The Ultimate Guide to Credit Cards
Tuesday, October 4, 2022

3 Secrets — How to Get Frequent Flyer Miles Without Flying

How To Get Frequent Flyer Miles

credit card advice

Brittney Mayer

Written by: Brittney Mayer

Brittney Mayer

Brittney is a Credit Strategist and Finance Expert who has spent years honing her knowledge of the credit industry both personally and professionally. Brittney applies her more than a decade of research experience to crafting in-depth consumer guides designed to help CardRates readers make better, more informed financial decisions.

Edited by: Lillian Guevara-Castro

Lillian Guevara-Castro

Lillian brings more than 30 years of editing and journalism experience. She has written and edited for major news organizations, including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the New York Times, and she previously served as an adjunct instructor at the University of Florida. Today, she edits all CardRates content for clarity, accuracy, and reader engagement.

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Advertiser Disclosure

No matter how much you love your job — because we all do, of course — often one of the best parts of a great vacation is that your destination is far, far (far) away from the stress and bustle of your everyday life. Unfortunately, as soon as you start adding airfare and hotel rooms to your vacation expenses, those happy little palm trees can turn into mean little dollar signs right before your eyes.

Designed for those who spend more time in the air than on the ground, frequent flyer programs can be a treasure trove of savings for jet-setters who know their pilots by name. But what about the rest of us, those yearning for sandy beaches, fruity drinks, and happy trees?

Well, as it turns out, you, too, can enjoy the benefits and bargains of frequent flyer programs — all without stepping foot on a single plane. Read on to learn how to get frequent flyer miles without flying. We’ll explore using travel rewards, cash back rewards, miles received as gifts, combining rewards with miles, and more. We’ll also take a look at some of our top credit card picks that can help get you in the air for cheaper.

1. You Can Use Travel Rewards Cards to Earn Miles

Credit card travel rewards are a simple, straightforward way to earn points and miles to cover expenses for your next trip. Really, what’s easier than spending money you were already going to spend anyway? In fact, pair a solid per-dollar earning rate with a juicy signup bonus, and you could be poolside sipping from a coconut in no time. Plus, you can use your travel rewards card to pay for those tropical treats to get a jump start on your next trip.

If you’re devoted to your favorite airline, then a branded rewards card, such as the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express, is a good choice as the miles you earn can be added to your existing frequent flyer account. Those who would rather have more flexibility in where — and with what carrier — they fly should check out our top-rated travel rewards cards. These programs have no brand restrictions or blackout dates to limit your travel options.

AIR MILES RATING

★★★★★
4.9

OVERALL RATING

4.8/5.0
  • Enjoy a one-time bonus of 75,000 miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day
  • Miles won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how many you can earn
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Enjoy two complimentary visits per year to Capital One Lounges or to 100+ Plaza Premium Lounges through our Partner Lounge Network
  • Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
18.99% - 26.99% (Variable)
$95
Excellent, Good
Discover it® Miles Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

AIR MILES RATING

★★★★★
4.9

OVERALL RATING

  • UNLIMITED BONUS: Only Discover gives you an unlimited match of all the Miles you’ve earned at the end of your first year. For example, if you earn 35,000 Miles, you get 70,000 Miles.  There’s no signing up, no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a Miles-for-Miles match.
  • Automatically earn unlimited 1.5x Miles on every dollar of every purchase - with no annual fee.
  • Redeem Miles to pay any part of your monthly bill, including your minimum payment.
  • Turn Miles into cash in any amount, any time. Or redeem as a statement credit for travel purchases like airfare, hotels, rideshares, gas stations, restaurants and more with no blackout dates. However you redeem, Miles keep the same value. And Miles never expire.
  • 0% intro APR for 15 months on purchases. Then 14.99% to 25.99% Standard Variable Purchase APR will apply.
  • NEW! Discover helps remove your personal information from select people-search websites. Activate by mobile app for free.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR for 15 months
0% Intro APR for 15 months
14.99% - 25.99% Variable APR
$0
Excellent/Good

AIR MILES RATING

★★★★★
4.9

OVERALL RATING

4.7/5.0
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
19.99% - 26.99% (Variable)
$395
Excellent

+See More Travel Rewards Cards

In your search for the perfect rewards card, don’t forget to investigate the associated rates and fees to ensure you get a good financial deal in addition to awesome travel perks. An important — yet often over-looked — cost to be wary of in a travel card is that due to foreign transaction fees. When charged, these fees will apply to any purchase you make that involves a conversion between US and foreign currencies.

Many travel credit cards will come without foreign transaction fees — but not all. When present, foreign transaction fees are typically 3% to 5% of the total transaction amount. You can check the terms of your credit card offer or cardholder agreement to find out the details of your card’s fees.

2. You Can Use Cash Back Rewards to Purchase Miles

Although unknown to many, one way to add to your stash of frequent flyer miles (without dealing with airplane food) is to simply purchase them from the airline. While this method won’t always provide the greatest value — per-mile costs can be prohibitive to some free-flight aficionados — it’s a good way to pad your points if you come up a little short when it’s time to redeem.

Additionally, many programs regularly offer discounts on miles purchases that can increase the value. Of course, the best way to get great value is to buy those miles with free money — like cash back rewards from your everyday credit card. With a great cash back card, such as our top picks, you can earn rewards on everything you buy, including gas and groceries, then redeem your cash back for a statement credit to cover your miles purchases.

CASH BACK RATING

★★★★★
5.0

OVERALL RATING

  • INTRO OFFER: Earn an additional 1.5% cash back on everything you buy (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year) - worth up to $300 cash back!
  • Enjoy 6.5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, our premier rewards program that lets you redeem rewards for cash back, travel, gift cards and more; 4.5% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and 3% on all other purchases (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year).
  • After your first year or $20,000 spent, enjoy 5% cash back on Chase travel purchased through Ultimate Rewards®, 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.
  • No minimum to redeem for cash back. You can choose to receive a statement credit or direct deposit into most U.S. checking and savings accounts. Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open!
  • Enjoy 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 17.24% - 25.99%.
  • No annual fee - You won't have to pay an annual fee for all the great features that come with your Freedom Unlimited® card
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR on Purchases 15 months
0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers 15 months
17.24% - 25.99% Variable
$0
Good/Excellent

CASH BACK RATING

★★★★★
4.9

OVERALL RATING

  • Earn 2% on every purchase with unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases.
  • For a limited time, earn $200 cash back after spending $1,500 on purchases in the first 6 months of account opening.
  • Balance Transfer Only Offer: 0% intro APR on Balance Transfers for 18 months. After that, the variable APR will be 16.99% - 26.99%, based on your creditworthiness.
  • Balance Transfers do not earn cash back. Intro APR does not apply to purchases.
  • If you transfer a balance, interest will be charged on your purchases unless you pay your entire balance (including balance transfers) by the due date each month.
  • There is an intro balance transfer fee of 3% of each transfer (minimum $5) completed within the first 4 months of account opening. After that, your fee will be 5% of each transfer (minimum $5).
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
0% Intro APR Period 18 months on Balance Transfers
16.99% - 26.99% (Variable)
$0
Excellent, Good

Additional Disclosure: Citi is a CardRates advertiser.

CASH BACK RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

4.8/5.0
  • One-time $200 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day
  • $0 annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
  • Earn unlimited 5% cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options. Terms apply
  • No rotating categories or sign-ups needed to earn cash rewards; plus, cash back won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how much you can earn
  • 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months; 17.99%-27.99% variable APR after that; 3% fee on the amounts transferred within the first 15 months
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 15 months
0% for 15 months
17.99% - 27.99% (Variable)
$0
Excellent, Good

+See More Cash Back Cards

To maximize the amount of cash back you can earn — and, thus, put toward your temporary ticket out of the rat race — you should seek out the cash back program that will make the most of your spending. If you make purchases just about everywhere, a simple, flat-rate unlimited program may be best. However, if the bulk of your buys fall into a variety of common categories, you can often bag bonus cash back rewards.

Categories rewards will typically come in two types: those that rotate quarterly, and those that remain the same all year long. Rotating categories can be great for those whose spending changes with the season, typically offering bonuses on gas or groceries during the summer and popular shopping brands during the holiday months. However, if your spending is as regular as a German train, then set categories might give you the most robust rewards.

3. You Can Use Miles Gifted to You From Family & Friends

Another way to accrue frequent flyer miles without actually flying frequently (or at all) is to take advantage of the airplane addicts in your network of family and friends. The simplest option is to have them order a ticket for you, as most, if not all, airlines will allow you to designate a ticket purchased through your account to be used by a family member.

Another option is to receive a transfer of miles directly. The majority of major airlines and travel rewards programs will allow you to gift or share points and miles between accounts. Among the things to keep in mind when considering transferring points (or receiving them) is that some airlines will charge a per-mile fee to gift miles, sometimes as much as several cents per point, which can easily eliminate any value from the transaction.

I have had friends who asked for frequent flier miles in lieu of wedding gifts, to help reduce the cost of their honeymoon. It’s a great way to get something you actually want and need for your wedding instead of can openers and assorted bowls.

Your frequent flyer or travel rewards account may also have a cap on the number of points or miles you can send or receive on an annual basis. Points transferred over the cap may be unavailable to use until the next year, or lost altogether, so be aware of any limitations before you initiate a transfer.

Stack the Savings by Combining Rewards and Miles

Few things are as good for the body, mind, and soul as a great vacation. Even the simple act of getting away (far, far away) from the daily grind can be enough to help you relax and rejuvenate.

Screenshot of Ultimate Rewards Point Redemption

You can transfer some travel rewards to your existing frequent flyer account to save even more.

At the same time, it’s hard to enjoy the food, fun, and fruity drinks when you’re focused on how long it’ll take you to pay for it all.

While frequent flyer miles and travel rewards can both be effective ways to pay for your much-needed getaway, unless you’re in the air more than a migratory bird, it can feel like forever to collect the points you need. That said, saving in the skies can be as simple as saving in the grocery aisles if you know how to properly stack your points and miles.

For example, you can use the generous Ultimate Rewards signup bonus from your new Chase Sapphire Preferred® credit card directly, redeeming them through the Chase portal to cover travel expenses. Or you can transfer your Ultimate Rewards to any of Chase’s popular airline partners, turning those points into branded frequent flyer miles and adding to your vacation-ready hoard.

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