There are plenty of ways to earn miles without every stepping foot on an airplane. The first, and for many the most lucrative, is taking advantage of huge credit card sign-up bonuses, that can sometimes net you as many as 100,000 airline miles a pop. You’ll also earn at least one mile or point per dollar spent on rewards credit cards, with added incentives to charge certain types of purchases through rolling category bonuses, such as the two points per dollar you’ll earn on dining with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card or the 5 points per dollar you’ll get for purchases at office supply stores made with a Chase Ink business credit card.
From there, you can earn hundreds of extra miles and points from hotel chains, car rentals, cable TV sign-ups and, through online shopping portals, just about anything and everything you buy online.
The miles and points you can earn for your online shopping can take you far beyond rewards cards incentives, however. By accessing a retailer's website through a “shopping portal,” you can at very least double or triple your earnings, and occasionally, you can rack up 30 miles or more for certain purchases. The reason? Shopping portals, each affiliated with a frequent flyer program, bank or a credit card rewards program, receive a percentage of your transaction from the merchant as a “thank you” for sending along your business. Never mind that you were planning to shop either way — it never hurts to check for greater mileage earning opportunities for purchases you were already planning to make.
Three of the most popular (and lucrative) shopping portals are American’s AAdvantage eShopping Mall, United’s MileagePlus Shopping and Chase’s Ultimate Rewards Mall. Other airlines and credit cards offer their own shopping portals, but checking dozens of sites before making any purchase can turn into a full-time job — three sites to check every time is plenty.
For products that you were already planning to purchase, compare pricing for the item at a few online stores. Once you find a site you want to use, clear your browser cache and head over to American, United and Chase’s dedicated shopping portals to search for the current merchant offer. Rewards will typically vary from site to site, so it pays to shop around. American and Chase may offer 1 extra mile per dollar spent at Best Buy, for example, while United’s MileagePlus Shopping promises 3 extra miles per dollar, with offers changing daily. Obviously, in this case, you’ll want to click on United’s offer and head over to the merchant site to make your purchase.
Occasionally, portal incentives can be so generous that it might make sense to shop for items that you don’t really need, such as a new set of luggage during a 30 miles per dollar eBags promotion or dozens of magazine subscriptions when Magazines.com is offering a whopping 60 miles per buck. When deals like that come around (especially the magazine bonus, which can be incredibly lucrative), you might make purchases that you weren’t planning to make. Assuming you really want the miles but you don’t want to keep the goods, you can give the merchandise as gifts during the holidays, sell it on eBay, or purchase magazine subscriptions for your local hospital.
You’ll learn of the best deals by signing up for mailing lists with the respective shopping portals.
Assuming you followed the deal instructions (typically, gift card purchases and discounts not provided through the portal site are forbidden), you’ll receive your miles and points within a few weeks of making your purchase. If you return the goods, however, the miles will be deducted as well. There typically aren’t spending limits, so if a particularly good deal comes around, a $4,500 luggage purchase could come along with a free roundtrip First Class trip to Asia, and you get to keep the bags!