The smallest of habits can add up to make a big difference.
One study showed the average shopper misses out on $200 a year in rewards by using the wrong credit card.
In other words, just by using a different card you can have $200 more dollars in your bank account (or that amount in miles) in a year.
There are many more little habits and tricks to maximize the points you earn, none which require spending more money.
Here’s 14 of the best ways.
How to Collect Air Miles & Points
# 1 – Credit Card Signup Bonuses
Topping the list of ways to earn points is credit card signup bonuses.
This should come as little surprise.
Keep in mind most credit cards have minimum spending requirements to earn the bonus. As such, be strategic in the card you apply for and when you apply.
Between my wife and I we try to work towards a signup bonus at all times. This means we’re applying for around four cards or so a year. This strategy alone is enough to take two trips a year that cost us next to nothing.
This post is part of a mini-series on travel hacking. You can get the entire free series, delivered in order, by entering your email address below.
# 2 – Take Advantage of Bonus Categories
By using the right card at the right time you can see a big jump in points earned. For example, say your goal is to earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points.
- The Chase Freedom allows you to earn 5X points on rotating categories.
- The Chase Sapphire Reserve allows you to earn 3X points on dining and restaurants.
- The Chase Freedom Unlimited allows you to earn 1.5X points on everything.
In this example, using the right card at the right time, one can earn an average of over 2X points on all spending.
Know what card to use when. The difference over a year adds up.
# 3 – Take Advantage of Bonus Transfers
Reward programs constantly offer bonuses for transferring points to certain travel partners.
With some programs, these promotions are permanent. Other times, they’re limited time offers.
For example, here’s a limited time offer I see from American Express as of July 2018.
Take advantage of these bonus transfers.
A good tip is to sign up for each airline and hotel loyalty program to stay on top of promotions.
Here’s the better airline programs for US travelers:
# 4 – How to Collect air miles through referrals
Chase and American Express offer points for referring friends and family.
Not all cards are eligible but if a card you have is referrals are a great way to earn points fast.
What it takes to earn the bonus varies. For example, you may only get credit for the referral if your friend hits the minimum spend. Other programs allow you to earn the bonus right away.
Here’s where you’ll check to see whether your card is eligible.
# 5 – You May Own A Business
Some of the more lucrative signup bonuses available are for business credit cards. Yet, many avoid these cards as they feel they don’t have a real business.
Yet you can qualify for these cards based on running even the smallest of businesses. For example, freelancing, selling on Craigslist, renting out a room on Airbnb.
It’s a good idea to separate personal and business expenses as it is. Plus, save money by taking advantage of tax breaks.
Some business credit cards have higher minimum spend requirements. So, make sure you’re able to meet them without impacting your budget.
One thing I do is whenever I have a larger business expense, such as a computer, I’ll take the opportunity to sign up for a new card.
# 6 – Use Shopping Portals
Most credit card companies and loyalty programs have a shopping portal. By using the portal, you can earn points at a lot of your favorite online stores.
For example, inside of Chase Ultimate Rewards you can find many popular stores where you can earn bonus points.
There’s always some fantastic limited time promotions. For example, right now with the Chase Sapphire Reserve you can earn 20 points per dollar spent at restaurant.com.
Recently, Chase had a promotion where you can earn 4X points at apple.com.
Whenever shopping online, check in with your favorite travel program’s shopping portal.
# 7 – Buy Gift Cards
Buying gift cards is another way to earn points fast. There are a few ways to go about this.
First, loyalty programs like United allow you to earn miles for purchasing gift cards through their shopping portal.
For example, right now you can earn 5 miles per dollar spent at Panera, Gap, Old Navy and more.
Next, many category bonus stores sell gift cards. For example, say you have a large purchase coming up on Amazon. Also, with one of your credit cards, you currently earn 5X points per dollar spent at grocery stores. What you can do is buy an Amazon gift card at a grocery store. This way you’ll earn 5X points on your larger purchase.
# 8 – Dining Rewards
Dining programs are an easy way to earn rewards.
Here’s how it works:
- Sign up for a dining program with an eligible loyalty program
- Earn points and miles when you eat at certain restaurants
Many times there’s a decent signup bonus too. For example, members of AAdvantrage can earn 1,000 points after spending $25 in the first 30 days. You can then earn up to 5 miles per dollar spent at participating restaurants.
Here are some popular dining programs in the US:
For those trying to earn hotel points, check out:
# 9 – Authorized User Bonuses
Many credit card companies offer a bonus for adding authorized users. This is a great way for couples to earn a few points on top of a new offer.
Some cards do have a charge for adding an authorized user, so do the math first. It’s worth mentioning that with many cards, authorized users get the same or similar benefits as the primary cardholder. This is true for benefits such as lounge access.
I’ve seen many people “gift” a premium card to family so they get lounge access. Of course, this authorized user can charge to the card. Keep this in mind, when deciding who to add.
# 10 – Couples Can Earn More
Whenever there’s a crazy signup bonus, my wife and I make sure to both get the card.
We did this when Chase Sapphire Reserve was at 100K points (which is now expired) to build up enough points for a trip for our family of four to Hawaii.
# 11 – Big Spend & Loyalty Bonuses
Often credit card companies will give you an additional bonus for hitting an annual spend limit or a loyalty bonus for the total spend for the year.
# 12 – Use Large Expenses as an Opportunity to Hit a Minimum Spend
Large expenses are a great opportunity to hit a minimum spend.
For example, if you’re remodeling, negotiate to pay a part of the cost on credit card.
# 13 – Sign up for Loyalty Programs to get Notified of Opportunities
Hotel and loyalty programs constantly have special promotions, offers, and even prizes.
Sign up for each of the loyalty programs you’re trying to amass points to keep up today.
A good tip is to have a separate folder where these emails gets forwarded to. That way you can just scan once a week, without clogging up your inbox.
# 14 – Buy Points…when it makes sense
Buying points can make sense. Especially, when a rewards program is offering a bonus.
The key to making this worthwhile is to use the points on flights where the cost is high.
Two such flights with higher costs include first class international award flights and short-haul domestic flights.