5 ways to earn frequent flyer miles without flying

Here are our top tips to earn miles with your feet on the ground.
Written by Holly Johnson, Contributor
Reviewed by Evan Zimmer

The content on this page is accurate as of the posting date; however, some of the offers mentioned may have expired.  

Think you need to fly to earn airline miles? Think again.

There are myriad ways to earn airline miles that don't even require a trip to the airport, and you don't need to have experience flying to get on board, either.

Earning flights without Flying: Does it make sense?

Here's something else to consider: earning airline miles by flying isn't all that lucrative anyway -- at least, not for the typical consumer. For people who fly only a few times per year, earning enough miles for a free flight would take so long -- or cost so much -- it would barely be worth it.

To see what I mean, take a look at the Southwest Rapid Rewards program (while keeping in mind that all airlines award airline miles to consumers differently).

Southwest's cheapest fares, Wanna Get Away Fares, offer six miles per dollar spent -- and a little more if you pay for your flight with the co-branded Southwest credit card.

But let's say you didn't. If a typical flight on Southwest costs 25,000 Rapid Rewards points, you'd have to spend nearly $4,200 on flights before you earned enough miles for a free one.

Meanwhile, you can typically earn enough miles for a Southwest flight with one signup bonus from the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card.

Which strategy sounds better? Spending $4,200 on flights or signing up for a single co-branded credit card? More on that in a minute.

5 ways to earn frequent flyer miles without flying

  • Sign up for a co-branded airline credit card
  • Consider a flexible rewards credit card
  • Use your card for everyday spending
  • Take advantage of online shopping portals
  • Earn miles on hotel stays and rental cars

The truth is, there are a slew of ways to earn airline miles that don't require spending money on airfare or jumping through a lot of hoops. Here are a few of the best (and easiest) ways to earn miles without leaving town:

  1. Sign up for a co-branded airline credit card

By signing up for a co-branded airline credit card and meeting a minimum spending requirement, you can usually earn enough miles for at least one free flight.

However, it isn't wise to jump on this bandwagon blindly. Before you get a new airline credit card, you should ask yourself a few questions right away, including: Which airlines operate in my area? And will I be able to meet the minimum spending requirement without buying anything out of the ordinary?

Also: The Platinum Card® from American Express review

A little due diligence goes a long way when you're choosing an airline credit card. Remember, you want a card that offers miles you can actually use – and you want to avoid harming your financial health in the process.

2. Consider a flexible rewards credit card.

If you're having trouble committing to an airline, some flexible cards offer points you can transfer to a slew of airline partners on a whim.

My personal favorite is the Chase Ultimate Rewards program. With this program, points earned with the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and other Ultimate Rewards cards transfer at a 1:1 ratio to frequent flyer programs, including United Airlines, British Airways, Korean Air, and even Southwest.

If you're unsure which airline you want to go with, picking a flexible rewards card is one way to keep your options open.

3. Use your card for everyday spending.

Once you earn a big welcome bonus, don't stop there. To maximize your miles, you should use your credit card as much as you can for ordinary purchases. Since many airline cards offer at least one mile for each dollar you spend, using your card for everyday purchases (so long as you don't have another card that earns more for them) is an easy way to build your balances without doing anything out of the ordinary.

Also: The best airline credit cards for businesses

4. Take advantage of online shopping portals.

Most big airlines offer shopping portals that allow you to earn additional miles just for clicking through. The Southwest Rapid Rewards shopping portal, for example, offers anywhere from 1 to 10 miles per dollar spent on any purchases you make through the portal. Special "bonus offers" also appear in these portals from time to time.

5. Earn miles on hotel stays and rental cars.

Just as most airlines offer shopping portals, the vast majority offer rental car partnerships, too. Most of the time, you can earn anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand airline miles just by renting your car -- or booking a hotel stay -- through their website.

If you plan to book a hotel stay on your next trip, it can pay off to price-shop on these portals in addition to your usual travel booking websites and scour them for deals.

[This article was first published on The Simple Dollar in 2020. It was updated in July 2022.]

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