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How to squeeze out credit card points for a last-minute vacation

Getting to the point with reward programs

By ValuePenguin

You've been saving up loyalty points for months, and yet you're still a few thousand points shy of what you need to cover that upcoming vacation solely through rewards. If that describes your situation, or if you are simply looking to earn miles quickly from scratch, there are some tips to follow.

Get a new card with a generous sign-up bonus

The quickest way to earn a lot of miles in a short span of time is to get a new credit card that offers a hefty signing bonus. Provided you have a good-to-excellent credit score, you should be able to qualify for a card that has a welcome offer of between 50,000 to 100,000 miles.

There's typically a catch, however. Such sign-up bonuses typically require you to spend a certain amount of money within a certain length of time—say, $1,000 within three months—before the bank releases those points. Also, you shouldn't apply for a credit card merely for its signing bonus. Keep in mind that opening and closing credit card accounts can have a negative impact on your credit score. Any new card you acquire should offer long-term benefits as well as a short-term infusion of "free" points.

Pro Tip: Meet the bonus by charging to the card some of the expenses involved in booking your vacation, like the airline fares. You can then use the bonus miles you received for that spending to cover some remaining obligations, like the hotel accommodations.

The secrets of rewards travel

Refer friends and family members

A quieter, and often overlooked, way to earn miles is to earn referral bonuses. Many rewards credit cards will award you points whenever you get friends or family members to also sign up for a card. The payout is far less than with sign-up bonuses—think 5,000 or 10,000 points, rather than 50,000 to 100,000 for signing up yourself.

That said, if you know someone who has been thinking about getting into the miles game, consider sending a referral link; if they bite, the rewards might help you to close a points gap (and your friend or relative, too, will be eligible for the usual signing bonuses.) One caveat, however: There can be a delay, of up to eight weeks in some cases, before the referral points hit your account, so this option may not work if you need points to help cover a vacation next month.

Pro Tip: If you have a spouse or family member who you trust, you can sometimes also earn a bonus for simply adding them as an authorized user to your own account. These incentives are typically available within the first three months of your opening the account. An additional benefit to this arrangement, of course, is that you continue to earn miles whenever the authorized user charges purchases to his or her credit card.

Don't overlook hotel cards

General travel and airline credit cards tend to attract most of the buzz, if any, in rewards cards. Yet the credit cards offered by hotel chains can also offer lucrative perks. For example, if you get the right card, a signing bonus may cover up to two free nights at any of the chain's properties. That can shave off hundreds of dollars from your vacation (although timing caveats may apply here as well; if you're signing up to book lodgings for an imminent trip, check how soon the bonus days or points will show up in your account).

Hotel chains fighting to regain booking business from sites

Pro Tip: Hotel credit cards are also a great way to make your stay a little nicer. Many come with perks like late check-outs, free premium WiFi, upgraded parking and other amenities. If you have no preference as to a specific hotel brand, look to these extra perks when choosing which card to apply for.

Consider pooling all your points and miles

Many of the biggest credit card rewards programs in the U.S. allow points to be transferred among a number of airline and hotel programs. If your points are dispersed among various programs, it's worth investigating if they might be consolidated to get you to the requisite amount on any one of your accounts. Here is a useful chart that shows you which credit card programs are transferable to which airlines.

Pro Tip: You may be unaware that such consolidation may be possible even if you have a cash-back credit card. In fact, some such cards earn points that can be transferred or used to buy miles, as described above. Look into these opportunities; you might be surprised at how many miles you're able to amass by shuffling points from some accounts to others.

This article first appeared on ValuePenguin.