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How to build airline miles

How to build airline miles on the blog. Airline plane taking off

Let’s talk airline miles. Whether you use them already or are thinking about getting into them, there’s likely one thing you’re wondering: How to build airline miles. Because the more you have, the more free travel you can do, right?

The good news: There are actually a ton of ways to boost your balance (and tons that don’t involve a single credit card!), and I’m going to dive into them below. But first, let’s review exactly what airline miles are and what you can do with them!

WHAT ARE AIRLINE MILES?

Airline miles are a currency airlines use to cultivate loyalty among customers. You can build your stash using a number of different strategies, as we’ll discuss in a second, but loyalty programs exist so that when you have enough miles, you can book a free flight. The way airlines see it, the promise of eventually earning enough miles through their frequent flier programs for a free flight with them will keep you buying paid tickets with them in the meantime. Everybody wins!

It’s important to remember that each airline has its own rewards program and that once you have one type of mile, you can’t change it into another. This is where miles differ from transferable points, such as those you’ll earn through Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards. With those programs, you can convert one type of currency into another—but with airline miles, that’s not an option. Once you’ve got ’em, you’ve got ’em.

So why should you focus on airline miles, rather than on more flexible transferable points? In reality, you should focus on both. Earning transferable points—which are mostly issued by banks—largely depends on credit-card spending, and you’re limited by how much you can shell out in a given month or year. Airlines, on the other hand, make it easy to earn in a variety of different ways, so you can pick up extra miles along the way on top of what you already may be earning in credit-card points.

Now that that’s squared away, let’s talk about all the different ways to earn!

How to build airline miles - American Airlines plane overhead

HOW TO BUILD AIRLINE MILES

TAKE PAID FLIGHTS

If you know one way to earn miles, it’s probably earning miles by flying. If you pay for and take a flight, you’ll earn miles for that flight. What you may not know, though, is that it’s usually up to you which airline’s miles you want to earn on a given flight; most airlines will allow you to enter your frequent flier number for the airline you’re flying or for any of its partner airlines.

How many miles you earn from a given flight can depend on a few factors, including what class of service you’re flying, how much you paid for your ticket, and whether you have elite status. To learn more, check out this post on how airline miles work!

SPEND ON A CO-BRANDED CREDIT CARD

Every major airline in the U.S. has teamed up with a credit card issuer on co-branded travel credit cards that allow you to earn miles as you spend—and lots of international airlines have, too. When you first open an airline’s credit card, you’ll likely have a certain spending threshold you’ll have to hit within a pre-specified period of time in order to earn a sign-up bonus, which is a large lump sum of miles. For example, the United Airlines MileagePlus Explorer Visa frequently offers sign-up bonuses of 40,000 MileagePlus miles if you spend $2,000 on qualifying purchases within the first three months of account opening.

In general, you’ll earn at least one mile per dollar that you put on airline rewards cards, but you’ll also earn bonus miles in certain spending categories. Sticking with that same MileagePlus Explorer Visa example, you’ll earn 2 miles per dollar spent on United purchases, at restaurants and on hotel stays.

REFER YOUR CO-BRANDED CREDIT CARD

There’s another way to earn miles with a co-branded credit card without spending anything at all, and that’s to refer your card to friends. If others sign up using your personal referral link, airlines will deposit bonus miles (or bonus points, as Southwest and JetBlue call them) into your account.

Jeep in Hawaii

RENT A CAR

Several major U.S. airlines have rental car partnerships that’ll earn you miles with each booking. This is one to watch out for, though: When booking through airline sites, you often will see higher prices than you would using a website such as autoslash.com.

See rental car partnerships for: Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines

SHOP ONLINE

Airlines use what are called “shopping portals” to award users for shopping through their online malls. Just head to an airline’s portal, click on the store you want to make a purchase from, and you’ll be redirected to the store’s site. Place an order then and there, and you’ll receive airline miles for every dollar you spend! It’s that simple, but it gets even simpler: Some airlines offer shopping plugins you can install. When you arrive at a store website that’s eligible for a bonus, you’ll get a pop-up notification and an option to click a button to enable miles-earning.

See shopping portals for: Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Southwest, United

United also offers up to 1,500 when you join MyPoints to shop online: 500 miles for joining, and an extra 1,000 if you make your first purchase within 30 days of membership. 

Golden retriever

GET A PET SITTER

Alaska and American both offer bonuses for first-time users of Rover.com, which you can think of as the Airbnb of pet sitters. Select your dates and pick your sitter based on rate, rankings and more. After your first time, you can earn one mile per dollar with either airline.

(Fun fact: Jake is a Rover sitter, and the dog on the right is one of his former clients, Tucker! The cat on the left is Charlie of Red’s Mercantile in Eau Claire.)

TAKE OUT OR REFINANCE A LOAN

Whether you need to take out a loan or refinance one, these airlines throw you a little something in return:

Alaska – Earn one MileagePlan mile for every $2 of student loans you refinance with SoFi, up to 50,000 miles
American – Earn one AAdvantage mile for every dollar you borrow with a personal loan through LendingClub, up to 40,000 miles
Hawaiian – Earn 25,000 HawaiianMiles for closing or refinancing a home loan through Quicken Loans, and earn one HawaiianMile per $1 borrowed with a Best Egg personal loan, up to 50,000 miles
JetBlue – Earn one TrueBlue point for every $2 of your personal funded loan amount with SoFi, up to 50,000 points
Southwest – Earn one Rapid Rewards point for every $2 of student loans you refinance with SoFi, up to 50,000 points
United – Earn 25,000 MileagePlus miles for closing or refinancing a home loan through Quicken Loans, and earn one MileagePlus mile for every dollar you borrow with a personal loan through LendingClub, up to 40,000 miles

Hilton Budapest bed

STAY IN A HOTEL

Like with rental car companies, most major U.S. airlines also have rental car partnerships that’ll net you miles with each hotel stay you book through their sites. Be similarly aware of the price you’re paying versus the price you’d pay where booking somewhere else, as a higher rate will likely not be worth the earnings!

See hotel partnerships for: Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Southwest, United

Delta also offers one SkyMile per $1 spent on qualifying Airbnb stays after you link your accounts, and American allows you to convert your hotel points into AAdvantage miles at prespecified rates.

SHARE YOUR OPINIONS

Got some extra time on your hands? Airlines and their partners will reward you for filling out surveys. 

Alaska – Earn at least 400 MileagePlan miles when you join The Opinion Terminal for free and complete your first survey
American – Earn 250 AAdvantage miles when you join the e-Rewards Opinion Panel, and earn miles with every survey you take with Miles for Opinions
Hawaiian – Earn 350 HawaiianMiles when you join Opinions Take Flight and complete your first survey
JetBlue – Earn TrueBlue points by taking surveys with Jet Opinions
Southwest – Earn 500 Rapid Rewards points when you complete your first survey with Rewards for Opinions within three months of enrolling, and earn points by sharing your opinions with the e-Rewards Opinion Panel
United – Earn 300 MileagePlus miles for joining Opinion Miles Club and completing your first survey

MAKE A DONATION

American will reward you with 10 AAdvantage miles per $1 you donate to Stand Up To Cancer, while United will reward you with 10 MileagePlus miles for every $1 you donate to the National Foundation for Cancer Research as long as your contribution is tax-deductible and totals $25 or more.

Vegetarian dinner
Borkonyha Winekitchen pumpkin

EAT OUT

Airlines offer dining programs that help you earn bonus miles each time you pay the check—and that’s on top of what you’d already earn if using a travel credit card. Just head to the dining program’s site, register your credit card, and each time you swipe it at a participating restaurant, you’ll be rewarded.

See dining programs for: Alaska, American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, United

PROTECT YOUR IDENTITY

American – Earn up to 12,000 AAdvantage miles when you enroll in LifeLock ID Theft protection
United – Earn up to 13,000 MileagePlus miles when you enroll with LifeLock with Norton

Flowers in a bud vase

BUY FLOWERS

Alaska – Earn 20 MileagePlan miles per dollar spent at 1800Flowers when you use promo code AKA3, and earn 20 miles per dollar spent at Teleflora when you use promotion code BAAAL10
American – Earn 750 AAdvantage miles every time you order from Teleflora, and earn 20 miles for every dollar you spend at 1800Flowers 
Hawaiian – Earn 1,500 HawaiianMiles on your Teleflora purchase, and earn miles on your purchases from 1800Flowers
Southwest – Earn 1,000 Rapid Rewards points for each 1800Flowers order of $29.99 or more
United – Earn 15 MileagePlus miles for every dollar spent at 1800Flowers on flowers and gifts with promo code MP56, and earn 750 miles per order at Teleflora

BUY GROCERIES

Alaska – Earn 100 miles for every $300 spent at participating Carrs-Safeway locations in the state of Alaska
Hawaiian – For every $250 you spend at Foodland and Sack N Save, you’ll earn a My Rewards Certificate that can be cashed in for 200 HawaiianMiles. You can also earn more for using reusable bags and eating local; earn three HawaiianMiles for every reusable bag used at checkout, and earn five HawaiianMiles every time you buy two or more local items

BUY GIFTS

Something for them, something for you… win-win!

American – Earn 20 AAdvantage miles per dollar spent at FTD, earn 15 miles for every dollar spent at Personal Creations, and earn 15 miles for every dollar spent at Shari’s Berries
Delta
– Earn at least 20 SkyMiles per dollar spent at FTD
Hawaiian
– Earn HawaiianMiles on art, lavendar, sea salts and more
Southwest – Earn 1,000 Rapid Rewards points for each order of $29.99 or more (excluding taxes and fees) at Harry & David
United – Earn 20 MileagePlus miles per dollar spent at FTD, earn 20 miles for every dollar spent at Personal Creations, earn 20 miles for every dollar spent at Shari’s Berries and earn 30 miles per dollar spent at Harry & David

Glass of sparkling rose
Bottle of wine on ice

JOIN A WINE CLUB

Wine lovers, rejoice. Most major U.S. carriers partner up with wine clubs that help you earn while you sip.

Alaska – Earn 2,250 MileagePlan miles when you sign up for Vinesse Wine Clubs, plus five miles per dollar spent
American – Earn 2,500 AAdvantage miles with American Cellars Wine Club from Vinesse
Delta – Earn 5,000 MileagePlus miles, plus five miles per dollar, when you join American Cellars Wine Club from Vinesse 
Hawaiian – Join American Cellars Wine Club from Vinesse and earn 2,000 HawaiianMiles after your first shipment and 3,000 miles after your second shipment, plus five miles per dollar on all future shipments. 
Southwest – Earn 2,000 Rapid Rewards points on an introductory wine-club case from the 4 Seasons wine club from Laithwaite’s Wine. Earn 1,000 points on each future club case purchased and three points per dollar on non-club purchases
United – Earn 5,000 MileagePlus miles, plus five miles per dollar, when you join American Cellars Wine Club from Vinesse . United cardholders and elites can earn 6,500 miles on their first shipment

SEE A SHOW

American – Earn up to 2,200 AAdvantage miles per ticket purchased from Audience Rewards for participating Broadway shows
Delta
– Earn one mile per dollar spent on eligible Ticketmaster ticket purchases for sporting events, concerts and more in the U.S. and Canada after registering with your SkyMiles number
United – Earn at least 100 MileagePlus miles per Broadway ticket purchased from Audience Rewards, with bonus offers of up to 2,000 miles per ticket

GET INSURANCE

American – Earn 1,000 AAdvantage miles when you enroll in Emergency Assistance Plus and 1,000 bonus miles every year you renew
Hawaiian – Call 21st Century Insurance and mention the code 1HALCA for a free auto insurance quote and earn 500 HawaiianMiles; earn an 800 additional miles if you purchase a policy. You can also call Farmers Insurance for a free auto insurance quote and earn 500 miles; earn an 800 additional miles if you purchase a policy
United – Earn 7,500 miles after four months of continuous coverage with California Casualty auto insurance, 5,000 miles after your first and second policy renewals and 2,500 miles after your third policy renewal

How to build airline miles - Ocean and sand

TAKE A CRUISE

Explore a range of miles rewards (and keep an eye out for limited-time offers) just for setting sail with American Airlines Cruises, Delta SkyMiles Cruises, Hawaiian Airlines Cruise Vacations and  United Cruises.

To learn more about airline miles and how they can help you travel for free, check out the 52 Cities free resource library and register for an upcoming points and miles masterclass!

CHECK OUT THESE POSTS FOR MORE ON EARNING AND USING AIRLINE MILES:

How to earn airline miles without a credit card
How airline miles work: The ultimate guide

Hope this post gave you some good ideas about how to build airline miles! Do you have any other questions about boosting your balance? Let me know in the comments! >>

Save this post for later on Pinterest:

How to build airline miles: Everything you need to know
Airline miles: How to build your balance for more free trips
How to build your airline miles balance

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