Maybe you dream of going on an exotic vacation to Paris or Fiji — or maybe you just don’t want to pay an arm and a leg every time you visit your out-of-state in-laws.
Whatever it is, you’re looking for a way to travel for free. You’ve heard of these mystical “frequent flyer miles,” but you don’t want to have to sign up for a bunch of credit cards to get them.
What’s a wannabe travel hacker to do?
Take heart: you can earn frequent flyer miles without signing up for credit cards. You just have to know where to look.
Before we get started, though, here’s one important tip: be strategic with your earning. Don’t earn miles haphazardly with a bunch of different programs. Choose one or two programs to focus on, since you can’t merge or switch between them after the miles have been earned. It’s much more useful to have 50K miles in one program than 10K in five different ones.
Now, here are six ways to earn frequent flyer miles without signing up for credit cards:
1. Shop Online
It’s an often-overlooked way to earn miles, and one of the easiest. Most major airlines have online shopping portals; by simply logging in through this website, then making a purchase at the store of your choice, you’ll earn bonus miles from that airline.It won’t cost you anything extra, and it’ll only take a few extra minutes of your time.
Let’s look at an example. Chances are, you’ve shopped at Target in person or online over the past year. Did you earn miles for it? If not, don’t kick yourself. Just read on and learn.
When you’re planning to buy something, surf over to ev’reward. This site should always be your first stop when you’re about to make an online purchase. It’ll tell you how many points you can earn in each program.
With Target.com, you earn 2 miles per dollar spent with American Airlines, 2 points per dollar spent with Chase Ultimate Rewards, and 1 mile per dollar spent with most of the other airlines.
Now it’s time to decide which program’s portal you want to use. (Consider which programs you already have miles in, and what you plan to use your miles for.) Click on the appropriate link, log into your account with that program, and then get redirected to Target’s main website.
Shop as normal — only now you’ll be earning extra miles with your purchase. Say you logged in through American Airlines’ shopping portal and bought a $50 blender. You’ll now have 100 American Airlines miles, just for making a purchase you would have anyway. And if you pay with a travel rewards credit card, you’ll earn even more miles on top of it.
2. Take Surveys
If you’ve got some spare time on your hands, earn miles by taking online marketing surveys.
3. Eat Out
Most airline programs offer extra points for dining within their preferred network of restaurants. And it’s easy: just sign up online and link your credit card to the program, and you’ll earn extra miles any time you pay the bill at one of those restaurants.
Here are links to a few major programs:
- American Airlines AAdvantage Dining
- Delta Skymiles Dining
- United MileagePlus Dining
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Dining
4. Monitor Social Media
Airlines and hotel chains often run promotions on social media. For example, you might be asked to watch a video about British Airways and like their Facebook page, and in return, you’ll get 500 points. If you’re already a social media junkie, this should be easy for you!
The best way to find out about these promotions is to follow airlines and frequent flyer blogs on Twitter. (To make it easy, here’s a Twitter list I’ve made of my favorite frequent flyer resources.) If you’re not on Twitter, just sign up to receive updates in your email or RSS reader.
5. Sign Up for a Debit Card
I recommend that everyone has at least one travel rewards card to use for all of their everyday expenses. It is, by far, the easiest way to earn miles. If you’re not a fan of credit cards, or can’t commit to paying them off in full each month, get a miles-earning debit card instead.
Though rewards debit cards are dying out, here are three options that remain:
- Delta Skymiles World Check Card
- UFB Direct American Airlines Debit Card
- Bankoh Hawaiian Airlines Visa Check Card
A few other financial promotions exist — such as investing money with Fidelity and Ameritrade — but you typically need to put down a lot of capital to qualify.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but many people still don’t take full advantage of this method of earning miles.
First off, you should never fly without putting in your frequent flyer number. And remember how we talked about earning miles in one or two programs? This applies when you’re flying, as well. Even if you purchase your ticket with Korean Air, you can earn Delta Skymiles, since they are partners. Make sure you put in the correct frequent flyer number when booking any tickets.
Make sure you’re also earning miles through your hotel stays and car rentals. Check with your preferred programs to see who their partners are, and choose the best option for you.
Though those are the main ways you can earn frequent flyer miles without signing up for credit cards, the world of travel rewards is always changing. Keep an eye out for other promotions, such as those available when you sign up for Netflix, pay your insurance or get your taxes prepared.
Once you start looking, the opportunities to earn miles are everywhere.
Susan Shain (@TravlJunkette) has been working seasonal adventure jobs and traveling the world since 2008 — all on a strict budget. Follow along on her blog, Travel Junkette, to learn how you can do the same.