Other than spending a fortune buying miles at shocking prices, there is no faster way to accumulate frequent flyer miles or hotel points than by signing up for a travel reward earning credit card. What may seem like an overwhelming decision process really isn't as bad as you think, I promise. Here are some guidelines to help you maximize your earning and travel in style...

First, Find The Best Airline(s) Or Hotel For YOUR Needs...

Like pop music, pop travel advice has its pitfalls. You may never have use for a luxury flight on some airline you've never even heard of. Figure out where you'd like your miles to take you, do some research on sites like mine about who offers the best rates (amount of miles) for your ideal free flight or hotel stay and move from there.

Expert Tip: Once you figure out the airline with the best flights, the next most important thing is to find out who offers the best rates to fly on that airline, which may be a less obvious program. For example, to fly on Cathay Pacific, American Airlines miles are among the best to collect....

Now You Have Your Airline/Hotel, Figure Out All Your Options...

The obvious answer for most is to grab the credit card directly offered by their favorite hotel or airline. That's not a bad step, but it's not always the best step. When you earn miles with an airline or hotel specific credit card, with only one exception (Starwood Preferred Card), you are locked into the miles of that airline. If they change their rates (amount of miles) for free flights, you're stuck. One great way around that is to grab a credit card with transferrable points. Cards like the Amex Gold or Platinum, Chase Sapphire Preferred and Citi Prestige all allow you to transfer points to as many as 20 different airlines. 

Expert Tip: If you have solid credit and credit history, don't be afraid to open up two new cards. For example, if you grabbed a British Airways credit card and an Amex Gold card or Chase Sapphire Preferred card, you'd net up to 100,000 British Airways miles. Even if British Airways changes their rates, you still have points that can go to someone else...

Think Outside Of The Box...

There's one card that's a bit of a swiss army knife and is worth mentioning for most travel needs. The Starwood Preferred Guest card from American Express allows you to not only redeem your points for hotel stays, but transfer your points into more airline programs than any other card, at a 1:1 rate. One hidden perk of this card is being able to transfer to Japan Airlines Mileage Bank, which offers the best rates for flights up front on Emirates. Who knew?!

Expert Tip: Avoid transferring hotel points from other programs into airline programs. Other than Starwood, it's virtually impossible to get an even 1:1 exchange ratio, and you're most likely far better off using your hotel points for hotel stays and upgrades...

Get Perks! Don't Be Afraid Of Annual Fees... If You Travel.

The most common feedback I hear is that someone won't even consider a high annual fee card. That can be terrible logic. If you don't travel, paying a high annual fee for travel benefits is useless. If, however, you travel more than a couple times a year, you can actually make back your annual fee and save tons of money in the future. Things as simple as free checked bags for everyone on your reservation can save thousands in a year!  If a card has a $450 annual fee, but comes with lounge access for the holder and two guests, fourth night free on all hotel stays, elite hotel status, and a $250 annual airline credit, hopefully you can see that something of that nature could actually save you money if you use the lounge, use the $250 in free airline tickets and get a free hotel upgrade...

Expert Tip: I think the two best cards out there are the American Express Platinum Card and the Citi Prestige Card. Both offer lounges, free hotel nights, elite status and fee credits, which can truly save you money after just a couple trips.