The Travel Rewards Game: A few basics.

Most of my friends know that I travel a lot. But I don’t actually spend tons of money on travel, because I very rarely pay anything close to full price on airfare. And I often get hotel stays free or at very low cost. How? I have gotten hooked on a little hobby (or game) that gets me to many of the places I want to go, in premium class cabins, for little money. I collect literally millions rewards points and miles so that I can use them to fly and stay around the world.

I get lots of questions about how? Why? What’s the best way? Etc. So, this blog is an evolving attempt to collect some of the info I’ve discovered over the years. All of the information I have acquired, and much more is easily available by reading various travel blogs that cover the subject in much more detail.

First, I don’t fly on paid tickets very often — so that’s not how I earn miles and points. Virtually all of my rewards come from either credit card sign up bonuses and/or strategic use of credit cards to pay my everyday expenses.

Venice. Get there from the US with just a credit card application.

What are the benefits, realistically?
A good credit card signup offer will get you 50,000 or more miles in some frequent flier or hotel loyalty program, usually with no fee for the first year. That’s in addition to the 1 point per dollar that you actually use the card to spend (or more, depending on the card). The 50,000 bonus alone is usually enough to get you:
• Two domestic round trip coach tickets (25,000 miles each), or
• One round trip first class domestic ticket, or
• in most cases a one way business class ticket to Europe.
• Round trip coach tickets to Europe are about 40-70 thousand points, depending on the airline and the time of year.
Apply for 10-12 cards over the course of a year, and you should end up with half a million points

Sure, but we know there’s no free lunch. What does it cost?
Absolutely, there is a cost, but if you play correctly, it is low compared to the cost of buying tickets – especially if you want to go long distances, or want to get a business or first class ticket.

• Credit cards generally have annual fees — but in MANY cases, they are waived for the first year. So you get the card, get the points and then cancel the card before the fee is due.

• When you “redeem” the mileage (AKA — here is a mileage geek term of art: “burn the miles”), there will be some taxes and fees. The tickets are not completely free. The costs vary depending on the airline. As examples, I have a business class round trip to Asia using American miles, and the fee came to about $40. Some airlines have higher fees and taxes, and I have sometimes paid $75-$140 for a business class trip to Europe. There are some airlines to avoid in order to avoid the highest fees (British Airways, I’m looking at you). You can get all of the info, and more, on line.


  1. I suggest you start slow to get used to the game, and see if you like it. Start with 1 to 3 applications, wait at least 3 months and see how things are going.
  • Suggested beginning strategy:
    • Important – where do you want to go? That will help you decide what cards you want to apply for.
    • Other factors to consider –
      • what is the minimum spend requirement for each card you are considering? Don’t sign up for more than you can plan on spending.
      • Are there any special limited time offers that are good? From time to time most of the cards have a special limited time offer that gives more points, or some other special deal that makes it worth considering that card.  READ THE BLOGS to get this info.
    • Start by getting one card each from the three major banks (Chase, Citi, Amex)
      • Consider an American Airlines card from Citi
      • Definitely get a flexible points card (Chase Sapphire or an Amex card that gives you membership reward points, depending on who has the best offer)

If you really get into the “game”, you will be applying for a lot of credit cards.  I average 10-12 applications a year. But it took me several years to get comfortable enough to do that.  I really suggest starting with about 3 cards to see if you like it, if you want to take the time needed, etc.

OMG!!  What About My Credit Score??

As long as you do it correctly, this will NOT adversely impact your credit score.  In fact, when you play correctly, your score usually goes up. (mine has)

Remember how your credit score is calculated:

35% of your score — payment history  (pay on time all the time, and this will be great)
30% of your score –your credit utilization (DON’T USE all the credit you have — keep your usage rate low to beef up your score)
15% of your score  — your credit history
10% of your score-the types of credit you use (banks prefer to see a variety, such as credit cards, mortgages, car payments — all made on time)
10% of your score–requests for new credit (This is the only place where applying for a lot of cards causes you to lose a few points.  BUT, by getting more credit (and not actually using it all), your payment history and credit utilization rates will go up)  As a result, many people (including myself) find that after a short period of time, your credit score rises even with multiple credit applications.

The key is to always always always make your payments on time, and keep your utilization rate low.




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