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Special section Jump into travel

Memories may be free but vacations generally aren't. Here's how to save some money on your travels.

How to afford it

Charging your way to free travel

Everyone wants a free flight to paradise, and we'll charge our way there if we have to. Attach air miles to a credit card and people will spend an average of $25,000 a year.

"We all work our tails off and travel is our getaway," says Chris Theoharides, president of Advantage Consulting Group in Massapequa, N.Y.

"People love the idea of free travel."

Banks know this, and that's why there are hundreds of air-mile credit card offers flooding the marketplace. Finding a deal that's right for you takes some work.

People love the idea of free travel.

"Spend a few minutes. Do the math, and figure out if this card is going to earn you something worthwhile," says Gerri Detweiler, author of "The Ultimate Credit Handbook."

Separating the good from the bad
There are plenty of so-so offers mixed in with the good ones. So be careful. If one card doesn't seem so great, keep on shopping. There are tons of offers to choose from.

More than 35 air-mile credit cards are linked to specific airlines and specific frequent flier programs, according to Randy Petersen, editor and publisher of Inside Flyer Magazine and producer of the Web site WebFlyer.

These types of cards have been around since the late 1980s. You typically earn one air mile for every dollar that you spend. The miles you earn with your credit card are automatically added to your frequent flier account with the airline.

You earn additional miles when you use your credit card to make purchases at airline partners, such as hotels and rental car agencies, clothing stores, office supply shops and even long distance phone service companies.

Partner lists seem to go on and on. A typical frequent flier program has more than 80 partners. Delta Skymiles, for instance, boasts more than 90.

With the Delta Skymiles card from American Express, you earn two air miles for each dollar you spend at supermarkets, gas stations, drug stores, home improvement stores and the U.S. Postal Service.

Of course, you can also earn air miles the old-fashioned way -- by flying. Let's say you book a flight on Delta with your Delta Skymiles card. You'd earn from 500 miles minimum to 150 percent of mileage. It's a great way to rack up air miles.

The price of the perk
The downside of airline credit cards is the price. Annual fees range from $25 to $180. They also tend to have higher-than-average interest rates.

Bankrate tracks the best of the frequent-flier credit card deals. Go to our credit card rate table to explore the choices currently offered.

-- Updated: June 21, 2007
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