The amount of time you spend in the air only partially affects your ability to earn frequent flyer miles. Even if you fly once a year or not at all, you can still rack up points toward a free flight. The reason is that airlines now offer many ways to earn miles without setting foot on an airplane. Here are the top five ways that you can earn miles without flying.
Your mother's birthday present, your kids' back-to-school clothes, even the new iPod you've been eyeing can all earn you frequent flyer miles. Many airlines have an affiliated mileage mall, an online shopping page that allows you to receive miles when you shop at popular online retailers such as the Apple Store, Barnes & Noble, Old Navy, and FTD.COM. You'll avoid the lines at your local mall (in-store purchases do not earn miles) and build up credit toward a free trip.
You've got to eat every day, so you could potentially earn miles every day with programs such as Rewards Network Dining for Miles and GroceryMiles. With Rewards Network, you register your credit card and then every time you eat out at an affiliated restaurant, you'll earn one, three, or 10 miles per dollar spent. A quick tip for maximizing your miles: When you eat out with a group of friends, pay with your credit card and have your friends give you cash for their share of the meal. You'll earn all those extra miles, and you won't have to stop at an ATM later on.
GroceryMiles is United's program that allows you to earn 125 miles for every $250 spent at Safeway, Dominick's, Genuardi's, Pak 'n Save, Pavilions, and Vons supermarkets. When you stock up on groceries, you'll also be stocking up on miles.
Sure, you know about miles from flying—but do you know about miles for hotel stays, car rentals, and cruises? Whether your vacation or business trip involves a flight or not, you can still earn miles for many other trip components. Most major hotel chains are members of a loyalty program, many of which allow you to earn hotel points toward a free stay or frequent flyer miles toward a free flight. Hilton lets you do both. Major car rental companies also assign miles, either on a per-day or a per-rental basis. Just be sure to read the fine print because you may get charged up to two dollars extra for the privilege of earning miles. Also, several airlines give away miles when you book a cruise vacation through their website. The longer cruises can earn as many 10,000 miles, a third of the way to a free flight.
If you spend hours on the phone or on the Internet, you can justify high bills with high mileage-earning. You can earn thousands of frequent flyer miles when you first sign up for new long-distance or cell phone service, and AT&T and Sprint also award miles for usage charges. Internet service providers such as Earthlink and PeoplePC also hand out thousands of miles as signup bonuses for new members.
You can earn even more miles on all of the previously mentioned activities, not to mention many others, if you use an airline-affiliated credit card to pay for your expenses. Practically every U.S. airline has an affiliated credit card that lets you earn miles for charges, usually at a rate of one mile per dollar spent. Certain airlines even give double miles for flight purchases, and Delta offers two miles for every dollar spent on purchases made at supermarkets, drugstores, gas stations, home improvement and hardware stores, and post offices. Plus, when you sign up for a new card and make your first purchase, you'll receive thousands of miles as a new-cardholder bonus.
Earning miles without flying
To find out more information about which companies partner with your airline to offer frequent flyer miles for non-flight activities, you should visit your airline's frequent flyer homepage. Checking back often is the key to activity-based mileage earning; partners change, and you won't want to miss out on new earning opportunities.