7 ways to earn miles for your next vacation without leaving the house
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The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has changed just about every facet of our daily lives, including how we eat, shop and travel. For many people, the extended quarantines and lockdown have also disrupted their normal points and miles-earning strategy, much of which had depended on travel or points earned from shopping in-person.
Just because we aren’t traveling right now, that doesn’t mean you can’t use this time to pad your points and miles balances. There are a number of great ways to earn points from the comfort of your home, and learning a new strategy now will be helpful even when things return to normal. Let’s take a look at some of the best ways to earn points and miles from home.
Credit card sign-up bonuses
Opening a new credit card is still the fastest way to boost your points and miles balance, and thankfully you can do so from the comfort of your home! There are plenty of great offers to pick from but if you need more inspiration, you can always check out TPG’s top cards page to see what deals are available.
When planning your applications now, you may want to stick to banks that you have an existing relationship with, as approval standards have gotten tighter during the pandemic. Despite having a near-perfect credit score, I was recently rejected from a Chase Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card “for not having enough money in deposit and investment accounts” with Chase.
Issuers are taking a number of steps to limit their downside exposure while the economy is in a recession, so you may find it harder than usual to get approved for some cards. You’ll also want to make sure that you’re still able to spend enough to earn your welcome bonus now, especially if you’re staying home or have recently lost your job.
Online shopping portals
Whether you’re stocking up on household essentials or indulging in a little bit of retail therapy, there are countless ways to stack rewards when you shop online. Before making any purchase online, you should check to see if you can earn bonus miles or cash back by clicking through the right shopping portal.
You could pick the shopping portal affiliated with your favorite rewards program, or you could use an aggregator site like cashbackmonitor.com to tell you which portals are offering the highest payout.
Many portals even offer a browser extension that will automatically pop up when you’re on a participating site, reminding you to click the button and activate your bonus points. In this case you can see popups on my browser from Rakuten, Swagbucks and the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan shopping portal, alerting me that I can earn bonus miles for shopping at Nike.
It’s important that you remember to actually click the browser button or click through from the portal’s website before you check out or you won’t receive any bonus points. What I like to do is browse, choose the items I want, then activate the portal button right before I’m ready to checkout. That way, there’s less of a risk of my session timing out or not tracking correctly.
Whenever possible, I try to use the Rakuten shopping portal. Not only does it offer competitive rates at most merchants, but it gives you the option to be paid in Amex Membership Rewards points instead of cash back. Rakuten values Amex points at 1 cent each, well below TPG’s valuation of them at 2 cents each, so this is a great deal. In the above example, I could earn 7 Membership Rewards points per dollar spent at Nike on top of my normal credit card points, which is a very solid 14% return.
Further Reading: Maximizing shopping portals for your online purchases
Shopping portals work the same no matter which payment method you choose, but you might be able to add another layer of stacking to your transaction at the right merchant. One easy way to do so is to stack an Amex Offer with an online shopping portal. This is incredibly simple to do, as it just requires you to add the offer to your eligible Amex card and use that card at checkout. But let’s take a look at how it can increase your return.
Let’s say I was planning to make a $75 purchase at Aveda. First, I’d add this Amex Offer to my Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express.
When I’m ready to check out, I’ll click on the Rakuten banner button to activate another 4% (4x MR) back on my purchase.
This means that on a $75 purchase, I’d earn the following points:
- 150 Membership Rewards points for using my Blue Business Plus Card
- 1,500 Membership Rewards points from Amex Offers
- 300 Membership Rewards points from Rakuten
My total return would be 1,950 Membership Rewards points, worth $39 based on TPG’s valuations. That means that this double-dip gets me a whopping 52% return on my purchase.
Discounted gift cards
If I don’t have an Amex Offer for the retailer I’m shopping with, I’ll see if I can leverage gift cards to increase my earnings. One of my favorite ways to do so is with the United MileagePlus X app. This app allows you to buy gift cards for select retailers and instantly earn United MileagePlus miles, often with high multiples.
For example, I can earn 5 United miles per dollar spent (a 6.5% return based on TPG’s valuations) by buying gift cards to use at Banana Republic. I can then use that gift card to make a purchase through a shopping portal for additional rewards.
The United MileagePlus X app has a decent selection of retailers, and I appreciate that for most stores, it lets you buy gift cards in the exact amount you need. If you’re shopping at a store that MPX doesn’t partner with, you can also try and buy discounted gift cards on a site like raise.com, which has tens of thousands of gift cards for sale.
Pay your taxes with a credit card
Benjamin Franklin once said that the only two certainties in life are death and taxes. If you’ve lost your job or had your hours reduced during the pandemic, your bill might be smaller this year, but most people will still owe taxes. If you’re self-employed, run your own business, or don’t have taxes withheld from your paycheck, it’s your responsibility to make timely payments. If you can afford to make a tax payment on your credit card now, it can be a great way to rack up bonus points.
The IRS has a number of different approved tax payment partners, but if you’re using a credit card, the best one is pay1040.com. I’ve used this site for a few years now and have never had any problems. You will need to pay a 1.87% processing fee, but depending on which card you’re using, it might be worth it to rack up bonus points.
My personal strategy is to leverage tax payments to help meet annual spending bonuses. Specifically, I use my Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card for all my tax payments. In addition to earning 2x Marriott points per dollar spent, these large charges help get me closer to earning a 35,000-point free night certificate after spending $60,000 a year on the card. Of course, you should consult with a tax professional if you have any questions about making payments. If your financial situation has recently changed this might not be the best time to spend a large chunk of money.
Limited time bonus categories
The coronavirus completely upended the value proposition of many premium credit cards, which charged hefty annual fees in exchange for luxury travel and lifestyle perks that are now going unused. To address this concern, nearly every credit card issuer has offered some form of credit, fee reduction, or limited time bonus category to keep customers spending on their cards. For example, we’ve seen Chase offering bonus points on food delivery through DoorDash and Tock.
Many issuers, including Chase and Amex, are offering bonus points at grocery stores on select cards. The good news is you may not need to leave your house to take advantage of these offers. Food delivery can certainly be done from the comfort of your home, but you can also use a grocery delivery service like Instacart to take advantage of these limited-time bonus categories without leaving the house. This might even be a good excuse to stock up on some necessities around the house. Not in the name of panic buying, but simply to max out these bonus categories while you still can.
Refer a friend
Once you start getting involved with travel rewards, you’re likely to get some questions from your friends who want to know how they can take luxurious vacations at a fraction of the typical cost. The good news is, you can earn points and miles for yourself while you’re getting ready to travel again. Many popular credit cards allow you to earn points when you refer a friend and their application is approved, and even shopping and dining portals have referral bonuses as well.
While it can be hard to imagine returning to anything approaching normal right now, the day will come when we can all take to the skies again. If you use this time wisely to continue building up your points and miles balances, you’ll be well-equipped to take advantage of all the deals that pop up as airlines try and fill seats again. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to earn points without ever leaving your house.
Featured image courtesy of Getty Images
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