The Miles and Points Game For Free Travel : Credit Card Bonuses, Part 2

Once you have read part 1 of using credit cards for free travel, you should now be ready to start utilizing credit card bonuses to pad your miles and points travel accounts.  If you already know that your credit score is in good standing (and are already using and paying off at least one credit card) you are good to go.  If not, check out MyFICO's tips for building your credit before jumping into this game.  Because it's such an important step to being successful with this game, and because I'd hate for anyone to get in over their heads just from the prospect of traveling for free, I'm posting my Golden Guidelines once again.  If these are already burned into your brain, give 'em a quick review anyways and continue reading!

  1. Your credit and credit history is an extremely important asset, and should never be jeopardized (i.e. buying things you don't need, going into high-interest debt) merely for the sake of free travel.
  2. Credit cards should be treated like debit cards, paying off balances as you put them on your card (or at least by the end of the month) so that you never incur any interest charges.
  3. You will not sign up for any credit cards (no matter how tempting the sign-up bonuses are) within 1.5-2 years before making a large purchase, such as a house.
  4. You will not buy things you normally wouldn't purchase for the sake of racking up miles on your credit card, but instead will shift your normal daily spending (groceries, gas, bills, etc.) to your miles/points credit cards to meet minimum spends, and pay them off as you do so.

Now, let's get to the "fun" part:  applying for your first travel rewards card with sign-on bonus.  In the miles and points world, a sign-on bonus is generally considered a good deal and "worth it" if it is at least 40,000 to 50,000 points with the first year's fee waived.  

What?! There's a fee to use my credit card!?  Now this makes me a bit suspicious! 

The Miles and Points Game For Free Travel : Credit Card Bonuses, Part 1

Dipping into the world of miles and points for free travel can is exciting and addictive, but can be extremely overwhelming and even frightening to begin with.  Why would free travel be frightening?  Because the number one way to pad your accounts with thousands of miles and points is not by actually flying, but through credit card sign-up bonuses, and we as consumers (especially here in the United States) are generally taught that credit cards 1. equal mounds of debt and 2. therefore, should be avoided if at all possible.

As someone in their early 30s who has been playing "the game" for a few years now, I'm here to say that, if you have dreams and goals of travel and have limited resources to fund them, the absolute first thing you should do is to change your ideas about your credit and your credit card use.  Between my husband and I, we have about 12 credit cards (nowhere near the amount of some of the big wig miles collectors, but a pretty hefty size for our goals and general usage), and we both have credit scores in the high 700s (795 and 780).  Building excellent credit is a pretty awesome side-effect to filling your miles and points accounts, but in order to do so, you need to agree and put into practice the following:

Rock Out in Kansas

Out on a hilltop overlooking the beautiful prairie that makes up the Solomon River Valley in north central Kansas lies this...

Okay, big whoop.  It's a long-winded dirt road out in the styx.  Any other big Kansas surprises?

Well, yes, actually!  Welcome to this week's geological travel treasure:  Rock City!

For anyone who has the gusto to venture off of the dreaded I-70, Kansas holds a lot of little natural surprises that dare you to call the state boring and flat!  Monument Rocks is one.  And this little area in the seemingly middle of nowhere is another.  Here lies over 200 mysterious, rondure concretions of Dakota sandstone that are well worth the little side-trip off of the Interstates.  Nowhere else in the world can you see such a large concentration of such large, rocky orbs!  Best part?  You can clamber all over these free-standing boulders for a half hour of pure fun!

Baku, Azerbaijan

In a place where traditional Islamic values blend seamlessly with the industrial nature of its Soviet past, it can be easy to forget where you are in the world on a trip to Baku.  The Azeri capital's fast-paced effort to shed all of the grey, bleak reminders of the USSR's former firm grip makes this one of the most rapidly changing and growing cities in the world (as evident in the incredible triage of the Flame Towers, which are visible from all points in the city).  I think the next time I come back, the place will look totally different.

One of the areas that's sure to keep its old charm and style, however, is the walled old town, in the heart of Baku.

Travel Treasure: Prague's Old Town Square

There are few places in the world that, when mentioned, evoke the kind of mystical and enchanted fairy tale world that Disney could only dream about getting its money-making paws on.  Romania and Hanoi come to mind.  As do Paris, Vienna, Neuschwanstein, Kyoto, Venice, Bavaria, Machu Picchu and--okay, so maybe I could go on and on with the dreamy destinations and get swept up in a sparkly cloud of wanderlust.

But then there's Prague.  Praaaaaaague.  Just hearing it roll out of your mouth is enough to transport you to an enchanted Bohemian play land.  The 'city of 100 spires'--the Czech Republic's grand gem of a capital--is the most perfect place for the aimless wanderer with wonderful mazes of cobbled streets and plazas, and atmospheric little pubs and shops.  Its Old Town Square, with the 15th century Astronomical Clock, its 18th century churches, and its position as an anchor to the impossibly gorgeous 14th century Charles Bridge, is the heart of the city and one of my most favorite travel treasures in Europe.  This was my second visit here in about 10 years, and it really is still one of my most favorite cities.