5 ways to earn airline miles – without an airline rewards card

Susan Johnston Taylor
Personal Finance Writer
Writes about credit card technology and savvy card use

5 ways to score airline miles without an airline card

Craving a romantic 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 (often with annual fees), 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-flyer accounts with the airlines, you can use the cards you already have to score miles.

Here are five ways to accrue airline miles on purchases you’d make anyway. And the miles you earn through these programs are stacked on top of 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. Then click through to the retailer’s site, shop and check out as you normally do.

“The shopping portals offer spending bonuses – for example, spend $150, get 1,500 bonus miles,” says Debra Schroeder, founder of Traveling Well For Less blog. “These bonuses are in addition the points you receive for purchases.”

Bonus tip: Sign up for the portals’ emails to learn about the latest earning opportunities.

HOW TO RACK UP AIRLINE MILES
WHEN YOU SHOP AND DINE
Airline Shopping portal Dining program
Alaska Mileage Plan Shopping Mileage Plan Dining
American AAdvantage eShopping mall AAdvantage Dining
Delta SkyMiles Shopping SkyMiles Dining
JetBlue ShopTrue TrueBlue Dining
United MileagePlus Shopping MileagePlus Dining
Southwest Rapid Rewards Shopping Rapid Rewards Dining

“For specific shopping holidays such as 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.

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. “It’s 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. However, you can’t earn miles with the same card for the same transaction in multiple dining programs.

Bonus tip: You also can 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.

HOW TO RACK UP AIRLINE MILES
WHEN YOU SHOP AND DINE
Airline Shopping portal Dining program
Alaska Mileage Plan Shopping Mileage Plan Dining
American AAdvantage eShopping mall AAdvantage Dining
Delta SkyMiles Shopping SkyMiles Dining
JetBlue ShopTrue TrueBlue Dining
United MileagePlus Shopping MileagePlus Dining
Southwest Rapid Rewards Shopping Rapid Rewards Dining

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 sites. “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.

“Generally, transferring hotel points to airline miles isn’t the best use of hotel points with the exception of transferring Starwood points,” Schroeder says.

“You can transfer Starwood points to most airlines at a 1:1 ratio. For every 20,000 Starwood points transferred, you get an additional 5,000-point bonus. Therefore, transferring 20,000 Starwood points gets you 25,000 miles.”

Note: Southwest Airlines used to allow travelers to transfer hotel points to earn the Southwest Companion Pass, but the airline closed off that option earlier in 2017.

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.

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.

5. 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.

Some may find 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 your downtime.

One word of warning about all these ways to gain extra airline miles: Don’t use them to justify unnecessary spending. “Ask yourself, ‘if I wasn’t earning miles and points or some other benefit, would I still spend the money?’” Schroeder says. “If your answer is no, then put the card away.”

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 five 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 airline awards ticket for your romantic getaway.

See related: 5 questions to ask before applying for a rewards cardOptions abound for redeeming reward points, 4 savvy rewards card lessons from America's teachers


Join the discussion
We encourage an active and insightful conversation among our users. Please help us keep our community civil and respectful. For your safety, do not disclose confidential or personal information such as bank account numbers or social security numbers. Anything you post may be disclosed, published, transmitted or reused.

If you are commenting using a Facebook account, your profile information may be displayed with your comment depending on your privacy settings. By leaving the 'Post to Facebook' box selected, your comment will be published to your Facebook profile in addition to the space below.

The editorial content on CreditCards.com is not sponsored by any bank or credit card issuer. The journalists in the editorial department are separate from the company's business operations. The comments posted below are not provided, reviewed or approved by any company mentioned in our editorial content. Additionally, any companies mentioned in the content do not assume responsibility to ensure that all posts and/or questions are answered.




Weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, advice, articles and tips delivered to your inbox. It's FREE.


Updated: 11-22-2017