How to Earn Airline Miles Without Flying
These four strategies will help you accumulate points toward free flights.
If you like to travel but the cost of flying is keeping you grounded, you should be taking advantage of credit card rewards programs that let you rack up points for free flights. You don’t even have to hop on a plane to earn miles. In fact, it’s faster to earn points on the ground than in the air with a rewards card if you aren’t a frequent flyer, says Brian Karimzad, director of MileCards.com, a site for comparing travel rewards cards.
Here are four ways you can quickly earn points so you can start flying for free:
Take advantage of sign-up offers. Most travel and airline-branded rewards cards typically offer 30,000 bonus miles when you open a new account and spend anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 within three months. However, some card issuers offer 50,000 to 100,000 bonus miles, says Torsten Jacobi, founder of Mighty Travels, a site that helps travelers maximize points. These offers tend to be available for only a limited time – sometimes just a couple of days. But sites such as Mighty Travels, The Points Guy and One Mile at a Time feature these offers so you don’t have to track them down yourself, he says.
If you want to sign up for more than one card in a year to quickly rack up miles, Karimzad recommends looking for cards with complimentary points programs. For example, if you prefer flying on United Airlines, you could earn bonus miles from both the United MileagePlus Explorer Card and the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, which allows cardholders to transfer points to the United MileagePlus frequent-flyer program. The bonuses from both cards can net you more than 70,000 miles -- enough for a roundtrip flight to Europe, he says.
Use rewards cards for everyday purchases. You can earn at least one mile or point per dollar you spend with most travel rewards cards and airline-branded credit cards. Many cards offer extra points for purchase categories such as dining or groceries, Karimzad says. If you use a rewards card to make everyday purchases (and pay off your balance each month to avoid going into debt and racking up interest), you could earn enough points for at least one or more free flights per year. The CardFinder tool at MileCards.com can help you see which card will earn you the most points based on your spending habits and travel goals. Some of the better ones can earn a typical family $400 or more a year in travel rewards, Karimzad says.
Shop online. You can enroll in an airline’s frequent-flyer program and earn miles by making purchases through its online shopping portal. The major airlines partner with hundreds on online retailers and give you a certain number of points or miles for each dollar you spend at those retailers. You usually can access these portals (sometimes called “malls” by the airlines) by clicking on the link on an airline’s homepage to its frequent-flyer program. There are no fees for these programs, and the retailers’ prices and products should be the same as if you went to their sites directly.
Earn miles for hotel stays. Most airlines with frequent-flyer programs partner with hotels to offer members the opportunity to earn points by booking stays with those partners. However, the point-earning potential isn’t very big with these partnerships, Karimzad says. But you can earn a lot of miles (5,000 or more per night) by booking hotel rooms through PointsHound or Rocketmiles, which get a commission from the hotels and pass on some of the earnings in the form of airline miles. They don’t offer as many hotel options as big booking sites such as Hotels.com or Priceline.com, but rates are similar.