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Not everyone can travel frequently enough to rack up healthy balances in their frequent flyer accounts. Luckily, though, there are lots of other ways to earn miles — and TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Nick Ewen will walk you through them below.
One of the most common refrains I hear from friends and family members hesitant to get into the points and miles hobby is something like this: “Oh, I don’t travel nearly as much as you, so I could never earn enough points or miles to do anything worthwhile with them.” This actually prevents them from even signing up for hotel and airline loyalty programs! It’s no surprise, then, that this earned the top spot in my list of 7 points and miles mistakes.
It’s true that traveling for business can be a big boost to your account balances, but last November I took a job that has me traveling just a handful of times every year. Even without extensive travel for work, I still manage to rack up hundreds of thousands of miles every year, as does my wife. I recently kicked off a new series by examining the myriad ways to earn American miles without actually hitting the road, and today I’ll continue with a detailed look at the United MileagePlus program.
The first (and most lucrative) way to earn MileagePlus miles without flying is through credit cards. United currently has four credit cards accepting applications, and two of them offer a relatively large pop of miles as a sign-up bonus:
- United MileagePlus Explorer Card: Earn 30,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open
- United MileagePlus Explorer Business Card: Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open
The other two (the United MileagePlus Club Card and the United MileagePlus Club Business Card) don’t currently offer a sign-up bonus of miles, but you will get a $100 statement credit after your first purchase, and you do earn 1.5 miles per dollar spent on all purchases.
All these cards offer a variety of benefits beyond the sign-up bonuses, such as 2 miles per dollar spent on United purchases, waived foreign transaction fees and at least one free checked bag. Even the standard earning rate of 1-1.5 mile(s) per dollar spent can be relatively lucrative. In TPG’s most recent valuations, he pegs United miles at 1.5 cents apiece, so getting a return of 1.5%-2.25% on every purchase you make is pretty solid.
For more information on these credit cards, check out the following posts:
- Unlocking United Award Availability with MileagePlus Cards
- 8 Reasons to Get the United MileagePlus Explorer Card
- What Are the Benefits of Getting the United MileagePlus Club Card?
In addition to these United-specific cards, the MileagePlus program is also a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, giving you the opportunity to convert points earned on cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card (a TPG favorite) to United miles.
Online Shopping Portals
Another easy way to earn United miles without flying is through the MileagePlus Shopping site. Airline shopping portals allow you to earn miles with a specific carrier when you make online purchases with hundreds of retailers. These miles are in addition to the points or miles you’d earn on the credit card for making the purchase, and you can use any card you want for the transaction. You’ll also want to keep your eyes peeled for specials like the All Day Recess promotion from this past summer.
For example, at the time of writing, Staples was offering 1 mile per dollar spent through the MileagePlus Shopping site:
By clicking the Shop Now link and completing a purchase, I’d earn 1 MileagePlus mile per dollar spent. Of course, I love using my Ink Plus Business Card for purchases at office supply stores to take advantage of the 5x Ultimate Rewards points it offers, so if I spend a total of $100, I’d earn the following:
- 500 Ultimate Rewards points (valued at $10.50)
- 100 AAdvantage miles (valued at $1.50)
I’ve thus boosted my overall return by 1.5% to a total of 12%, just by clicking through the shopping portal!
Keep in mind that there are several restrictions for earning miles through these portals. You typically can’t use coupon codes that aren’t listed on MileagePlus shopping, and your shopping cart must be empty before accessing the retailer’s site. In addition, you generally can’t earn bonus miles for purchasing gift cards through the portal. However, I’ve been able to earn bonus miles with all of these activities in the past, so you never know!
In addition to the shopping portal, you can use the United MileagePlus X app to earn even more bonus miles when shopping in a brick-and-mortar store. When you shop at participating merchants (including Gap, Lowe’s and Nike), you can earn 2-4 extra miles on purchases through the app. Just sign in with your MileagePlus account information and find participating stores to bump up your earnings.
Another easy way to earn bonus United miles is by signing up for the MileagePlus Dining Program. This site partners with more than 11,000 restaurants, bars and clubs and allows you to earn United miles every time you dine at one of these locations. All you have to do is set up an account, add your credit card(s) and then make a purchase with a registered credit card at a participating establishment.
The standard earning rate is 1 mile per dollar spent, but if you subscribe to emails from the site, that jumps to 3 miles per dollar. Once you’ve dined 12 times in a year, you’ll earn 5 miles per dollar spent. I occasionally get emails out of the blue notifying me that I earned miles at a new restaurant that I didn’t even know was on the site.
Just as with the AAdvantage eShopping site, you can use any credit card to pay for the actual bill, and these miles would be in addition to the rewards you earn on the card. I personally love to use my Chase Sapphire Preferred Card when dining out, and it’s a TPG favorite as well. Earning 2x Ultimate Rewards points plus a bunch of miles is a win in my book.
The program is currently offering a bonus of 1,000 miles to new members if they spend $30 and complete an online review within the first 30 days of membership. New members can then earn up to 5,000 additional miles if they spend even more within the first 60 days (they’ll only earn one of these amounts based on the total spending after earning the initial 1,000 bonus miles):
- Spend an additional $100 to earn an extra 1,000 miles
- Spend an additional $250 to earn an extra 2,500 miles
- Spend an additional $500 to earn an extra 5,000 miles
If you haven’t signed up, now is a great time to do so with these bonuses. Unlike with shopping portals, you can utilize other discounts and bonuses at these restaurants, so be sure to check out my post on quadruple-dipping at restaurants for more information.
If earning miles for doing business with financial partners is more of your cup of tea, the MileagePlus program has you covered. There are several partners that allow you to earn United miles:
- Fidelity: Earn up to 50,000 miles for opening and funding a non-retirement brokerage account (TPG recently earned 50,000 AAdvantage miles through a similar offer but was denied United miles).
- Lifelock: Earn 4,000 award miles when you enroll with Lifelock Ultimate Plus for one year plus an additional 1,500 bonus miles each year for your second and third years.
- Prosper: Earn 1 mile for every dollar you borrow (up to 35,000 miles) on a personal loan through Prosper.
Going through online shopping portals is one way to earn bonus MileagePlus miles with retailers, and another is by taking advantage of various partners that offer bonus miles for purchases. Here’s a sample of how you can earn additional miles with these retailers:
- Flowers: United partners with FTD and is currently offering 25 miles for every dollar you spend, giving you a rewarding way to make Valentine’s Day purchases (or to get out of the doghouse!).
- Wine: Another United partner is Vinesse, which allows you to earn 5,000 miles on your first shipment of wine from the company’s American Cellars Wine Club (plus 5 miles per dollar spent on all future wines).
Making purchases online and earning United miles isn’t limited to the MileagePlus Shopping site and the retailers mentioned above. You can also boost your account balance while enjoying a variety of entertainment options:
- Broadway: You can earn MileagePlus miles for Broadway tickets through the Audience Rewards program.
- DIRECTV: New customers can earn 25,000 award miles.
- ScoreBig: Earn United miles for purchasing tickets to sporting events, concerts or theater performances (including 1,000 bonus miles on your first purchase).
United also has a wide variety of transportation partners, including numerous rental car companies and airport transfer providers. Some notable ways to earn miles include:
- Hertz: Earn at least 500 miles per rental plus up to 40% off, though you can earn even more miles by holding a MileagePlus Chase credit card or United Premier status.
- Dollar and Thrifty: Earn 50 miles per rental day.
- SuperShuttle: Earn 50 miles for each one-way trip you book to or from the airport.
- Amtrak: Earn at least 250 United miles when you travel to specific destinations from Newark Liberty International Airport or on certain Acela Express trains to or from New York’s Penn Stations.
Remember that you can pay for these options with any credit card, including those that offer primary rental car coverage.
You can also earn bonus United miles when you’re planning your next vacation. There are a couple of ways to do this. The first is by booking a combination of flight, hotel and/or car reservations through United Vacations. In addition to earning the miles you normally would on flights and gaining access to discounted, unpublished rates, you can also earn additional bonus miles for flying first or business class or take advantage of special offers, such as 2,500 bonus miles to Jamaica through October 8.
If your vacation plans take you out to sea, consider booking a cruise through United Cruises. You can currently earn up to 35,000 United miles for booking a balcony or suite stateroom on a variety of cruises. You’ll also see exclusive offers like upgrades, included drinks or special discounts on certain cruise lines.
One final way to earn bonus miles is through charitable donations. Unfortunately, United currently partners with just one organization (National Foundation for Cancer Research), which offers you 10 miles for every dollar you donate (with a minimum donation of $25). However, the charity is currently offering a bonus of up to 35% when you donate at least $100 through October 15.
As you can see, there are plenty of ways to boost your MileagePlus account balance without even setting foot on a United plane. You don’t need to be traveling every week — or even every month — to take advantage of valuable rewards. You just need the knowledge to make the most of every mileage earning opportunity!
What are your favorite ways to earn United miles without flying?
United MileagePlus® Explorer Card
|Intro APR||Regular APR||Annual Fee||Foreign Transaction Fee||Credit Rating|
|N/A||16.24%-23.24% Variable||$0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95||0%||Excellent Credit|