Saturday, February 5, 2011

How to earn miles

  The biggest question that Curtis and I get about traveling is "how on earth do you earn so many miles?"  Talk about a question with so many possible answers.  Truth is, there is no one way we earn miles; we carefully seek out deals, promotions and forums on ways to constantly earn these miles.  One extremely helpful website that we reference almost daily is Flyertalk; a community based solely around helping each other earn as many miles as physically possible and/or REALLY cheap deals on hotels.  (ex: they post hotels around the world that offer $1 a night rates all the time)  It's also a wonderful forum for learning about places you plan to go!  These are all dedicated and experienced travelers looking to help each other out.

  Like I've mentioned before, we earn American Airlines miles because they have one of the best FF (frequent flier) programs out there.  Why?  AA miles are tied into almost every facet of life now, from meals to shopping to credit cards and bank accounts.  They also have what's called the One World Alliance, a collection of airlines that all agree to allow customers of their FF programs to fly on any other partner airlines.  So why does AA's program rank so high in our eyes?  Here are the partners:

Included in that list are Cathay Pacific and Qantas Airways, winners of the 2010 top 10 Wold Airline Awards.  Japan Airlines is also consistently noted for it's service as well.  The rest are nice airlines but from what we have discovered, the One World Alliance is worth using miles just to fly on these airlines alone.

So how exactly do we earn these miles?  We try with literally every penny we spend. 

1.  The easiest way to accrue maximum airline miles, and the fastest, without leaving the ground, is through credit card sign-ups.  Curtis and I are avid credit card users, paying off the balances each month in full, to maximize benefit and minimize cost.  (those miles you earned from a credit card are only worth it if you're not paying interest each month, otherwise your dollar per mile cost skyrockets)  Most AA credit cards offer a 30-50,000 mile bonus just for signing up and then run promotional campaigns where certain items and services earn 2 or more miles per dollar spent.  40,000 miles is a free ticket to Europe, btw.  These cards are with Citibank and until recently, you could signup for as many offers as you wanted to, cancel the card when the annual fee is due (we don't pay annual fees.  call and threaten to cancel; if they don't remove it, cancel the card) and sign-up again after 2 months for more miles.  Citi has since changed that but you CAN sign-up for multiple types of cards.  We each have Citi Mastercards, Visas and American Express'.  Assuming each card gave a bonus of 40,000 miles (we usually aim for promotions with 50k or more) that's 120,000 miles for each of us, just for signing up for 3 credit cards. Many banks are now offering miles for checking accounts as well if that's more up your ally.  
*tip: don't sign up for the cards you see on the AA or Citibank website.  Citibank has been sending out emails to those expressing interest in their cards for upwards of a 75,000 mile initial bonus on first time Citi card AA holders.  See Flyertalk for the most up to date listings. 

2.  So now you have 3 credit cards and a handful of miles.  The next step is maximizing the mileage potential through items/services you already planned to spend money on.  This is where American kicks it up a notch.  :)  The things that one can earn miles on these days is endless.  Below are the links to sites American has where you can earn miles doing just about anything from shopping to hotels to dining. 

AAdvantage eShopping
Earn AAdvantage miles for shopping online or in store with more than 300 brand name retailers

Fly and earn miles on American Airlines, American Eagle or one of our AAdvantage participant airlines.

Earn miles with your donations to non-profit organizations.

Credit and Debit Cards
Earn miles by using credit and debit cards.

Thousands of participating restaurants offer AAdvantage miles when you dine.

Financial Services
Earn miles when using a variety of financial service providers.

Earn miles with our hotel participants around the world.

Phone & Internet
Earn miles through our telecommunications and Internet service partners.

Real Estate & Mortgage
Earn miles with our real estate and mortgage participants.

Rental Cars
Earn and use miles with participating rental companies.

Retail and Gifts
Earn miles by shopping, sending flowers, gifts and much more.

Vacations & Cruises
Earn and use miles for vacations and cruises.

Additional Partners
Additional AAdvantage mile earning opportunities with select participants.

One of our favorite programs is the dining program because after only 10 dines a year at a restaurant listed, you get VIP status, which means you are earning almost double what you would have without it.  I can't tell you how many times we've gone to dinner and earned upwards of 500 miles for it.  Not because we ate $500 in food, but because of the VIP dining status, allowing us to earn 10 miles per dollar spent.  Use your Citi AA card with that, during a promotional week of 2 miles per dollar spent and that's an additional 100 miles!  You just earned 600 miles for a sushi dinner. 

3.  This is something we haven't tried yet but many, many people on Flyertalk do.  It's called a mileage run.  When airlines release ridiculously low fares, last minute, to random destinations, you purchase the ticket, request the longest route possibly and simply fly all weekend.  When you pair this with a bonus mile weekend (either bonus miles or double miles) some have earned as much as 75,000 miles just doing this alone.  Stranded at the airport for a delay?  Instead of yelling for a refund, request miles instead.  The airlines don't mind because so many go un-cashed and you've just earned even more miles on your mileage run.  As the video posted at the end of this post, start thinking of miles as currency.  Because they are.

As new opportunities for miles arise, I will be sharing them with you!  These are just some of the main ways to earn a lot of miles in a short period of time.  We came across this video and I thought it would be appropriate to include it in this entry. :)  Enjoy!

Questions?  Leave them in the comments and I'm happy to help! 


  1. Love this post even though I have "good" credit so I can't get any of these cards you mention. I now have something to strive for!

  2. You can still do most of the things listed above though and many banks are offering miles for new checking sign-ups. :) Register all of your current cards (including debit cards) and you'll earn miles without even realizing it. Especially in NYC!