How to Earn Airline Miles Fast

Buying miles or transferring credit card points are just a couple of ways you can top-off your account in a pinch.
Meghan Coyle
By Meghan Coyle 
Edited by Meg Lee

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If you’re booking an upcoming flight and you want to save money, your first thought is probably “I wonder if I have enough miles.” Then you sign into your frequent flyer account only to see the balance is just a few thousand miles short for that ideal flight.

“Guess I’ll pay cash and save my miles for the next flight,” right? Well, you might not have to wait. Because airline miles and credit card points lose value frequently and award space can disappear quickly, it is better to spend your miles sooner, rather than later.

So what do you do if you just need a top-off?

Here are some of your options to get airline miles fast so that you don’t have to wait months or years to book an award flight.

How to get more airline miles quickly

Transfer your credit card points to the airline

The best option to get more airline miles is to transfer credit card rewards that you’ve already earned from flexible points programs to the airline loyalty program.

Credit cards with transferable rewards points — like Chase Ultimate Rewards®, AmEx Membership Rewards, Capital One Miles or Citi ThankYou points — can be a great resource for a miles top-up. Cross check which cards are in your wallet with your airline of choice to see if the two businesses are transfer partners.

🤓Nerdy Tip

For the most part, you can only transfer points from credit card issuers to airlines or hotels. You usually cannot transfer airline miles from one airline to another.

Buying airline miles

This might seem like the easiest option since airlines frequently push you to buy miles during the booking process. But not so fast.

While buying miles is an immediate solution, you’re likely overpaying for them.

Consider the baseline value per mile you should be getting and compare that figure to how much a stack of points will cost you out of pocket. For example, let’s say you want to book a flight that costs $470, or 42,000 United MileagePlus miles, but you only have 39,000 miles in your account.

United Airlines will ask if you want to buy 3,000 miles for $105 to top off your account and book the award flight. But if you buy the miles, that means you’re paying 3.5 cents for each mile, when they’re only worth 1.2 cents in value for that flight ($504 / 42,000 miles = 1.2 cents).

There may be limited-time promotions in play for buying airline miles that might get you closer to the baseline value. But again, exhaust all of your other options first, and only buy miles if you simply need a top-off and have to book an award flight immediately.

Open a travel credit card

By and away, if you need thousands of miles for a dream trip or to pay for multiple award tickets for your family, the fastest way to get a huge chunk of miles is by opening a travel credit card. It will usually take you about three months to earn the sign-up bonus, but if you meet the spending requirements, you can get from 40,000 to 100,000 points or miles (depending on the card).

There are virtually no other ways to get thousands of miles at once like that. The only downside of this strategy is that you need to plan ahead; it won’t help you if you want to book that award ticket right now.

Other options if you don’t have enough miles today

  • Consider paying with a combination of cash and miles. United recently launched a Money + Miles payment option and Delta Air Lines offers a Pay With Miles option to Delta cardholders. You’ll still want to make sure you’re getting close to the baseline redemption value for your points, which you can figure out with this handy calculator.

  • Use your credit card points instead of airline miles. If you have plenty of credit card points and it’ll cost fewer points to reserve your flight through your bank’s travel booking portal, you might opt to do this and save your airline miles for a different trip.

  • Book with one of the airline’s partners. Airline alliances and partnerships have created lots of opportunities to book the same flight with different travel rewards currencies. You can book Alaska Airlines and JetBlue Airways flights with American Airlines miles, for example. If you don’t have enough airline miles with one airline, check what the rates are with its partner loyalty programs.

  • Pool your points. If you’ve got family members or friends with miles or points, you might be able to top off your account by pooling your rewards. This really only works if you’re flying certain airlines like JetBlue or Air Canada, or your spouse and you both collect Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

How to earn miles without flying

If you need to earn airline miles “fast” but you don’t have any upcoming trips, try out these quick and easy ways to earn miles without flying.

Take surveys

Most U.S. airlines (with the exception of Delta) will reward you with miles if you take surveys through their affiliated program. The mileage-earning potential is pretty low; a few hours of survey-taking will probably only get you a few hundred miles.

Participate in the dining program

Most U.S. airlines offer a dining program. Simply link your credit card to your dining account, and when you dine at participating restaurants, you’ll earn miles.

You might even get a few thousand bonus miles just for signing up and making your first purchase.

This is a good set-it-and-forget-it way to earn miles when you’re not flying — just by eating out. The earning potential here really varies depending on the availability of participating restaurants and how often you spend money there.

Shop online

This can be a surprisingly lucrative way to earn more miles because you don’t have to change your current habits much, and the bonuses can really stack up. Sign up for an airline’s shopping program, and then you can earn miles when you make online purchases at participating retailers.

Sometimes you’ll earn even more miles per dollar than you would if you used the airline’s credit card, which might only earn 1x miles on purchases outside of travel. Meanwhile, certain retailers might offer 3x, 5x or even 10x miles for airline shopping program participants.

🤓Nerdy Tip

Install the Internet browser extension for your program of choice so you don’t have to always go to the airline shopping portal website to shop. The browser extension will activate your miles earnings, even when you navigate directly to a retailer’s website.

Participate in promotions

Sometimes airlines run promotions outside of their shopping and dining programs. Check our running list of monthly airline promotions, which may include options like buying a product from a partner or taking a flight within a certain time period.

How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2024, including those best for:

Travel Cards from Our Partners
Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card

on Chase's website

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate


5x on travel purchased through Chase Travel℠, 3x on dining, select streaming services and online groceries, 2x on all other travel purchases, 1x on all other purchases.


Intro offer


Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 when you redeem through Chase Travel℠.

Chase Freedom Unlimited Credit Card

on Chase's website

Chase Freedom Unlimited®
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate


Enjoy 6.5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Travel; 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 travel purchased through Chase Travel, 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.


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!

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

on Capital One's website

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate


Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day. 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 offer


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.

See more travel cards
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