5 Simple Ways to Rack Up Rewards Points This Holiday

Experts share creative ways to earn miles and points this season.

U.S. News & World Report

5 Simple Ways to Rack Up Rewards Points This Holiday

A woman looks at a menu in a restaurant.

Travelers can grab lunch at their favorite restaurant and roll in rewards points at the same time.(iStockPhoto)

Frequent flier miles and hotel loyalty points aren't just for road warriors anymore. Even if you're not a frequent flier with top-tier status and hundreds of thousands of miles under your belt, you can still collect lucrative perks and points in outside-the-box ways, from using shopping portals to dining out. And despite many airline programs changing their earnings policies to give more points to big spenders rather than awarding miles based on distance flown, savvy travelers can still score substantial rewards points without paying a large sum. If you want to accumulate points simply and quickly – without splurging on expensive flight tickets or high-end hotel rooms – read on for expert tips on earning points in unconventional ways this holiday.

Shop Around

Whether you want to stock up on gifts for family and friends this holiday or splurge on a few items for yourself, you should take advantage of online shopping portals. "The large airlines and many of the hotels as well as many of the credit cards have their own portals that you can go to," explains Gary Leff, co-founder of MilePoint and author of frequent flier site View from the Wing. Relying on easy-to-navigate sites like EvReward.com can help you determine the cash back rebates and loyalty points you'll collect through each portal.

Scott Mackenzie, creator of the travel advice blog Travel Codex, recommends utilizing the apps available through individual carriers, highlighting that many airlines offer a seamless process for collecting miles through their own shopping platforms. The United MileagePlus X mobile app, for example, "makes it a lot easier to earn miles through shopping," Mackenzie says. Other frequent flier programs with shopping portals include American Airlines AAdvantage, Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards and Delta SkyMiles. After logging into these portals, it's easy to track down discounts and coupons and buy products while simultaneously earning miles for every purchase.

Mackenzie also advises leveraging offers from affiliated credit cards, such as American Express to trim costs on holiday travel expenses and gifts. "Every little bit counts," he says. For example, you can collect a $25 AmEx spending credit once you apply $200 to Newegg, an e-commerce site that sells electronic products and gift cards for travel with American Airlines, Celebrity Cruises, Royal Caribbean and other brands.

Eat Out

If you enjoy dining out regularly, make sure you're collecting loyalty points for your meals. "For years and years, there has been the option to earn miles for eating out," Leff says. For instance, American's AAdvantage program allows members to collect 1,000 bonus points for spending $30 on miles within the first month, and five frequent flier miles per dollar applied to participating dining venues. Meanwhile, Delta SkyMiles members get 3,000 bonus miles for spending $30 at three participating restaurants within 30 days of signing up. And if you would rather earn points with a preferred hotel loyalty program, a number of programs offer points and incentives for eating out, too. The Hilton HHonors program, for instance, grants members eight loyalty points for each dollar put toward affiliated restaurants.

To find partnering restaurants, either log on to your preferred reward program website to learn more about participating venues or join RewardsNetwork.com, which offers partnerships with top frequent flier and hotel loyalty programs and allows you to earn miles or points with your preferred program for every dollar spent at affiliated restaurants. Reward Network's extensive network includes partnerships with American Airlines AAdvantage, Delta SkyMiles, Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards, United MileagePlus, JetBlue TrueBlue, Hilton HHonors and IHG Rewards Club, among others.

It's also important to keep in mind that many brand-backed travel rewards credit cards award points by simply connecting your card to your preferred loyalty program. The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card allows you to earn two points per dollar applied to dining and offers a one-to-one transfer for a wide spectrum of programs, including United MileagePlus and Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards. And sometimes, there are holiday promotions from credit card companies that allow you to get cash back for your meals, Mackenzie explains. For example, American Express allows you to purchase gift cards that allow you to dine locally and get cash in return for eating out. "It can really add up over time," he adds.

Order a Magazine or Newspaper Subscription

Even if you're not an avid reader of the magazines and newspapers offered through your loyalty program, it can still be a worthy investment to redeem points for magazines to "extend the expiration date of miles," Leff says. Apart from preventing your account (and all accumulated points and miles) from expiring by staying active and redeeming magazines, it's also a low redemption requirement, with only a few points needed to order a subscription. For example, an annual subscription to Details through United's MileagePlus program only requires 500 points and enables you to keep your miles from expiring if you haven't had any account activity in the previous 18 months.

Mackenzie cautions that while it can be an unwise investment if you wouldn't typically spend money on extras such as magazine subscriptions, "there can be some ways to leverage this," he adds, noting that you can easily give back and donate your subscription to local libraries and schools.

Choose a Card That Maximizes Rewards Based on Your Spending Habits

When you sign up for a new credit card, there are typically excellent sign-up bonuses, Leff explains. For example, the Citi Prestige card yields 50,000 bonus points for spending $3,000 within the first three months of creating an account. Meanwhile, the Chase Sapphire Card yields 40,000 bonus points for applying $4,000 to the card within the first three months of creating an account. While this can be advantageous for points-seekers looking to collect miles painlessly and rapidly, you should also factor in your travel habits and objectives.

"Pay attention to which cards offer bonuses for different kinds of spending," Leff advises. He points to the Chase Ink Plus Business card as a smart investment since cardholders can earn five points per dollar spent for the first $50,000 applied toward everyday purchases, including cellphone bills, cable and Internet service, and easily transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to hotel loyalty points and frequent flier miles. But if your top priority is earning cash back rather than accumulating rewards points quickly, you would be better off investing in a card like the Chase Ink Cash card, which earns you 5 percent cash back for the first $25,000 applied toward everyday purchases.

Aside from picking a card that fits your spending patterns and goals, it's also a good idea to leverage your everyday spending to generate more points or cash back. He suggests taking advantage of the payment site Plastiq.com to earn points for bills charged to your credit card. The site allows you pay bills with your credit card for a 2.5 percent transaction fee (sometimes lower, depending on promotions available). If your primary objective is meeting a certain threshold in a program to earn elite-status privileges, paying bills through Plastiq.com can help, he adds.

Don't Discount Program Partners

"If you look at the website for your program, you'll see the myriad partners they have, and you'll often find miles in surprising places," Leff says. He spotlights Fidelity, which offers up to 50,000 mileage sign-up bonus with partners, including Delta, United and American for creating a new account with them. "Virtually everything you do can earn points," Leff says, adding: "Don't forget miles for rental cars." Loyalty programs such as Hilton HHonors allow you to earn points for rental cars through rental partners National Car Rental and Alamo Rent A Car, for instance, while Starwood Hotels and Resorts is offering a 30 percent discount on rentals and 750 bonus points for car rentals made by Dec. 31, 2015. And if you're planning to rely on Uber on your next trip, you can even link your Starwood Preferred Guest account to the ride-sharing company to collect one point per dollar spent on Uber. You also shouldn't overlook sites that allow you to collect airline miles by booking hotel rooms. Mackenzie also highlights savvy websites like PointsHound.com and RocketMiles.com as a smart way to score collect frequent flier miles for booking hotel stays through their platforms.

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