At NerdWallet, we strive to help you make financial decisions with confidence. To do this, many or all of the products featured here are from our partners. However, this doesn’t influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.
Credit card companies are always pushing new travel cards with welcome bonuses that can be too tempting to pass up.
But what if you already have as many cards as you can handle? Or don’t want to pay another annual fee? Or don’t want to learn how to navigate yet another card’s redemption regulations? There are still plenty of ways to rack up points and miles with everyday spending no matter what credit card you have.
Pick an airline
First, choose an airline or two with which you’d like to earn rewards. Selecting too many will just spread whatever points you do earn too thin, and you’ll be in the same boat you started in: the one where you don’t have enough points or miles to book travel anywhere.
Once you’ve chosen a preferred airline, start browsing their site for details on their frequent flyer program to learn the ins and outs of how to earn miles. Most airlines offer many of the same earning avenues, but check which are specific to your favorite and make a list to start earning points.
Most airlines offer a dedicated online shopping portal that allows you to register any credit card and earn miles for purchases. Typically, it requires just one or two more steps when making purchases than not using the portal.
Here’s how it works: once you register a credit card (it doesn’t even have to be a travel rewards card), go to the airline’s shopping portal. It will likely look something like this, as many of the large airlines utilize the same platform:
Create an account if you don’t have one, then log in. Search for the site you want to shop with. You can purchase everything from glasses to home goods to building supplies and earn points for every dollar spent.
Keep an eye out for bonuses, too, as offers change frequently. Some stores offer an additional 5 miles per $ spent, though the norm is at least 1 mile per $1.
Unfortunately, Amazon and eBay don’t participate, but Walmart, Target and Lowe's are some of the big names that do. And if you spend a little time browsing through shopping categories, you may be surprised to find how many retailers are available.
Shop in person
You can sometimes even earn rewards for in-person shopping. Stock your fridge at Carrs-Safeway in Alaska and you’ll earn 100 Alaska Airlines miles for every $300 you spend. Just link your Safeway card in your Mileage Plan account. Likewise, Hawaiian Airlines offers 200 HawaiianMiles for every $250 you spend at any Foodland, Sack n Save and Foodland Farms. You can even earn a few extra miles by bringing your own bag.
Check out mobile apps
Mobile shopping apps are gaining in popularity. United MileagePlus allows you to earn miles by shopping in store at participating retailers if you use their MileagePlus X app, for example.
Another way to earn points and miles is to register a card with your preferred airline’s dining program. Like e-shopping portals, most airlines offer them and include the same restaurants.
Once you register and link your credit card, start browsing the list of participating restaurants near you and take note of which ones you already frequent (or would like to frequent). Then, it’s just a matter of dining out and using your registered card to pay for the meal (or friends’ meals).
Make sure to read the fine print, though. Occasionally, airlines (like Southwest) will require that you remain signed up for their dining emails to earn the maximum number of miles. You'll get 3x miles per dollar spent if you opt in.
Keep in mind that you can't register the same card with more than one dining rewards program. If you do want to earn miles with multiple programs, you’ll have to register a different card for each one. Just make sure you remember which card is affiliated with which program.
» Learn more: The best dining rewards programs
Travel (without flying)
Of course you can earn miles when you fly with airlines, but did you know you can also earn miles when you book travel with airline partners? Cruises, rental cars and even hotel stays are often included, which means you’ll earn points and miles, including bonuses. United, for example, sometimes offers an additional 100,000 miles when you book certain cruises.
Other options for earning rewards include hotel stays. Every airline will have slightly different partnerships, but there are typically a handful of options with each. Delta even offers miles for Airbnb bookings.
Some airlines also include several options for how to book. United allows bookings right through their booking portal (accessible via your MileagePlus account) to earn 2 miles per $1 spent on hotels, or through sites like Rocketmiles and PointsHound for up to 10,000 points per booking.
Car rentals are another earning category worth mentioning. Book through your favorite frequent flyer website to earn. Most airlines will offer a set amount (e.g., 500 miles per reservation), but sometimes, like with American Airlines, you can earn more miles per booking if you have an airline affiliated credit card, so keep that in mind when searching. Delta has even partnered with Lyft, so you can get to where you’re going while traveling and still earn miles.
Home and lifestyle spending
A last — often overlooked — way to earn miles is in the home, financial and lifestyle spending category. Depending on the airline, this can include everything from signing up for a new cell phone plan to earning points for taking surveys; home and auto insurance policies to loans; your electricity bill to donating money to charity. Take a few minutes to peruse your frequent flyer programs to see what each one offers, then start earning those miles for all the things you’re already paying for.
The bottom line
You don’t have to fly or constantly sign up for new credit card offers to rack up miles for award travel. Earn points and miles with everyday spending by learning which airlines offer rewards for the things you’re already spending on and utilizing those offers so you can go farther faster.
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 2020, including those best for:
Airline miles and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
Flat-rate rewards with no annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards Visa® credit card
Premium travel rewards: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card
Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice: Find the best travel credit card for you Snag these hotel loyalty perks, even if you’re disloyal Earn more points and miles with these 6 strategies