Published in March 2016 issue

Aviation fans have a special ability to take joy in simple pleasures. While most people bury their heads in newspapers or jab away at their cell phones at an airport, we gaze for hours at the activity on the tarmac.

By Ramsey Qubein

That joy is multiplied when we can travel to farflung places, even better when in Business or First Class, to enjoy the ‘av-tastic’ view. But what if our budget won’t allow it? That’s when we turn to the world of miles and points to obtain amazing experiences on a shoestring budget.

With many airlines changing the way we earn miles—mostly in a negative way—might there be another option? Why, yes! Credit card bonuses.

Some smart road warriors with excellent credit sign up for dozens of credit cards, raking in the big mileage bonuses that come with them and reaping the travel rewards. Others are more careful. If the annual fees scare you off, look for the companies that are happy to waive them for the first year. It never hurts to ask.

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Here are a few card bonuses to pay attention to in the coming months:

Chase has a long list of credit cards that appeal to travelers; one of the most popular is its Chase Ink Bold business card. It offers benefits similar to those of the Chase Plus, which is no longer available—including the ability to rack up points on a bonus basis. At office supply stores, the cards earn five points per dollar spent.

You’d be surprised at some of the things that are on sale at office supply stores: toilet paper, snacks, cleaning supplies, and, most importantly, gift cards. If you need to fill up gas, you can buy a gas card at Staples first and multiply your point earnings at lightning speed. That’s better than the double points you get for using it outright at a gas station. Use that same principle for other purchases you make, and you can become a mileage millionaire. Office supply stores sell gift cards for many places, including restaurants, airlines, and even hotel chains.

While Chase Ink Plus is a business credit card, individuals can sign up for another popular option, the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which yields double points on any expense related to dining or travel. Coffee shops, taxis, airline and hotel expenses—you name it; this card provides big bonuses quickly if you travel, or… well… eat at all! Both of these cards are tied to the Chase Ultimate Rewards program, which offers numerous airline and hotel transfer partners. You can also redeem points for travel directly through Chase—an excellent deal, as you get 20% discount when you use UR points. Tahiti, here we come!

But what if you have tons of points already? (Can you ever really have too many?) Then, consider a card that gives you other benefits, like lounge access. Numerous cards offer a couple of free day passes, but there are several that provide full-on lounge access, like the United Club card from Chase and the Citi Executive AAdvantage card. Besides Admirals Club access, the Citi Prestige and American Express Platinum cards come with a Priority Pass membership to more than 500 lounges worldwide, mostly international locations. You can gain entry, for example, to the fabulous NAME lounge in Zurich, which has an outdoor viewing deck for the nearby runway and tarmac. AvGeek score!

One caveat: many card companies require applicants to have a Social Security number, which makes it difficult for those living outside the United States. Don’t lose hope, though; American Express has several cards available for international applicants—including, of course, the Membership Rewards program and its lengthy list of transfer partners.