CONROE, Texas - Spring break is just a couple weeks away, so if your mind is already drifting toward thoughts of a warm family getaway, you can score free and cheap vacations by maximizing the purchases you already make.
Summer Hull's 5-year-old daughter has been to more corners of the world than most adults. She's been all smiles in Paris, Alaska and Hawaii. Her parents are smiling because these lavish vacations cost them next to nothing.
Hull is an expert traveler and founder of the blog Mommypoints.com.
"Once I found a way to really expand how we could travel without having to expand my budget, it's something that just gets me excited and I can't -- I have a hard time shutting up about it," Hull said.
Hull shares her strategy and her vacation videos on her blog. She sat down with KPRC 2 Consumer Expert Amy Davis in Hull's Conroe home to let viewers in on it, too.
"Anybody that wants to do it can do it," said Hull. "There's so many opportunities now to earn miles and points."
You have to sign up for the frequent flier programs of airlines you want to fly. Then start collecting points by buying everyday items like groceries and gas.
Hull has about 50 credit cards. She carries about five and knows exactly what to buy with each one to accrue the most miles.
You can get quick infusions of points when you sign on for a new card. Like a MasterCard from Intercontinental Hotels Group that gives you 70,000 points for signing up and charging $1,000.
Some cards like Chase Ultimate Rewards let you use points on different airlines or hotels. Also, by shopping online through an airline's portal, like United's Mileage Plus Shopping site, you can earn points for things you'd buy anyway. Instead of going to JCPenney or Macy's, buy here and you'll get two to four times the points and you still get free shipping.
"It's not for everyone. You have to be organized and you have to know that you're not going to be racking up debt," Hull said.
Hull recommends first timers start with a getaway goal and just one or two cards.
"Just decide where you want to go and Google it, 'Use airline miles to fly to London,' and you're going to be walked through how to do it," Hull said.
To get to Hawaii or another dream destination, plan about one year ahead, Hull said.
Some previous deals include a Houston to San Francisco round trip for $29, or Houston to Moscow $317 round trip. These are flash sales: Some are good for six hours and some up to six weeks. They are compiled by Escape Houston founder Ren Artemio.
"I wanted to make it easier for my friends to find the deals cause it's not as much fun to travel alone," said Artemio.
Artemio wrote a computer program that tracks the best deals and posts them. He currently has more than 11,000 likes on Facebook.
One of the quickest ways to see the deals is to sign up for Escape Houston's email bulletins.
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