How to Earn Miles with a Credit Card if You’re not Airline-Loyal

More and more, airlines are changing the game when it comes to using frequent flyer miles. In March of this year, United Airlines announced to people in their MileagePlus frequent flyer program they would be doing away with award charts. Instead, they changed to “dynamic” pricing for flights using award miles. This means there is much variability in prices for flights booked using miles, and although it’s still possible to get a good deal, it’s becoming harder. Delta made this change a couple of years ago and American Airlines is moving toward dynamic pricing.

This can be frustrating if you’ve been saving up miles for a specific destination only to find out you’ll have to use much more miles than you originally thought you would. If you’re like many Americans and aren’t loyal to one specific airline but just choose the lowest price, it can be difficult to earn enough miles to actually use them for a free or low-cost flight. Perhaps you only take one or two flights a year and they’re relatively short flights within the United States. Again, it would take you a very long time to accrue any kind of substantial miles assuming you fly economy class.


There is something you can do if you fall into one of these categories of traveler. You can get a credit card that offers points that you can transfer to miles with several different airlines’ frequent flyer programs rather than just one airline. There are several credit cards out there that offer this, so figure out which airlines you fly the most with and go from there.

Here are some examples of credit cards currently available and the frequent flyer programs they’re associated with:

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card ($95 annual fee)-

  • Aer Lingus
  • British Airways
  • Flying Blue (loyalty program of Air France & KLM)
  • Iberia
  • JetBlue
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Southwest
  • United Airlines
  • Virgin Atlantic

Citi Premier Card ($95 annual fee, waived the first year)-

  • Asia Miles
  • Avianca LifeMiles
  • EVA Air Infinity MileageLands
  • Etihad Guest
  • Air France/KLM Flying Blue
  • JetBlue TrueBlue
  • Garuda Indonesia
  • Malaysia Airlines Enrich
  • Qantas Frequent Flyer
  • Qatar Airways Privilege Club
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
  • Thai Airways Royal Orchid Plus
  • Turkish Airlines Miles & Smiles
  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

American Express Gold Card ($250 annual fee)-

  • AeroMexico
  • Air Canada
  • Alitalia
  • Aer Lingus
  • ANA
  • Avianca LifeMiles
  • British Airways
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Delta Air
  • EL AL
  • Emirates
  • Etihad Airways
  • FlyingBlue AirFrance/KLM
  • Hawaiian
  • Iberia
  • JetBlue
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Virgin Atlantic

I cashed in sign-up bonus miles to use toward a flight to the Canary Islands

I will say, I had the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card once and it wasn’t a great fit for me and my family. If you believe some of the blogs and websites about airline miles and points, this credit card and the more pricey Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card are the best credit cards out there. However, in my personal experience, the flights offered through their portal were over-priced and not as good as I could find elsewhere. For instance, they would have extremely long layovers, limited flights to choose from, and/or more stops along the way than I would have liked. I ended up cancelling the card after I had it for a couple or so years and used the points I earned when I signed up for the card.

One credit card that you don’t hear a whole lot about but I have and really like so far is the Barclaycard Arrival Plus MasterCard. Barclays has a whole slew of credit cards, including some airlines-associated ones like JetBlue, Frontier Airlines, American Airlines, plus cruise ships like Princess, Choice Privileges hotels, Diamond Resorts, Uber, and more. With the Barclaycard Arrival Plus MasterCard, you earn 2X miles on every purchase, and you can redeem points earned on previous travel-related expenses. You earn 5% miles back to use toward your next redemption every time you redeem points, so that’s a nice bonus. There’s an $89 annual fee that’s waived the first year. I was a little wary about using a MasterCard for fear some places wouldn’t accept it but I only had some issues in Peru (and no where else I’ve traveled), with some places that only accepted Visa credit cards. Maybe many years ago some places would only take Visa credit cards but MasterCard seems to be accepted almost as widely as Visa nowadays, at least in my experience.

Do any of you have credit cards like these where you can use points for multiple airlines or hotels or redeem points to pay yourself back for travel like the Barclaycard Arrival Plus MasterCard? If so, share your experience with them- which ones do you like best? Are there any that were over-hyped like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card was for me?

Happy travels!








How to Keep Your Airline Miles Once You Earn Them

I previously wrote about how I saved a ton of money using my Delta Airlines-branded American Express card, which you can read here: How Flying with Delta Airlines Has Saved Me a Boatload of Money. However, Delta Airlines isn’t the only airlines my family and I fly with. Occasionally, if a flight is substantially less with another airline, we’ll fly with them. Currently, I have airline miles with American Airlines, United Airlines, and Delta Airlines. I have no plans in the next several months to fly with American or United Airlines, but you never know what may pop up so I want to keep the miles I have with them just in case.

With the exception of Delta Airlines, all miles earned with airlines in the United States have an expiration date. For United Airlines, miles expire after 18 months of inactivity; Southwest Rapid Rewards points expire after 24 months of inactivity. In general American Airlines AAdvantage miles expire in 18 months if you don’t fly with American or one of their partners, but if you have an American Airlines-branded credit card, your miles earned using that card will remain valid as long as you use the card.

mountains blue sky plane airliner
Photo by Hazyrah Mokhlas on

Most of us that have earned miles by flying with a particular airline have received something in the mail stating we can buy a magazine to stop our miles from expiring. Maybe you’ve even done this yourself; I know I have many years ago. That is, until I found out this isn’t really the best way to keep your miles from expiring.

It’s a pretty well-known fact that simply flying with an airline isn’t the best way to earn miles unless you fly for work and literally fly every week or you fly first class all the time. Once you accrue those hard-earned miles the last thing you want to happen is for them to expire so you can’t even use them. As long as there’s some kind of activity on your mileage account within the limit (as I mentioned above, usually it’s 18 to 24 months) your miles won’t expire.

What counts as activity? You could purchase magazines, as that indeed counts as activity on your account. You spend a small amount of your miles to buy the magazine, so the miles are deducted from your account, but it re-sets the clock on your account, thus further extending the expiration date of your miles.

An even better way is to have an airline-branded credit card that you use for everyday purchases. As I stated above, when you use an American Airlines-branded credit card, your miles earned using that card will remain valid and don’t ever expire. I use my Delta Airlines-branded credit card when I shop for groceries, get gas for my car, buy clothes, go out to eat, and pretty much everything else I can, in addition to buying airfare for myself and my family.

One thing many people don’t know about is you can earn miles simply by shopping online through your airlines-branded credit card shopping portal. For example, you can earn 2 miles per dollar spent by shopping at Home Depot with many cards, or Bloomingdale’s or Target or Macy’s, and the list goes on and on. The number of miles you earn per dollar also varies greatly, from 1 mile to as much as 15 miles per dollar but I’ve even seen some places offering many more for large purchases. Often, stores will offer limited-time promotions where you may earn say 8 miles per dollar when you normally would earn 2 miles per dollar. This only applies to online shopping, however. Still, it’s an easy way to rack up the miles simply by doing something you were going to be doing anyway if you needed to buy something online.

Many airlines-branded credit cards also have dining programs. Simply by enrolling in the program with your credit card, you earn miles by eating out at certain restaurants. If you eat out a lot, the miles would really add up quickly this way. Even if you don’t eat out that often, it’s another way to keep your miles from expiring.

It’s really not as hard as some people may realize to hold on to their airline miles. You have several options to earn miles by doing things that most of us do anyway.

Have any of you done any of these things to keep your airline miles from expiring? If so, please share your experiences below!

Happy travels!





How Flying with Delta Airlines Has Saved Me a Boatload of Money

I started keeping a spreadsheet of how much I pay for flights late in the year 2017. Before that, I would of course search several places to get a good deal and search on Google Flights to see if flying on a different day would save money. Over the years, my family and I have mostly flown with Delta but not exclusively. We unfortunately don’t have an airline with a “hub” where I live, which means we often have to fly through other cities before our final destination and we also don’t get as good of flight deals as we would if we had an airline hub where we live. For many places where we fly, however, Delta has been the best choice considering both price and time for my family.

In 2016 I applied for and received my first American Express credit card associated with Delta Airlines. It was the Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card, which has no annual fee for the first year then is $95/year. You get 1 mile per dollar for everyday purchases and 2 miles per dollar for Delta purchases. There are no foreign transaction fees and your first checked bag is free.

However, in 2017 I began receiving information in the mail about upgrading to the Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card. Like the Gold card, you get 1 mile per dollar for everyday purchases and 2 miles per dollar for Delta purchases. There are no foreign transaction fees and your first checked bag is free. However, the annual fee is $195. I debated whether it was worth it until I saw the part about the Companion Ticket. You get a free coach companion ticket every year at card renewal. Unless I use it for somewhere that’s always cheap to fly to (like New York City), that’s a no-brainer that it would more than pay for the extra $100 in annual fees over the Gold card and even cover the $195 annual fee.

airplane wing towards clouds
Photo by Sheila on

There is also a “Miles Boost” available to Platinum Delta SkyMiles card-holders that isn’t available if you have the Gold card. Basically, you get 10,000 bonus miles and 10,000 MQMs after spending $25,000 in a calendar year. If you spend $50,000 in a calendar year you get an additional 10,000 bonus miles and 10,000 MQMs. This is probably a bit more information than most fliers are interested in, but I did want to throw it out there for you true “travel geeks” who are into that kind of stuff. If you have to ask what an MQM is, you probably don’t need to worry about it (Medallion Qualification Miles if you do want to know). Long story short, this could potentially put you into elite status simply by just using your credit card.

Now to get to my actual numbers and how much money having the Delta SkyMiles credit cards have saved me. I’m going to list some recent flights here, since I didn’t even start putting my numbers into the spreadsheet until late 2017, but you should know that flight prices vary for most cities throughout the year greatly and from one year to the next. Still, there are some exceptions; if I buy a ticket to New York City, I know it should cost me roughly $200 round-trip including taxes and fees throughout the year but it could be considerably more for last-minute tickets or the day after Thanksgiving for example.

Here is an example of some of the total airfare costs (basically taxes and fees) I paid per ticket using Delta miles (all were in the range of 28,000-37,000 miles per person):

One-way flight to JFK (New York City) from North Carolina:  $8.20

One-way flight to North Carolina from Miami:  $41.80

Round-trip flight from North Carolina to Boise, Idaho:  $11.20

Round-trip flight from North Carolina to Idaho Falls, Idaho $53.80 (using Companion Fare), $11.20 for separate ticket using miles, thus 2 flights were $65.

Let me go into more detail for the last example because it is by far the most striking. Full-price airfare for the round-trip flight from North Carolina to Idaho Falls, Idaho was $565.80 per person. You can see the Companion Fare ticket saved $512 ($565.80-$53.80=$512). Using miles for the third ticket saved $554.60. By using the Companion Fare for two people and miles for the third person, we paid $630.80 for three round-trip tickets. If we would have all three paid $565.80, it would have cost us $1697.40, so we saved a total of $1066.60! The Companion Fare alone more than pays for the $195 annual fee for the Platinum Delta SkyMiles credit card, not even taking into account using basic earned miles and paying only $11.20 round-trip for that other ticket.

window view of an airplane
Photo by Alex Powell on

I should note that I have absolutely no affiliation whatsoever with Delta Airlines, American Express, or any other credit cards. I don’t get any kind of benefits if all of you rush out right now and sign up for a Platinum Delta SkyMiles credit card or any other credit card and I’m not even going to put a link here. I’m sure you all know how to apply for a credit card.

You may come across some articles where people are bashing Delta Airlines because of what’s called “devaluation of miles,” which basically means Delta’s miles aren’t worth as much as some other airlines’ miles. I’m not going to get into the nitty gritty of all of that, but suffice to say Delta isn’t the only airline to devaluate their miles; many others have also done the same thing.

One important point is if you never fly anywhere with Delta, then obviously you shouldn’t get a Delta-affiliated credit card. If you mostly fly with American Airlines or United Airlines, or another airline, I encourage you to look into their credit cards. If you just use the most basic card with no or a low annual fee and only fly once or twice a year, it’s still a potential way of saving big on your future flights. One final advantage Delta has over other airlines is their miles never expire; they’re the only airline with that policy.

It also should go without saying but is an important point if you have credit card debt, your savings are negated by the interest you pay. However, by paying for most things with an airline-affiliated credit card and paying off the bill in full every month, you can easily save hundreds of dollars in airfare.

Do you use airline miles to pay for flights? Do you have an airline-affiliated credit card to help you earn miles? What else do you do to save money on flights?

Happy travels!





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