Family Trip to San Diego with Travel Hacking


I think we need to have a post dealing with travel hacking our way to San Diego! When I was young, our family drove almost every summer from Mesa, Arizona to San Diego, California. I loved it so much that I always dreamed of someday living there! Northern California was my home for 40 years but it’s definitely not the place that dreams are made of like San Diego. A family trip to San Diego is a great place to build vacation memories!

When we went to San Diego we would always spend time at a beach, Sea World, and Disneyland. No wonder I loved it so much!!

Getting There

We would always drive there because it was so close. The best airport to fly into is San Diego Airport (SAN). Other options are John Wayne in Long Beach  (SNA) or Los Angeles Airport (LAX).

Southwest is a great option to fly into San Diego. I plugged in the dates of June 10-14 wanting to book a long weekend. I also like to book nonstop when possible and found this option for arrival and departure:

Screen shot of Southwest flights
The nonstop option for 6,500 miles best here.
Screen shot of Southwest award flights
Again, the nonstop option is great!

From Salt Lake City to San Diego, it will cost me 13,001 points per person which is a great deal. It helps that Southwest will let us check baggage for free also.  For a family of four, that means we can pretty easily all get there and back with one credit card signup. The usual signup is for 40,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards. When you add on your minimum spend, you’ve got the 42,000 points needed for your flights.

If you have the Southwest Companion Pass, you can travel for even less! The personal Southwest Rapid Rewards Credit Cards are currently offering 65,000 Rapid Rewards, which’s much better than the usual 40,000 points. There are a lot of other airlines that frequently fly to San Diego and costs are usually relatively low for cash or points. A family can take a trip to San Diego with points easily.

Where to Stay

Each of the four major hotel chains has options in San Diego. Depending on what hotel chain you like and what credit cards you have (or want to get), you can find some nice places to stay. Let’s concentrate on family hotels with free breakfasts and luxury stays for when you want to go that route.

Hyatt Hotel

This hotel, the Hyatt Place San Diego-Vista Carlsbad is a really economical choice. At only 8,000 Hyatt points per night and free breakfasts, a family could stay six nights with just one World of Hyatt card signup. Hyatt Places are excellent choices for families! This hotel is close to Carlsbad Beach which is a fun beach for the family to explore.

Hotel Room
One credit card signup will get you six nights here!

If you’d like a more luxurious stay, here is another option. The Manchester Grand Hyatt will cost 15,000 points a night and it looks gorgeous! Waterfront views and the convenience of downtown sounds perfect!

Hotel room with waterfront views
If you are looking for a more luxurious stay in San Diego stay at the Grand Hyatt!

Marriott Hotels

I like a Marriott Residence Inn for family travel because you get a full kitchen. You can save some costs by cooking some of your meals or at least having snacks available when you stay there. I picked out this new (who doesn’t like new?) Residence Inn located just 6 miles from Sea World. Check out the new Residence Inn Chula Vista. Better yet, if you book for 5 nights, you only pay for 4 if you do an award redemption. They have a great breakfast at Residence Inns and on weeknights, snacks in the evening. When my children were young, those snacks were often enough for dinner because they would sometimes serve pasta or pizza.

Cream colored hotel with palm trees
This new Residence Inn near San Diego is a great family choice stay!
Screen Shot Marriott Award Redemption
You can see here that they have credited me for one of the nights – love the Stay 5, Pay 4 deal!

To stay here for five nights, you will need to sign up for one of the Marriott Credit Cards, refer your spouse, and have him/her sign up too. Right now, some of the Marriott cards have an increased signup bonus. The Chase Marriott card is offering 100,000 Marriott Rewards as a signup bonus.

I love a Westin Hotel for luxurious Marriott stays. You can stay in the Gaslight District, which is a great area of San Diego for 150,000 Bonvoy points for 5 nights (this could change based on their peak pricing model so check your dates). Remember, you get the 5th night free on award stays! The Westin San Diego Gaslight Quater looks perfect to me!

Outside view of Marriott San Diego Gaslamp Quarter Hotel

IHG Hotels

Staybridge Extended Suites is another family-friendly brand. I chose the Staybridge Suites San Diego-Carlsbad for its full kitchens, beautiful pool, free breakfast, and proximity to beaches. IHG also offers the 4th night free on award stays making this hotel a great deal! A four-night stay here can be booked with points to spare if you get one of the IHG credit cards.

Staybridge Suites Hotel Exterior
This is a great family hotel for a San Diego stay!

Again, if luxury is your jam, IHG has you covered. The San Diego Intercontinental covers luxury to me. With views of San Diego Bay and a beautiful room, it can be booked for 43,000 points a night. Remember IHG award stays to get the fourth night free!

Glass windowed exterior of hotel with bay in the background.
The Intercontinental San Diego looks gorgeous!

Hilton Hotels

Currently, Hilton Hotel credit cards have great signup bonuses. You could stay at the  Homewood Suites by Hilton for about 132,000 points/4 night stay. You would get a 2 queen bed Bedroom Suite with Sofa Bed, free made-to-order full breakfast, and complimentary evening reception at the Homewood Suites by Hilton Carlsbad North San Diego County. Having that full kitchen is a game-changer for families wanting to save costs!  There are several other Homewood Suites in the area too.

Hotel Room
Homewood Suites by Hilton is always a great option for families!

Getting just one American Express Hilton Credit Card will let you stay 4+ days in San Diego at a Homewood Suites. Hilton Credit Cards usually offer great signup bonuses.

The Carte Hotel San Diego Downtown, Curio Collection by Hilton looks like a nice luxury option. It is 57,000 points a night so you may need to get a couple cards for this one! Refer your spouse/partner and get those referral points too.

Hotel room in San Diego
This luxury Hilton Hotel looks like a great choice for San Diego!

No matter which hotel chain you prefer to stay at, there will be multiple family and luxury  options that you can book with points. Check several out, see where they are located, what amenities they offer, and pick the best one for you. These are just ideas to get you started.

What to do in San Diego

There is so much to do in San Diego that you will have to pick and choose. Luckily, because we have saved you so much money on flights and hotels, you have more money for fun!


There are just so many beaches in the San Diego area! I have always loved La Jolla Beach, Carlsbad Beach, and  Oceanside Beach. Here is a great article about the 20 Best San Diego Beaches. Which ones do you suggest?

Beach, ocean and buildings in background
Beautiful La Jolla Beach is the perfect spot to spend a sunny day in the San Diego area.

San Diego Zoo

Who even plans a family trip to San Diego without visiting the San Diego Zoo? Lions, and Tigers, and Bears, oh my! And it is much more! Right now, because of the pandemic, you must have reservations and follow Covid precautions. An adult pass is $60 for those 12 and older and $50 for 3-11 years of age. One-day passes include a guided bus tour, the Kangaroo Express hop on/hop off the bus, unlimited rides on the Skyfari aerial tram, and all regularly scheduled shows. Plan on quite a bit of walking and spending a good part of the day there.

There is also the San Diego Zoo Safari Park located adjacent. This takes a different ticket although the prices are the same and you still need reservations currently. Here you will find the animals in a more natural habitat.

Universal Studios Hollywood

Located only 20 minutes north of San Diego, Universal Studios Hollywood is fun for all ages. Rides and attractions are based on many popular movies. I still remember going on a ride based on the Jaws movies when my children were young. These days rides are based on The Fast and Furious, Despicable Me, and Harry Potter, to name a few. Cheap it is not, as it will cost $109-$129 to attend. Check here to see if there are any discounts.


My grandchildren say that Legoland is the place to be! They are ages 4-8 and love going there. Located North of San Diego, in Carlsbad, it is a world of fun for young children. There are over 60 rides, shows, and attractions including a water park. My grandkids brought mini-figures and they could exchange them with the workers – they loved it!

How cute are my grandkids here at Legoland?


Although it is 90 minutes away, we have often gone to Disneyland for a stay in San Diego. It certainly is the happiest place on earth and I feel it that way still as a grandma. Be sure and read Alex’s post on Disneyland to see how you can travel hack ticket costs here.

Other Attractions

For other ideas read this article about attractions in San Diego. There is a multitude of things you can do.

Bottom Line

San Diego is the perfect destination to create family memories. With travel hacking, you can pay for your flights and a hotel leaving more money for food and attractions. Let us know if you plan a trip to San Diego – we’d love to post about it!

pacific beach, San Diego

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