Update: This post includes offers that were valid at the time of publication, but have since expired. Please click here to see the best offers currently available.
While credit card sign-up bonuses are the quickest and easiest way to earn points and miles, there are many tricks to earning points and miles that do not require credit card sign-ups. In fact, I often earn more points and miles from these tricks than from sign-up bonuses! Let’s look at what’s possible:
If you ever shop online, you should always click through to your merchant from an online shopping portal. Shopping portals provide links to popular online merchants. When you click through to these merchants and buy something, the shopping portal pays you back in the form of points, miles, or even cash. It is common to get anywhere from 1 to 10 points/miles/% back per dollar spent. When a portal offers a certain amount (let’s say 5 points per dollar), we refer to the earnings as “5X”.
Often, portals run specials with much higher earnings. For example, the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards portal once offered 15X for Sears purchases. And the British Airways portal once offered 36X for Nordstrom purchases! I have earned, literally, hundreds of thousands of points per year through shopping portals. To track the changes in portal payouts day to day, make sure to subscribe to my Portal Alerts.
You can earn a huge number of points and miles simply by using the right card for the right things. Many credit cards offer “category bonuses” where they give more than one point per dollar for certain types of expenses. Here are some examples of excellent category bonuses:
- US Supermarkets: 6X
American Express Hilton Honors Surpass
- US Gas Stations: 6X
American Express Hilton Honors Surpass
- Phone: 5X Chase Ink
- Cable: 5X Chase Ink
- Dining: 2X Sapphire Preferred
- Travel: 3X Citi ThankYou Premier
Suppose your family spends $200 per week on groceries, $100 per week on gas, $150 per month on phone charges (including cell phones), $150 per month for cable TV & internet, $300 per month dining, and $2000 per year on travel (including hotels, airfare, taxis, etc.). By using the cards listed above, you would earn about 125,000 points per year!
Buying gift cards is a clever way to earn category bonuses for purchases that normally aren’t eligible. Grocery stores, gas stations, and office supply stores typically have large selections of gift cards. Use a credit card with a good category bonus to purchase gift cards for merchants that wouldn’t normally earn a category bonus such as Starbucks, Home Depot, or Amazon, and then you’ll earn category bonuses for all of your spend at those merchants! For example, you could use a
Hilton Honors Amex Surpass card to buy Starbucks gift cards at a US Supermarket and you would earn 6X for your Starbucks purchases. Or you could take your Chase Ink card to an office supply store to buy Amazon gift cards and earn 5X for nearly anything you want to buy at Amazon. Sometimes it’s even possible to combine all of the tricks listed above. For example, you could go through Chase’s shopping portal (Ultimate Rewards Mall) to Staples.com and purchase gift cards with your Chase Ink card. This way you would get the extra points from the shopping portal and the extra points from the Ink card’s category bonus!
Every now and then an airline, hotel chain, or bank will run a big promotion that makes it easy (or at least possible) to earn huge numbers of points. These promotions change constantly, are time limited, and require attention to the terms and conditions specific to each deal. Read my blog for coverage of future promotions as they become available.
Banking / Investing
Some investment firms and banks award points for certain activities. For example, Fidelity has a program in which you can earn up to 50,000 airline miles by opening an account and depositing lots of money. For details about this and other similar deals see Doctor of Credit’s “Best Bank Account Bonuses” section.
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Last updated on December 31st, 2019