Making the most

To reiterate from the earlier entries of this guide, miles and reward points, in the vast majority of instances, are going to be the means that allow you to snag that first class seat or the penthouse suite overlooking Times Square. For that reason, it’s good to get in the habit of maximizing your earning opportunities. Being a frequent flyer helps for sure, but by no means is it a requirement. Instead, you should utilize all possible sources of “income,” through…

  • Travel
  • Credit Cards
  • Shopping & Dining
  • Promotions

These are the four most effective ways to acquire miles, but they certainly aren’t the only ones. While these are all pretty easy to understand conceptually, there are numerous nuances between companies and their programs, just like everything else in this business. Consult the “Resources” page for more information.

Travel

This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but flying is a great way to accrue miles, as is sleeping in hotel rooms. Pretty much every major company in the travel industry, including airlines, hotels, and rental car agencies, all issue forms of points that can later be redeemed for a seat, suite, or something similar.

MileagePlus Earnings
Remember the couple traveling to South Africa? They would earn roughly 5,000 United MileagePlus miles each if they book these tickets.

Always be aware of how many miles you will earn when deciding who you fly/stay/rent with. There can often be huge discrepancies, and it’d be a shame to be shortchanged by these companies; that’s the opposite of what higher flying is. Take advantage of all of your available options!

SkyMiles Earnings
That same couple could also earn roughly 17,000 Delta SkyMiles per person if they buy these tickets instead.

As the two above pictures demonstrate, there are two flights to Johannesburg, one on United and one on Delta. Both leave around the same time. They cost more or less the same, but the latter offers consumers more than triple the amount of points! It’s important to know your options — would you rather have around 5,000 or around 17,000 points?

Credit Cards

There are two main ways to earn reward points with credit card usage: through daily spending habits and fulfilling signing bonuses. If you don’t travel very often, these methods will likely be the most effective in helping you build up your point balances. Airlines, hotels, and banks are all so closely connected, and because of these intertwined relationships, they can offer consumers access to vast troves of miles and points. It’s lucrative for everyone involved, so make sure you make the most of the opportunities presented.

Daily Spending

Most credit cards, at the bare minimum, award one point for every dollar charged to it. In addition to that, a good number of cards, including the American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card (shown below), will give you even more points when you use it to make a purchase in a specially designated category. This card specifically has bonuses for plane tickets (3 points for every dollar spent), as well as food, gasoline, and groceries (2 points for every dollar spent). This is just a single example, and issuing companies/banks all have their own deals and quirks, so look to apply for something that complements your spending habits. You’ll earn tons of miles just by buying what you ordinarily would.

Signing Bonuses

To incentivize people to sign up for a particular card, issuing companies and banks will create bonuses for their newly approved customers. The conditions are pretty simple; if you charge a certain amount of money to your new card (usually anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000) in a specific amount of time (usually within the first 90 days of account opening), you’ll earn a significant amount of points. To use the American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card (shown below) again, you can see that a new cardholder would earn 25,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $2,000. That amount alone could be enough for a round-trip ticket domestically. Unfortunately, signing bonuses are almost always a one-time offer.

AMEX Gold Earnings
Here you can see both the Daily Spending bonuses in addition to the Signing Bonus for the American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card.

Because there are so many different credit cards out there, I would recommend consulting the “Resources” page for a list of the best, most useful cards available for the purposes of higher flying. If you’re curious about what I have in my wallet, go to the “Currently…” subsection of “About Me“.

When the points from maximizing everyday spending habits and signing bonus(es) are totaled, the owner of the credit card usually has a substantial store available for his or her own disposal. Furthermore, because the vast majority of these are issued as Fixed Value or Flex Value Points, they are versatile for continuous use as a higher flyer.

Shopping & Dining

Everytime you shop online or go out for dinner, you could potentially be earning lots of extra miles and points. As part of the expansion of loyalty programs over the past few decades, issuing companies like airlines, hotels, and banks have looked to create more opportunities to entice their customers to stick around. Newer developments have come to include participation from retailers and restaurants.

Pretty much all of the major players in the United States have a presence in this realm. Most airlines, some hotel chains, and a few banks all offer some sort of points rebate on online shopping and dining. For each program that you’re a member of, you’ll have to register individually, but that’s simple enough. Go to the program’s homepage, so for example: United MileagePlus, and then register for MileagePlus Shopping and/or Dining (or American AAdvantage Shopping/Dining or Delta SkyMiles Shopping/Dining or whatever). Then you’re all set to accrue a lot more miles than before.

MileagePlus Shopping Earnings
You can earn 4 MileagePlus miles for every dollar you spend at Under Armour…

There are tons of available stores and eateries for you to choose from. The number of online retailers that will offer you a mileage currency rebate is in the thousands. As is the case with daily spend on credit cards, if you normalize your purchasing habits through online portals sponsored by airlines/hotels/banks, you’ll accrue so many more points that can be used for higher flying. The same applies to dining options.

MileagePlus Dining
…And you can earn 3 miles for every dollar you spend at restaurants like DC Pizza!

Like most everything else in higher flying though, it’s important to not spread yourself too thin. Pick just a few programs that are most useful for you and your goals, and then concentrate your earnings in those places. Keep a lookout for special deals too; points multipliers are common promotions, and are hugely beneficial to your point balances. Websites like cashbackmonitor.com can help you keep track of these, and in turn, help you earn the greatest possible number of frequent flyer miles.

SkyMiles Shopping Earnings
Keep a look out for special promotions like this one. They’re usually limited-time offers, and for good reason: you can earn a TON of miles through them!

Promotions

Issuing companies will frequently announce limited-time deals that allow customers to accrue extra miles at minimal costs. The nature of these special offers will vary between each program/promotion, and while they’re not always terrific values, you should at least consider every opportunity to earn more points. If a promotion suits your travel goals, then by all means, go for the bonus(es)! If they don’t, well, there’s no harm in letting something slip by. It’s all a matter of choosing what’s best for you.

Some common promotions are…

  • Additional points bonuses: These points are awarded after meeting a predetermined condition, like traveling to a certain destination, purchasing a certain type of airfare or hotel reservation, or meeting a minimum spending requirement. These are issued in addition to the points that are already earned with the booking.
AA Promotion
Achieve an additional points bonus and earn up to 30,000 extra American Airlines AAdvantage miles when you fly from the United States to Asia.
  • Multiplied points bonuses: Instead of tacking on a set bonus to the original award amount (like additional points bonuses), this type of promotion multiplies the total number of points you would ordinarily earn. When you travel during a set time period or book a special reservation, a predetermined multiplier is applied to the amount of points that you would accrue by default.
SPG Promotion
Have your points multiplied when you stay at Starwood hotels. If you were to earn 500 points for a weekend stay, you’d earn 1,500 instead during this promotion!
  • Purchased points bonuses: Most airlines and hotels will sell their customers points. While it may seem reasonable to be able to purchase miles outright, especially if you’re close to affording a particularly appealing award ticket, you probably shouldn’t. It’s usually a bad value; instead you should wait until the issuing company offers some sort of a bonus on your purchased points. As a general rule of thumb, I won’t buy anything unless I’m getting at least a 30% bonus. That’s a much better value, and it’s a great way to bolster your balances for cheaper prices.
Alaska Promotion
Get a 40% bonus on your purchased miles with Alaska Airlines! Even though you’d be paying for 60,000 miles (in this case), you’d come away with 24,000 extra ones. Not bad!
  • Crossover points bonuses: As a result of airlines/hotels/banks having partners in other industries, there are plenty of other opportunities to pick up more miles and points. Generally speaking, when you spend money with one company, you earn miles/points with another. These promotions are quite similar to, if not the same as, the “Shopping & Dining” offers (depending on the context). Sometimes there are even additional or multiplied points bonuses as further incentive; be on the lookout for these unique promotions!
Delta Lyft
Earn a Delta SkyMile for every dollar you spend when you use Lyft, the ride-sharing service!

These are only a few examples of the most common promotions; this is not an exhaustive list. Keep an eye out for other unique deals, especially ones that could really maximize your earnings rates. After all, the more points you accrue, the higher you can fly!


“Double Dipping”

These four methods are the most effective means for you to accrue the valuable miles needed to get you flying higher. “Double Dipping” allows you to further increase your earning rates by combining these categories together. You should get in the habit of looking for opportunities to do this too; you’ll really build your mileage balances high then!

Remember the couple going to South Africa? Say that they bought the Delta airfare (pictured above) for $1,200 each ($2,400 total), and charge it to their shared American Express Gold Card. Flying that route alone will net them 33,240 SkyMiles total. Because that card offers 3 miles for every dollar spent on plane tickets, they also receive 7,200 Membership Rewards points. On top of that, they eat at restaurants that are dining partners with Delta, and earn 3 miles for every dollar spent. They spend $1000 total on meals out, so that’s 3,000 more SkyMiles for them. When it’s all said and done, they will have earned over 40,000 points, which is more than enough for two round-trip tickets within the United States.

Pretty cool, huh?


This page is just a sampling of the ways that you can earn loads of miles and points. Be creative and thoughtful, and definitely use the available resources to stay on the hunt for terrific opportunities. Soon, you’ll find that you have so much more at your disposal to help you fly higher. Read on to learn how to use your new collection.


NEXT: Enhancing Experiences