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September 12, 2012

How to collect and use more airline points

In July, travel-points expert Brian Kelly posted a surprising announcement on his website, the Points Guy (thepointsguy.com). United Airlines was running a business-class-fare special from New York to Hong Kong for just four frequent flier miles and $43 each way. Sounds unbelievable, right?

Kelly was certain the fare was a mistake, what travel experts call an "error fare," but he told his thousands of readers and Twitter followers about the deal. Many booked the flight before United noticed the error. The airline refused to honor most tickets, but travelers who left for Hong Kong within five days of booking got the round-trip flight — normally about $10,000 — for a few points and less than $100.

"That fare was really unique," Kelly says. "The mistakes usually happen with paid tickets, when an airline will forget to add taxes or an extra digit to the price," Kelly says, adding that it's unusual to have a mistake apply to all flights on one route.

The thrill of error fares and amazing deals is an added incentive for people to rack up miles and book trips strategically. Kelly says that more than ever, credit-card travel-rewards clubs are trying to attract new customers with sweet bonuses.

We talked with Kelly to learn his tips and tricks for racking up 125,000 miles a year (without flying!). Trust us, even experienced travelers will be impressed by how experts get the most out of their bonus points.

How to get miles

Get in on the credit card game: If you want to rack up miles quickly, you have to be in on the credit card game. "It's so lucrative for the companies," Kelly says. "The credit card companies were shedding customers during the recession. Now that economy is getting better, they're looking to get back creditworthy consumers." But Kelly doesn't recommend that people in debt get into the game. It's only for people who pay off balances every month.

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