June 10, 2011

How to Turn Your Regular Spending Habits into Free Travel

By Eric Puglisi, Contributing Writer

My boyfriend and I will be going to be taking a trip to Europe in the near future. We will be flying (first class, mind you) to Paris and either Barcelona or Rome. In Paris we will be staying two nights at one of the best hotels in the city, with the highest amenities. Did I mention that this will be free? It might sound too good to be true, but it's not.

Welcome to the game of frequent flyer miles and points. A game, if played right, that can lead to upgrades and free trips. It takes some research but can be very fun along the way.

About eight months ago, I took a look at our finances and realized that we were using our debit card all the time and getting nothing for it. With no credit card debt, we decided to look into getting a credit card that could finally give us some rewards. So I took a hard look at what kind of cards and reward programs were offered for airlines. Little did I know what I would find.

We both signed up for a CitiCard American Airlines credit card that was offering a 75,000 mile bonus to apply by only spending $1500 in 3 months. By using my credit card for every purchase -- and I mean every purchase -- I was able to easily reach this limit. And then poof! I instantly had enough miles for three free round trip tickets to anywhere in the US, and was well on my way to a free overseas flight. It's a great strategy, but if you're going to try it make sure that you are able to pay off the entire balance each month so you don’t earn interest. My Hyatt Card gave me two free nights at any Hyatt in the world and instant platinum status.

Did you know that you can get miles and hotel points for almost anything? I do all of my online shopping through my favorite airline or hotel’s shopping site. I cancelled and resigned up for Netflix to get a 4000 mile bonus. My boyfriend and I even will pick restaurants that offer five miles per dollar spent through a special dining site. The possibilities are endless!

Sure this can seem overwhelming, but there are many resources if you want to travel down this path. I have become obsessed and for me, there is no going back. My good friend Brian Kelly -- aka The Points Guy -- runs a successful blog that helps the point obsessed (and newbies) find the latest and greatest deals for flights, hotels and opportunities to earn mega miles and points. Follow him on Twitter @thepointsguy!

The Points Guy has become my go-to site for any of my travel and reward questions. If you already have tons of miles and just need to learn how to make them work, you can actually hire him to help you with your booking. His blog is a wealth of resources for last minute travel deals -- he recently found deals for round-trip tickets to Hawaii for $220! -- and new credit card deals. Find his top deals section here.

Overall the experience of seeking out the best frequent flyer programs has been addicting and rewarding. I will be enjoying a luxury trip soon for little or no money and earned it by doing nothing I wouldn't already be doing in the first place. For me, this is only the beginning and, to be a little corny, the sky is the limit.

You can follow Eric Puglisi on Twitter @EricPuglisi