How to earn frequent flyer miles shopping in stores — and why these programs matter
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
Here's a look at some of the best in-store earning opportunities on the market today.
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.
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
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 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 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
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.