05/10/2012 11:22 am ET Updated Jul 10, 2012

How Your Family Can Fly Around the World for (Almost) Free

Parents, you may not realize you have a chance to dramatically increase your family's quality of life. If I say you can take your family on trips to Europe or Asia, you might think, "Oh -- we could NEVER afford that!" In fact, the banks will pay you hundreds of thousands of frequent flyer points for doing something you already do anyway -- using a credit card.

Many parents use the same credit card out of habit. Initially, they may have enrolled with that card because it offered no annual fee, or cash back. But here's the good news: at any given moment, the banks offer at least one card with a huge promotion that dwarfs the myriad of other offers.

For example, Chase Bank offers 40,000 points transferred into the frequent flyer account of your choice if you use their Sapphire Preferred card. The Chase Ink Bold card offers 50,000 points to anyone who has a small business on the side, and you don't need a business tax ID in order to register. And Citibank offers a Visa and an AmEx card for a total of 100,000 points with American Airlines. There are many more examples, but can you already see how easy it is to end up with some serious frequent flyer points? Four round-trip tickets to Paris or Rome will cost you 240,000 points, and Tokyo or Hong Kong round-trip only costs 260,000 points. Suddenly, your most exotic fantasy vacation is possible, even for a family of four.

So, is there a catch? Not really. For many of these big-bonus cards, you have to spend a minimum of, say, three to four thousand dollars in a period of three months. But many households are already spending that much or more on their current credit cards anyway, so why not get free vacations for it?

Some critics may say it's a hassle to redeem frequent flyer points for flights, so collecting points just ends up being an exercise in frustration. For example, have you ever visited the airline's award site seeking a super-saver award ticket, only to find that the dates you wanted were not available, or available only at double the points you expected to pay? Most parents make the mistake of giving up at this point, instead of taking just one more step to reach the Golden Gateway to Exotic Vacations. A simple Google search such as, "Redeeming award tickets on [blank] airlines" will take you to the sites of experts like View from the Wing and Million Mile Secrets, who can give you a straight-and-narrow path through the chaos of airline award availability.

For example, Gary Leff of the View from the Wing site told me what American Airlines doesn't want you to know: AA has an alliance with over a dozen other airlines, such that you can use AA points to travel on any of them. But if you search for award availability on AA, it only tells you the availability for 3-4 of those dozen airlines. Believe it or not, the best sites to help you spend your AA points thriftily are or These sites show award availability for many, but not all of the dozen airlines AA is allied with. It may be counter-intuitive to find AA super-saver awards on the web sites of their partners, but the extra few minutes you spend can turn frustration into your family's dream vacation to Shanghai.

The other best bet for award tickets is United Airlines, because you can spend UA points for tickets on the twenty-five airlines with which UA is allied, including US Air. United's award site is a little more honest than AA's site, in that you can see award availability on more of their partner airlines. But if you don't succeed on United's site, try, try again on the sites of their partners, such as Air Canada's Aeroplan or All Nippon Airways' site.

Bottom line? Many parents either don't realize the power of their credit cards to earn vacations, or else they gave up on frequent flyer points after one frustrating attempt to redeem their miles on sites that may only divulge 5% of their airline partners where parents can obtain award tickets. So, perhaps you're willing to take a leap of faith and set the goal of an exotic vacation abroad, but feeling a tad overwhelmed about how to get started. Below are my favorite bloggers who can coach you to get started with the right credit cards and the right airline award programs.

Mommy Points is a blog by a parent just like you and me. She lives in Texas with her family of three. Her motto is, "Giving my family the world for free, one point at a time," and she lives up to her word by providing entertaining, step-by-step strategies to earn points while paying for routine household things that every household needs. The experts on finding which credit cards will get you closer to Europe or Asia are Rick, the "Frugal Travel Guy" and Daraius at "Million Mile Secrets." Rick has been doing this for years, and knows every nook and cranny of the business. Daraius is an MBA from Northwestern who presents careful, detailed strategies on how to minimize your time and effort to maximize your points earned through credit cards.

If you're like me, once you realize how a few credit cards can greatly improve your family's quality of life, frequent flyer points will become a fun, exciting hobby for you. Three of the blogs I most enjoy reading are Gary's "View from the Wing," Brian's blog, "The Points Guy," and Seth's blog, The "Wandering Aramean". Gary, Brian and Seth tip off their readers to new credit card offers, or their discovery of "mistake fares," where the airlines goofed in, say, leaving a zero off a fare they post, such that a first-class fare from JFK to Tokyo ends up costing $1,000, instead of their intended $10,000.

To sum up: Many parents mistakenly believe they can't afford to fly their families around the world. I invite you to take a leap of faith and apply for some of these credit cards with stellar point bonuses. Then, check in once-a-day with the bloggers I mentioned above, or join the Granddaddy of Points, Randy Petersen on MilePoint, a friendly forum for fellow point junkies. My prediction is that you'll be amazed how quickly your family can be on a plane abroad, and you may even enjoy your new hobby in the World of Savvy World Travelers. All you need to begin is a willingness to dream big, and the persistence to try more than one airline site when redeeming your points.