Most credit cards offering travel rewards use a points-based system to help consumers earn bonuses and other incentives. Consumers can get free airline tickets, hotel stays and rental cars by applying for and using travel rewards credit cards strategically.

Travel Rewards Basics

Some travel credit cards offer miles instead of points, designed for consumers specifically interested in airline tickets. Travel rewards credit cards typically offer one point for every dollar spent. In some cases, consumers can earn extra points by making purchases at specific stores or using their cards in certain categories that include dining. The requirements for earning extra points vary among travel reward credit card providers. 

Earning Travel Rewards Points

Major travel brands help consumers fast-track travel bonuses for loyalty purchases. With loyalty programs, cardholders usually must use the credit card to make purchases directly from the travel brand to get extra bonus points. An airline offering a travel rewards credit card, for example, gives extra points when the card is used to purchase its airline tickets. Travel brands typically have partnerships and offer bonus points for partner purchases, so a person aiming to amass travel rewards can buy airline tickets from the major brand and rent a car from a car rental business that partners with the airline.

Travel Rewards Incentives

Consumers can also rack up travel rewards fast by applying for credit cards that offer sign-up bonuses. As an example, a cardholder may receive 50,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days after sign-up. Some companies offer extravagant travel rewards to their most loyal customers. The British Airways Visa Signature Card, for instance, offers 50,000 bonus points to cardholders who spend $3,000 in the first 90 days after signing up, an additional 25,000 bonus points after spending $10,000 within the first account year, and another 25,000 bonus points after spending $20,000 total within the first account year. For these bonus points and extra incentives to be worth it, a consumer should have an active plan to pay off the debt on a monthly basis to avoid paying high interest fees.

Redeeming Travel Rewards

Redeeming loyalty rewards is typically a fairly simple process – consumers can use their credit cards at the airline, hotel or car rental business offering the points and redeem them on the spot for the full value. Cardholders can also redeem loyalty points by making purchases on the travel brand’s website. Travel rewards cards that are not offered directly by travel brands transfer the points or miles to partners' loyalty programs.

Consumers should be aware that travel points usually are not transferred on a one-to-one basis. When transferred to a partner brand, 10,000 travel points might only be worth 8,000 points, for example. Also, rewards may not be available when you want them. There may be blackout periods at the most popular travel times or a limited number of seats available, especially on popular flights, that are redeemable for points.