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Jasmin: My 11-year-old daughter got off the school bus with a scowl on her face. Cautiously, I inquired about how her day went. She responded:
Mom, are we rich?
Huh? I’m used to all manner of random questions, but this was new.
“No, honey, not at all,” I said, laughing and pointing to our rusty, trusty, over-a-decade-old minivan in the driveway. “What makes you think that?”
She sighed. “One of the girls at school said we must be very rich because we’re always going on fun trips. I don’t think she meant it nicely.”
I tried to keep my response lighthearted, explaining that a lot of folks don’t know about miles and points and how you can use them to travel for free. But when my oldest chimed in with a similar complaint, I knew it was time for a talk.
Travel Is Only for the Wealthy (and Other Myths)
My 7th-grader overheard the conversation and, upset, shared something that had happened after we got back from Asia. A classmate had made snide remarks about my daughter to another friend, accusing her of “showing off” about her trip and joking, too, about how we must be rich. (Yeah, middle school sucks.)
“It’s not fair, Mom! I was just telling them about some of the stuff we did. I didn’t mean it to sound like I was bragging about having lots of money.” Being the oldest, she’s more familiar with our family finances, so the suggestion we must be secretly wealthy really rubbed her the wrong way.
We talked for a while about how perception is reality. And how, if someone’s not a travel enthusiast, they might jump to wrong conclusions about how we get to go away so much. Don’t worry about what people think. Just tell them Mommy does miles and points and that we travel for cheap because of it. That seemed to satisfy them.
But then I got to thinking. What does the miles and points hobby look like to someone on the outside looking in? If little kids made snap judgments about how and why we travel, were grown-ups taking a dim view of our lifestyle as well?
There Must Be Something Shady Happening Here
Like many parents, my Facebook page is filled with photos of happy and proud moments with my kids. There are a lot of vacation snapshots, including international Business Class trips and stays in 5-star hotels.
I guess it could look weird – I mean, most families don’t travel near as often as we do. And a single mom of 3 kids jetting away several times a year doesn’t quite compute. But I’d never thought too much about it.
Those close to me know all about my obsession with award travel (and some have jumped in to the hobby themselves). When family and friends ask how we get to travel so much, I’ll typically go full nerd and gush about the strategies involved, like signing-up for rewards credit cards and making the most of everyday spending to collect miles and points.
Often, I’ll get concerned questions or a raised eyebrow implying they think something sketchier is going on:
- “Aren’t you worried about ruining your credit score or going into debt?” (No, my credit score is in the 800s)
- “You must pay something for your travel. This is too good to be true.” (Yes, taxes, fees, and food on the road cost money, but in the grand scheme it’s not much)
- “It can’t possibly be legal. You must be bending the rules.” (No, I don’t break the law, and banks want good customers to sign-up for their cards and use them for their spending)
- “This sounds far too confusing and complex. How do you even find the time for this?” (It doesn’t have to be complicated. And, if you like it, you’ll make the time, but it’s not for everyone)
Unlike the kids, I couldn’t care less if people think we’re rich. But then I recalled a conversation about our travel that got me feeling defensive, too.
There’s No Way You’re Doing This on Your Own
At a family party in the Philippines earlier this year, I was chatting with my cousin about how our trip was going so far. You know, how was Abu Dhabi, where’d you stay, what were the flights like, what’s next on the itinerary, that sort of thing.
I mentioned we were excited about flying Business Class home on Japan Airlines and Cathay Pacific, with stops in Tokyo and Vancouver. And how we were doing it for nearly free thanks to miles and points.
Another relative overheard the exchange. “Oh! I thought your mom paid for your trip.”
She didn’t mean any harm, but boy did that ever grind my gears. My inside voice was angry. “What, you think because I’m a single parent on one income that I can’t afford to travel? I can do this by myself, thank you very much!”
Clearly, the comment touched a nerve. 🙂
I’m not a psychologist, but I found it interesting that the kids were offended at the accusation of being rich. And meanwhile, I got cranky when someone suggested the opposite. In either case, maybe it felt like a subtle dig – like you’re getting to do something you don’t deserve.
The idea rolled around in my head for a while. Then I recalled a quote I’d seen, which I shared with the kids:
What others think about you is none of your business.
And really, it’s true. Who cares what people think about our travels? It doesn’t matter. What’s important is that we’re making memories, diving into new experiences, and learning about the world – at a fraction of the normal cost.
I also reminded the kids that these are #firstworldproblems. We are lucky. But I’ll share more about that in future posts.
My kids got upset when classmates made assumptions about them because of how much we travel. It took me aback. But I realized I had my own pain points around this, too.
It must seem a bit strange to folks outside of the miles and points hobby. What’s the catch, the secret, that “something you’re not telling us?”
For me, I’ll just continue to give my miles and points “elevator pitch” to friends and family who ask. I’ll send them to the Beginner’s Guide and suggest the best cards to get started with. And let them know that if this frazzled, overloaded, scatterbrained mom can pull off free travel for her family, they most certainly can do it too.
While writing this post, I remembered feeling like I’d won the lottery after discovering the opportunities miles and points could bring to my family. Many of you have related similar sentiments in the success stories you’ve shared with us.
So, I’m going to reframe my answer to my daughter: Yes, kiddo, maybe we are “rich.” Just not in the way your friends think! 😉
What about you guys? Have people made assumptions about you because you travel with miles and points? I’d love it if you shared your experiences in the comments.
Come back each Wednesday for a new installment in our Family Travel series!