How many miles and points are you leaving behind?

Endless ways to earn

By Ramsey Qubein,

Online shopping is one of the easiest ways to earn — Photo courtesy of iStock/Rawpixel

From the first sip of champagne, it’s easy to get hooked. Not to the champagne itself, but the perks and privileges that come from participating in loyalty programs. 

That’s just the type of benefit you can enjoy by joining airline, hotel and car rental programs. Sure, it takes quite a lot of travel to clink that glass of champagne for free, but there are plenty of other bonuses that are easily attainable for doing the things you would normally do every day.

The holy grail is attaining elite status so that some of those goodies like free upgrades and lounge access kick into play. But, even if you don’t think you'll frequent a brand often, sign up for the loyalty program anyway (you can always redeem those points for magazine subscriptions or trade them between programs via points.com).

Here are some of the easiest ways to rack up miles and points without spending a fortune on travel.

Credit cards

Now that airlines are offering miles based upon how much one spends rather than how far you fly, a large chunk of mileage earning is coming from credit cards. This means that choosing the right card for your spending habits is paramount.

If you spend most of your money on dining or travel, there are cards that award two or three points for every dollar you spend. Other cards award bonus miles for spending at gas stations or office supply stores. The Chase Freedom card has alternating quarterly categories of bonus spend from movie theaters and grocery stores to drugstores and home improvement outlets.

Not to mention the opportunity to score tens of thousands of miles or points when you sign up, credit cards (for those that pay their balances in full each month) could be the most lucrative way to build your balance. For example, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard is offering 40,000 miles for signing up and spending $3,000 within the first three months. Plus, you earn two miles for every dollar you spend on anything.

Online shopping

Perhaps the next biggest opportunity to rake in the miles comes with online shopping. Hundreds of your favorite stores are located within virtual shopping malls online that are affiliated with different airline programs. When you click the store’s link through these airline program pages, you'll earn a varying number of miles for each dollar you spend at stores like Banana Republic, Bed Bath & Beyond, Target and Wal-Mart, among others.

This is an easy way to make thousands of miles per year for doing the same shopping you would've done online or in person at the store. Some of the biggest mileage bonuses are for buying flowers online (you can earn as many as 35 miles per dollar spent).

Here's what the shopping sites look like for United and Delta. Also, United has another offer for eager earners in the form of the Mileage Plus X app for your smartphone. You can purchase gift cards and earn bonus miles via this app, and then use those same gift cards to double dip via online shopping malls.

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Eating at your favorite restaurant

On top of earning bonus miles via a credit card, most airlines have a dining rewards program that partners with various restaurants in your area. The way it works is simple: sign up for the program and register your favorite credit cards online.

Each time you use that card at participating restaurants, the bonus miles will automatically build up in your airline account. Visit Rewards Network to sign up with your preferred airline.

Stay in a hotel

Hotel loyalty programs are a great way to score points to redeem on future hotel stays. Many also give guests the option to earn airline miles instead of hotel points, although the latter is usually more lucrative in value.

Hilton Honors is an especially notable program because it lets you double dip and earn both hotel points and airline miles for each stay, and this fall you can earn even more points thanks to a double point promotion. At the moment, Best Western Rewards members can get an additional 1,000 points for any qualifying stay.

Marriott Rewards members can earn a free night after just two stays or even redeem their points for special dinner experiences at Renaissance hotels worldwide that stem from its web series, “The Navigator’s Table” featuring Andrew Zimmern.

Oh, and if you’re a fan of Airbnb, you’re not forgotten. Delta will award you as many as three miles per dollar spent; Qantas will you give you one mile per dollar.

Buying a home

That’s right, your new home could be the ticket that actually helps you to get away on your next vacation. By using a real estate agent that partners with programs like American Home Miles, you'll earn several business class award tickets overseas by making a home purchase that you likely would have anyway.

Financial and investment services

American Airlines partners with Bank Direct to award miles for maintaining a minimum balance in one of its checking accounts. Other airlines work with investment companies like TD Ameritrade or Fidelity Investments to provide bonus miles for investing in the stock market.

Renting a car

While not a huge mileage earner, renting a car can help to top up an account. On occasion, promotions tack on thousands of additional miles especially if you book a rental car through an airline’s website. If you’re more of an Uber or Lyft traveler, there are ways to rack up miles and points there, too. Uber awards points from Starwood Preferred Guest’s loyalty program (although the partnership will end in December) and Delta will dish out miles for traveling with Lyft.

Giving back

Last, but certainly not least, philanthropic donations can give you more than a feeling of satisfaction by helping others. You can also score bonus miles by giving to charities like the Susan G. Komen Foundation.