A quick flight to a meeting gave me a one-way ticket over the Atlantic.

The secret behind heavily discounted travel?

Points.

All major airlines have their own frequent flyer-programs. Hotel chains such as IHG or Hilton have their own reward systems, but there are also some great loyalty programs to enroll with third-party suppliers such as banks. Always look out for interesting sign-up offers, as you might reach your first flight by spending a small amount to qualify, or by simply signing up.

Don’t fall into the fuel trap

Before signing up, make sure you don’t fall into the most common bonus program trap. The fuel surcharge trap! Some airlines will have you pay separately even for the fuel while booking award flights! And this is such a huge part of the final bill. It’s just a cruel and greedy way of cheating loyal customers. When you have gathered points for a couple of years, you want to get a FREE flight, not just a 30% discount. So choose airlines that won’t impose fuel surcharge on any award flights! From my experience, the good guys are: American & Alaska (as long as you stay away from partner flights with British & Iberia), Scandinavian, Swiss, Turkish and United.
But the No. 1 pick is Norwegian, as it is the only carrier to even include airport tax in their CashPoints.

Say goodbye to cash

Having a credit card connected to a bonus program is the fastest and easiest way of gathering points. If you consequently pay all your expenses with your cards, you will pretty soon gather enough for a free getaway. I myself managed to buy my car on my Diners Club which is connected to Finnair. I drove home with a new car and 120 000 points, which was enough for a trip to Asia. I converted it to 6 hotel nights with IHG.

Points from your business travels belong to you. No matter who paid for the ticket.

Many business travelers are still unaware of that they can redeem points for all of their business journeys, and believe me, this is a true gold mine. Even though your corporation is paying for the trip, the points belong to YOU. This applies to hotel stays, car rentals and plane tickets. Using Norwegian for my business travels, a Copenhagen – London return flight on a flexible ticket paid for a one-way journey over the Atlantic.

Use your credit card for your business expenses as well.

Whether it’s a new computer or a night out with your clients – a really good way of gathering points is to pay your business expenses with your bonus-attached credit card. Just keep the receipts and make sure your employer pays you before your monthly bill is due.

Allow yourself to get spammed!

Airlines and hotel chains love sending all kinds of e-mail blasts. Luckily for you, they really can come up with great offers. Airlines have secret sales and hotel chains can boost your points up to 20 times if you book the way they want you to book. I’m not saying you should go some place just because there’s an offer, but if you already are planning a journey, combining offers like these can be really favorable. While staying with IHG in multiple brands last spring, I spent a total of $1040 and earned points that saved me $786.

Always keep your eyes open!

There are bonuses to earn everywhere! Last year, I received an e-mail from my bank that I could register myself for a bonus program and receive points on all my stock trades! Who would imagine that a conservative Swiss bank would pay your restaurant and rental car bill? Well, I would have done the stock trades anyhow, so what’s not to like in free Bouillabaise and a Fiat?