Are you dreaming of a summer vacation but dreading the cost? Plane tickets are notoriously expensive, but thanks to frequent flyer miles, you can hop on a plane for practically free. And contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to actually travel to earn these perks. With a few simple strategies and smart tricks and tips, you’ll be jet setting the world for next to nothing.
Maxing out sign-up offersSimply opening a credit card is one of the fastest and easiest ways to earn a bunch of miles all at once. The highest-rated mileage credit cards usually offer a sign-up bonus of anywhere from 10,000 to 50,000 miles, plus an annual bonus for as long as you keep the card open. However, these offers usually come with a catch: you’ll probably have to spend a certain amount on your credit card within the first three months of account opening to qualify for the bonus, usually between $1,000 and $3,000.
A simple way to overcome this hurdle is to pay for your normal monthly expenses, like your cell phone, childcare, groceries or even rent with your credit card and pay it off in cash right away. This way, you’ll be able to meet your spending requirements without racking up any unnecessary debt. Just make sure you fire off the payments before you get the credit card bill in the mail – you don’t want to run the risk of accidentally overspending or paying any extra interest.
And if you really want to work the system, you could open multiple mileage credit cards, meet the spending limits and then close the account once you get your sign up bonus miles. However, you won’t be doing your credit score any favors (too much open credit and short credit history can damage your FICO) and you’ll miss out on the annual bonuses and other perks.
If you really want to give this strategy a shot, you could consider keeping your best cards open, like the ones that offer the most mile-per-dollar kickbacks, bonus spending categories, and flexible travel dates, and opening and closing just one new card a year to take advantage of the sign-up bonus. Related: 3 Best Air Miles Credit Cards
Taking online surveysIf you’ve got some extra time on your hands, sites like e-rewards.com and emiles.com offer miles in exchange for taking online surveys. You have to qualify for the surveys these sites are running, so you can’t just take as many as you want. Also, you only earn about 10 miles per completed questionnaire, so make sure this really is the best way to use your time. Once you’ve finished a survey, your miles usually get deposited into your account in 60 to 120 days. Since it takes so long to make the transfer, this type of strategy is best for earning air miles slowly over time – you’re not going to be able to book a dream trip that’s just a few weeks away.
Making everyday purchasesMost air miles cards offer cardholders one mile or point for every dollar they spend. Some cards also offer double or triple points for spending in certain categories, like gas and groceries or at certain retailers. All you have to do to maximize your normal, everyday spending is use your air miles card for all these purchases and then pay the card off right away.
Now, I have to be honest with you: This strategy may seem easy, but it takes a lot of discipline. If you don’t usually track your spending or keep a detailed budget, try using a free app, like Mint.com to get real-time updates of your spending and credit card balances. They even have a bill pay tool so you can schedule your payments as you use your credit card. This is one of the most effective ways to earn air miles for free, so definitely give it a shot and see how you do! Keep Reading: Should You Redeem Your Air Miles For Cash?
Shopping onlineSome airlines have online shopping portals, sometimes called “malls,” that allow customers to earn air miles just for making purchases through their portal. These airlines partner with online retailers to reward customers with points or miles for each dollar they spend.
For example, American Airlines has the AAdvantage eShopping mall with over 850 retailers to choose from including JC Penny, GILT, Kmart, Shutterfly, J Crew Factory, HP and more. Alaska Air also has a Mileage Plan shopping program, where customers can earn miles at stores like REI, Macy’s, Sears and Groupon.
When you shop through an airline’s online portal, you can actually pay with any card you choose. Although you’ll earn bonus miles if you use the airline’s credit card, of course. Also, you’ll only want to use these online malls for purchases you were going to make anyway. If you’re only spending to take advantage of special offers, you’re not really saving any money. Keep Reading: How To Travel Around The World For Less
Eating outJust like many airlines offer bonus points for spending at preferred retailers, customers can also earn air miles for dining at certain restaurants. Airlines usually keep a list of their partner restaurants and most of the time there are options that will keep everyone in the family happy. Delta customers can use the SkyMiles dining portal to search for restaurants by area and the results range from large chain restaurants to small, boutique-style establishments. Signing up for the program is free and customers can earn up to 5 miles for each dollar they spend on dining, including tax and tip!
The best way to track your air milesNow that you have some crafty ways to earn air miles without traveling, you’ll want to make sure you can keep track of all your rewards. There are several handy apps and online services that help you manage air miles, each with it’s own unique feature. Here are some of our favorites:
Mileage Manager – Best for tracking your miles and letting you know when they are about to expire.
AwardWallet – Best for helping you keep track of all your frequent flyer account numbers (does not currently support Southwest or United).
TripIt – Best for keeping your travel plans and itinerary organized.