If you enjoy traveling in comfort, there are basically two ways that you can do so:
1. Have enough disposable income to pay for first or business class flights and for nice hotels, or
2. Accumulate A LOT of points and miles.
For most people, the second option is the more realistic. Unless you're a frequent business traveler, if you're going to pursue that strategy, the single most important arrow in your quiver is a strong credit score. That's because the easiest way to accumulate miles and points through credit card sign on bonuses and credit card spending. Today I'd like to focus on applications and what they can do for you.
I divide travel related credit cards into three categories; airline cards, hotel cards, and travel reimbursement cards. Airline cards get you there, hotel cards give you a place to stay, and reimbursement cards can cover a lot of your other expenses. In a recent round of applications, I covered all three bases.
When considering new cards, my first stop is usually The Frequent Miler's website. He does a pretty good job of keeping track of the best travel related credit card offers out there. One of the things I appreciate about TFM's site is that he, like Gary at View from the Wing and Lucky at One Mile at a Time, will usually direct you to the best offer out there, rather than simply promoting a referral link that will earn him money. You can find links for all the cards below at TFM.
My first card application was for the Chase United Airlines Explorer card. As TFM points out, the best current offer is 50,000 United miles for spending $2,000 in three months after getting the card. The card has no annual fee for the first year. and, using Manufactured Spending techniques, the initial spending requirement is no problem at all. The card also offers 5,000 miles for adding an authorized user, so ordered one for Mrs. Pointsninja. While I don't have immediate plans for using the miles, they'll go into my existing United stockpile where they'll eventually be used for TATL travel, hopefully in Lufthansa (LH) First Class. At 135,000 miles apiece for LH F, I'll need every mile I can get my hands on!
Second, I addressed the hotel situation. This wasn't a new application, but rather an "upgrade" to an existing card. A couple of years ago, I signed up for the Amex Hilton Surpass card in order to earn Hilton Diamond status. When the annual fee came due, I "downgraded" the card to an ordinary Hilton Amex card, which carries no fee. However, when I logged into my Amex account, their card comparison tool, showed me that I was eligible for a 50,000 point bonus if I "reupgraded" my Hilton card to the Surpass card. I took them up on the offer. I'll end up paying a pro-rated $75 annual fee, but 50,000 points with no hard credit pull is nothing to sneeze at.
Finally, I went for the Barclay Bank Arrivalcard. The card is fee-free the first year and comes with a 40,000 point signup bonus for spending $1,000 in the first three months. The card earns 2ppd that are worth 1cpp when applied to travel expenses, so the bonus amounts to $400 in reimbursable travel expenses. I'll use that for covering things like award booking fees, rental cars, hotel meals, and other miscellaneous expenses that come along with "free travel."
My credit score will likely take a 5-10 point hit for these new applications, but that will drop off in less than a year. Meanwhile, I've earned another 145,000 points and miles for future trips!