EARN MILES EVEN WHEN YOU ARE NOT FLYING
Learn to Easily Rack Up Miles for Free Flights
You may be one of those people who travel for work frequently, and can earn frequent flier miles for those flights, which is great! For most of us, though, earning miles via flights alone can be a challenge. The resourceful loyalty traveler can find many other ways to earn miles to supplement their flights. Armed with a little research and some diligence, you'll find your miles stacking up faster than you thought possible.
Step 1: Know Your Program
There are tons of blogs, websites, forums, and social media pages dedicated to travel hacking and loyalty travel. These are great resources for hearing about fare sales, special offers, and learning all sorts of tricks for discounted travel. However, the best place to find the most up-to-date ways to earn miles from your chosen loyalty program is still from the airline directly. Most airline websites have sections dedicated to their loyalty programs, and these sections are where you are most likely to find information on all the ways you can earn miles.
Check out AA, DL, UA, or websites for information on ways to earn miles, and you might be surprised. What if you could earn miles for shopping that you were planning on doing anyway? How about a side of miles with your dinner out? What if you could get miles for your electric bill, purchase of a new home, or security system? Most people are aware that you can earn miles for flying, and through airline-affiliated credit cards, but those tactics just scratch the surface. So check out your airline of choice's website for details on all the ways you can earn miles and start racking up miles towards that dream trip.
Step 2: Financial Offers
If your credit is in good shape, and you can use credit responsibly (you know if credit cards don't work well for you), you should consider getting an airline credit card, a hotel-affiliated credit card, or both. Before you sign up, though, do a quick web search for bonus offers related to the credit cards affiliated with your airline of choice. You would hate to get a 20k mile bonus for signing up, only to find that a web search shows that the airline typically offers a 50k mile bonus each spring. Do your homework before you pull the trigger.
The second consideration in signing up for airline credit cards is timing for bonus offers. Most credit cards have a minimum spending requirement within a set time period after signing up to get the bonus. For example, the card may offer 30k miles if you spend $2k within the first 90 days of having the card. Now, you may be saying that you don't want to spend $2k, or would never put that much on a credit card. Think about the timing of your application, though. Is tuition for you or your child coming up in a few months? What about your homeowners' association fees? Can you pre-pay your insurance for the year? Maybe you would be better off paying for those braces with your card and letting your Flex or Health Spending Account pay you back via check. You may be horrified at the idea of spending a few thousand dollars in a short period of time, but if you look at things you pay every month, you may be closer to that number than you realize. Why not let that everyday spending get you closer to your travel goals?
In addition to credit card offers, many airlines partner with banks to offer miles for a variety of financial products from investment accounts to simple checking or savings accounts. My favorite offers are those that allow you to keep earning new miles month after month. I have been lucky enough to catch offers for checking accounts that included a 50k mile bonus, so it pays to check for new offers regularly.
Step 3: Dining Miles
Most airlines offer a dining miles program, and many of them are through the same vendor, so the interfaces look very similar. The programs are easy to follow. Simply register your credit and debit cards through the site, and when you dine at participating restaurants, you automatically earn miles. You can earn more miles the more often you dine, and there are often bonuses and special offers. If you registered a miles-earning card, the miles will add up even faster when using that card since you're double-dipping (miles from the card issuer, and miles from the dining program).
If you have trepidation about registering your credit or debit cards, I can only speak from my own experience. I have been using dining miles programs since the 1990s, and have not had any problems with my information being compromised by one of these programs.
Step 4: Shift Your Shopping with a Miles Mindset
Perhaps my favorite way to earn miles without flying is by using the mileage shopping portal. Mileage shopping portals are a tactic I have used for years. In fact, Travel Tommy has frequently lamented the number of packages we receive on our doorstep each day, and even used to ask why I buy everything online. Then we went to England and Scotland, and spent $400, all-in, for the two of us, including taxes, fees, and the inter European flights we paid for. Now he is at least as much of a miles hoarder as I am, if not more so. He is quick to share anecdotes about our discounted and free flights thanks to shopping online instead of in stores.rn Unlike the dining miles tactic, the shopping portal tactic requires you to actively visit the portal each time you shop to earn miles. However, once you get the hang of it, it's really easy to spend a minute or less navigating to the portal, then your favorite site to rack up the miles.
To find out about the shopping miles program of your chosen airline, look in the earn miles section of the airline website. You may need to visit the earn miles through partners section to navigate to the shopping portal. Once you click on the shopping portal, sign up. You may need to sign up for the shopping site separately from the frequent flier program on the airline's main page, but you will also need to enter your loyalty plan number.
Once you've signed up, simply navigate to this portal each time you shop, and click on the links from the site to visit your favorite stores. Read any offer details that are listed. There are sometimes bonus offers, coupons, or restrictions. For example, some stores only let you use the coupon codes found on the mileage shopping portal website to be eligible for miles, so coupon codes you may have pulled from elsewhere on the web might negate your mileage earning.
As an example, my business wardrobe primarily comes from Ann Taylor, J Crew, Ralph Lauren, and LL Bean. I have shopped at these stores for a long time, and know my sizes from these companies. I navigate to the AA Shopping portal and do a quick search for Ann Taylor. The link for that store comes up, along with a few offers or discount codes I can use. I earn 2 miles per dollar by visiting this portal first, so the $150 I would spend on new business clothes is now earning me 300 miles in addition to any mileage offers on the credit card I use to make the purchase. There are sometimes bonus offers as well. As I write this article, there is an offer to earn 500 bonus miles when you spend $150, and 1000 bonus miles when you spend $300 with any of the shopping portal partners within the next 10 days. So my $150 purchase earns 300 miles from using the portal, 500 bonus miles for the portal bonus offer, plus the miles I earn from my credit card.
In less than two minutes, I earned 800 miles.
Think about that. How many times have you shopped online in the past year? How much have you spent? I'll give you a minute to let that sink in.
So if I made this exact same purchase with the same offers 100 times, that would be enough miles for two, round-trip, shoulder season tickets to Europe.
Two miles per dollar is on the low end of offers, though, and many sites have even more generous earning. I have gotten huge bonuses purchasing holiday gifts. For example, Magazines.com often has offers of 10, 15, or 20 miles per dollar. FTD often has 25 miles per dollar offer. The craziest offer I have ever seen was earlier this year when Magazines.com offered 90 miles per dollar, so I jumped all over that deal. Visit the portal often to see what specials may be on offer that you can take advantage of.
Jet.com now offers 1 mile per dollar. That's not a huge amount of miles, but I like their fast, free shipping with minimum purchase, and the increasing discounts the more you buy. Since Jet.com has joined AA's shopping portal, all our household items now come from their site. If I can earn 1 mile per dollar, or more when there is a bonus, on things like toilet paper, dog biscuits and shampoo that I would buy anyway, why wouldn't I?
In addition to searching by store, most shopping sites also let you search by item. If I want to buy a new iPad Air, I can easily determine if Apple, Best Buy, Target or someone else is offering the most lucrative miles per dollar offer, while simultaneously comparing prices and special offers. If there is a $10 difference between the site that offers 1 mile per dollar and the site that offers 6 miles per dollar, I can do the math and decide which provides the best value.
Bonus Hack: Shopping Portal Double Dipping
Most stores in the mileage portal typically do not allow miles to be earned on gift cards. Notice I said most, and typically. Some hackers have had great success using mileage portals to buy gift cards from office supply stores when they have miles on offer. However, gift card discounters and resellers are often available on the shopping portals. I like Raise.com, which typically offers 1-2 miles per dollar for purchases, and offers good discounts on gift cards with many online use options.
Here's the hack: I can buy an online gift card through Raise.com for 1 mile per dollar, receive it instantly, then go right back to the portal and shop at that merchant, with the gift card, and earn miles from the merchant as well. For example, I use this hack for Sephora pretty often. Sephora usually offers 4 miles per dollar. Raise usually has lots of Sephora online gift cards available. So I can log in, buy a gift card through the portal from Raise, at a discount, and get one mile per dollar. As soon as I receive the electronic gift card via email, I can log back into the portal, visit Sephora, and spend my gift card while earning the 4 miles per dollar. If I buy a $100 gift card for $80, I earn 80 miles from Raise, and 100 from Sephora (assuming I spend the entire card). I get a discount and even more miles. Double-dip win!
Step 5: Sign Up for Other Service Offers
The shopping portals and other mileage offers from the earn miles section of your favorite airline's website can be ripe with offers for big mileage bonuses. Depending on where you live, some utility providers offer miles for each month of service. Real estate services and mortgage brokers can offer large bonuses. I've seen bonuses for refinancing your student loans, checking your credit, subscribing to newspapers, and even donating to charities.
Step 6: Check Before You Spend
Sometimes I need to purchase from a particular store whether or not miles are available. In these cases, I make my first stop Ev'Reward. This brilliant website outlines the offers for miles, points, and cash back based on the store you're searching for. Nerdwallet and other websites have similar search functions, but Ev'Reward is my personal favorite. Be aware, however, that as aggregator sites, they do their best to provide current information, but you should always verify mileage eligibility through the loyalty program site directly. If your favorite airline does not offer miles at the store from which you need to purchase, you may be able to get hotel points or cash back instead. In any case, don't leave freebies on the table - check for offers before you click that purchase button.
Step 7: Bonus Miles When You Fly
Many airlines allow you to purchase additional miles when you fly. You will frequently find these offers at check-in when you are flying. A typicall offer may be for double the number of miles you are flying for a fixed dollar amount. If you are close to a mileage goal, it may be worth exploring these offers. However, unless you need a quick hit of miles to reach a specific goal, these are typically the same type of prices that you could get by simply buying miles from the airline directly without flying.
A Final Word on Shopping Portals
Often when I tell people about shopping portals, their response is, "Oh, like eBates? I use eBates. I earned $96 last year. I love it!"
For many people, the real dollars associated with rebate portals are easy to understand, and they like getting a check in their hand to represent their savings. However, travel loyalty points almost always represent a better value. I try to earn miles at a rate of less than 3¢ per mile, and the lower the cost per mile, the better. This assumes I am simply trying to accrue miles, and not getting miles for something I would do anyway. However, if you use a rebate portal today, I would challenge ou to look at the amount you spent last year and the dollar amount of rebates you earned. Run that spending amount through the shopping portal of your airline of choice. Would you have been able to buy a plane ticket with a dollar amount value higher than your rebate? This is a good way to choose whether to earn miles or rebate dollars. If you earned $128 in rebates, but you could have earned 25k miles, those miles may have purchased a $400 ticket. It's really a matter of personal priorities and choice.