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How to find the best airline rewards bonus miles deal

Note: It's not the deals that come in your mailbox

By Randy Petersen

Cashing In
Cashing In, Randy Petersen
Randy Petersen is editor and publisher of Inside Flyer, which is considered the leading publication in the world about frequent traveler programs. At CreditCards.com, he writes Cashing In, a weekly feature in which he answers readers' questions about credit cards rewards programs.

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Question for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear Cashing In,
I keep getting direct mail offers from credit card companies offering different amounts of bonus miles if I apply. I'm wondering whether I'm getting the best deal out there, though. How do I know if there isn't a better bonus miles sign-up offer than the ones I get in the mail? -- Helen

Answer for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear Helen,
Repeat after me: Google is my friend.

Now that we got that out of the way, let's look closely at this question. In days in the not-so-distant past, the mantra was that he who held the money (bank card providers) made the rules. However, take an ever-competitive environment, partner it with an ever-depressed economy, stir in the Internet, and you get great conditions for considering whether you have the right credit card offer for bonus airline miles. So, if you are in the market for a new or different travel rewards card, how can you get the best bonus miles offer?

Here's a great example. The standard sign-up bonus for the United Airlines Mileage Plus Visa card is 15,000 bonus miles when you fill out the application for this credit card in "Hemispheres," United's onboard magazine. That same credit card can earn you a 30,000-mile bonus if you were to click and apply via the link that is featured on the United Airlines website.

Now, which of these offers do you think is the best for you? Bingo! The 40,000-mile offer. So, yes, it does pay to do some Internet shopping when signing up or changing a travel rewards credit card. However, many -- but not most -- credit card offers, have rules when potential cardholders sign up for the cards. For example:

  • If you are applying for a special offer through an e-mail or online promotion, you must apply through the special link provided in the solicitation or website to receive the bonus.
  • Customer service representatives cannot enroll you in special Internet offers via the phone. Again, you must apply through the special link provided in the solicitation or website to receive the bonus.

While you can try to talk to a customer service representative over the phone to try to find out the various offers available to new cardholders, the best way to get the best deal is typically to search on the Internet.

The three offers I mentioned above with the United Mileage Plus Visa card were all found via Google searches. Whenever you are thinking of a new travel rewards card, simply turn to Google, and search the name of the card and various numbers representing the bonus you hope to get. Follow the links and learn more about the bonuses that are out there. At the end of the day, click and enroll, and enjoy the new age of knowing you got the best offer available. Besides, applying for a new credit card via a direct mail offer is so yesterday!

See related: Debunking myths about frequent flier programs, United frequent flier rules and fees, Is it time to cash in your frequent flier miles

The Wall Street Journal refers to Randy as "... the most influential frequent flyer in America," while The New York Times tagged him "the world's leading expert on airline frequent flier programs." Randy is editor and publisher of Inside Flyer magazine -- considered the leading publication in the world about frequent traveler programs. He is a regular speaker at business travel seminars and conferences around the world; and is often called upon by the industry itself for his comments and suggestions about the future of frequent traveler programs.

Send your question to Randy.

Published: March 5, 2009


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Updated: 07-22-2014

National Average 15.03%
Low Interest 10.37%
Balance Transfer 12.64%
Business 12.80%
Student 13.27%
Cash Back 14.91%
Reward 15.00%
Airline 15.46%
Bad Credit 22.73%
Instant Approval 28.00%

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