10 Ways You Could Be Earning Airline Miles Other Than Credit Cards
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Points and miles hobbyists know that 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 once-in-a-lifetime bonus policy of American Express and Chase’s 5/24 rule are prime examples. Many lenders are wary of consumers with too many credit cards, and they also tend to shy away from applicants with credit limits larger than their incomes.
Fortunately, credit cards are far from the only method of accumulating points and miles. Aside from building up your frequent flyer balance by flying around the country, here are ten easy ways to grow your airline mileage stash without credit card applications.
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. Examples are Shop Through Chase, Southwest Airlines’ Rapid Rewards Mall and the Hilton Honors Shop-to-Earn Mall. Purchases are typically rewarded with a number of extra points or miles per dollar on top of your regular credit card rewards, although certain items — such as a satellite dish or mobile phone service — may earn you a fixed reward.
Here are some tips for using online shopping portals:
- If you’re going to buy an item anyway, always check an online portal first.
- Shop around. As with any brick-and-mortar mall, prices and deals will vary.
- To save time, use a shopping portal aggregator such as EVReward or Cashback Monitor.
- 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 a number of 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 a participating restaurant. Some of the most popular options include:
- American Airlines AAdvantage Dining
- Delta SkyMiles Dining
- United MileagePlus Dining
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Dining
- Alaska MileagePlan Dining
- Spirit Free Spirit Dining
3. Banking and Investing
If you collect American AAdvantage miles, you have three ways to increase your stash:
BankDirect offers the opportunity to earn miles on checking and money market accounts as well as CDs. Example: You earn 100 miles per month for every $1,000 of average daily balance in your checking account, up to 60,000 miles per year. You also earn 10,000 miles for establishing direct deposit into your account, and 5,000 miles each for using your debit card and their bill pay service.
UFB Direct: Establish an Airline Rewards Checking Account and earn up to 120,000 miles per year, based on debit point of sale transactions.
Betterment: When you open an investment account, you earn 5,000 miles for a balance between $15,000-49,999, 15,000 miles for $50,000-99,999, and 30,000 miles for a balance exceeding $100,000.
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.
4. Car Rentals
This is a frequently overlooked method of accumulating points and miles, though again, you need to keep an eye on fees. Hertz and United have a partnership which can earn you plenty of extra miles, though it recently added a two-day minimum rental period to the offer. Avis partners with 10 hotel chains and over 60 airlines, while Southwest is affiliated with eight major car rental chains. When renting with National, there are four credit cards that offer double points for rentals purchased directly. But be forewarned that a number of car rental companies tack on surcharges for earning airline miles, so 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 filling out surveys on a range of topics. Some participating airlines include:
- American (e-Rewards)
- United (Opinion Miles Club)
- JetBlue (Points for Surveys)
- Southwest (e-Rewards and Rewards for Opinions)
- Spirit (Miles 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
You’ll have to pay the IRS sooner or later, so why not earn points or miles while doing it? 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.
On its website, the IRS recognizes three payment processors for paying taxes by credit card. All three charge fees, so do the math and make sure your individual situation makes sense:
- Pay1040.com (1.87% fee, $2.59 minimum)
- PayUSAtax.com (1.97% fee, $2.69 minimum)
- OfficialPayments.com/fed (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 — prior to Christmas, Valentine’s Day or 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 US 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 America Home Mortgage 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 Van Lines, and 25,000 bonus miles when you take advantage of all three). You can also use Lending Club and earn one mile for every $1 you borrow, up to a total of 40,000 miles, or earn 2,000 miles for every $10,000 of your new home’s sale or purchase price when using Miles From Home.
United also partners with Lending Club with one mile earned for every dollar borrowed, up to a maximum of 40,000 miles, and also offers 25,000 miles for closing or refinancing a mortgage with Quicken Loans.
9. Drink Wine
If you’re a fan of the grape, there are many wine-of-the-month clubs to help you get started. Vinesse Wine Club offers 14 different programs, plus the opportunity to customize shipments to your taste; selections range in value from $10 to $40, though a TPG test of Vinesse’s wines last year left us less than impressed.
Delta offers 5,000 bonus miles with five miles per dollar on all subsequent orders, while United is at 6,500 bonus miles on your first purchase from Vinesse. American gives Vinesse customers 2,500 miles when they select the American Cellar Wine Club, along with the same offer for their initial order. Alaska Airlines awards 2,250 miles on signup, with five miles per dollar spent thereafter.
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 small to medium-sized business owners.
American Airlines Business Extra gives 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.
JetBlue Inc. gives members three TrueBlue points per dollar spent, and those points may be redeemed by any company employee.
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.
Southwest’s SWABIZ does not offer points, but functions as an online corporate booking tool.
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 spending 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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