It used to be that the nautical mileage between two airports constituted the number of frequent flyer miles one would earn. That formula worked out great for those who traveled long distances frequently (and especially those who did so on a dime). But since airlines’ profits surged a few years back, legacy carriers have reevaluated how to reward their frequent flyers. Nowadays, with the exception of Alaska Airlines, the miles earned on flights with America’s domestic airlines (and their alliance partners) are determined based on the ticket price paid. In almost all cases, this equates to a fraction of the points previously earned—leaving us travelers wondering how to boost our mileage balances to actually redeem a free ticket. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to earn big miles without ever even leaving the ground! Here are six of them.
New credit card bonuses on airline-branded credit cards
Generous credit card sign-up bonuses are the fastest and easiest way to bank big miles. Airline-branded credit cards typically offer a quick fix of bonus miles (after reaching a spending threshold). While we don’t suggest this as a substitute for a high-end, benefit-heavy credit card, consider complementing your premier credit card with another that will boost your mileage balance on your favorite airline or one you plan to fly soon. Three of the best sign-up bonuses available to the public at press time include:
*Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express: 60,000 Delta SkyMiles after spending $3,000 within the first four months of account opening.
*Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card: 60,000 Rapid Rewards points after spending $2,000 within the first three months of account opening.
*Citi®/AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®: 60,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles after spending $3,000 within the first three months of account opening.
New credit card bonuses on luxury credit cards
Within the affluent credit card space, five of the nine core cards are currently offering bonuses in excess of 40,000 miles. (Note: These miles are transferrable to a variety of airline partners, which vary by credit card.)
* Chase Sapphire Preferred® and Chase Sapphire Reserve℠: 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 within the first three months of account opening.
* Citi Prestige® Card: 40,000 ThankYou® points after spending $4,000 within the first three months of account opening.
* The Platinum Card® from American Express: 60,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $5,000 within the first three months of account opening.
* U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite® Card: 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,500 in the first three months of account opening.
Spend on your credit cards
This is one math formula that’s simple for everyone: The more money you spend, the more miles you earn. Pay attention to category bonuses that offer triple and double points on purchases and watch the miles add up quickly.
Transfer Starwood points ASAP
Transferring hotel points to airline miles typically results in a major devaluation, with one exception—transferring Starwood SPG points to airline miles. Starwood even awards a 5,000-point bonus for every 20,000 points transferred to partner airlines. With Marriott’s post-merger plan to create a single loyalty program from the existing SPG, Marriott, and Ritz-Carlton rewards programs, transfer now before this bonus likely disappears.
All airlines offer the option to purchase points, but they’re typically sold way above market value. So overall, we don’t recommend buying them. There are two exceptions, however. One, when you just need a small number of miles to hit a threshold for an award ticket (and the ends justify the means). And two, when purchasing miles from Alaska Airlines with one of their popular 50% bonus or 40% bonus miles promos, where you’ll effectively pay just above 2 cents per mile (a great option when you are able to find an award ticket in business or first class on Alaska’s partners like Cathay Pacific).
Register for partner promotions
Airlines tend to offer bonuses on new and specific routes and the use of hotel, car rental, and shopping partners. Most of these bonuses require registration. Browse the “bonus offers” section of your chosen airline before booking flights to find possible extras, and always do your online shopping through a credit card or airline shopping portal to earn bonus miles and points.