colorful toy airplane

Although opening up various credit cards tied to airline miles deals are great ways to rack up points quickly, they tend to be limited to residents of the US. Regardless, credit cards aren’t the only way to earn a chunk of frequent flyer miles at once. Multiple debt accounts can also have drawbacks like potentially damaging your credit, annal fees that can be difficult to keep track of, and high interest rates.

So rather than getting more plastic, let’s use what’s already in your wallet to rack up points for a free flight or two even if you don’t fly all that often.

messy deskFirst Get Yourself Organized

One reasons the airlines are comfortable with mileage programs is they know most people don’t keep well enough track of them to redeem rewards before they expire. Luckily for us there’s free Awardwallet to keep track of all your accounts in one place and online.

  • Awardwallet recently introduced the OneCard; a physical card (that looks like a credit card) that keeps all of your mileage accounts in one place. Show it at the airport, hotels, etc. and with one swipe you won’t miss out on miles due to a jet-lagged memory. OneCard starts at a recommended donation of $10 but I’ve got free upgrade codes – the first 5 people can use free-amqrmr for a Pro account.

las vegas airport gateRemember the best strategy for earning useable miles is to stick to the most versatile airline in each of the major alliances. A United Mileage Plus account is ideal on Star Alliance since their miles work for almost all of their other airline partners. For the Oneworld alliance go with American Airlines (AA). Now, that doesn’t mean you have to always fly United or AA; just use your mileage account numbers with them for all of their partners.

  • Reclaim Recent Flights – Most airlines left you claim miles 12-24 months after you’ve flown so you might have two years of miles waiting for your account.
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An exception is when you’re constantly flying the same airline (say for routine business trips); in those cases it might be advisable to break with the convention above to earn a few more perks with the given airline.

Shake What Your Bank Gave You

Chances are you already have a credit or bank card that you can put to use to earn miles. Almost all airlines and partner programs have online stores connected with large retailers like Apple, Starbucks, and Sony and more. Typically you can earn an extra mile or three for every dollar spent on things you would buy anyway. WebFlyer also has an updated list of any special online store deals that might currently be going on.

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  • Travel Related Things Can Earn You MilesCar rentals, hotel stays, train rides…pretty much anything that you typically associate with traveling can earn you frequent flyer miles. Aforementioned WebFlyer talk has an updated list of all the current promotions. Don’t forget to ask for point credit and have your mileage account number handy.
  • Subscriptions Can Be The Path To Mileage Bonuses – Many things that require monthly or annual fees like Internet at your house, mobile phone contracts, and cable television often has mileage bonuses associated with them. You’ll need to check with your primary alliance airline store (e.g. United Mileage Plus) but keep miles in mind for anything that has a recurring payment.
  • Large Purchases And Loans – It’s surprising how many banks and airlines offer huge point bonuses on top of car loans and approved mortgages. Again, it comes down to checking and the best place to start is online with the airline.
  • Graduate College – Yes, you can earn miles along with your college degree. [EDITED: this deal is currently expired.]
  • [EDITED] Use Smart Apps – Although it’s only available in the US for now, reader Vinny points out the free reward earning app, Checkpoints which lets you earn miles and reward points by visiting stores and making purchases. Think foursquare with benefits. (Thanks for the tip!)
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You can further take advantage of your existing credit cards by scouting for balance transfers at 0% interest. Many reward and point cards still offer mileage bonuses (albeit reduced by around 35-50%) for balance transfers.

hamburg airportGet Hacking

There are a number of forums online specifically designed for “travel hackers” looking for the best frequent flyer deals.

If the term “hacking” makes you uneasy, there’s a more straightforward way to accumulate miles that might otherwise go to waste.

Ask Your Family And Friends For Leftover Miles

There are probably people in your life who’ve flown in the last year or two and couldn’t care less about their accumulated frequent flyer miles. You can save those miles from falling into Vulcan’s black hole by asking them for a transfer to your account. That costs around $25-100 depending on the airline and miles but can be a great gift travelers can ask for on birthdays or around the local holiday season.

[messy desk photo by: andhij]