I am relatively new to collecting miles and points. When I started, there was a steep learning curve that seemed overwhelming. It felt like it would be impossible to accumulate enough to make a dent in our travel expenses. My kids with only first world problems are used to regular travel with the word “Disney”, after all. I debated whether to even start. I’m glad I did. In a short amount of time, I have racked up enough miles and points to cover several first-class flights and multiple hotel stays for my family. This process requires organization and strategy, but it is well worth it. There are Ten easy ways I use to earn miles and points without doing anything I consider to be ethically questionable.
How To Earn Miles and Points
- How To Earn Miles and Points
- 1. Credit Card Spend
- 2. Throw Your Debit Card Away
- 3. Use the Best Credit Card for Each Purchase
- 4. Check Your Accounts Regularly for Offers on Current Accounts
- 5. Credit Card Referrals
- 6. Register for Miles and Points Loyalty Programs
- 7. Dining
- 8. Shopping Portals
- 9. Surveys
- 10. Retention Offers
1. Credit Card Spend
Credit cards will earn you the most miles and points by far, even if you don’t spend a lot each month. You can build miles and points very quickly, particularly with a few introductory bonuses. There is nothing stopping both you and your partner from taking out the same card, even if you are listed as an authorized user on the other’s card. Keep in mind if you do not pay your balance in full each month, this is not for you. Any benefit you receive from the miles and points will be more than canceled out by fees and interest payments.
The credit cards with the best incentives require good credit. If you don’t have good credit, work on improving your credit score before you start applying. A quick google search will tell you generally what credit score you need to increase your approval odds. NerdWallet is a great free app that breaks down your credit score and makes suggestions to improve it.
Organization is key. When you start accumulating enough credit cards to play Poker, you need to make sure things don’t slip through the cracks so you don’t get into financial trouble or accidentally miss a payment. NerdWallet keeps a list of your credit cards and their balances, and I also use Mint, another free site, to keep track of all my financial accounts.
There are tons of credit cards from which to choose. You should get a sense of which ones you want in the next year or two and apply in a strategic order. Even if you have great credit, if you take out too many too fast, you will start getting denied. I do not recommend listing your partner as an authorized user on your cards because accounts on which you are an authorized user will also be listed on your credit report. This will look like you are opening accounts twice as fast. You can both take out the same card individually and receive double the rewards.
The requirements of each individual company are constantly changing, so double check before you apply. There is too much to say about the benefit of each particular credit card for one article, so I am only going to focus on application guidelines and introductory bonuses for a few cards I like for beginners. You should read what each card offers, like free checked baggage, TSA precheck credits, and airport lounge access, to decide if the card will benefit you long term. Generally, here are some things to keep in mind as of the time of this writing:
Chase has a 5/24 rule. If you have taken out or been listed as an authorized user on someone else’s card from any company more than 5 times in the last 24 months, you will most likely be denied. Note, this is not just five Chase cards. Any company at all is included in the count. Apply for Chase cards first.
Chase has a lot of great products for beginners. We like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which as of the time of this writing has an introductory bonus of 60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points (worth approximately $750) after you spend $4,000 on the card in the first three months. We also use airline credit card offers like the Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus card, which as of the time of this writing offers 40,000 Rapid Rewards points (worth approximately $600) after spending $1,000 in the first three months. If you prefer cash over travel rewards and a card with no annual fee, Chase Freedom offers a $200 statement credit after spending $500 within the first three months. These are just three examples. Chase has plenty of other great choices as well.
Note, you can typically earn introductory bonuses on the same card more than once if you wait the specified amount of time before applying again. Check the terms of each card and know how to earn miles with credit card.
American Express has several great cards. I have found these cards to be pretty easy to get. However, they do this obnoxious thing where they take back your introductory bonus if you cancel the card within a year or if they figure out you made ineligible purchases to hit the minimum spend, such as gift cards. Make sure you do not cancel the card or do a product change until after the annual fee posts the next year. The annual fee is refundable for up to 30 days after it posts.
My favorite American Express card for beginners is the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card. It has an introductory bonus of 130,000 Hilton Honors points (worth approximately $650) after spending $4,000 in the first three months. It also gives you a free weekend night if you spend $15,000 on the card in a calendar year, as well as several other benefits.
American Express has a once per lifetime rule for introductory bonuses, so wait to apply until you see an offer you really like.
Barclays is a tough nut to crack. Apply for this one early, and don’t bother if you have taken out a bunch of other cards recently. If you can get to this one early enough to get approved, the Barclays AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard offers 60,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles (worth approximately $960) after you make any purchase and pay the $99 annual fee.
You can earn the introductory bonus multiple times if you wait the requisite amount of time.
Citibank cards are pretty easy to come by regardless of how many cards you have taken out recently.
For beginners, I like the Citi/AAdvantage Travel Rewards card which offers 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles (worth approximately $800) after spending $2,500 in the first three months. I also use the Citi Premier which offers 60,000 Citi ThankYou points after spending $4,000 in the first three months. The value of Citi ThankYou points varies depending upon how you choose to redeem them. I generally use them to book rental cars through the travel portal, but there are several options.
You can earn the sign-up bonuses more than once on these cards as long as you wait the appropriate amount of time (listed on the individual application) to reapply.
Capital One tends to decline people who have taken out a lot of cards recently. You should apply for these cards on the early side.
I like the Capital One Venture card. This card has a purchase eraser that allows you to erase any travel-related expense on your statement with your points, so it is very flexible. At the time of this writing, you earn 50,000 bonus miles (worth $500) after spending $3,000 in the first three months.
You can earn sign up bonuses on Capital One cards more than once.
2. Throw Your Debit Card Away
You should be using your credit card for everything. Your debit card should be reserved solely for taking out cash for Tooth Fairy money. When you use a debit card or cash when you could use a credit card, you are flushing miles and points down the toilet.
3. Use the Best Credit Card for Each Purchase
After you hit your minimum spend, pay attention to the percentage each card pays for certain categories. We cycle through a handful of cards for various purchases. One card will pay more at grocery stores, while another will pay more for gas. Make yourself aware of the general spending categories and try to maximize your earnings.
4. Check Your Accounts Regularly for Offers on Current Accounts
Most credit card companies offer extra miles and points for shopping with certain vendors. There is typically a section called “Just For You” or something of the sort when you log on to your account. Check the offers to see if you were going to shop there anyway. If you were, go through a shopping portal and use the corresponding credit card to make the purchase.
5. Credit Card Referrals
Like all those credit cards you have recently taken out? Refer your friends. Several credit card companies offer incentives to refer people, and there is generally no restriction preventing you from referring your partner, even if your partner is an authorized user on your card. My husband and I constantly refer each other for cards we were going to take out anyway. Be aware credit card companies sometimes send a 1099 for the value of the referral points if the value exceeds a certain threshold.
6. Register for Miles and Points Loyalty Programs
Loyalty programs are free and require almost no effort. Anytime you travel, you should make sure you have joined that airline and/or hotel’s frequent traveler program and make sure that the trip has been added to your account to earn frequent flyer miles. It costs you nothing but ten seconds of your time. Familiarize yourself with the rules of the loyalty program. Some programs’ points expire after a certain period of inactivity, but there is almost always a way to reset the clock without traveling. I use the free AwardWallet earn points app to keep track of my miles and points and their corresponding expiration dates.
Several airlines and hotel chains have dining programs like Aadvantage Dining. All you need to do is register your credit card with the site and dine at one of the restaurants. The points generate automatically. When you register for the first time, there is often an extra introductory bonus in addition to the normal points earned. Here is an example of one of these programs. You can register for as many programs as you want, but the points will only apply to one. Dining at one of these establishments is a great way to reset the clock if your points are about to expire.
8. Shopping Portals
Shopping portals are an easy way to earn miles and points for purchases you were going to make anyway. Register with a portal, then just click through to the store’s website. The prices are exactly the same and you can use any promo codes or discounts at the store you would like. The number of points earned is based upon the purchase price. On Swagbucks' shopping portal, for example, you'll find online RedBubble coupons, Michaels coupons, and other promo codes and deals for thousands of merchants. Another example of a shopping portal can be found here. This is another great way to reset the clock if your points are about to expire.
You can take surveys to earn miles and points with some loyalty programs. An example of how to earn airline miles without credit card can be found here. The earnings are quite low for the time invested, like less than minimum wage, so I don’t recommend spending any real-time on these unless you are just hanging out on the couch anyway. It is another way to reset the clock.
10. Retention Offers
When the annual fee posts on your credit card, it doesn’t hurt to call the company to ask if they have any retention offers available. Sometimes, they will give you an incentive to keep the card, such as a statement credit or the ability to earn extra miles. If you decide you don’t want to keep a card, at a minimum, ask for a product change to a no annual fee card. This will keep the account open so it appears you are holding onto your cards long term. Credit card companies don’t want customers who are going to take the introductory bonus and close the card. If you have a bunch of accounts on your credit report that were only open for a few months, it will look bad for you when you apply for new cards.
Earning miles and points is work, but it can also become a fun hobby. The miles and points we have accumulated over the last couple of years have saved us thousands. It is important to stay organized and apply in a strategic order to maximize your benefits. While it may take a substantial amount of time to manage miles and points, it is worth it.
Andy is a blogger at Penny Less Dad and a financial writer associated with the Oak View Law Group. He is a debt expert and a member of several online forums where he shares his advice as well as tips to lead a financially independent life.