10 ways you could be earning airline miles other than credit cards
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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with new information.
Credit card sign-up bonuses are one of the quickest ways to earn free flights. But in recent years, banks have taken steps to reduce credit card churning — the American Express once-in-a-lifetime bonus policy and Chase’s 5/24 rule are prime examples. Too many credit cards can be a red flag for lenders, and some also tend to shy away from applicants with credit limits larger than their incomes.
Fortunately, credit cards are not the only method of accumulating points and miles. Aside from building up your balance by flying, here are 10 easy ways to grow your airline mileage stash without credit card applications.
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1. Online shopping portals
Many airlines, along with banks and hotel programs, have online shopping portals, with anywhere from dozens to hundreds of participating merchants. Some popular options include Shop Through Chase, Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Shopping and American Airlines AAdvantage eShopping. Purchases are typically rewarded with several extra points or miles per dollar on top of your regular credit card rewards. Certain items — such as a satellite dish or mobile phone service — may earn you a fixed reward.
Here are some tips:
- Always check an online portal first
- Shop around. The bonus points you can receive per dollar spent can vary by portal
- To save time, use a shopping portal aggregator such as Evreward or Cashback Monitor. These sites show you the bonus points by retailer, allowing you to easily compare which airline, hotel or cash-back portal has the highest bonus at the time
- During the period leading up to major gifting holidays such as Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day, many portals run lucrative bonus deals
Also, if you’re physically at a store, you can utilize United’s MileagePlus X app, which lets you collect additional miles on in-person purchases at several merchants. The app can be used when shopping online as well.
2. Dining programs
Many airlines offer extra points or miles through their dining programs, and they’re a great way to double-dip. All you need to do is sign up for a program, register your credit cards and dine in or order takeout from a participating restaurant. I like to “set it and forget it.” I don’t actively seek out participating restaurants, so it’s always a nice surprise if I happen to eat at one and get bonus points for it. Airline dining programs include:
- American Airlines AAdvantage Dining
- Delta SkyMiles Dining
- United MileagePlus Dining
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Dining
- Alaska MileagePlan Dining
- Spirit Free Spirit Dining
3. Checking and savings accounts
If you collect American AAdvantage miles or Citi ThankYou points, you can open the following accounts to increase your stash:
With a savings account at Bask Bank, you can earn 1 AAdvantage mile, in lieu of interest, for every dollar you save annually. Miles accrue daily and are awarded monthly based on your average monthly balance. Example: If you maintain an average balance of $60,000 over the course of a year, you will earn 60,000 miles.
Citibank frequently has either targeted or public offers to earn AAdvantage miles or ThankYou points for opening a checking or savings account. Offers and requirements may vary by person and/or location. For a checking account, you’ll typically need to deposit the required sum and keep it in the account for a set number of days (usually in the 60-to-90-day range), after which you receive 40,000 or more miles/points posted to your AAdvantage or ThankYou account, depending on the offer.
As always with financial products, make sure to check your interest rates and fees against competitors to be sure you’re not paying for the extra miles with significantly higher costs. Miles earned through bank accounts are viewed as interest income, which means you will receive a 1099 form and will need to report it to the IRS.
4. Car rentals
Many of the major car rental companies partner with airlines. So if you book using a special promotion code, you’ll earn airline miles for your rental. Hertz and United are examples of one such partnership, which can earn you plenty of extra miles, though the current offer requires reserving a midsize car or larger for a minimum of two days. Avis, Alamo, Budget and National are some of the other major rental car companies that partner with a host of airlines.
One thing to keep in mind is that some car rental companies tack on surcharges for earning airline miles, so you may pay more to earn those miles than if you booked a car without the airline promotion code. It’s important to do your homework before you leave home, rather than at the counter.
5. Take surveys
If you have a flexible schedule and/or an abundance of leisure time, you can earn miles by completing surveys on various topics. Some participating airlines include:
- American (Miles for Opinions)
- United (Opinion Miles Club)
- JetBlue (Points for Surveys)
- Southwest (e-Rewards and Rewards for Opinions)
- Spirit (Points for Thoughts)
- Alaska (The Opinion Terminal)
Just be aware that it takes a lot of answering questions to earn a small number of miles this way, so consider the value of your time as well.
6. Pay taxes
Have a hefty tax bill due to the IRS? You can earn points or miles for your payment by using your credit card to pay the IRS via one of its three authorized payment processors. This option only makes sense if you pay your statement in full every month, but there are hidden advantages: Charging your tax bill may enable you to meet the minimum spending requirements for a sign-up bonus, or it can facilitate meeting a spending threshold that gives you extra perks.
All three processors charge fees, so do the math and make sure your individual situation makes sense:
- Pay1040.com (1.99% fee, $2.58 minimum)
- PayUSAtax.com (1.96% fee, $2.69 minimum)
- ACI Payments, Inc. (1.99% fee, $2.50 minimum)
7. Send flowers
Whether you’re a true romantic or just a thoughtful person, sending flowers to someone can be an excellent way to rack up points and miles. Many airlines partner with FTD, Teleflora or 1-800-Flowers, but once again, double-check to make sure you’re not paying more for the privilege of earning points and miles. Shop around and be alert for deals around holiday periods — before Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, it’s not unusual to earn 30 miles per dollar for brightening someone’s life.
8. Purchase real estate
Buying a home can be intimidating due to the sheer size of the transaction. Two of the U.S. legacy carriers offer you a way to ease the pain by earning miles for your purchase. However, when making such a significant financial decision, the interest rate, points and fees are much more important than earning miles. So be sure that you shop around for the best terms before accepting one of these offers:
American: Earn AAdvantage miles with American Home Miles when you use the SIRVA mortgage network (5,000 miles for every $25,000 of home value, 1,250 miles for every $10,000 financed, 5,000 miles for an interstate move with Allied or North American, and 25,000 bonus miles when you take advantage of all three).
United: Partners with Quicken Loans to offer 25,000 miles for closing or refinancing a mortgage.
9. Targeted offers
Be on the lookout for targeted bonus point offers via email or snail mail for credit cards you already hold. These offers are often easy to complete with just a small amount of effort. In the past, I’ve received offers for bonus points from Chase for adding a card to a mobile wallet, changing statements from mailed to paperless delivery and for making a small number of contactless charges.
American Express has been known to send targeted offers to its charge card customers for their Pay Over Time extended financing feature, offering 10,000 Membership Rewards points just for enrolling.
10. Business frequent flyer programs
Many miles collectors are unaware that some airlines have separate business loyalty programs. Best of all, the points or miles you accumulate as a business are in addition to the benefits you earn as an individual. The ability to double-dip makes these programs particularly attractive for sole proprietors and owners of small to medium-sized businesses.
American Airlines Business Extra offers one point for every $5 spent on flights with American Airlines and American Eagle, as well as codeshares operated by British Airways, Iberia, Finnair, Japan Airlines and Qantas.
Delta SkyBonus awards points based on fare class for flights on Delta and its SkyTeam partners.
United PerksPlus uses a complicated formula for earning points, based on both fare class and whether the passenger is flying out of a hub or non-hub city.
Even if you’ve already maxed out all your potential airline credit card sign-up bonuses, there are still many ways to accumulate airline points and miles, even beyond the options listed here. Just make sure the offers you consider are worth your time and money so that you’re not spending resources chasing extra rewards for more than they’re worth.
Featured image by Malkovstock/Getty Images.
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