Frequent flyer miles -- the more you fly, the more you get.
But racking up enough miles to redeem them for actual tickets can take years of flying, years of, as it's called, B.I.S. -- "butt in seat." Unless you know a few tricks that can earn you miles faster.
For example, did you know you can get miles by the millions without ever getting on a plane?
Money-saving travel expert Rick Ingersoll started the "Frugal Travel Guy" blog to offer tips to the common man. He hosts conferences for frequent flyer mile hobbyists that attract upwards of 500 people. In the past year, Ingersoll said he and his wife were able to fly to several places on tickets paid with his millions of miles.
"This year we have gone to Greece," he said. "From Savannah to Athens and then down to a little island, flew over to Dubrovnik in Croatia spent some time there, then up to split also in Croatia, then up to Amsterdam and back all in business class."
Total flight cost: 120,000 frequent flyer miles apiece plus $60 apiece in taxes.
Trick #1: Apply For Credit Cards With Bonus Miles, If You're Eligible:
But those miles are nothing to folks like Ingersoll, who is a frequent flyer millionaire many times over. The first trick he recommends is to cash in on credit card bonuses. Several banks now offer new credit card holders sign-up bonuses of 20,000, 40,000 and sometimes 70,000 miles or points.
According to Ingersoll, the more credit cards you sign up for, the more points you get, though most cards require you spend at least a few thousand dollars first. While this may sound like something will wreck your credit score, Ingersoll said that's not the case.
"Every time you apply for a credit card, they do what is called an inquiry on your credit report," he explained. "It costs between 2 to 5 points on your score. It is not a big hit on your score."
However, Ingersoll cautions that people with shaky credit, who cannot pay in full on a monthly basis or who are applying for a mortgage in the near future, should NOT be playing this game.
Trick #2: "Mileage Runs"
It's a method for people who have the time to get on a plane and just fly around over a weekend.
"One day I flew from Austin to Dallas to Orange County, California, left the airport and then spent five hours with my relatives. Then got back on a plane flew to O'Hare, then Frankfurt, Germany, sat in the lounge for about an hour and then Frankfurt back to O'Hare back to Austin," said Bob Dashman, one of Ingersoll's conference participants.
Trick #3: "Mattress Runs"
For hotel-hoppers, it's called "Mattress Runs." Lots of hotel chains offer points that can be converted into airline miles or free hotel nights. Of course, this also can get extreme when people like Win Schaeffer, another conference participant, hear about the Hampton Inn in Orlando, Fla., offering a bonus for each separate stay in a short period of time.
"I take my son to Disney World, we hop from hotel to hotel every night: 13 days, 13 stays," he said.
Trick #4: Rent Cars Through Rental Companies That Offer Points
If you don't feel like flying or sleeping for points, you could take a drive. Several rental car places also offer airline miles or points. Typically you get a few hundred points for one or two-day rental, but when one company raised the bonus to 10,000 for a one-day rental, George Smart went to this local airport and rented every car off the lot.
"Which took about four or five hours," he said. "About 12 or 15 in morning, I would get maybe 60 to 100,000 miles for a very inexpensive investment. That's the equivalent of going to Europe on discount twice."
It's Ingersoll's view that anyone can be a frequent flyer millionaire, earning and using thousands of points that will get you into business or first class where there are free drinks, free snacks and no crowds. With the help of points, Ingersoll and his wife flew to China and back for almost nothing -- in business class.
Total flight cost: 110,000 frequent flyer miles apiece.
"The only thing we have to pay is we have to pay the taxes on flights," he said. "We went to China for 10 days. We flew from Chicago to Beijing, went to see the Great Wall of China, went to Xi'an and saw the terracotta warriors, flew into Shanghai and again nothing more than taxes. That one was maybe $150."
Ingersoll believes that this is something not only that ordinary folks can do, but should do.
Extreme? Perhaps. But only the tip of the iceberg of the techniques were talked about here, all of which, frankly, take a lot of work and planning. But when you're settled into the big comfy chair for your long flight, Ingersoll says it really will seem worth it.