6 ways to earn airline miles, without an airline card
By Susan Johnston Taylor
April 22, 2016
Craving a summer getaway, but you’re a few miles short of an awards ticket?
Truly dedicated mileage junkies may have a wallet full of airline credit cards, but you don’t have to sign up for a new credit card or fly around the world to accumulate miles. If you open frequent flier accounts with airlines, you can use the cards you already have to score miles.
Here are six ways to add airline miles on purchases you’d make anyway. And the miles you earn through these programs are on top of any credit card rewards you’re already getting.
1. Shopping portals. Most major airlines have online shopping portals where you can earn miles when you shop with major retailers by clicking through the shopping portal first. “Instead of going to Nordstrom.com, you’d go to the American Airlines shopping portal,” says Daraius Dubash, founder of the blog MillionMileSecrets.com. Then click through to the retailer’s site, shop and check out as you normally do. In some cases, shopping portals list limited-time discounts or free shipping offers for certain retailers, which is an added incentive to use the portals. Sign up for the portals’ emails to learn about the latest earning opportunities.
“For specific shopping holidays like Memorial Day or Labor Day, they’ll offer up to 16 or 32 times the points,” says Stephanie Zito, a partner in the Travel Hacking Cartel and the author of “Upgrade Unlocked: the Unconventional Guide to Luxury Travel on a Budget.” Zito says she knows someone who bought all the materials for his bathroom remodel from HomeDepot.com using an airline shopping portal, earning thousands of extra miles in the process.
“If you’re going to buy a pair of shoes from Nordstrom.com, that’s fine, but don’t do it just to earn the miles.”
— Daraius Dubash,
2. Dining programs. Most major airlines also have dining programs in which you register your credit or debit cards once and earn miles every time you use that card at a participating restaurant. The neat thing about dining programs and other card-linked offers is that, unlike shopping portals, you don’t have to take an extra step each time you use them. “Dining programs are a really easy way to earn miles and be surprised because you aren’t even thinking about it,” Zito says.
Many airline dining programs offer sign-up bonuses of several thousand miles if you dine within 30 days of joining and spend a minimum amount of money. If you’re really keen on this strategy, you could sign up for several different dining airline programs, register your cards and earn multiple bonuses. However, you can’t earn miles with the same card for the same transaction in multiple dining programs.
Bonus: You can also register your credit or debit cards through Thanks Again, a card-linked rewards program that lets you earn airline miles for parking, shopping or dining at airports and at some local eateries and attractions.
3. Hotel programs. Websites such as RocketMiles.com and PointsHound.com let you earn airline miles on hotel bookings when using a non-airline affiliated card, which is especially useful for smaller boutique hotels that don’t have their own rewards programs. However, for larger hotel brands with a rewards program, you may not get your elite hotel benefits or hotel points if you don’t book directly through the hotel’s website. Instead of using RocketMiles or PointsHound herself (since she values her hotel status with certain brands), Zito earns points by referring friends to the site. “If you send it to a friend, you get anywhere between 250-1,000 points for the referral,” she says. “I often do that if I’m traveling with someone.”
If you don’t stay in hotels often enough that you care about earning hotel points, some hotel brands, such as Best Western and Marriott will let you earn miles with your chosen airline rather than earning points for hotel stays. Or if you’ve amassed a large cache of hotel points you don’t plan to use, consider transferring them to your chosen airline (but pay attention to the transfer rate and make sure you’re not losing value in the process).
“A lot of people use Marriott points and transfer them to Southwest so they can get the Companion Pass,” Dubash says. “Designate one person as your companion and they can fly with you” for free. Using just Southwest miles, you’d need 100 one-way qualifying flights or 110,000 qualifying points in a calendar year to get the a Companion Pass, but Marriott points accumulated over several years and transferred once to Southwest count toward that calendar year.
4. Special cross-promotions. Sign up for email updates from airlines and keep an eye out for special promotions such as bonus miles on flower purchases around Valentine’s Day or online tax software in the spring. “It can be through the shopping portals, but oftentimes they’ll email you separately,” Dubash says. All kinds of other transactions — such as setting up an investment account with a specific company, taking out a mortgage from a specific mortgage lender, signing up for a newspaper subscription or getting satellite television — may also qualify you for extra airline miles when you follow the airline’s instructions. Note: You generally can’t get airline miles credited to your account after the transaction when you realize you could have received miles.
“Dining programs are a really easy way to earn miles and be surprised because you aren’t even thinking about it.”
— Stephanie Zito,
Travel Hacking Cartel
5. Event tickets. Website ScoreBig.com lets you name your price on tickets to sporting events, concerts, Broadway shows and more. The website has partnered with several airlines so that you can earn miles on your purchases, and like the dining programs, bonuses of 500-1,000 miles (depending on your chosen airline) are available on your first purchase for a limited time. Check your airline’s frequent flier bonus mile offers for details.
6. Online surveys. Many airlines have programs in which you can earn miles for completing online surveys. E-miles.com and E-Rewards are two examples. In some cases, you can earn bonuses just for signing up and completing a survey or two. Dubash, though, says he finds the online surveys too time-consuming to justify the small number of miles earned. You might feel differently if you don’t mind clicking through lots of survey questions during downtime.
One word of warning about all these ways to gain extra airline miles: Don’t use them to justify unnecessary spending. “If you’re going to buy a pair of shoes from Nordstrom.com, that’s fine, but don’t do it just to earn the miles,” Dubash says.
Zito suggests that consumers first look at their spending and “use that as a baseline for setting a strategy.” And once you have chosen a strategy, she recommends you “set it and forget it.” For instance, if you dine out regularly, then you might focus your efforts on dining programs rather than online shopping and vice versa.
Using these six strategies may not earn you enough miles for a trip around the world, but it can help supplement the miles you have and get you closer to an airlines awards ticket.
Ways to rack up airline miles
|Alaska||Mileage Plan Shopping||Mileage Plan Dining||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|American||AAdvantage eShopping||AAdvantage Dining||Yes||Yes||No|
|Delta||SkyMiles Shopping||SkyMiles Dining||No||No||No|
|Southwest||Rapid Rewards Shopping||Rapid Rewards Dining||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|United||MileagePlus Shopping||MileagePlus Dining||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Virgin||Elevate Fly Store||Elevate Dining||Yes||Yes||Yes|