How To: Earn Frequent Flyer Miles

I have literally flown all over the world on Frequent Flyer Miles, including to Benin (in West Africa), France, Ecuador, Mexico, Hawaii, and all over the continental U.S.  I have also used my miles to get plane tickets for friends and family members.  When I went to Ecuador, I had enough miles for two other people.  I got their tickets for them, and in exchange they covered some of my expenses for a trip to the Galapagos Islands.  As a result, I spent a mere $600 for two weeks on the islands, which are notoriously expensive!   

Often the greatest expense of traveling is the airfare, so if you can find a way to fly for free (except for the airport fees and taxes), suddenly the whole world opens up to you! In this post, I’d like to share a few tips on how you can earn miles, too.  It is not as hard as you think!

Three common myths about frequent flyer miles:

 1. You must fly to earn FF miles.  


Image credit: Panoramas

FALSE.  I once earned 3,120 Delta Skymiles by buying food for my cat, which I needed to buy anyway.  I found a deal where you could click through to the PetCareRX website from the Delta Skymiles website and earn 25-35 miles for every dollar spent.  Recently eBags also had a 35-mile-per-dollar deal through the American Airlines shopping portal.  There is always some kind of deal going on.  Go to your preferred airline’s website, click on their frequent flyer mile page and check out all the partners.  Several major airlines have shopping programs where you can click through to many very well-known stores (Macy’s, Lowe’s, Sears, Barnes & Noble, AT&T, Apple, Walmart, Best Buy, J. Crew, Walgreens, etc. just to name a few of dozens–or maybe even hundreds–of options), and earn a certain number of miles for each dollar you spend (it’s different for each store).  If you need to get something anyway, why not earn miles for it?  While completing my Master’s degree I bought all my textbooks through, and I got excellent deals on every one of them.  These days I use since I find American Airlines miles are easier to use than Delta’s.  United Airlines also has a shopping portal.

Several airlines have dining programs, such as AAdvantage Dining, which are free to join (or even better, some will give you miles for joining!).   Register the credit or debit card(s) you pay for your food with, and then go eat.  When you pay with one of those cards at a participating restaurant, you’ll automatically get 3+ miles for every dollar you spend.  A list of participating restaurants can be found on the site–I often plan my meals out around these restaurants.  I’ve found some great places I would never have known about if it weren’t for the airline dining programs!  To maximize your miles, when you eat out with friends, offer to put the entire bill on your credit card and have everyone reimburse you for their portion with cash.

Many hotels also have partnerships with airlines and you can be earning miles with every stay.  Again, visit the airline website and look for participating partners.  If you stay at any major hotel chain, you can probably be earning miles for those stays.   My last job involved a lot of work away from home, and I tried to earn miles every night I spent in a hotel.  And this was on company dollars, not out of my own pocket.  The room costs the same amount whether you’re earning miles for it or not, so might as well!  If you travel for work, this is a great way to earn miles for yourself on your company’s dollar!   RocketMiles is one website where you can book hotels and earn thousands of miles for every stay!

Rental cars are another great way to earn miles.  HERE is a great resource for finding great frequent flyer bonuses for car rentals.

2.  You have to spend money to earn FF miles.  

Image credit:

Image credit:

WRONG.  In fact, you might even save money!  For example, sometimes airlines will have partnerships with auto insurance companies.  I have earned hundreds of miles getting a free quote, even when I didn’t switch insurance companies!  If they can give you a better quote than what you’re spending on insurance now, you can save some money by switching.  Sometimes they offer even more miles if you do switch!  I’ve also seen opportunities to earn miles for signing up for a free financial consultation, with no obligation.  New opportunities are always showing up so it pays to check the “Ways to Earn Miles” page on your airline’s website often.   I’ve also earned miles by filling out surveys in my spare time ( and have been my top earners.  To safeguard against spam, I recommend using a specially designated e-mail address with websites like these if there is any question about the possibility of your e-mail address being shared with other marketers).

3.  You have to have a credit card to earn FF miles.  

Image credit: B Rosen

Image credit: B Rosen

NOPE.  I do have airline cards, and I do earn lots of miles with them, but I could earn miles without them, too. All of the hotel, dining, and shopping resources I listed above can be used with debit cards!  Credit cards aren’t for everyone.  If you can’t pay off the balance in full every month, do not get one.  ‘Tis better to be debt-free than to fly free.

That said, if you have the self-control to use a credit card wisely, you can often get enough FF miles for a domestic ticket (or more) just for getting the card.  The sign-on bonuses can be quite lucrative!  If you pay for your purchases with it, you’ll rack up even more, especially if you use them at the restaurants and shopping portals and participating hotels I mentioned above!   Just be sure to pay it off every month or you’ll lose money in the end.

Of course, when I do fly, I never pass up the chance to earn miles for it.  If the best deal is on an airline I don’t have an account with and they’re not already partners with my preferred airline, I sign up and get the miles anyway.  Sometimes the miles can be transferred or donated or put toward a discount on a future flight with them, so don’t let the flight go to waste!  One potential way of transferring or using miles on an airline you don’t fly often is to use  This isn’t usually a very good deal, but it’s better than totally letting unused miles expire and go to waste.

Think about the airline you fly with most frequently; you may want to start there.  Or look around and see which airlines (or their partners) fly to places you’ve always wanted to see, and go with them.  For example, Southwest is a great airline, but they don’t have many partners and don’t fly very many destinations outside the U.S.  If you prefer to use your miles to fly internationally, you might not focus on collecting award points with Southwest.  However, if you are more interested in domestic travel and fly on Southwest all the time, then it makes sense to make as much use of their frequent flyer program as possible!

In general, I have found it most effective to focus primarily on one airline (I currently focus on American Airlines) as much as possible, but if you’re an avid earner of frequent flyer miles then it pays not to put all your proverbial eggs in one basket.  I have accounts on most major airlines and collect miles on several.  You can use AwardWallet to keep track of your miles.  If there’s only a few dollars’ difference, I generally will pay a small amount more to fly with my preferred airline rather than a different one if the miles make it worth the price difference.  Obviously, if there is a huge difference in price I go for the cheaper option and earn miles there, even if it’s not my preferred airline.

So sign up, and next time you’re about to shop for auto insurance, make an online purchase, send flowers to somebody, or get a new credit card, go to the “Ways to Earn Miles” area of the airline’s website and figure out how to get miles for doing something you were about to do anyway.

Do you have some other great tips for earning frequent flyer miles?  Do you have some questions about it?  Please add your comments below!

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Credit for featured image: Kuster & Wildhaber Photography

About the Author

I spent 5 years of my childhood in Mexico, became a teacher, traveled the world, married a nomad, and now run some websites and write books!