Not a frequent traveler? Not a problem. You can still rack up miles and hotel points.
Here are five things you already do — shop, eat, pay bills, drive, give to charity — that can help you get free flights and hotel stays. Bonus: You can earn these miles in less time than it takes to board a plane.
Register with an airline mall portal such as Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Shopping, American Airlines AAdvantage eShopping, Delta SkyMiles Shopping, Free Spirit Online Mall, JetBlue’s ShopTrue, Southwest Rapid Rewards Shopping and United MileagePlus Shopping, and whatever you buy through the portal will earn you miles. For each dollar spent at stores as varied as Neiman Marcus, Wal-Mart, Apple, Sephora and Groupon, you receive miles. For instance, a recent offer on Spirit’s mall was 4 miles for each dollar spent on Etsy.
Airlines also have miles partnerships with all kinds of companies. They include:
• Theater and concerts: Seeing “The Book of Mormon” on Broadway isn’t just a delightful outing; it can also bring you closer to your next vacation. American, Delta and United customers can earn miles by linking their frequent flier numbers with AudienceRewards.com and then buying their show tickets there.
Loyalty program members of carriers, including JetBlue, Southwest and United, as well as hotel chains like Hilton can also earn miles with ScoreBig, which sells concert, sports and theater tickets.
• Investments: Consider opening a brokerage account. Members of the American Airlines loyalty program, for example, can earn 50,000 miles for a deposit of $100,000 or more to Fidelity, although they can still get miles for depositing less — a $25,000 deposit earns 15,000 miles. The same deal is available to Delta and United members. (American has an additional partnership with BankDirect.)
• Beauty: Buying treatments from Spafinder Wellness 365 is an indulgent way to earn miles. Delta loyalty members, for instance, earn 5 miles for each dollar spent; American and JetBlue members earn 3.
• Flowers and wine: Romance pays. U.S. carriers — including American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit and United — offer miles for buying flowers from companies such as FTD and 1800Flowers.com. Delta members, for example, can earn 20 miles for each dollar spent at FTD. If you prefer wine to roses, American, Delta and United offer miles for passengers who join a Vinesse wine club; JetBlue offers miles through Club W.
• Television and telephones: Your television habit could get you off the couch. American and United have relationships with DirecTV, which offers members 25,000 miles if they order it. American loyalists can earn 20,000 miles if they become new Sprint customers; existing customers can also earn miles.
• Energy: Some energy providers offer miles for signing up. For instance, NRG Home, as well as NRG Home Solar, offers miles to members of the American, JetBlue and United loyalty programs.
• Hotel stays: When booking a hotel you can often choose whether you want to receive points or miles. You generally get more value from hotel points. You can also earn miles just for booking. JetBlue members, for instance, can earn 1,000 to 10,000 points a night through the booking site Rocketmiles.
There are too many ways to earn points from shopping to fully enumerate here. But here’s one more for fashion lovers: Delta will give members who join the designer shopping site Gilt.com 1,000 bonus miles for their first purchase of $50 or more (existing Gilt members receive 1 or 2 miles for each dollar spent).
• Pro tip: A quick way to see if what you’re shopping for can earn miles or points is to go to Evreward.com.
Register your credit card for free with an airline dining program from American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest or United and then whenever you eat at a participating restaurant, you’ll earn miles. You may even get miles for signing up. Hotels including Hilton and InterContinental Hotel Group also have dining programs.
A rewards card, such as Chase Sapphire Preferred, is a must. The sign-up bonuses alone can be enough for a free flight or hotel stay (the current offer is 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months). And then you regularly earn points if you pay your bills, like phone and cable, with it.
Another tool is Plastiq, which allows consumers to pay any business with a credit card, even those that do not accept credit cards. Plastiq charges your rewards card and then sends a check or bank transfer to the company you wish to pay. You pay a fee (1 to 2.5 percent), but the idea is that you’re earning miles, which can be worth paying the fee in certain circumstances.
For instance, this can come in handy if, say, your power company doesn’t accept credit cards. But before you do this, check to see if there are “convenience fees” for paying the bills with your credit card instead of from your bank account. If there are, you’re likely losing any miles benefit unless you’re using a card with high-value points (such as the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card where the points are considered valuable because of what you get in return, like some of the world’s top luxury hotel rooms), or if you’re trying to reach a minimum-spending threshold to get a sign-up bonus.
Drive or be driven
Many airlines, including JetBlue and United, have partnerships with car rental companies. For instance, American Airlines members can earn miles with Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Europcar, Hertz, National, Sixt and Thrifty.
The same is true for shuttle and car services. American, Delta and JetBlue have partnerships with Carmel Car and Limousine Service in New York, for example. Members of Delta’s program receive up to 2 miles for each dollar they spend. Uber, meanwhile, offers Starwood members one point for each dollar spent (more when using Uber during a hotel stay). And members of JetBlue’s program can get 500 to 1,000 points for new Zipcar memberships.
Some charities dole out miles for donations. The National Foundation for Cancer Research, for instance, is offering American, Delta and United members who give $100 or more up to 15 miles for each dollar donated by May 31. Susan G. Komen offers American Airlines members 10 miles for each dollar.
To keep up on the latest offers, check your airline’s website as well as blogs like the Points Guy and View From the Wing.
• Don’t lose what you earn: Your points are worthless if they expire. Keep track of all your loyalty program points in one place with sites such as AwardWallet, Points.com and TripIt Pro’s Point Tracker.