Chase Bank has an "Edge Ski Visa" (used to be FirstUSA, then BankOne, then Chase bought them) that earns points towards $10 discount coupons for American Skiing Company. No fee, and if you pay it off each month you're not paying any interest. When I used to ski Sunday River frequently, I made a lot of use of these coupons - they are good for lift tickets and passes, lodging packages, or even in the cafeteria. However the coupons are only good at ASC resorts (though of course the card can be used anywhere that takes Visa.)
Several months ago I wrote an article about maximizing your frequent flyer miles:http://www.finetuning.com/articles/8...-programs.html
One of the points I make in that article is that you will never get a truly free ticket from an airline-affiliated credit card. If you're not regularly flying that airline and its partners, and using other partners (hotels, car rentals, etc.) then by the time you earn enough miles for the airline's lowest limited reward - 25,000 frequent flyer miles, you've either spent one heck of a lot in one year, or you've probably paid three or four years' worth of $85 card fees. So your ticket cost you about what you could have bought it for.
Airline-affiliated cards make lots of sense, if you use them to "top off" your other activity with that airline. So they're not at all any kind of a scam. However they don't make sense for people who are not at least a relatively frequent traveler anyway (as in at least a couple of paid tickets on that airline each year).
It sounds like you haven't really read the rules of the airline's frequent flyer program, and are under the common misconception that you only need enough "Miles" (as in the frequent flyer "points" or "currency") as the actual mileage of the flight you want to take. That has never been the case with any airline's program, and the reward levels are quite clearly listed in the reward charts at each airline's site and in the material they mail to you. You should think of the "miles" as just some kind of arbitrary "points". You earn one of these points for each mile you fly, plus from various other activities. At minimum (for almost all US-based airlines) you need 25,000 of these "points" for a restricted-availabilty domestic/Canada trip. You need 35,000 of them usually for Hawaii or the Caribbean, and you need 50,000 of them for Europe or South America.
These are the "restricted-availability" tickets - on any given flight there may be zero to a small handful of seats made available at this reward level. Most airlines also have a "Standard" or "EAAsypass" (American's term) or "SkyChoice" (Delta) or similar reward level for double the number of points. If you are willing to spend 50,000 of your earned "points" they will give you a coach seat on any domestic/Canada flight that they have any empty seat to sell. For periods like around the holidays, or peak travel times to Europe, there's a very good chance that you've got to use this higher level of reward points.
As I note in the linked article, once you get a miles-earning credit card, a big part of the game is to use it for everything - everything, that is, that you can pay off each month, so you don't run up interest on that rewards card. Pay your utilities bill on it, buy all your groceries and gas with it, put all your everyday spending that would have been in cash on it. Then write one check per month to pay that off in full, with the money you did not take out of your checking account at the ATM during the month.