(Time) — The only thing better than a relaxing getaway is a relaxing getaway you don’t have to pay for. But sometimes chasing those freebies can cost you more than if you just ponied up in the first place. Recently, we took a look at the best travel reward credit cards on the market. Here’s how to get the most, uh, mileage out of those rewards and avoid some common mistakes that can shrink their value.
Get a card for the life you have, not the life you want. The biggest mistake is picking the wrong card for your needs. Don’t get a travel credit card thinking it’s going to motivate you to take more vacations, says Doug Miller, senior analyst for banking and cards at financial research company Corporate Insight. “One thing people should remember is the real benefit comes from earning points for something you already do. If you don’t fly a lot and you think an airline card will help you fly more, you’re probably not going to get full value out of it. People have a tendency to overestimate how much getting the card will change their previously existing patterns.”