Can You Earn Airline Miles Booking Through OTAs?
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One of the most frequent questions we get from travelers is whether it’s possible to earn airline miles on bookings made through online travel agencies (OTAs) like Expedia, Orbitz, Priceline or Amex Travel.
The confusion seems to stem from the fact that booking a hotel reservation through an OTA usually means forfeiting the chance to earn hotel points and elite credit, but that’s not the case with airline bookings.
Not only is it possible to earn airline-award miles and elite-qualifying miles and dollars on OTA bookings as if you are booking directly, but you can also earn points with an OTA’s own loyalty program and even triple-dip by using a card that earns multiple points per dollar on travel purchases.
For instance, if you book a flight on American Airlines on Orbitz, you still earn AAdvantage miles and elite-qualification dollars (EQDs) on the airfare and elite-qualification miles (EQMs) on the flight, plus Orbitz’s own Orbucks loyalty points, plus any points you would normally earn with a credit card that offers a travel category bonus like the Chase Sapphire Reserve.
Now, there are some exceptions. For example, if you purchase a basic economy ticket or perhaps end up booking a special rate or bulk fare, which might not be eligible for normal award and elite-mileage earning. But for the most part, purchasing airline tickets through an OTA is a fantastic opportunity to rake in the points and miles.
1. Look for Portal Bonuses or Rebates
You have the opportunity to earn even more bonus points or miles on airline tickets by starting with an online shopping portal. EVReward is a great place to start since it is a roundup of the current bonuses and cash-back rebates being offered by most of these portals on purchases at specific merchants, including OTAs like Travelocity and Orbitz.
Just head to the homepage, type in the OTA you’d like to use, and it will pull up the bonuses. Here, for example, are the current bonuses being offered on Travelocity purchases. As you can see, you can earn extra points or miles with United MileagePlus, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, Citi and Barclaycard, among others.
From there, just click through to the points currency you’re interested in and it should take you to the associated portal. For instance, if you clicked on the United button, you’d be redirected to MileagePlus Shopping.
From there, you would need to log into your MileagePlus account, click on the “Shop Now” button and you’d be redirected to Travelocity to continue with your purchase as normal, only you’d be earning extra United miles.
What’s interesting about this particular example is that if you’re a United MileagePlus member, this can be a way to boost your earning in a way that mimics elite status, at least modestly.
To give a little context, if you were a United MileagePlus Silver member, you’d earn 7x miles per dollar on airfare normally, but with this bonus you’re essentially raising your earning to the equivalent of a Premier Gold member, who earns 8x miles per dollar. Likewise, if you were Premier Gold, you’d earn 9x miles per dollar by going through this process, the equivalent of a Premier Platinum member purchasing airfare without going through a portal. So this is an interesting little workaround for elites who might not hit their target status.
With Ebates, you can earn either cash back or Amex Membership Rewards points on your purchases. Some examples of the current offers available include 3.5% back on Expedia, up to 10% back on Orbitz and up to 10% back on Travelocity.
2. OTA Loyalty Programs
Now it’s time to double-dip by booking through an OTA with its own loyalty program. Without going through all the nitty-gritty details (we have this thorough post on the topic), here’s a quick list of the online travel agencies with their own points programs and how they work.
Expedia Rewards: Expedia’s loyalty program is a bit lackluster since you only earn one point per $5 spent on airfare, and then points are redeemable for around 0.7-1 cent apiece toward future flights. So you’re only getting 0.14-0.2% return on your spending. However, this might still be worth it if you get a good online shopping portal bonus of several points or miles to boot.
Orbitz Rewards: Members earn Orbucks on purchases through Orbitz that can then be used for cash back on future bookings. Earning rates vary by the type of travel you purchase. Flights, specifically, earn 1% back, so you’d need to spend $100 on airfare to get $1 Orbuck worth one dollar of future travel.
Unfortunately, Travelocity and Priceline do not have loyalty programs right now. However, there are a couple more options you might want to consider, including booking flights through one of the major credit card issuer’s travel portals:
Amex Travel: Cardmembers with The Platinum Card® from American Express or the Business Platinum Card® from American Express earn a fantastic 5x points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines or through Amex Travel, while American Express® Gold Card holders earn 3x points per dollar. If you have the Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express, you earn 2x points per dollar on Amex Travel purchases, including flights.
Ultimate Rewards Travel: Chase’s portal is powered by Expedia now, so you should find the same flight options and fares as elsewhere. While you won’t earn bonuses quite like those via Amex, you might want to consider booking through the Chase portal because you can redeem your Ultimate Rewards points directly for flights at a rate of 1-1.5 cents per point (depending on which credit card you carry). The redemption will still function like a normal airfare purchase on which you will still earn airline miles and elite credit.
ThankYou.com: There are two reasons to book through Citi’s portal. The first is if there is a significant cash-back rebate for doing so, which is frequently the case. The second is if you want to redeem your ThankYou points for a flight instead of paying cash but would still like to earn airline miles and elite credit.
Barclaycard: Barclaycard often offers multiple points per dollar on travel bookings through OTAs, including 2x points per dollar at the moment on Travelocity. Similar to Ultimate Rewards and ThankYou.com, when you redeem your Barclaycard Arrival miles for travel purchases, including airfare purchased through an OTA, you should still receive miles and elite credit as you would on a paid ticket.
3. Airline Earning
Now for the triple dip. The third prong in your OTA strategy should be earning airline miles and elite-qualifying activity as usual. As mentioned above, most airfares purchased through various OTAs will earn award and elite-qualifying miles just like purchasing tickets directly through an airline.
There are, however, cases where you won’t earn miles and elite credit as usual. If booking through an OTA, be sure you’re not getting a basic economy fare that might be subject to different earning rules. Likewise, double-check your fare code to make sure you are not purchasing a bulk ticket or special fare, since these too are subject to different earning rules.
4. Credit Card Bonuses
Airline credit cards tend to award travel bonuses only on airfare purchased directly from their associated carriers. However, if you want to multiply your earning by booking through an OTA instead, it pays to use a credit card that earns either multiple points per dollar on airfare in particular, or a more general travel category that includes OTA purchases.
As mentioned above, both The Platinum Card® from American Express and the Business Platinum Card® from American Express earn 5x Membership Rewards points per dollar on flights booked through Amex Travel specifically. Don’t forget, some of Amex’s other cards earn bonus points on Amex Travel flight purchases too. Among them, the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card earns 7x Hilton Honors points per dollar spent on flights booked directly with airlines or Amex Travel.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve and Ink Business Preferred Credit Card both earn 3x Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on travel, including OTA purchases. The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card earns 2x points per dollar.
Purchasing flights through an online travel agency presents tremendous opportunities to maximize your points and miles and even score some deep rebates. Travelers can quadruple-dip by going through online shopping portals, leveraging OTAs’ own loyalty programs, earning miles on flights as if you were booking directly, and racking up bonus points by paying with a card that earns multiple points per dollar on travel purchases that include OTAs.
All this requires taking a few extra steps that booking directly with an airline does not, but it can also mean double or tripling your earning for just a little more effort. Start getting in the habit of checking EVReward and Ebates for bonuses and rebates, click through a shopping portal that will earn bonus points or miles, and use a credit card that earns travel bonuses. Doing so will make your flights that much more rewarding.
Featured photo by Hero Images/Getty Images.
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