When I first started to collect credit card rewards it was cash back, not travel rewards that was king. I didn’t even want to think about getting on an airplane with a baby or a couple of toddlers. Travel rewards could wait.

But now that my kids are getting older, and we’re travelling more often as a family, I’ve shifted my credit card rewards preferences from cash back and free groceries to air travel and free hotel rooms.

I want to get the most out of my travel rewards and so I use these three tricks to help maximize earning potential on my credit cards and increase the chances of successfully redeeming points.

1. Funnel your spending

For a while I had one credit card that I used for groceries and gas, one card that I used for dining and entertainment, one card that I used for travel, and you get the idea…

Dividing up my purchases between multiple rewards cards worked great for redeeming cash back in smaller increments but I wasn’t able to build up a large bank of points that would be useful for booking a flight or hotel stay.

Now I funnel all of my spending onto one travel rewards credit card and use the points to pay for our summer vacation.

2. Take advantage of promotional offers

The rewards card landscape gets more competitive every year and with competition comes some incredible welcome bonuses and promotional offers.

What I look for in a new credit card offer is one that comes with a generous sign-up bonus ($250 or more worth of travel rewards), or an easily attainable early spend bonus (say, spend $500 in the first month and get 25,000 points).

Now most of the top travel rewards cards come with an annual fee between $99 and $150. So I also look for a credit card offer that will waive the annual fee in the first year. That way if I don’t like the card, or I don’t think it will replace my main credit card; I can cancel it before the annual fee comes due.

Watching for the right promotional offers throughout the year can easily add a few hundred dollars to your travel rewards earnings, not to mention other perks like free airport lounge passes, or cheap companion flights.

3. Look for a flexible program to redeem travel rewards

Earning all the points in the world won’t matter if you can’t redeem them how you want and when you want to. Rigid and inflexible travel rewards programs often mean having to deal with flight charts, blackout dates and seat restrictions, not to mention having to book your travel through one particular airline, hotel, or booking company.

Related: So you’re ready to dump Aeroplan. Now what?

A better way is to be able to book your travel anyway you want; whether it’s a room through Airbnb or VRBO, a flight from a discount airline, or a direct long-haul flight at a time that’s convenient.

The best travel rewards programs allows you book and pay for your travel on your own with your credit card and then lets you pay off those charges online with your points. No phone calls, no hassles, just pure flexibility that gives you the opportunity to squeeze every bit of value from your credit card travel rewards.

Final thoughts

While I enjoyed the simplicity of cash back credit rewards programs over the years, I’ve found that travel rewards can be much more lucrative if you know how to maximize your earnings and keep your redemption options as flexible as possible.

Perks like free companion flights, free airport lounge passes, free hotel rooms, and more are all within reach with the right travel rewards program.

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