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How to earn airline miles without a credit card

Hawaiian Airlines plane

It’s a common myth that persists in the world of points and miles that in order to earn free trips, you need a credit card. It’s true that credit cards help get you to free trips faster⁠—many rewards credit card issuers will offer a large sign-up bonus for taking out a card and putting some early spend⁠ on it—but the idea that you need a credit card to earn free trips is simply false!

There are so many different ways of earning airline miles, from flying, to shopping, to leveraging airline partnerships and beyond. Below, I’m breaking down some of the easiest methods you can take advantage of to put that dream trip on the horizon—no credit card required.

HOW TO EARN AIRLINE MILES WITHOUT A CREDIT CARD

plane flying overhead

FLY

Airlines originally created frequent flier miles to reward passengers for their loyalty. The idea was simple: Take a paid flight, earn miles toward a future trip.

Of course, today, things are a bit more complicated. How many miles you earn on a given flight may depend on what fare class you booked, how much you paid for your ticket, and whether you have elite status, among other factors. But the principle remains the same. In general, if you pay for a ticket—which you can do with a debit card—you can earn miles on that flight.

One thing to note: For any given flight, you can usually choose whether you want to earn miles from the airline you’re flying or from one of its partner airlines. Keep in mind, though, that your choice may affect how many miles you earn. To learn more about how to calculate the number of miles you’ll earn on any given flight, check out this post on how airline miles work!

OPEN A POINTS-EARNING DEBIT CARD

Just as you can earn miles by using an airline credit card on everyday purchases, you can find a debit card that offers to reward your purchases with miles, too. With the Delta SkyMiles World Debit Card from SunTrust, for example, you can earn 5,000 bonus miles after your first qualifying purchase, as well as 1 mile for every two dollars you spend on purchases after that up to 4,000 miles monthly. You can earn additional Delta SkyMiles for every dollar you spend on Delta purchases, too.

Similarly, with the Bank of Hawaii Hawaiian Airlines Visa Debit Card, you’ll also earn 1 mile for every two dollars you spend on qualified purchases.

Another option is the BankDirect Visa CheckCard. While it doesn’t offer miles per dollars spent, it does offer 5,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles if you use your card for a minimum of 12 transactions totaling at least $500 per month for six consecutive statement cycles. 

SHOPPING

Airlines use what are called “shopping portals” to reward consumers for shopping through their online malls, and this might be the easiest way to earn miles of them all! All you have to do is head to an airline’s shopping portal, search for the store you want to buy something from, and click to be redirected to that store’s site. If you place an order at that point, which you can do with a debit card or gift card purchased in cash, you’ll earn airline miles for each dollar you spend.

Each store has a different miles multiple, which tells you how many miles you’ll earn per dollar. These change frequently, and sometimes during a promotion you can stumble upon a huge number!

Not only are shopping portals easy, but they’re also widespread: Each of the major airlines in the U.S. has  one. Better still, some of them, including United Airlines and American Airlines, internet plugins you can install so that you can activate your earning without even first navigating to a shopping portal page.

See shopping portals for: Alaska MileagePlanAmerican AAdvantageDelta SkyMilesHawaiianMilesJetBlue TrueBlueSouthwest Rapid RewardsUnited MileagePlus

Artichoke plate
Borkonyha Winekitchen risotto

DINING

Another super easy one right here! Many airlines provide an opportunity to earn extra miles by signing up for their dining programs. What’s a dining program, you may ask? It’s a rewards program that earns you miles just for dining out at participating restaurants. All you have to do to get started is go to the dining program’s site and register your debit or credit card. After that, each time you swipe your card at a participating restaurant, you’ll earn miles!

To take advantage, you can either scan the list of participating restaurants and purposefully go to those that’ll earn you miles, or set it and forget it and earn miles when you happen to dine at a restaurant from the list. Either way, it’s definitely worth setting up.

One other thing to note: Some airlines offer the opportunity to earn a welcome bonus when you join the program. In these instances, you can earn a sum of miles for spending money at participating restaurants a set number times within a certain number of days after signing up. Check it out before you join, as you might want to map out your dining experiences to ensure you can hit the bonus!

See dining programs for: Alaska MileagePlanAmerican AAdvantageDelta SkyMilesJetBlue TrueBlueSouthwest Rapid RewardsUnited MileagePlus

PARTNERSHIPS

Between them, the major U.S. airlines have tons—and I mean tons—of partnerships that will enable you to earn miles on pretty much anything you could ever want to do.

For starters, airlines have long lists of travel partners that’ll help you earn on more than just your paid flights when you travel. Rental cars and hotel stays will often qualify you for a miles boost if you book through an airline’s partner page, too.

But it doesn’t end there. Whether you need to hire a dog sitter, protect your identity or order flowers for friend or family member, you can find a way to do it that’ll earn you bonus miles. And while taking advantage of these partnership opportunities often requires making an online purchase, you can make that purchase with a debit card.

To see an extensive directory of airline partnerships, check out this post on how to build airline miles.

PROMOTIONS

Airlines run promotions all the time that allow you to boost your earnings balance, and they love to get creative. Take United Airlines’ Mile Play, for instance: When you enter your MileagePlus number, it will generate a challenge for you that will require you to take a certain number of flights by a certain date to land a sum of bonus miles. 

Sometimes, these promotions will look completely different. Through the end of 2019, for example, Alaska Airlines has a promo running for MileagePlan members to earn twice the miles on every flight between California and select East Coast destinations.

Keep in mind that to you’ll often have to register for a promotion in advance in order to qualify, and you generally won’t be able to get credit for activities you’ve already done at the time of registration. For that reason, it pays to keep an eye out on what promotions airlines have running!

To help you do this, airlines usually have a promotions page on their website that will detail whatever they have going on at any given time. But to fully stay in the loop on promotions and miles-earning opportunities, I’d recommend staying subscribed to the email lists for your airlines of choice. That way, promo news and info will arrive in your inbox on the regular.

Interested in learning 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!

Alaska airlines plane

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

How to build airline miles
How airline miles work: The ultimate guide

Hope this post gave you some good ideas about how to earn airline miles without a credit card! Do you have any other questions about earning? Let me know in the comments! >>

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