a woman shopping online with her credit card at home

Savvy travel can save you hundreds or even thousands, allowing you to go places you may have never thought possible. Here, we’re talking about cashing in on hotel, credit card, and airline points on your next vacation! Of course, using them effectively takes a bit of know-how, so we’ve created this article to help demystify them.

Credit Card Points

When you sign up for a credit card, you have the ability to opt into a points program. This means that when you pay for things using your card, you get a designated number of points for each purchase, which can vary depending on what kinds of items you buy. You might get one point pack for every dollar you spend on groceries or three of them for each dollar spent on clothing. Keep in mind that you’ll get the most out of being a part of a points program if you make purchases with this card as much as possible and consistently pay off your monthly balance.

Credit card points can then be used for all sorts of things from appliances and electronics to services and travel expenses. For travelers, points are especially useful for trip expenses ranging from car rentals, guided tours, to meals. Since credit card points are the most general rewards options, it might seem like a no brainer to choose a points program instead of one that exclusively counts toward hotel fees or airfares. Keep in mind, however, that these more generalized points programs typically offer lower discount value rates than airline miles or hotel points do.

CompareCards did an analysis of the best credit card points programs for 2017. You can have a look here.

Airline Points

Airline points and frequent flyer miles can be collected in two main ways. First, you can opt to have your credit card points directed exclusively to an airline of your choice as credit card companies often have brand partnerships with certain airlines. In which case, they are typically they are typically accumulated in the same manner as explained above. You’ll want to consider which airlines — for instance, foreign or domestic — are most relevant to your travel goals when deciding which airline you’d like your points to count towards.

Frequent flyer miles can also be acquired directly with the airline as a reward for consistently booking flights with it. To accumulate frequent flyer miles you’ll simply register for a loyalty program with the airline, and then enter your frequent flyer number each time you book a flight. If you fly often with a given airline, it will also benefit you to strive for elite status by flying a designated number of miles with it. This way, you’ll have access to the most competitive deals as well as exclusive discounts on flights, upgrades, and often better customer service.

Sites like MileValue and MileWise can help you assess discounts, airline point values, and how to use your points most strategically.

Hotel Points

Hotels essentially utilize the same points systems in place as airlines do. They reward brand loyalty and can bring serious payoffs if you book with the same hotels on a regular basis. You can also opt for your credit card points go exclusively towards hotels and resorts. One common example of this is the IHG Hotel points plan offered to MasterCard holders.

Again, before you opt in to a specific program with your credit card, you’ll want to consider which hotels you frequent most. As with airlines, your card company will have specific brand partnerships with certain hotel chains. You can also sign up for loyalty programs directly with the hotel of your choosing in a similar fashion as with airlines. If you wan to assess and compare your hotel deals, TripIt can be a useful starting point.