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10 ways you could be earning airline miles other than credit cards

March 25, 2021
10 min read
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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

(Image courtesy of Spirit Airlines)

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:

  1. Always check an online portal first
  2. Shop around. The bonus points you can receive per dollar spent can vary by portal
  3. 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
  4. 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

From fine dining to taco trucks, dining programs add a tasty dessert of reward points. (Photo by Michael Berman/Getty Images)

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:

Hotel chains such as Hilton, IHG and Marriott also offer dining rewards.

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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

SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO, CA - AUGUST 08: A sign is posted in front of a Hertz car sales and rental car office on August 8, 2017 in South San Francisco, California. Rental car companies are seeing a drop in earnings and stock prices as they struggle to deal with large inventories and competition from ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft. Avis had initially forecast annual profits of $3.50 a share but recently had to change that forecast to $2.40 to $2.85 a share. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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:

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:

7. Send flowers

(Image courtesy of 1-800-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

(Photo by Shutterstock)

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.

Bottom line

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 Getty Images/iStockphoto
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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TPG featured card

Best premium travel card for value
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

1 - 10X points
10xEarn 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
5xEarn 5x total points on flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
3xEarn 3x points on other travel and dining.
1xEarn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases

Intro offer

80,000 bonus points
Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

Annual Fee

$550

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more
Best premium travel card for value
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10xEarn 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
5xEarn 5x total points on flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
3xEarn 3x points on other travel and dining.
1xEarn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

    80,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $550
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more