Travel is a passion of mine. Whether it be just a weekend jaunt or a full-scale adventure, I’m always ready to hit the trail. However, traveling can be expensive. There are hundreds of online travel agencies, each with the best deals and the lowest prices. It can be a daunting task to even book a hotel room for a one-night stay without feeling obligated to check several websites to ensure you’re getting the best deal. How do I cope with this? I have two simple tricks that help keep travel affordable and convenient – planning ahead and rewards credit cards.

I’ve read numerous articles on when is the precise best time to purchase airfare or hotel rooms. One such article even pinpointed the precise best time to buy plane tickets at 46 days prior to departure. If I’m planning a vacation, I want to have the details of the trip ironed out a little more in advance than 46 days out.   So, when planning a trip, as soon as I know the dates, I go ahead and make the airfare and hotel reservations.

This begs one question. How do I know I’m getting the best possible deal? To answer honestly, I don’t. But, I make up for it in other ways. I’m a huge proponent of rewards credit cards. I have two – a Marriott Rewards Visa and a Delta Skymiles American Express. On both of these cards, I earn points towards my next trip.

The best time to get a rewards credit card if you don’t have one is before making a major purchase. A lot of stores, for example, Lowe’s, offer 0% APR on major purchases when using their store card. However, if you simply open or use a rewards credit card for this purchase, it can be a huge step towards your next vacation. The best part is that most cards offer bonus points or miles if a certain amount is spent on the card within the first few months of opening the account. So, if you have a big purchase to make anyway, why not put it on the rewards card? That’s precisely how I paid for the hotel on my recent trip to Seattle. 80,000 bonus Marriott Rewards points was just enough to pay for my hotel in Seattle, which would have cost around $900 otherwise. The purchases that earned the points were things I would have had to buy anyway, so why pay cash?

Another way I rack up points is to divert as many regular purchases as possible to the rewards cards. I also pay certain utilities with them. This works well as long as the cards are maintained on a monthly basis. For regular purchases and household bills, I treat the cards like cash – if I charge something like a utility or other purchases I would regularly pay from my bank account, I pay them off. That avoids the nightmares that can come with racking up credit card debt.

There are many ways to plan for the perfect vacation and there’s no right or wrong way to do it. Whether it be with rewards cards, online travel agents, or any other of the myriad of ways to plan a trip, whichever way works for you is best. The important thing is that you start planning and start traveling!