Earn airline miles through shopping portals this holiday season

It’s a great way to fund next year’s vacation without setting foot on a plane

Lyn Mettler
Personal finance writer
Specializes in writing on travel, family and food

Earn airline miles through shopping portals this holiday season

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If you’re like me, you do the bulk of your shopping around the holidays. 

We are not big on “stuff” in my family, and so come Christmastime, we gift our kids with the majority of the “stuff” they’d need or want for the year. So, a-spending we will go each December.

But on the upside, that spending nets us lots more miles and points – and we prefer to take ours in the form of Southwest points – right at the time when we need it most: to earn the awesome Southwest Companion Pass by accumulating enough points by year’s end.

The Southwest Companion Pass lets one person fly free with you from the time you earn it until the end of the following year, so ours will be good through the end of 2019. It’s a perk that’s key to my strategy of flying my family of four free, and we always just barely scrape in the required 110,000 points to qualify by year’s end.

So, how can you maximize miles-and-points-earning on all those holiday expenditures as we do? I’ve got you covered.

See related: How to make the most of an airline dining program 

The amazing airline shopping portal

Enter the wonder that is the airline shopping portal. Many people think that flying free by redeeming miles and points can only come through collecting these miles and points while flying. Not so!

There are many ways to earn miles and points without ever setting foot on a plane, and the airline shopping portal is one of my favorite techniques. These portals let you earn between 0.5 points and 20 points per dollar simply by starting your online shopping there instead of at a retailer’s website.

All of the major domestic airlines including Southwest, Delta, United, American and Alaska have their own shopping portals and include most major retailer websites, except for Amazon. You’ll find stores like Macy’s, Old Navy, Bed Bath & Beyond, Under Armour, Best Buy, Target, Walmart and many more.

To earn your points, start at the shopping portal, search for the store, review any deals or coupon codes that are offered through the portal and then click through from there to purchase your items. You’ll want to be sure to only use coupon codes posted on the portal; otherwise, you may not get your points. You also need to be sure to click through to the store within a few hours to make sure the cookies that track your purchase are still in place.

Holiday shopping bonuses

Around the holidays, many airline shopping portals offer a special holiday bonus, which grants you additional points based on your total spend on top of the points per dollar you’re already earning. 

The holiday bonuses are typically between 300 and 5,000 additional miles and points based on the total amount you spend in the portal over a specific period of time. 

AIRLINE SHOPPING PORTAL HOLIDAY BONUSES
Airline: Holiday shopping bonus Runs through Holiday bonus details

Alaska Airlines: Earn up to 1,500 bonus miles

Nov. 18

300 bonus miles when you spend at least $150.
750 bonus miles when you spend at least $300.
1,500 bonus miles when you spend at least $500.

American: Earn up to 4,000 bonus AAdvantage miles

Nov. 18

500 bonus miles when you spend at least $150.
2,000 bonus miles when you spend at least $600.
4,000 bonus miles when you spend at least $1,200.

Southwest: Earn up to 3,000 bonus points*
Nov. 18 500 bonus points for spending at least $150.
1,000 bonus points for spending at least $500.
3,000 bonus points for spending at least $1,000 or more.
United: Earn up to 5,000 bonus miles
Nov. 18 500 bonus miles for cumulative qualifying purchases of at least $150.
2,500 bonus miles for cumulative qualifying purchases of at least $750.
5,000 bonus miles for cumulative qualifying purchases of $1,500 or more.

*Note: Holiday bonus points will not count toward earning a Southwest Companion Pass, but the points per dollar earned on your purchases will count toward earning a Companion Pass.

And the Delta Skymile Shopping portal offers extra miles than normal for retailer purchases, but does not seem to offer big bonuses for spending targets.

See related: Third-party travel site mistakes you should avoid

Double dipping

To earn even more points on your holiday shopping through the portal, use a miles-and-points-earning credit card to “double dip.” Be sure to use a card where you need more miles and points. Most cards only earn 1 point per $1 on purchases that aren’t in special categories like travel, dining, groceries or gas, and there’s really no advantage to using one over another

For example, we will likely use our Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card because all purchases on the card qualify for the points we need to earn the Southwest Companion Pass. You could also use an airline card or a more flexible card like Chase Sapphire Reserve or the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, whose points can be transferred to a variety of hotel and airline frequent flyer programs like Southwest, British Airways, IHG and Marriott.

Alternately, for maximum points, you could pay with a card that earns a flat number of points per dollar on all purchases. Some examples are the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, which earns 2 miles per dollar on all purchases, or the Hilton Honors American Express Ascend, which earns 3 points per dollar on purchases other than at Hilton hotels and select 6 points-per-dollar categories such as U.S gas stations, supermarkets and restaurants. 

Helpful tips for using shopping portals

As a busy mom, blogger and entrepreneur, I can barely remember to brush my teeth. Thank goodness most of the shopping portals now offer a handy tool that you can add to your web browser (if you use Google Chrome) to help you remember to use them.

The Google Chrome extension pops up when you’re shopping on a participating retailer’s site and reminds you – hallelujah – and allows you to activate it just as if you had clicked through by visiting the shopping portal. 

It also tells you how many points you have earned recently and lists any special offers at the retailer available through the shopping portal.

I need all the help I can get to remember to earn as many miles and points as possible!

See related: How to score the best deals on last-minute holiday travel

Shopping in store

In case you don’t do all your shopping online these days, United is the only airline that has a handy app that lets you earn miles when shopping in participating stores like Bath and Body Works, American Eagle and Old Navy. It also works for restaurants and even some movie theaters.

Here’s how it works:

  • First, download the MileagePlusX app.
  • Open the app and select the retailer where you are shopping (it will list retailers near you).
  • Next, the app will prompt you to purchase a store gift card for the amount of your purchase.
  • Then, you will give the gift card to the cashier to use to pay for your purchase.
  • You’ll earn up to 5 miles per dollar on your shopping using the app.

Alaska also lets you earn points when shopping in store, but you first need to go to MileagePlanShopping.com/instore, click on any offers you’re interested in and then link the card you will use to pay in store with the offer.

With these tips in hand, go forth and shop. If anyone questions how much you are spending, tell them “Bah, humbug! This is funding our travels next year! Merry Christmas!” 

Happy shopping!


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Updated: 11-16-2018