Learn to Use Points Like a Pro and You Can Book Luxury Travel For Free

PHOTO: Use those frequent flyer miles to book luxury travel.

The heat of summer is officially here, but if you're left cold by the thought of using frequent flyer miles to book a vacation, listen up! I've been on the consumer beat for 15 years, so I can be a bit jaded and blasé. I feel like I've heard –or given!—every money-saving tip on the planet. But if your goal is to travel AROUND the planet, I just learned some new tips and tricks that will save you big time.

I learned these strategies from Brian Kelly, the Bankrate.com "Points Guy." In a past life, Brian was a recruiter for a high-flying investment bank. He jetted around the world racking up 125,000 frequent flyer miles a year. Using those points to extravagant advantage became a game for him. He took one swanky personal trip that landed him in a first class seat right behind Madonna! For free! He stayed at some of the finest resorts in the world –for the price of a coach class ticket and a hostel.

Now Brian is sharing his knowledge so that you, too, can be a high flying traveler living the high life! By the way, it's not necessary to travel tens of thousands of miles for work to save tens of thousands of dollars on vacations. Brian no longer has that 125,000-mile-a-year job, so he's found other ways to rack up free travel points –and you can too.

Here's some of my favorite advice from Brian Kelly, The Points Guy:

1. Multiple-partner rewards cards work best. Contrary to popular opinion, single airline credit cards are not the best deal out there. Kelly says fixed value points cards aren't either. Those are the cards that let you book travel on your own and then reimburse you with points later. Rather, Kelly says, the real bonanza is cards that give you transferable points that can be used with multiple airlines and hotels. He gives American Express Membership Rewards points as an example. Amex has partnered with dozens of airlines and hotels and all you do is transfer your Amex points over to those other programs. It's ultra flexible because you can pay for the entire ticket or room with Amex points, or just use them to supplement any points you have built up with the airline or hotel itself. One footnote from yours truly, since not all retailers accept American Express, it's a good idea to also carry a Visa or Mastercard-branded credit card, so that if your Amex is rejected, you still have a way of earning points on your purchase.

Other credit card companies may offer similar programs. You can compare different rewards cards at credit.com and lowcards.com. The key is to choose a program with airline, hotel and other partners that you use."

2. Airline websites mislead! I actually knew the tip above, but this one was a stunner. Everybody thinks it's impossible to book awards flights because the airlines designate so few seats for freebies. But Kelly has discovered that if the airline you want to fly says there's no availability, you can often find the free seat by checking its partner airline's website instead! So, for example, go to United.com to book US Airways rewards, because they are partners, and you might get a very different answer. Kelly explains further in this blog.

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