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Melissa Locker
February 04, 2017

Frequent flier programs are incredibly complex (even the government thinks so!), but with a few hints and tips, almost anyone can become a travel hacker, earning points without ever leaving the ground.

There are tons of tricks for earning points without spending a lot of cash—or if you do have to spend cash on, say, your taxes or buying a house, you can earn some points for those necessary expenditures. We’ve laid out a few tricks for loading up on miles without spending a lot of money.

For more points and miles tips, check out T+L’s guide to the best frequent flier programs and start stocking up for a free plane ticket.

Sign Up for Credit Cards

Credit card companies frequently offer serious bonuses for signing up for their card. Chase Sapphire Reserve was recently offering 100,000 miles to anyone who signed up for their card and hit a certain spending threshold. Make sure to read the fine print before signing up, and note if there's an annual fee attached to the card. Get a co-branded airline credit card or a hotel-branded card for extra points and bargains.

Get a Travel Reward Credit Card

Find your perfect travel card and stick with it. When you build points via a credit card like American Express or Chase Sapphire Rewards, they give you many ways to use your points, but it can also be confusing. Luckily the Points Guy broke down the partnerships between cards and airlines to make it much clearer.

Use Cards for Everyday Purchases

The easiest way to earn points is to use your airline credit card or miles card for everyday purchases instead of cash. That way you can earn points on stuff you would be buying anyway like a cup of coffee, a new lawnmower, birthday party supplies, or dog food. You can even pay your taxes with a miles card, if you’re willing to pay a convenience fee to the IRS and your tax preparer.

Use Online Shopping Portals

If you’re serious about building a stash of miles, check with your favorite airline before you go shopping. For instance, Hawaiian Air has points deals with companies like Staples, Nike, and Lego, JetBlue has deals with iTunes and Sephora, and Southwest offers points for wine (yes, wine). It’s an easy way to earn points on purchases you are probably already making.

Eat at Restaurants

Many of the major airlines have dining programs that let consumers earn points for stuffing their faces. For example, Delta’s SkyMiles Dining offers deals with restaurants in major cities like Seattle, Atlanta, and Los Angeles, plus they’ll give you 3,000 points just for signing up for the program.

Find Out What Will Earn Double, Triple, or Quintuple Points

American Express platinum cards and Chase Sapphire Reserve cards are battling it out for best in the travel business, and consumers are reaping the benefits. AmEx recently started offering five times the points for some purchases. It matches a program by Chase that offers points for purchases in all travel categories, including dining, hotels, and Uber rides.

Pay Your Utility Bills

The Points Guy notes that many airlines have partnered with solar, gas, and electric companies, particularly Energy Plus, to offer miles-related bonuses to customers. American lets you earn miles when you pay your DirecTV bill, while Delta lets you earn miles when you pay the gas bill. It’s a nice silver lining to having to foot the bill every time your kid leaves the air conditioner running.

Take Surveys

To encourage customers to divulge their shopping habits via mind-numbingly dull surveys, many airlines will dangle the promise of free miles. If you have some time to kill at work or on the couch at home, Virgin America gives 150 Elevate Points for your first survey with E-Rewards, JetBlue has a PointsForSurveys program, and United offers 300 miles via the OpinionMilesClub. Similarly, e-Miles has deals with Alaska, Southwest, and American, to name a few, and you’ll earn 250 miles just for signing up and activating your account.

Sign Up for Airline Newsletters

There are some good reasons to sign up for your favorite airline’s promotional newsletters, including early notification of flight sales, contests, and deals. Plus, airlines will frequently give you miles in exchange for letting them clutter your inbox with digital newsletters. Southwest currently offers 500 points to those who subscribe to their email list.

Donate Money to Charity

American Airlines will give AAdvantage members 10 miles per dollar donated to Susan G. Komen Foundation and has partnerships with Stand up to Cancer and the National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR). NFCR also has deals with Delta and United Airlines to award miles for charitable donations. 

Buy a House

We’re not suggesting that you buy a $200,000 house to earn a $500 plane ticket, but if you happen to be on the market for a new home, companies like Miles from Home Realty Services or American Home Miles may be able to help you score some airline miles. According to AFAR, these companies will connect you to real estate agents who will reward you with bonus miles for working with them. Sounds like a win-win situation.

Don’t Waste Your Miles

Even small, regional airlines can be partners with larger airlines, so don’t let those miles go to waste. For instance, both Royal Jordanian and Russia’s S7 Airlines are part of the OneWorld Alliance helmed by American Airlines. Once you fly, you can transfer the miles, bundling them with miles earned from other airlines within the same program to earn a free flight. You can find more details here.

Treat Yourself

If you’re feeling flush with cash, high rollers can earn a lot of miles by treating themselves. Head to the spa to cash in on Spa Finder’s miles bonus deals with JetBlue and American. Invest with Fidelity to earn United, Delta, or American miles for brokerage accounts. Mercedes-Benz dealers have an agreement with United that lets buyers earn bonus miles when they buy a new car. If you aren't attached to commercial flying, Delta Private Jets awards bonus miles for booking one of their private jets. Fliers can earn Delta’s Diamond Medallion status without ever flying in a middle seat.

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