Many domestic airlines have quietly made a drastic change to their frequent flier programs. They're now more likely to award points based on how much you spend—not how far you fly. That means your typical economy-class ticket earns fewer miles than it used to, especially for long-distance travel.
So what's the new secret to racking up thousands of miles? Sign up for credit cards that maximize your reward points. Here’s how to get the most out of your spending.
Upgrade Your Rewards Card
Travel rewards credit cards earn points for every purchase you make. Those points act as currency that you can redeem for hotel stays, flights, and cash credit. But which offer the best deals? Check Card Hub, a one-stop resource that compares annual fees and other member details, to find a card that fits your needs.
Just signing up for a card usually nets you a hefty introductory bonus. Among the best is the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard, which lands you 50,000 miles (or a round-trip flight to Europe or South America) if you spend $3,000 within three months. Capital One Venture Rewards and Chase Sapphire Preferred each give you 40,000 points once you’ve charged $3,000 in purchases. With Capital One, that’s worth $400 in travel credit; Chase gives you a $500 travel allowance. So 40,000 points equals $400 or $500 (in travel rewards) depending on which company you go with.
Loyalty Has Its Rewards
If you live near an airline’s hub, get a card that earns points with that carrier. You get more miles per dollar if you pay for the airline's flight with its propietary card. Say you have United’s MileagePlus Explorer card and charge a $450 United ticket on that card. You’ll earn 900 miles. Book the same flight on Delta with that card, and you’ll only receive 450 miles.
After the introductory bonus, your purchases earn points per dollar spent. Capital One bestows the miles liberally, giving you two points per dollar no matter what you buy. But Chase distinguishes between travel and dining (two points per dollar) and everything else (one point per dollar).
To eke out maximum mileage, check to see if you can buy what you want through your credit card’s shopping portal (it’s an online store found on an airline’s website), which generally yields a bigger reward than buying direct from the retailer.
Most airline and reward credit cards make deals with certain stores to give shoppers multiple miles for every dollar spent, rather than the 1:1 you typically earn. On Delta’s Sky Miles Shopping site, you can buy from brands such as Backcountry.com (three miles per dollar), Mountain Hardwear (three miles per dollar) and Nike (six miles per dollar). Electronics, sporting gear, pet supplies, newspaper subscriptions—you can purchase almost everything on your list through shopping portals. Sign up for the Wall Street Journal through Southwest’s Rapid Rewards shopping site, and you get 1,400 reward points.
Be sure to browse the portal’s site for any holiday promotions. For example, from November 1 through November 23, Rapid Rewards Shopping is giving away 300 bonus points for every $175 you spend (up to 1,200 points max).