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jan 31 2011

Air miles hard to earn? Not with new card bonuses

Airline glories (Courtesy Anders Sandberg/Flickr)

This month, Steve Kamb began flying a 35,000-mile trip around the world, visiting 15 cities as different as Dublin and Bangkok, for only $418 in plane tickets. His budget travel secret? Starting in the fall of 2009, Kamb began to rack up frequent flier miles by taking advantage of credit card bonus offers and other tricks.

You could copy Kamb by taking advantage of the current snowballing of point bonuses for airline-affiliated credit cards. Who knows? A year from now, you might have earned enough points to take "free" international trips, too.

As Kamb recently told Gizmodo, his itinerary would have cost about $6,000, had he paid for tickets in cash. He instead spent half-a-year acquiring "tons" of miles by applying for credit cards.

He used the cards for, he says, about $2,000 in purchases over half-a-year. He says he paid the cards off in full each month, and received enough miles for his purchases to qualify for promotional bonus mile awards.

Want to earn big bonuses on your purchases? Sign up for a new airline mileage credit card and you'll receive a generous signing bonus. The following bonuses are rare opportunities, offering three times as many awards as were available just a year ago.

Now through February 28, American Airlines and Citibank give you 75,000 miles and waive your first annual fee if you take out their platinum card—if you charge at least $4,000 in the first six months. As of this moment, the deal is no longer available by applying online, but still available if you call Citi at 888/766-2484.

British Airways, Chase, and Visa allow select customer to earn 25,000 miles for getting a new card and another 25,000 for spending $2,500 within 90 days. You'll also pay no foreign transaction fees with this card, and a $75 annual fee.

Continental will put 50,000 miles with your first purchase, and charge no fee during the first year, on its Chase card. Miles will still be good once Continental's merger with United winds up.

Tips for first-timers: You will have to pay taxes and fees on your "free" flight. Miles earned without flying won't count to status upgrades. But the miles earned on one airline can be redeemable for travel on partner airlines. Have a spouse? Consider each applying for a card, to double your mile totals.

Credit card advice: Fees can be high, so after you've gotten your free flight(s), rethink whether you want to keep the accounts. It's also not recommended to apply for new credit cards in the same year that you're applying for a mortgage or other major loan because your credit score may be temporarily lowered because of the application.

The fine print: Know that banks don't accept every application, and you may not be able to take advantage of the offers mentioned here because of how you've used cards in the past or your current credit record.

For inspiration, you can follow Steve Kamb travel via his blog, of course.

FREQUENT FLIER RESOURCES

The Frugal Travel Guy is a free site that Kamb says gave him invaluable strategies.

To find the best deals for racking up miles, Gary Leff of View from the Wing recommends using reward search engine evreward.com.

Gary's site is itself a great source if info on promotions.

If you're juggling multiple reward cards, awardwallet.com is a free site that helps you keep track of them.

The cards only work if you use them to spend money and earn points. You can enter a sample monthly budget into the free Mile Cards Calculator to see which card may be most rewarding for you.

Once you've earned your miles, use Yapta's award-seat tracker to be alerted when a reward seat opens up on flights you've selected.

Fee-based services offer alerts and tools for frequent fliers, too. Excellent ones include travelhacking.org and insideflyer.com.

MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL

Southwest waters down its Rapid Rewards program (15 comments)

United, Continental and your frequent flier miles

Do you turn your cell phone off on planes?

Get Inspired with more from BudgetTravel.com


Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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