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Top 5 Ways to Earn Frequent Flyer Miles

Updated on September 23, 2014

The cheap airfare of the early 2000s is largely a thing of the past. Over the past few years, the amount that airlines are charging for flights has gone up extensively. Included in this increase in prices is the addition of checked bag fees and the removal of meals from most flights. Is flying worth the hassle? It definitely can be, especially if you can figure out how to get free flights with frequent flyer miles. There are several ways that would-be travelers can qualify for a free flight (except for the cost of governmental taxes).

Prague is just one of the destinations that travelers can see with frequent flyer miles.
Prague is just one of the destinations that travelers can see with frequent flyer miles. | Source

Way # 1--Flying

When airline companies first began loyalty programs, they intended their frequent flyer programs to be just that, a chance for frequent flyers to get rewarded for their loyalty. Many people still earn miles the old fashioned way. They fly them. Most airlines post a mile for each actual mile flown into the accounts of those who link their itinerary with their account. Those who fly business class or first class can even earn more than one mile per actual mile flown. Of course, they pay dearly for the benefit.

For most people, getting a free flight by seat miles will take about 10 years. Only people for fly for business on a regular basis can expect to get many free trips from their flights. Fortunately for casual travelers, there are now additional options for earning a large cache of miles.

Way # 2--Credit Card Bonuses

Many people may be averse to this option. However, for those who are able to pay off their bills every month, signing up for credit cards that offer large mileage bonuses can be the best way to get a large number of miles very quickly. Some people are able to stash hundreds of thousands of miles every year just by maximizing credit card bonuses.

The best way to find a credit card is to look up each airline that operates out of a nearby airport. The next step is to see what credit cards those airlines partner with. With good credit, would-be applicants will be able to maximize the number of miles they can get as a bonus. One of the largest bonuses was a 100,000 bonus that British Airways offered for a time earlier in 2012. Most bonuses will range between 25,000 and 50,000.

There is usually a spending requirement that users must meet to earn the mileage bonus. Some cards will offer the entire bonus with the initial purchase. Most, however, require a minimum spend. This spend will frequently range anywhere between $500 or $750 to $10,000 within a three or six month period. The stipulations vary by card and by airline. It is important to shop around to find the best deal.

Many airlines offer personal and business cards, and users can qualify for the bonus on each. Also, some airlines will offer a card with two credit card companies. For example, a traveler could apply for a card from both American Express and Visa for the same airline and get both bonuses. Keep in mind that applying for too many credit cards in a short period of time can be detrimental to your credit score. So can failing to pay your bill in a timely fashion.

You won't get this view, but free flights can get you to a wide variety of destinations.
You won't get this view, but free flights can get you to a wide variety of destinations. | Source

Way # 3--Hotel Stays

Depending upon how often a traveler stays in a hotel and whether they want to earn free nights, hotel stays can earn miles. Hotels will generally post miles in one of three ways. Some hotel chains will post a certain number of miles per dollar spent on a room rate. For example, guests can earn 2 miles per dollar spent at full-service hotels in the Marriott chain.

Other hotels, such as Choice Hotels will offer guests a flat 250 miles for each stay. This is a good rate for single-night stays, but it is a bad bonus for a week-long stay.

Finally, most hotels chains will allow users to convert their hotel loyalty points into frequent flyer miles after earning a substantial number. The number of points needed and the number of miles transferred will vary by chain, but this is one option that I have had to use to top off my frequent flyer account.

Way # 4--Shopping

Most people shop at some point or another. If you are going to shop, why not earn some miles for the trouble. Many airlines have online shopping partners that will credit a certain number of bonus miles for each dollar spent online. These bonuses can range from one mile per dollar to 20 miles per dollar or more, depending upon what promotions are going on at a given time.

Because most airline credit cards give a bonus of one mile per dollar spent, using that card for the online purchases is a great way to double up (or more) on the number of miles earned. The number of miles that would-be frequent flyers can earn on these purchases is limited only by disposable income. It is not wise to go into debt just to earn frequent flyer miles.

Way # 5--Search Toolbars

Many frequent flyers may be reluctant to try this option, but there are a few airlines that offer a search toolbar that can pay out miles on a monthly basis. Most of the airlines, like American only pay out for the first 300 searches per month. At one mile per 3 searches, users can get 100 miles a month. While 1,200 miles per year might not seem like much, every mile helps.

The big exception to this limit is Hawaiian Airlines. Those who use the Hawaiian Airlines toolbar can earn up to 5000 miles per month. Of course, 15,000 searches per month is a lot of searching, but there are a few people who have downtime at work that have been able to max this out. (I've personally only gotten about 100 miles in a month). If a person could earn the monthly maximum, 60,000 miles in a year would be a great way to build up the account.

Flying is expensive for those who pay full price. However, with tons of ways to earn frequent flyer miles, it's not usually necessary to pay for anything but taxes. Successful mile collectors can earn hundreds of thousands of miles by using a combination of the tips noted in this article.


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