7 ways to earn miles for your next vacation without leaving the house

Jan 27, 2022

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The coronavirus pandemic changed just about every facet of our daily lives, including how we eat, shop and travel.

For many people, the extended quarantines and lockdown of 2020 also forced them to rethink their points and miles-earning strategies, many of which had depended on travel or points earned from shopping in person.

Luckily, there are a number of great ways to pad your points and miles balances from the comfort of your home. Even with many of us back on the road, these strategies remain as relevant as ever. This is especially true now that non-travel activities can help you earn elite status with at least one major U.S. airline.

Let’s take a look at some of the best ways to earn points and miles without leaving your house.

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In This Post

Credit card sign-up bonuses

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

Opening a new credit card is still the fastest way to boost your points and miles balance, and you can do so from the comfort of your home. There are plenty of great offers to pick from, so check out TPG’s top cards page to see what deals are available.

One of our favorite offers is for the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card, which offers 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.

Credit card bonus-earning categories have gotten much more generous over the past two years too. For instance, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card now earns 5 points per dollar spent on travel booked through the Chase portal. That’s effectively a 10% return based on TPG’s valuation of Ultimate Rewards points, which was once unheard of for a card with a $95 annual fee.

Related: Cards currently offering welcome bonuses of 100,000 points or more

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.

Cashback Miles/Points Reward Comparison
(Screenshot courtesy of cashbackmonitor.com)

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.

Related: How 1 Chrome plug-in can earn you extra points or cash back

(Screenshot courtesy of nike.com)

It’s important that you remember to actually click the browser button or click through the portal’s website before you check out or you won’t receive any bonus points. I like to browse, choose the items I want, then activate the portal button right before I’m ready to check out. 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.

Related: Maximizing shopping portals for your online purchases

Amex Offers

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. Let’s take a look at how it can increase your return.

Say I was planning to make a $75 purchase at Aveda. First, I’d add this Amex Offer to my American Express® Gold Card on Amex’s website.

Aveda Amex Offer
(Screenshot courtesy of americanexpress.com)

When I’m ready to check out, I’ll click on the Rakuten banner button to activate another 4% (4 Membership Rewards points per dollar) back on my purchase.

(Screenshot courtesy of aveda.com)

This means that on a $75 purchase, I’d earn the following points:

  • 150 Membership Rewards points for using my Amex Gold 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 this double dip gets me a whopping 52% return on my purchase.

Related: Beginners guide to shopping portals

Earn United miles when you buy gift cards

If you don’t have an Amex Offer for the retailer you’re shopping with, see if you can leverage gift cards to increase your earnings. One way 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 5.65% 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.

(Screenshot courtesy of MileagePlus X)

The United MileagePlus X app has a decent selection of retailers, and I appreciate that it lets you buy gift cards in the exact amount you need for most stores. If you’re shopping at a store that the app 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.

Related: How to earn more United miles on the run

Dining rewards programs

Most airlines and hotels offer dining rewards programs. In the simplest terms, they allow you to register your debit and credit cards and then automatically award bonus points and miles whenever you dine with participating restaurants.

Here’s the kicker: You might assume that this only applies when you dine in. However, you can still earn rewards through these programs when ordering takeout or delivery. You just need to order through the dining program’s site — not a third-party site or app.

The rewards are pretty generous, too, especially considering they’re in addition to the rewards you’d normally earn with your credit card. For instance, American’s AAdvantage Dining allows you to earn anywhere from 1-5 miles per dollar spent — plus these miles count toward elite-qualifying Loyalty Points.

Related: 10 of the most generous airline and hotel dining rewards programs

man handing over takeout food delivery bag to customer
(Photo by Getty Images/Katleho Seisa)

Pay your taxes with a credit card

Benjamin Franklin once said that there are only two certainties in life: death and 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, it can be a great way to rack up bonus points if you don’t mind paying a relatively small fee.

The IRS has a number of approved tax payment partners, but if you’re using a credit card, your best bet is pay1040.com. It has the lowest processing fee at 1.87%, and depending on the card you’re using, it might be worth paying that fee in order to rack up bonus points.

One strategy is to leverage tax payments to help meet annual spending bonuses. In addition to earning 6 Marriott Bonvoy points per dollar spent on eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program, the Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card offers cardholders a 35,000-point free night certificate after spending $60,000 per calendar year on the card. A large tax payment could help you get closer to this free night.

Alternatively, you could spend on a Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card and use tax payments to put yourself closer to the Medallion® Qualification Dollar waiver earned when you spend $25,000 on the card, and bonus Medallion Qualification Miles earned for every $30,000 you spend on the card, up to $120,000 per calendar year.

Of course, you should consult with a tax professional if you have any questions about making payments.

Refer a friend

Once you start getting involved with travel rewards, you’re likely to get questions from 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 helping them pick out a travel card of their own.

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. In our experience, Amex and Chase typically offer the best referral bonuses.

Amex refer-a-friend bonus
(Screenshot courtesy of americanexpress.com)

Related: How to refer friends and earn points, miles or cash credits

Bottom line

You don’t need to be a frequent traveler to build up your points and miles balances. There are plenty of ways to earn points without ever leaving your home. Many of the strategies discussed here won’t cost you anything, as they reward you for expenses you’d already be incurring.

Additional reporting by Ethan Steinberg.

Featured photo by Katleho Seisa/Getty Images.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs up to two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide including takeout and delivery in the U.S., and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $80 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck® after you apply through any Authorized Enrollment Provider. If approved for Global Entry, at no additional charge, you will receive access to TSA PreCheck.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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