Free Travel 101

[trip style = budget conscious]

{Editor's Note: Happy Halloween. Don't miss our 2011 round-up of the best jetset costumes!}

If you're a fan of free travel---and I don't know anyone isn't---following last month's Going The Distance With Your Air Miles, we're doing a two-part series about free travel. I know, it's a h-o-r-r-i-b-l-y cheesy title. Maybe we should have called it gratuit travel instead? French makes everything sound better!

Today we look at strategy and accumulation techniques used by free travel fanatics, and on Wednesday at exchanging air miles/travel points and too-good-to-be-true mileage redemption reward chart loopholes.

{Note: Three years ago I started getting serious about travel rewards points and air miles accumulation. Since then I've taken a ton of 'free' trips redeeming my Visa's travel rewards points as well as my air miles {from airlines}. Case in point, I'm currently in Curacao (hotel pictured above) because I redeemed my American Airlines miles to fly from Vancouver to Aruba (Curacao is 50 miles east). More on Curacao later this month.}

Be Strategic If you're strategic about air mile and travel rewards credit card points accumulation, you'll travel for free. Period. For example, if you put the vast majority of your spending on your travel rewards credit card, how much and how frequently you spend will determine whether the free trip is local weekend escape, or Tahitian getaway.

Concentrate Applying the same strategy to flying and the air miles gathered at 35,000ft, savvy travelers try to choose one {or two at most} airline alliances to focus their mile accumulation. You'll amass miles quickly if you're loyal to one carrier/alliance. If you always fly different carriers, it'll take years to accumulate enough miles to redeem a 'free' flight.

Accumulate The best way to start accumulating is to determine a} the airline you fly with most and/or b} your home airport's major airline, then always look to them first when flying. It's incredible how much faster you can redeem miles for a free flight when you concentrate your dollars and loyalty to one airline {and its alliance}. Unless you book a super-saver seat not eligible for air miles, most airlines will issue air miles {usually one air mile per 'mile' traveled}. The catch? You must sign-up for their loyalty program and add your loyalty number to all bookings for mile accumulation! Note that no-frills carriers like Allegiant do not issue air miles.

[photo credit: Kura Hulanda Hotel, Curacao]