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How to earn frequent flyer miles shopping in stores — and why these programs matter

Aug. 31, 2021
7 min read
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While frequent flyer programs may have started as a way to reward loyal air travelers, these days, airline loyalty programs are about more than travel. They've become lifestyle programs. You can earn miles when you fly, shop online or dine out.

More recently, we've seen some airlines add brick-and-mortar earning options to their loyalty portfolios. These programs let you earn points and miles when shopping in-store, and have been implemented by major airlines like American, United and Singapore Airlines.

Each has a different approach, but they're a great way for the airline to drum up loyalty and keep users engaged in the real world. Here are the best in-store earning programs and why I think more airlines need to take in-store earning seriously — especially as the world reopens.

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The best ways to earn airline miles in-store

(Photo by Thomas Barwick/Getty Images)

Here's a look at some of the best in-store earning opportunities on the market today.

American SimplyMiles

(Screenshot courtesy of simplymiles.com)

American's SimplyMiles program lets you earn miles on in-store purchases when you pay with a Mastercard. When you enroll in an account, link your Mastercard and add offers from the homepage. Each merchant offers a different number of miles awarded for in-store purchases. Some offer a set number of miles per dollar spent, while others offer a lump sum of miles for spending a certain amount of money.

SimplyMiles tends to have good limited-time offers, too.

At the time of writing this article, you can earn miles with major merchants like Best Buy, Levi's, Seasons 52 and many major hotel groups, among others. Miles earned with these programs stack with the points your credit card already earns, making it easy to rack up bonus AAdvantage miles on everyday purchases.

I really like the simplicity of this program. All you need to do is link a card and add offers, and you're eligible to earn bonus miles. There's no app to fiddle with at checkout — just check the app every few weeks and scan for new offers that you might use.

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This works out for the airline, too. Staying Mastercard-only lets American generate demand for its cobranded credit cards, all of which bear the Mastercard logo. Plus, it can increase revenue with merchants who list offers on the SimplyMiles website. It's a win-win for Mastercard holders and the airline.

United MileagePlus X

(Screenshot courtesy of United MileagePlus X)

United's MileagePlus X app takes a different approach to in-store loyalty. Using the MileagePlus X app, you can purchase gift cards for immediate use and earn miles on the purchase.

Then, you can use the gift card to complete your in-store purchase. The number of miles you earn varies by partner and United cobranded credit card holders earn a 25% bonus regardless of the card they use to pay for the gift card.

There's a great lineup of merchants, too. Starbucks, Home Depot, Walmart and countless other everyday merchants participate in MileagePlus X. This makes it extremely easy to earn bonus United miles on purchases. Make sure to check MileagePlus X whenever you make purchases in-store or online.

MileagePlus X is relatively easy to use. That said, it isn't as seamless as SimplyMiles as you need to remember to actually use the application when you go to make a purchase to essentially pay with a gift card bought through the app. Regardless, it provides another way for United to keep its loyal flyers engaged with MileagePlus on the ground.

Plus, the 25% bonus for United credit card members makes it easier to justify opening and keeping a United card. The value of the miles could help offset the annual fee if you regularly use MileagePlus X.

Related: Here’s why it matters which card you use to pay in the United MPX app

Singapore Kris+

(Screenshot courtesy of Kris+ by Singapore Airlines)

Singapore Airlines' Kris+ program has yet to launch in the U.S., but it's intriguing for Singaporeans. Simply download the Kris+ app and you'll see a number of different partner offers from restaurants, shops and other businesses in Singapore. This includes discounts and earning KrisPay miles. You earn miles when the partner merchant scans your Kris+ QR code or you pay with a linked credit or debit card.

KrisPay miles are different from KrisFlyer miles. You can redeem them toward in-store purchases or transfer them to KrisFlyer at a 1:1 transfer ratio. In most cases, you'll get a better deal by converting KrisPay miles to KrisFlyer miles and booking award flights.

While this program is more confusing than SimplyMiles or MileagePlus X, it makes KrisPay miles a lifestyle rewards currency that opens Singapore's reach to infrequent travelers. Plus, retail partnerships can be lucrative for both parties, as Singapore Airlines likely collects a marketing fee while the merchant enjoys more business.

Related: Ultimate guide to Singapore KrisFlyer

Why these programs are good for airlines

In-store earning apps give airlines an easy way to increase engagement. (Photo by viper-zero/Shutterstock)

In-store loyalty for airlines goes beyond just revenue. The key to these programs is continued engagement from customers. Most frequent flyers think of airline loyalty programs only when they earn or redeem miles for travel. This leaves lots of time for these customers to forget about their miles or choose to fly with another carrier.

But when you add in-store mileage earning to the mix, customers have the opportunity to stay more engaged with the program. They then think of an airline when they make a purchase so they don't lose out on valuable miles. In turn, these customers may be more likely to open a cobranded credit card or continue to book flights with a given carrier.

Personally, I think that this is becoming a key component to loyalty programs as the world reopens.

Online shopping portals are great, but they fall short when a member walks out their front door and back into the world. Now that we're able to go to shops again, airlines need to take in-store loyalty seriously to stay fresh in the minds of their travelers.

Of course, there is a revenue play too. Airlines can charge marketing fees to merchants that opt into using their in-store platforms. They can charge more to make a sponsored or promoted listing, and the shop may choose to advertise the program in their own stores.

Related: Cash cow: Why loyalty programs are a lifeline for airlines and hotels during COVID

Bottom line

In the end, in-store loyalty programs are the perfect synergy for increasing engagement and revenue for the airlines. Better yet, they benefit customers too with more mileage-earning opportunities and discounts on everyday purchases.

I'd like to see more airlines introduce their own takes on this type of program in the future. I've long been a believer that competition breeds innovation, so I expect us to see more unique programs with different earning opportunities launch in the near future.

Feature photo by Maskot/Getty Images.

Featured image by Getty Images/Maskot
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 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

2 - 10X points
10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day

Intro offer

75,000 bonus miles
Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

Annual Fee

$395

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

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023
Best card for premium perks while traveling
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 unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • 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

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023