The easiest way to score free travel is with points and miles.
How do you get miles? We live in a time when points and miles are everywhere. There are a million ways to collect them and there are huge bonus opportunities to be had, many without leaving the house let alone traveling. The single quickest way to accumulate points is by by signing up for a credit card, turning every single purchase into miles. Other than cards there are many ways to earn miles without flying such as: dining out, paying bills, online shopping, tweeting, taking surveys, buying wine, staying in hotels and renting cars. When you think about it like that ... points and miles are for everyone.
How Do I Earn Points for Dining out, Paying bills, Online Shopping and Tweeting?
Simple really. Signing up for a frequent flier program is free and you do not need to be a frequent traveler to reap the rewards. Sign up for all of them you can think of. Every program offers bonus miles for doing all sorts of easy things you can do just from home. There's at least ten ways to earn miles WITHOUT FLYING and at least FIVE Without LEAVING THE HOUSE!
Dining: Almost every airline has a "dining program". Simply signing up often nets a minimum of 1,000 miles. When you sign up you are able to see which restaurants around you are in the "dining network". When you register and eat at one of them (no reservation required) you receive between 1-10 points per dollar spent on the meal. This can really add up for foodies.
Renting a Car: Nearly every airline has a close relationship with car rental companies. There are always emails and offers for bonus miles to rent through a partner. Simply add your frequent flier number of choice to your reservation and watch the miles stack.
Paying Bills: Most reward credit cards offer a minimum of 1 point per dollar on all purchases. I pay my car insurance and many other things with a credit card and receive 3,000 miles a year for doing so.
Online Shopping: Every airline has a "shopping portal". This is an area on their website where merchants compete for traffic. By simply clicking to Nike or any other retailer listed from your airline's shopping portal you can get between 1-50 points per dollar spent. You get the same prices, you shop on your favorite sites, but just for clicking over from the airline first, you get rewarded, big time!
I THINK OF MY CREDIT CARDS LIKE DEBIT CARDS.
Pay in full and don't charge things you cannot afford. With that said, charge everything on them. Use it like a debit card. Use it instead of your debit card. If you have the money to pay it all at the end of the month the only difference in using a credit card and a debit card is a credit card will earn you between 1-5x points or more on everything you do. Car insurance for the year? Roughly $1,500-3,000? That would take care of a spending bonus to get big miles. Between utility bills, groceries, gas, clothing, food and drinks I would be surprised if most of you didn't have roughly $1,000 in expenses every month. Charge them, get rewarded and pay them in full so you pay no interest. Not a dime. Ever. Two cards can be enough for a Round Trip International Flight in business or first class!
Lets go for the big bonuses, What cards?
In general the best place to start is to find two cards that can transfer to the same reward program. It is important to decide which two cards you wish to pursue and why before you get the first one. Some things to consider are: which airlines fly where you live? where do you want to go? how many miles will you need for a free trip?
By pooling points from two cards you can generally redeem for a high value flight or hotel award. "Co-branded" cards are cards offered by an airline or hotel and backed by a bank. These cards generally offer big introductory mileage bonuses. With any of these cards your points are locked to the airline or hotels individual point program. Some examples of these would be: Delta American Express, Hilton Citi Visa, American Airlines Citi Mastercard, United Airlines Chase Visa.
My best recommendation is to find a card whose points are transferrable.. A non co-branded card can be a good way to do this. American Express Premier Rewards Gold, Chase Sapphire Preferred, Citi Thank you Preferred or any other card that is solely issued by the bank are perfect examples. You want to choose a card where the points you earn are transferrable to many airline and hotel partners giving you the most flexibility. For each of you, the answer of which card, and why will be different based on your travel wants.
If for the sake of example you got a Chase United Explorer Card that comes with 50,000 United miles you might perhaps want to follow it up with a Chase Sapphire Preferred card which comes with 45,000 points which you could transfer into United miles giving you a combined balance of 95,000 United Miles. These miles would be enough for a first class international ticket. This same theory applies to any airline which carries a co-branded card. I personally did this with Delta American Express and the American Express Platinum Card.
How Did I get them?
Lets start with good credit. You need it. Even if you dont have it currently you CAN still achieve it.
Credit is a function of time. If you have always paid your bills on time and kept small or zero balances and have done this for years, chances are your credit is extraordinary. You can probably get any credit card you want. If you made mistakes with your credit like not paying a bill or maxing a card out it is probably hurting right now. Its okay, in time if you right the ship and don't miss any payments while keep your balances low your scores and credit will bounce back to as good as new. It is all a function of time. The more time that has passed since you managed your credit well the better the chance of getting approved for each and every card I list here.
Applying for cards does not necessarily hurt your score. In general it improves it over time. If your pre existing accounts are over a year old adding a new one or two should not have a significant effect. After a month or two of good use and small balances your scores should be better than ever. If you were to go manic and try to add...say 10 cards in a month this would be perceived as desperation and subsequently your scores would drop. I try to limit my applications to less than 5 a year to stay on the safe side. Don't be afraid, many people successfully do up to 20. Many blogs advocate for new applications all the time but I try to avoid this to: minimize the money I need to spend to make bonuses and maximize my credit score.