9 Easy Ways to Earn Travel Rewards You’ll Actually Use

Claire Tsosie
By Claire Tsosie 
Edited by Kenley Young

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You can book that next vacation for free — or almost free — with points and miles. The crucial first step: raking in rewards.

It might sound tedious, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s completely possible to reach your points-and-miles goals without taking unnecessary flights or stocking up on gift cards.

Here’s how you can earn more rewards with minimal effort.

1. Create an account with your favorite travel provider

Have a favorite airline or hotel chain? Go online and set up a rewards program account with that company for free. This gets you a membership ID that can be used to earn rewards for future flights or stays.

2. Earn a credit card sign-up bonus

Next, look for a solid travel credit card — preferably, one that offers a big sign-up bonus and waives the annual fee for the first year. You can choose one that offers points or miles for a certain airline or hotel program, or a general travel card with more flexible rewards.

“If you're getting a new credit card, and they're offering 50,000 bonus points if you spend $3,000 within a couple of months, that is a very quick way to get points,” says Charles McCool, founder of the blog McCool Travel, based in Reston, Virginia. Such a bonus could be worth $500 or more, if you meet the spending requirements. In a post, McCool notes how lucrative these bonuses can be.

3. Add an authorized user

Adding a trusted partner or family member as an authorized user on your new card might be the easiest way to score some quick points. Many travel cards offer bonuses for this, often worth about $50. Just keep in mind that, as the primary cardholder, you’ll still be liable for footing the bill.

4. Pay for business travel and get reimbursed

To earn more rewards, "one thing we do is to get as many points and miles from business travel as possible and leverage them for personal use,” says Laura Longwell, co-founder of the blog Travel Addicts, based in Philadelphia. She and her husband and blog co-founder, Lance, have traveled extensively on business. On their blog, they’ve also written about how to earn more rewards.

If your company travel policy allows it, follow the Longwells’ example: Pay for travel expenses with your personal rewards card and get reimbursed later.

5. Pick up the dinner tab and ask for cash

Footing the bill for a night out can fetch plenty of rewards, as long as your friends pay you back.

If your card offers bonus dining rewards, you’ll walk away with even more.

“If you go to dinner with five friends, you pay for the dinner on your credit card and you get the points and the miles, and your five … friends all pay you cash. You're getting the benefit and you're getting cash to pay it off,” Lance Longwell says.

6. Always pay with a credit card

If you can pay by credit card without overspending or incurring interest charges or convenience fees, whip out that plastic more often. It’s a simple way to boost your rewards — especially when purchases fall within your card’s bonus categories, potentially more than doubling your earnings.

7. Shop through bonus malls

Bonus malls are online marketplaces offered by issuers, airlines and hotel chains that allow you to earn rewards for free by shopping with certain retailers.

For example, an airline bonus mall might offer 2 points per dollar spent at Target. By following that link and completing the purchase on Target’s website, you’ll earn those points.

“We almost exclusively do all of our shopping through portals,” says Jalyn Roberson, of Dallas, who maximizes travel rewards with her husband. Roberson, founder of the travel firm Jaunts and Gems, notes in a blog post that you don’t need a credit card to take advantage of certain bonus malls.

8. Participate in dining programs

Most major airlines also offer dining programs you can join for free.

Sign up, and you’ll earn bonus rewards through local eateries when paying with the debit or credit card linked to the account.

9. Watch for limited-time offers

For Roberson, limited-time offers from her favorite bonus malls proved especially useful.

“Exclusively through holiday shopping and maximizing for some of the bonuses that were offered between Christmas holidays and Black Friday and the back-to-school sales … we were able to get enough for a round-trip flight to Jamaica from Dallas,” Roberson says.

Check your email and snail mail regularly so you don’t miss out on rewards.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by Forbes.

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