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Budget Travel: Rewards Cards and Point Systems

With the recent flight error/deals from the USA to Abu Dhabi, South Africa, Hong Kong and many other places, we've gotten tons of requests to learn more about how to travel on a budget. After all, we all want to travel to many different places, and don't always want to feel like we need to be up at 3 in the morning on Christmas in order to lock down a deal. With this said, going into 2014 we are starting a Budget Travel tag on the site, to share all the tips that we've learned and are learning along the way, on how to travel in the most affordable way possible. If you're a well versed budget traveler then some of these tips will be common knowledge to you, but for many of us who are just getting our bearings in international travel, everything might be knew. Needless to say, I hope everyone can get SOMETHING from this series.

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So here's the first tip to travel balling on a budget. Educate yourself on all the rewards, miles, preferred guests, travel cards etc. that exist ou there.

1-Most airlines have a rewards system, also known as frequent flier miles. Meaning, if you consistently book your travels with the same airline over and over, they eventually reward you with free trips. Each time you actually complete a flight, they add a certain number of points to your account (usually based on how far the flight was and/or how expensive it was.) In November, I used my points for 2 roundtrip tickets to Montego Bay, Jamaica from New York City, all based on points that I accrued in 2014 flying with JetBlue to other trips like St. Lucia, LA (several times), New Orleans, Barbados and more. It made the trip to Jamaica that much more enjoyable that it was complimentary! In the past I've also earned a trip to Los Angeles via my frequent flights with Virgin America and I'm currently working on something great for 2015! Before you decide on an airline to become besties with, check the cities and countries that they have regularly scheduled flights to, to make sure that based on your travel plans, you'll be comfortable using them as you work on your points over the next year or two. But if you plan to get your travel game up, DEFINITELY step 1 is to sign up for at least one frequent flier program.

2-Most hotels have a similar rewards program. For example, if when you travel, most of the time you like to stay at a Hilton, or Westin, or A Loft or whichever hotel chain floats your boat, the more you stay with them, the more that you will earn points, eventually earning you "free" nights with that hotel chian. Learn about hotel parent companies as well. For example Starwoods Hotels own many of my favorite hotels that I like for different reasons - such as The Westin (for comfort), A Loft (for modern appeal), W Hotel (for luxury), Sheraton, Le Meridien and more. Meaning, if I stay at any of these hotels, they will all work towards the same "points" system - Starwoods Preferred Guest, that I can entually use for free nights at one of their hotels.

3-If you have fair to good credit, you should definitely look into travel credit cards! Top rated travel credit cards include Chase Sapphire Card, Barclay Arrival Card and Capital One Venture Card. There are travel cards with most major banks so you can do research with your favorite banks to learn about others, and compare and contrast benefits of each. But the beautiful thing about Travel Credit Cards is that they reward you for booking any travel with their card, including booking flights, hotels, dining out, gas, rental cars and more! Some reward you for anything you purchase using the card while you travel. Many don't charge any foreign transaction/currency fees while purchasing abroad either, which can save a ton of money. Again, note that you will need fairly good credit for these cards, and most of them have a nominal annual fee, but they are totally worth it if you plan to travel often, as they provide you with perks, discounts, and eventually earn you free travel as well.

4. Now imagine how much you could earn for free using a combination of all of the above... think about it. Use your travel credit card, to book your flights (getting points simultaneously with your travel credit card and favorite airline), book your hotels with your travel credit card, use your travel credit card every time you get gas or rent a car or dine out, do you see how much freeness we've been missing out on? Let's do it in 2015! Balling on a budget!

Check back next week to our Budget Travel Series to learn about the best times of day, days in the week and times of year to find travel deals!


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