By turnercowles
June 13, 2014

How the masters do it: Traveling abroad can get expensive—which is why Holly Johnson was so impressed with her latest rewards coup. “I booked a $5,200 trip to Europe for just $197 in fees,” says the Noblesville, Ind., writer, who blogs about her miles trove at ClubThrifty.com.

The majority of the miles she used came from travel card sign-up bonuses. Ranging from 20,000 to 50,000 miles, a single bonus may afford you a domestic roundtrip. But Johnson collected several bonuses—a tactic known as “churning.” In 2013, Johnson applied for six cards; so did her husband. “The good thing about being married is you can double your bonus,” she jokes.

How you can too: Rewards wizards jump on big bonuses, such as the ones below. (Visit Eleff’s DansDeals.com and Dubash’s MillionMile­Secrets.com for the latest offers.) But fanatics also like cards with miles that can be transferred to other loyalty programs. Both American Express and Chase allow you to do this; check out their websites for partners.

Keep in mind that you must meet certain spending minimums—usually $1,000 to $3,000 in the first 90 days—to get the bonus. Also, while annual fees are often waived the first year, you may want to cancel the cards before the fee kicks in at year two.

Because you’ll end up with miles on multiple airlines with this strategy, you may have to book one-way tickets on different carriers to complete a trip for free. That can be a pain, says Dubash, whose anniversary trip to Italy involved a series of one-ways. But, he adds, it’s worth the hassle: “When you go first-class, you ask yourself, Is this real? Should I really be here?”

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