Most people won’t catch the mile and point bug until they’ve completed an entire trip for free. That’s what it took for me to get started.

After signing up for credit cards that offered large sign-up bonuses I earned enough miles to book flights to California for myself and two friends, and I used my accrued Hyatt points to cover a week of hotel hopping in California.

Even after all that free travel, I still only dabbled in credit cards, opening just one or two per year. After a few years of rebuilding my mile and point balances, I had enough miles to fly my wife and myself to Europe and enough points for a few free hotel nights.

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Our trip to Europe hooked me. I was determined to earn enough miles and points for us to take one free trip per year. We’ve both always loved travel and staying at high end hotels, but I was not about to shell out thousands of dollars for a 3-night stay when I knew it was possible to do it for almost free.

Build Points Through Credit Card Bonuses

The best way to build up tons of miles and points is to apply for credit cards that offer large sign up bonuses.

There are more than 50 different credit cards that offer good travel-based sign up bonuses. These cards offer 30,000 to 100,000 miles or points as long as you hit their minimum spend requirement. Most cards give you 90 days to meet the spend requirement.

Once the minimum spend is met the sign up bonus is released and ready to be used. Do this multiple times and the points can add up fast.

How Many Points Can You Earn

Each person will be limited by the amount of spend they can afford to put on their credit cards within bank’s time requirement. It is never a good idea to put more spend on a card than you can afford to pay off each month. Points are never worth debt, never.

Before applying for a card or multiple cards, consider what you already plan to spend over the next 90 days to determine how much spend you can realistically put on your new credit cards. Review all of these expenses and determine which can be paid for using a credit card. The more creative you can be the better.

Couples that go at this together will be able to earn even more points because they can each get the same card. It does not matter if your spouse already has a card, you can get it and the sign up bonus too. Approvals will depend on standard bank approval requirements, not on what cards your spouse has.

Provided that the spend requirements can be met it is reasonable to expect that couple could earn 1,000,000 miles and points in their first year.

Those points would be worth between $10,000 to $30,000 in travel depending on how the points are redeemed.

International first class flight awards often provide the best point/dollar value. We try not to get swept away in those big values and instead stick to our own travel plan and goals that work for us.

Organizational Skills

Having a bunch of credit cards can create a personal finance mess. We use a spreadsheet to keep track of the open and close dates of all our past cards.

We also track our open cards and the last date we paid them off. This helps stay on top of our bills and stay aware of when we are eligible for a repeat signup bonus.

Start With a Specific Trip Goal

As you’ll see there are often multiple cards for each airline and chain hotel. My recommendation is to start with a specific trip you’d like to take. This should include how you’ll get there and where you’d like to stay.

If you are hoping to travel for free you’ll want to look for a hotel that has a strong point program and credit card offering. Then focus on building the points you need to take that trip.

You can see my list of the best travel credit cards here.

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