The Top Rewards Credit Cards for Free Trips This Summer

Miles may be better than cash if you know how to play the game.

— -- I am a big fan of credit cards that reward your loyalty, as long as you don’t carry a balance. Cash back cards are the way to go for people who don’t want to take the time to cash in points.

But if you’re reasonably well organized, and you love to travel, now could be the time to scoop up a travel rewards card. Charles Tran, founder of CreditDonkey.com says there are some jaw-dropping deals out there. Here’s my interview with Charles.

Elisabeth: What are you seeing right now in terms of travel rewards cards?

Charles: We're seeing bonuses in the 25,000 to 50,000 mile range. While promotions change often, here's a link to some current travel credit card deals.

E: Why do credit card companies give such generous rewards for travel?

C: Consumers who travel are highly sought after because they have discretionary income and tend to pay their bills. To attract those folks, credit card issuers are ramping up the bonuses and flooding mailboxes with promotions.

E: Is there any downside?

C: Most travel credit card promotions include a spending threshold you have to hit within a short window of time—like 3 months—to qualify for the advertised bonus. For instance, a promo might be to spend $3,000 in the first three months and get 40,000 miles. $3,000 in three months might sound like a lot to spend, but keep in mind, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average household spends over $10,000 a year on things like food, clothing and entertainment. As long as you keep your spending in line and don't charge anything you wouldn't have bought anyway, the points are like extra money.

E: So what’s the best strategy? C: If you plan ahead, you can use the bonus points or miles you earn now toward your next vacation. In other words, use April, May and June to hit the spending threshold, and redeem the rewards in time for your July or August vacation. Be sure to use them! There's no point accumulating miles if you never use them and airlines tend to devalue miles all the time.

E: OK, that’s Travel Points 1A. What’s the advanced course? C: Learn the airline miles and points game. When used correctly, airline miles can save you thousands of dollars on travel. A big part of the airline miles and hotel point game is to know the ins and outs and maximize the point value. Often times, miles and points are like a foreign currency where you don't always know the exchange rate.

E: Are there ways to earn points other than flying and charging? C: Yes, airline miles are not just for road warriors. Besides earning miles by flying and using credit cards, families can also earn miles from shopping online and from eating out at certain restaurants.

E: Any advice for once people actually earn a trip? C: Make sure your credit card has no foreign transaction fee. Otherwise, you'll be in for a shocker when you come home. Many credit cards charge a 3 percent fee whenever you use the card overseas.

Opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author.