Make the most of your travel reward points


The summer vacation season is a good time to both accumulate and redeem all those reward points you've earned.

Fresno resident Maurice Lee passes his time waiting for his flight out of SFO to check on his reward points. The frequent traveler has gotten really good getting the most out of his rewards.

" I have five kids and when I travel I use my miles to book vacations for my family," Lee says.

Half Moon Bay resident Tina Herrera has done the same with her family. "We've had about five or six free trips as a family," she says.

Brian Kelly runs The Points Guy website. The free site offers tips on redeeming your points. He says people like Herrera and Lee are rare.

"There's a lot to be done on teaching people how to best earn points. But then also how to actually redeem them," Kelly says.

He says one out of three travelers earn rewards faster by using credit cards which earn points.

He says the best ones allow you to redeem your points for travel on multiple airlines. But that's only smart if you pay your entire balance at the end of each month.

"If you're getting nailed with these huge interest fees, they're going to negate the value of any of the miles and points earned," Kelly says.

People also lose out on their rewards when they let their points expire. Kelly compares that to throwing away money.

We were at the airport when Tien Bui realized her daughter was about to lose 75,000 points. "Oh, 75,000 miles. That's like one free trip to Shanghai, one way," she says.

To help travelers keep track of their points, Kelly suggests using two free services, TripIt and AwardWallet. Both keep track of all your reward programs in one place.

"They'll even e-mail you if your points are going to expire. A lot of airlines do have expiration policies, but it's so easy to keep them active," he says.

All you have to do is buy one item from one of their partners to keep your points active. That's what Bui planned to do to keep from losing her daughter's 75,000 miles. "I think she'll be all set. The miles will reset," she says.

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