Top 10 Ways To Earn Lots of Miles

1. Credit cards, credit cards, credit cards.

The signup bonuses are great.

  • Chase-issued cards are generally one-time (but there are at least 4 different United Visa products, for instance, and you can get the signup bonus for each), in the limit so is each Amex card (but you can of course get each different type of Delta American Express, each type of Hilton Amex, each Starwood Amex, each Membership Rewards Amex, etc).
  • Citibank cards can still be churned, they will unbelievably still gift you 30,000 American Airlines miles after spending $750 each time you successfully apply for the card (which at a minimum is once every 60 days).

I’ve discussed in the past that you want to take a long breather from this before going to get a mortgage (short-tun requests for credit drop your score a bit, these age off your report though and long-run more available unused credit is good for your score).

2. Citibank Online Checking Accounts

Citibank lets you fund a new checking account that you open online with a credit card. The checking deposit posts to your card as a purchase, not a cash advance (best to set your cash advance limit to zero, and print out the zero off the web, just in case). There’s no limit to the deposit other than your credit limit, and the charge earns miles. Pay off your credit card with the funds in your new checking account, I do this online so I don’t have to wait for or activate my new checks. Some have reported specific limits on the number of times you can do this, but it’s definitely more than once.

3. Elite Status Bonues

Concentrate all your flying on a single carrier, or at least into a single frequent flyer program. Elite status isn’t just upgrades (though that’s my favorite part!). It’s also bonus miles for flying, often double miles. Awards add up much more quickly as a result.

4. Presidential Dollar Coins.

This is perhaps the best current successor to travelers checks and prepaid Visa debit cards, various methods of buying money with your credit card .. Earning the miles .. And using the money to pay off your credit card.

5. Online Shopping

Everything you buy online more or less should earn miles, just start at EV Reward before heading to your preferred shopping site. Search for the vendor you’re going to buy from and it will display a list of cash back and mileage earning portals that will give you a kickback for the purchase you plan to make anyway.

6. Rewards Network/iDine

It was once just a cashback for dining program, where you had to show your membership card (“Transmedia”). Then they rebranded as iDine, and had a slow rollout. When I first started playing, it was through their co-branded relationship with United and only United elites could take advantage. But they let you register a credit card and mileage bonuses posted automatically, it was 10 miles per dollar at participating restaurants, and when they offered 5000 bonus miles for 5 dines (which never posted!) I was hooked.

They rolled back the earning power, and then limited the 10 miles per dollar spent to their most frequent diners and required hoops to jump through. But it’s worth signing up regardless, and creating an online account to bump the minimum earning from 1 to 3 miles. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve eaten at a restaurant without first realizing it was an iDine participating establishment.

They call themselves Rewards Network now, and they partner with several frequent flyer programs (the earning generally isn’t worth it with the hotel programs they’r partners of). And it’s always exciting when I get to earn iDine points for a restaurant I book at OpenTable that’s also an OpenTable bonus 1000 point restaurant…

Frequent bonus offers, too, make sure you register.

7. Promos – eg the currently-ending Delta partner promo

I get excited about partner promos, shopping promos, and anything with a bonus that ends in lots of zeroes. The first I had the chance to experience was American Airlines’ “20/20” promo, 20,000 bonus miles for activity with 20 of their mileage partners to celebrate the program’s 20th anniversary. Since then the idea has been taken up on more than one occasion by Delta, offering 25,000 miles for activity with 25 of their partners — and fortunately for most, a smaller reward for activity with smaller bundles of their partners.

I watch the Flyertalk thread, and dispersed knowledge and ingenuity can usually figure out how I can earn at least 10 partner activities for just a handful of dollars and without getting up off of my couch.

I outlined some of the most lucrative promotions of all time here. There are big rewards out there for those who pay attention.

8. Rental car bonuses

Perhaps these come under the rubric of promotions, because the standard 50 or 250 miles per rental car day (that you pay a tax to earn!) don’t really add up very quickly. But rental car promotion/bonuses do seem to be out there quite frequently, especially with Delta which last summer offered 10,000 miles per Avis or Budget rental and which is currently offering 5000 miles for a 2-day Avis rental.

Promotions notwithstanding, but usual standby choices are to earn 1000 Virgin Atlantic miles with Avis (it’s a flat-rate earning, even on a one day rental, and applies even on discounted rentals) or to credit Hertz rentals to British Midland which offers 1700 miles. (I also like bmi for Hilton double dips).

9. Don’t forget hotel points

It seems obvious enough, but hotel points are overlooked by a large number of even savvy travelers. They collect enough miles for free trips but are then faced with big hotel bills (which there are strategies to mitigate, but that’s the subject of another post).

Be sure to sign up for hotel programs, and concentrate your stays with a single chain to the extent possible — both to earn elite status and so that your free nights pile up.

Sign up for hotel bonuses — most chains have been offering some significant opportunities recently like a free night every two stays, or even every two nights, plus bonus points. And consider whether partner activity is more value when crediting to a hotel program than an airline.

10. Online Banking, especially in a low interest rate environment.

I’ve been a fan of BankDirect for several years and have used them for my primary checking account. I do need to keep a $2500 average balance to avoid fees, but I do that anyway. And they offer me:

  • 1000 miles for opening the account
  • 5000 miles for payroll direct deposit
  • 2000 miles for using billpay for 12 months
  • 1000 extra miles if you’re referred by an existing customer (they get 1000 bonus miles too, I’m happy to refer you of course, just shoot me an email with the email address you plan to use to sign up)
  • 100 American Airlines miles per $1000 average balance each month (so a $5000 average balance means 500 miles, which becomes 6000 over the course of a year)

They waive transaction fees for using out-of-network ATMs, but more importantly they reimburse the fees those ATMs charge you (up to $2.50 per transactions, 4 times per statement). The first check order is free.

And I’ve always had good customer service. In fact, they’ve never charged me fees for bank checks or overnighting documents, even though they’re supposed to. Perhaps I’ve just gotten lucky.

The account does pay a miniscule amount of interest. But in a low interest rate environment, it’s all about the miles. Interest is taxed, miles are not. And with rates as they are, I’m not giving up much that I’d gain with a higher interest earning checking. Amazingly enough I’ve earned nearly 150,000 American Airlines miles from my checking account over time.

And a bonus # 11. Complaints, and Tracking What is Due to You

I have pretty reasonable service expectations, I think. When they aren’t met I let travel providers know, because I genuinely think I have good feedback to offer that can help them improve if they care to listen.

More often than not, companies do listen. But they do offer to compensate me for my troubles. Recently I had a hotel stay where instead of an elite upgrade I received a downgrade, was made to wait while the checkin clerk finished a paperwork project, was given the wrong room key and then finally a room with more than one lamp falling off the wall. I emailed customer service and received enough points to pay for an equivalent number of free hotel nights. That was much more than I was asking for.

I’m not suggesting you become the person who complained to United over 200 times, even though he flew less than 25,000 miles. United in fact is often proactive, at least with their elites, in offering compensation for significant (and sometimes not so signficant) delays.

I’ve also been promised compensation for mistakes but found the promised points never posted. And so I follow up. Similarly, bonuses that I earned from tips # 1 through 10 above never posted. So I follow up.

I keep a spreadsheet of what I am owed by the various travel programs, showing the date of the transaction, who owes me the points (or other benefit), when I expect to receive it, and any additional information such as order numbers. And I regularly review the spreadsheets, sending followup emails as necessary.

Recently I completed a targeted bonus offer from a credit card which indicated I would receive 30,000 bonus points if I spent a certain amount of money on the card. I did. But the bonus didn’t post by the promised date. I followed up, got the promised points, and an additional 10,000 as a goodwill gesture and apology.

Follow up, make sure travel providers give you what they promise, and don’t just assume they will without your diligence.

So there you have it, my top ten plus one ways to earn miles. What big opportunities have I missed?

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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