deals on smaller hotels you find on a lot of islands.
  • British Airways distance based award chart, is worth looking into for East Coast travelers. You can book flights from a place like Charlotte to the Bahamas for as little as 15K round-trip.

Best Family Vacation Ideas Summary

Family vacations can get pricey.

Yet, with rewards travel, you can save a lot of money.

If you’re interested in learning more about rewards travel, make sure to read my ultimate guide to travel hacking.

R.J. Weiss
R.J. Weiss is the founder and editor of The Ways To Wealth, a Certified Financial Planner™, husband and father of three. He's spent the last 10+ years writing about personal finance and has been featured in Forbes, Bloomberg, MSN Money, and other publications.

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