Quick primer on racking up airline miles

Accepting that flying is not the only way to earn airline miles is usually the first hurdle in playing the miles game, so I thought it would be helpful to post a short review on ways to rack up airline miles. First of all, elite qualifying miles (EQM) are a different animal from redeemable miles (miles you trade for free air tickets). EQM earn you elite status on airlines (and thus give you perks). For the most part, you can only really attain elite status by having your own butt (not somebody else’s butt, even if you pay for their ticket) sitting in an airplane seat (hence the term “butt-in-seat miles”). So I’ll focus on how one earns redeemable miles for now.

1. Flying. Duh.

2. Credit card sign-up bonuses and spending money on credit cards.

3. Dining out, having registered for an airline-associated dining program. See explanation here.

4. Shopping online through an airline-associated shopping portal. See explanation here.

5. Converting credit card points or hotel points to miles (or earning miles for booking hotels through airline sites).

6. Free miles through social networking. Sure it takes dedication to constantly update one’s Facebook status or check-in on Foursquare, but I like it. It’s like a real life video game. Sort of.

7. And here’s the grab bag. Promotions! For example, sign up for and get free miles, sign up for MyPoints and get 750 United Miles (mine just posted, I signed up in September but had to email them asking why it was taking so long. As a warning, you get a lot of emails from them) and so on. You can get miles from opening certain investment accounts or doing online banking through Bank Direct. You can also get one bonus United mile for every dollar you spend when you book a tour package through, but you have to spend at least $200 in a single transaction. See the explanation here.

I’m digressing but I had a great experience with Viator in September when I booked me and my boyfriend on their Haleakala sunrise tour. They picked us up from our bed and breakfast in Lahaina in the middle of the night, plied us with coffee and pastries and after watching the sunrise and looking around the crater, we were delivered safely back to Lahaina. Our tour guide / bus driver was super, super nice and enthusiastic about everything. At one point I overheard him telling a couple tourists whose picture he was taking, “Cameras are great!”

We got to sleep on the (long) ride and didn’t have to worry about navigating our way up a strange mountain in pitch darkness. Also I don’t know how to drive and I’m not much of a navigator. You do need to book tours in advance because they don’t run every day. Essentially, by booking a tour you’re really submitting a request and they’ll get back to you within a day about whether the tour is running. If not, they’ll give you alternate dates. Plan in advance!

Finally, the greatest thing about playing the miles game is that you can combine so many different ways to earn miles in a single transaction or trip. For one flight, you can earn miles for having your butt in the airplane seat, paying for a ticket using a credit card, checking in on Facebook at the airport, etc.

If I’m missing anything and if you have other ideas, let me know.

Here are some photos from our Haleakala tour (which I didn’t feel compelled to make prettier, for once):

gathered to watch the sunrise over Haleakala

It was REALLY cold. The guy in front of me was wearing a mattress pad.


above the clouds and on the way up to the observatory



One Comment on “Quick primer on racking up airline miles”

  1. […] some sign of life. Each of the ways (purchasing or transferring miles works too) listed in this post counts as activity and can reset your mileage clock for however long a particular program sets it. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s