How often have you signed up for a credit card that awards points, or for an airline's frequent flyer program, and then promptly forgot about the program because you never bothered to accumulate much in your account?
Here's a little unsolicited advice - Go back and check on those old accounts, because they may have value that you are not taking advantage of. A few years back, our family had a couple of US Airways accounts with a couple thousand miles in them. We don't fly US Airways any more, but the miles did not go to waste. It turns out the airline (at least at the time) traded miles for magazine subscriptions, so we gladly traded them in for a year of TIME, and a year of TV Guide.
On a larger scale, you can really do impressive things with credit card rewards and frequent flyer miles if you plan carefully. I kind of do this as a hobby. I have just put together a 10-day summer vacation for the whole family to California and Las Vegas, complete with air, rental car and hotel rooms. My out-of-pocket costs? $o.oo.
OK - now for the honest truth. I own a membership in the Disney Vacation Club that is covering the cost of a hotel room for four nights, so I did pay for that, albeit three years ago. Now, at least, it FEELS free. Another three nights will be free because we're staying with my college roommate in L.A. And the final three nights will be free at the Paris resort in Las Vegas because I use one of their free membership cards whenever I gamble, and they gave me the room as a comp. You do not need to gamble very much at all to get these perks - especially these days.
The four airline tickets are free because I signed up last year and this year for American Express cards in separate promotions that provided enough AMEX points to pay for the airfare.
The 10-day car rental will be covered by points earned through the use of our Mastercard, which is our "every day" credit card of choice. I was going to buy cheap airline tickets from L.A.to Vegas, but then I realized that driving the rental car to Vegas will save us a couple of hundred bucks, and I won't have to pay the drop-off fee because my credit card reward will cover the expense.
We will also have several meals covered during our trip. I have enough AMEX points left over to pay for a couple of restaurant gift cards, and the missus has a separate Visa card of her own that she uses to pay for classroom expenses, and rewards from that card will pay for some meals as well.
We didn't do anything extraordinary - we just paid attention to the offers we received in the mail, and made sure to put as many of our big expenses on our credit cards as possible so we could rack up the miles. The key, as always, is to pay the cards off immediately, of course, because otherwise, you'll be spending money on interest instead of saving money with rewards points.
Now, if I can just manage to limit the amount of time I spend at the blackjack table, this should prove to be one cheap family vacation (Which is the only way we can travel these days)!