The Top 10 Ways To Earn Miles

There have been plenty of great mileage-earning opportunities of the past, things like buying coins form the US mint, buying savings bonds, and buying debit cards online with a credit card.

Some of my favorites classics were:

But in many ways there are better mileage-earning opportunities now than ever. When I first started in the hobby a 15,000 mile signup bonus for a credit card was pretty good, we had never heard of 50,000 mile offers.

And while it may cost more miles for award tickets than it did in the past, and availability isn’t as good as in the special period of 2008 – 2010 (“the Great Recession”), back ‘in the day’ you couldn’t even combine frequent flyer airline partners on a single award, fewer programs offered one-way awards, and airline alliances didn’t even exist.

Net net, while I think the game is harder than it was four years ago, it’s at least as good as it was when I got started 15-20 years ago.

Here are the top 10 ways to earn frequent flyer miles today:

  1. Credit card signup bonuses

    Here are the 10 best credit card signup bonuses right now.

    There’s nothing that matches the scale and speed with which you can earn points through big credit card signup offers.

  2. Ongoing spending where you earn more than 1 mile per dollar (category bonuses)

    Here are the cards with the biggest bonuses for each spending category.

    Cards incentivize spend by offering more than just a standard mile per dollar in specific categories. Play your categories right, and with the right mix of cards, and you can earn far more points for your spending each day and rack up points quite quickly.

  3. Mileage shopping portals

    Sometimes the mileage amounts are fairly small, if you’re only spending $20 and you’re earning 3 miles per dollar that’s 60 miles.

    But you’re earning miles for things you’re going to buy anyway, just start your online shopping at a mileage portal and click to the store of your choice instead of going to that online e-tailer directly. Most online stores give miles or other rebates for your shopping if you do this.

    And the rewards can actually wind up quite large, 20 miles per dollar and I’ve even earned 100 miles per dollar on certain purchases without a promotion to stack – and promotions do abound all the time, especially around the holidays, back to school, and other peak shopping seasons.

    Here’s how to choose which mileage portal to use for your shopping, and here’s my interview with the President of Cartera Commerce which runs many of the sites.

  4. Buying items through mileage portals, earning credit card points as well, and selling the items

    This is just a variation on the above, an arbitrage play, if you find items you can sell for about what you paid for them you can pocket the miles or other rebates. There are some big players in this space, I’ve written about it in the past, and it’s not something to enter in without being sure you can get your cash out. But there are folks earning hundreds of thousands of miles a year this way.

  5. Buying monetary instruments with a credit card for the miles, and getting the funds back into your bank account

    The classic example used to be buying coins from the US mint with a credit card (and free shipping). You’d earn miles on your credit card, deposit the money back in the bank, and pay off the credit card.

    Now there are other things which are quite similar. You might review posts I’ve written on Bluebird, JH Preferred, and MyVanilla Debit for more.

  6. Actually flying

    Flying 100,000 miles a year on American Airlines, I earn 200,000 miles (without promotions) because it’s not just the one mile per mile flown but also a 100% bonus (based on my elite status) on top of that.

    That’s enough miles for 2 business class roundtrips to Europe or South America, and nearly enough (110,000 miles each) for 2 business class roundtrips to Southeast Asia.

  7. Opening investment accounts (Fidelity, sharebuilder)

    Sharebuilder offers a few miles for opening accounts and Fidelity offers big miles with big deposits. Like 50,000 miles for a $100,000 deposit.

    Plenty of folks have earned more than one bonus from Fidelity.

    You used to be able to game Fidelity’s deposit requirements but they’ve since closed that loophole.

  8. Bankdirect checking

    I’ve used Bankdirect as my primary checking account since July 2003. They give me 100 miles for each $1000 of average balance each and every month, and there are signup bonuses as well.

    In a low interest rate environment this is a pretty good return, especially since there’s no tax reporting on the miles but you’d pay tax on interest earned (such as it is these days, on a checking account).

    They now cap mileage-earning based on a $50,000 balance, but that’s still 5000 miles per month if you max out (at a monthly fee for the checking account of $12).

  9. Suntrust Delta debit card

    Suntrust has one of the few remaining mileage-earning debit cards. You earn 1 Delta mile per dollar spent.

    That’s useful because some transactions are far less expensive paying with a debit card than a credit card (like federal taxes, you pay a flat ~ $3 or so rather than 2% or more) and some transactions can’t be made with a credit card (like money order purchases).

    They now let you sign up online

    Some folks, especially those outside of Suntrust business areas, have had their accounts closed. Many times this has been because of account behavior the bank found suspicious.

    The Suntrust Delta card has been my primary means of earning Delta miles in recent times.

  10. Miles for Dining

    Dining programs have long been a good way to earn miles. You eat out with your friends, choose a restaurant that’s a member of a program, and make sure you’re the one that picks up the check. It’s even better when your friends kick in for their portion of the bill.

What are your biggest mileage-earners?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Using your miles or points credit card to donate to charities. Many take credit cards. Just make sure to “true up” and add 3% or so for the cost they incur for from the card company.

    Signing up for Directv. They always have offers out there. Right now AA has a 25,000 mile offer. I think CATV and the dish companies are all too high as they nickel and dime you on set top boxes but if your in the market anyway….

    Also don’t forget about the old AA mile coupons on cereal a few year back. For awhile you not only dumpster dive for old boxes but you could shop at Safeway, buy the cereal using coupons and charge it on a miles or points card.

  2. And there was Emmi cheese.. valumags -> goldpoints -> airline miles… buying inside flyer subscriptions -> spg -> qantas for Concorde redemptions…

  3. A great list, but as always, with all things, the value of the ‘list’ is about looking at March 2014- Onwards.

    I think for the longest time, nobody paid attention to this, and for the most part, I think they still don’t but I see signs of Big brothers everywhere nowadays. The game is without a doubt getting exponentially more difficult to win, as it should .

    There is a shift, a disturbance in the woods , so to speak.

  4. I’d love to see you include the year with the date of your posts. Anytime I click an old link I’m curious as to how many years ago it was.

  5. Reimbursable expenses. Typically related to corporate/business spend but also sometimes possible with healthcare spend, depending on how your insurance company works.

  6. @MontnaMike Big brother and getting more difficult, do share more of what that means and why you think so?

  7. Way back (before 911 I believe), Delta gave out 25000 miles just for answer a few trivia questions.

  8. @ABC – that’s a really great question. I know HOW to use them and the highest valued uses but those don’t really appeal to me for the most part, I’ll probably dip into that stash mostly when gifting tickets to others..

  9. It seems that there are ‘corporate’ types who are there to change policy when the game does not suit them, and they do it fairly quickly. Whereas the game could be played by saying well we have XYZ rules and it’s your job to maximize your return under the current rule structure, nowadays it seems policies are shifting very regularly, by which I mean a span of a quarter or 3 months could represent an entire shift in the landscape, whereas before the ever shifting landscape seemed to take a year at least to adjust.

    Same basic ground rules. Just lots and lots of ‘nuance’ lately. Just what I see but YMMV.

  10. I have a few fun ones from recent memory.

    Citibank Ultimate Savings Online Accounts in 2008-2009, fund it with $30,000 from a credit card, earn 4-5% for 3 weeks, pay off the credit card… repeat

    American Express Travelers Checks in pre-2009, $1,000/week/card walk over to Chase branch three doors down, deposit, pay-off credit card.



  11. Any comment on this from the Fidelity website:

    “Account holders must maintain the minimum qualifying account balance (minus any losses related to trading or market volatility, or margin debit balances) at Fidelity for nine months from the date on which the reward is received.”

  12. Is JH preferred a monthly 5k limit aka Bluebird or a rolling 30 day limit aka Amazon?

  13. My Amazon payment account is rolling 30 limited to 1k ….at least for me it is a rolling 30… know of another plan I am missing out on?

  14. @JustSaying definitely not rolling for me, I’ve heard some people say it but it seems rare or unusual to have such a limitation

  15. I will try next week after the 1st and report the results……..perhaps it is like the new vs old signup aka AMEX Gold annual bonus…….and us newbees always get the short end of the stick…….must get Twitter savvy!

  16. I have always used Thanks Again LLC out of GA. they give me miles on Delta, United, American, Southwest, Alaska Airlines, etc and several others when I need to reach an award.

    I earn bonus miles on any of my credit or debit cards registered with them when I park, dine and shop at most airports.

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