I used to dream of traveling to all sorts of exotic places. Then I’d save up, spend thousands of dollars on airfare and hotels, and visit one of them. But I often came home disappointed.
The economy class flight I paid $1,000 for was always an ordeal of cramped seats and wretched food. A $200-a-night hotel in a major city Europe assigned me rooms that weren’t even half the size of those in a typical U.S. motel. I was starting to believe my dream of world travel was unaffordable, especially when I could just travel to a neighboring state for a fraction of the price.
Then I discovered credit card travel rewards…
How credit card rewards help me see the world — in style
I had always collected points and miles, but I was never serious about it. One day, with a big trip in mind, I decided to apply for an airline frequent-flier card with an attractive sign-up bonus.
Soon I realized that I had more than enough miles for my flight, and I made an interesting discovery: For a few more miles than I needed for an economy-class award ticket, I could fly in business class.
Every time I boarded the plane and saw those huge business-class seats, I had always dismissed those tickets as an unaffordable luxury indulged by CEOs and millionaires. Now I was sitting up front with the big shots.
First, I skipped the long lines at check-in and went straight to the friendly ticketing agent in the business-class line. Next, I dodged the line at security by holding up my boarding pass and showing that I was a “premium passenger.” Then I proceeded to the business lounge and enjoyed some free snacks and drinks (and some quiet) before being invited to board the aircraft. It only got better from there, as the cabin crew wined and dined me before turning my seat into a bed for a good night’s rest.
After that trip, I never went back to economy class for overseas flights. I learned which credit cards offered the best sign-up bonuses for both airlines and hotels. No longer did I stay at hotels where the room was only slightly bigger than my bed. I used my credit card rewards to book a nice room at a major hotel.
How you can do this
First, get organized. Find a program that keeps track of all of the points and miles you have. I use Award Wallet, but there are others as well.
Next, get a credit card from an airline or hotel that will get you closer to your next dream trip. Look for cards with the greatest sign-up bonus, and don’t be afraid to get one from an airline and another from a hotel chain.
The next part is really important: Always pay your credit card statements in full and on time. These big bonuses are offered because the banks know many people will pay interest on their charges. But you don’t have to. Once you see credit cards as merely a method of payment, not a means of finance, you can use your reward credit cards for everyday purchases — and there’s no additional cost to points and miles you receive.
Finally, you’ll want to learn everything you can about getting the most value from the points and miles you have. For example, major airlines are partners with many other carriers around the world, and you can use your miles for flights on their airplanes.
For instance, United Airlines is part of the Star Alliance, which includes airlines such as Air Canada, Lufthansa, Swiss, and Turkish Airlines. Flights on some of these carriers will show up when you search their website for award seats, and you’ll have to call to book others. The savviest award travelers know how to find and book the best award flights to where they want to go.
Since I discovered the magic of travel reward credit cards, I’ve used miles to visit family in Argentina, tracked mountain gorillas in Uganda, and took a foodie tour of the Italian countryside. You might think I’m working through my travel bucket list, but surprisingly, it keeps growing!