Among the most significant developments in the history of travel loyalty programs has been their transformation from frequent flyer programs, literally, to frequent buyer programs.
Whereas the programs originally rewarded consumers for actually traveling, today, it's easy to earn enough miles for a free ticket without ever leaving home.
A large part of that is due to credit cards, of course. No credible program lacks a co-branded credit card that awards miles or points for any and all purchases charged to the card. That's ancient history.
A more recent development has been the proliferation of mileage malls—networks of online retailers that offer miles for purchases.
Delta's SkyMiles Shopping, currently the largest of the mileage malls, offers up to 10 miles per dollar spent at more than 500 Internet merchants. The list includes many of the largest, most popular online shopping sites, across a wide range of product categories, from department stores to specialty retailers. You'd be hard pressed to think of an everyday item that could not be purchased through one of the participating merchants. And because the prices remain the same whether you buy with or without earning frequent flyer miles, the miles are effectively free.
If free miles are good, more free miles are even better. So it pays to keep abreast of bonus shopping mile offers, and shop accordingly.
The best of the current shopping mile bonuses is from Midwest.
Through August 31, Midwest Miles members can earn 500 bonus miles for every $50 spent shopping at any Midwest Miles Mall retailer. That's a hefty 10 miles per dollar spent over and above the merchant's normal mileage payout.
Through August 31, members of US Airways' Dividend Miles program can earn double miles on all shopping transactions at the Dividend Miles online shopping mall.
Like the Midwest promotion above—and unlike most shopping offers—this is not limited to a few desperate retailers. There's only one caveat, and it's a minor one: The bonus is limited to a maximum of 10 transactions per partner.
Nine American AAdvantage eShopping retailers are offering up to triple the number of miles normally awarded for purchases made through September 6.
AAdvantage members can earn triple miles from the HP Home Store, double miles at Nordstrom and Shoebuy.com, and miscellaneous bonus miles from Hanes.com, Kmart, macys.com, Overstock.com, Sears.com, and Textbooks.com.
While Delta's SkyMiles Shopping Mall may be the largest, the deals currently on offer are few and far between.
Purchases at Shoes.com, for example, earn 10 miles per dollar spent (instead of the normal five miles per dollar), plus there's a promo code to receive a 15 percent discount. Purchases at Beauty.com earn double the normal miles. And assorted other merchants are offering discounts or free shipping.