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Last update: July 1, 2024

8 minutes read

How to Earn the Most Airline Miles?

Maximize your miles with credit cards and learn smart spending for free flights.

By Brian Flaherty, B.A. Economics

Edited by Rachel Lauren, B.A. in Business and Political Economy

By Brian Flaherty, B.A. Economics

Edited by Rachel Lauren, B.A. in Business and Political Economy

Ever wondered how you can rack up those sweet airline miles using your credit card? Maximizing your earning potential is simpler than you think. In this quick guide, I'll show you how to earn more miles and dive into some smart strategies to take your mileage game to sky-high levels with credit card rewards.

Key takeaways

  • Welcome bonuses are the powerhouse for earning airline miles quickly
  • Category multipliers help you continuously earn miles on everyday spending
  • Transferable points give you flexibility with multiple airline partners

    How can I earn the most airline miles on my credit card?

    To earn the most airline miles on your credit card, sign up for a card with a juicy welcome bonus and take advantage of category multipliers for your everyday spending. Using your credit cards smartly can transform your usual expenses into a ticket for your next big adventure.

    What's the best way to earn airline miles with a credit card?

    Choosing the right credit card is key to earning the most airline miles. Keep an eye out for cards that offer big welcome bonuses (for example, earning 70,000 points for spending $3,000 in the first three months of the card) and high earning rates on common spending categories. Here's the drill: big welcome bonuses mean more miles upfront, and high-category multipliers keep those miles flowing in.

    • Welcome Bonus: This is your golden ticket to a miles jackpot. Look for cards that offer a lot of miles just for signing up and reaching a spending minimum.
    • Category Multipliers: Use cards that reward you with more miles for every dollar you spend on things like dining, travel, or groceries.

    In the past, I used to avoid using my credit card for purchases since I was worried about accumulating interest charges and debt. But over time, I realized that spending through credit cards can actually save you money due to the points and miles you can earn.

    TuitionHero Tip

    Remember, effectively using a credit card is all about spending what you can afford and paying off your balance in full each cycle.

    How do welcome bonuses work for airline miles?

    Getting a welcome bonus for airline miles is a gift to incentivize you to use the card. First, you apply and get the card. Then, they ask you to spend a certain amount of money in a few months.

    Once you do that, they give you bonus miles. You’re usually free to redeem these miles right away, although some cards might make you wait before you can use them.

    Now, you can use these bonus miles for things like free flights or better seats. Remember, these miles might expire, so use them before they do.

    Also, check if the credit card has any annual fees. Look at other good things it offers too, like travel insurance and promotional credits for services you might use (like Uber).

    But be careful! Getting a new credit card can affect your credit score if you rack up a bunch of new charges.

    So, only spend what you can pay back on time. Welcome bonuses are great, but it's essential to know the rules and use credit wisely.

    Can I earn airline miles without a co-branded card?

    Yes! You can get airline miles without a special airline card.

    With a regular travel rewards card, you collect points that can be used for travel, including flights. Some cards let you transfer points to different airlines, even allowing you to earn miles by shopping or dining out.

    Some cards also partner with specific airlines, which might mean you can only redeem miles at that airline. Keep an eye out for bonuses and special offers to earn extra miles.

    When picking a card, think about how many points you get, how flexible they are, and if there are any fees. Just remember to check the rules for each card or program!

    What spending categories earn the most miles?

    The spending categories that typically earn the most airline miles vary among credit cards, but common high-earning categories include:

    • Travel: Earn extra miles when you book flights, stay at hotels, or rent cars, making your travel experiences even more rewarding.
    • Restaurants: Enjoy bonus miles for every meal out, turning your dining experiences into valuable rewards for future trips.
    • Entertainment: Whether buying concert tickets or subscribing to streaming services, earn additional miles for your entertainment expenses.
    • Groceries: Some credit cards offer bonus miles for grocery shopping, helping you accumulate rewards while stocking up on essentials.
    • Gasoline: Fuel up your car and your mileage balance with extra rewards for gas station purchases, making your everyday commute more rewarding.

    TuitionHero Tip

    Remember that specific credit cards may have different bonus structures, so it's a good idea to check the terms to understand the rewards rates for each spending category.

    Are shopping portals worth using?

    Using shopping portals is a good idea if you want more rewards. They give you extra miles or points when you shop through them, especially if you choose stores you already like.

    Check if the portal has the shops you want. Some portals also have special deals that can give you even more rewards.

    Make sure the rewards you get can be used for things you enjoy, like flights or hotel stays. It's important that the portal is easy to use and works well with your rewards program or credit card.

    Always compare prices to make sure you're not paying more just for the bonus rewards. If the portal consistently gives you good rewards and fits with your shopping, it's a great way to get extra benefits.

    What should I know about my credit score?

    Knowing your credit score is vital for handling your money. It's a number that shows how good you are with credit, and it goes from 300 to 850 – higher is better.

    Different credit bureaus calculate things a bit differently, so you can check your credit score for free from different places, like credit card companies or free credit score services. It's smart to keep an eye on your credit regularly.

    Lenders use your credit score to decide if they'll say yes to your loan or credit card and what APR they’ll charge. The higher your credit score, the better your loan terms.

    To improve your credit score, pay your bills on time, don't have a high balance on your credit cards, and don't open too many new accounts at once. Some jobs might also look at your credit score, especially if you'll be handling money.

    Watch out for some myths about credit scores; some people will say that closing a credit card improves your credit score (it might not) or that checking your own score hurts it (it doesn't). Check your credit report often for anything strange. If you see something weird, tell the credit bureaus right away.

    How does flying contribute to airline miles earned?

    Flying helps you earn airline miles through something called a frequent flyer program. First, you sign up for this program, usually for free, on the airline's website (you don’t have to pick just one airline, you can sign up for all of them, and they are all usually free).

    When you book and take a flight with that airline, you get miles based on how far you fly, the type of ticket you bought, and your membership level in the program (like Silver or Gold). Some membership levels come with extra perks and bonus miles.

    Also, if the airline is part of a group of airlines worldwide, you can earn miles when you fly with any of those airlines. Some airlines offer unique credit cards that give extra miles for everyday purchases.

    You can even earn miles by shopping online through the airline's website or using their partners. After collecting enough miles, you can use them for free flights, upgrades, hotel stays, and more. Just be sure to understand the program's rules to make the most of your miles.

    Dos and don'ts of earning airline miles with credit cards

    Navigating the world of airline miles and credit cards can feel like a high-flying balancing act. To help you stay on course, here's a quick rundown of the do’s and don'ts that can make or break your plan to get bonus miles.


    • Explore cards with big welcome bonuses.

    • Use shopping portals for routine online purchases.

    • Pay off your card balance in full each month.

    • Diversify cards to maximize category multipliers.

    • Transfer points to airline miles with partners.

    • Keep an eye out for seasonal promotions and deals.


    • Miss payments and accrue interest charges.

    • Apply for multiple cards without a plan.

    • Let the temptation of bonus miles lead to unnecessary spending.

    • Ignore the effect on your credit score.

    • Stick to just one reward program unless it's very beneficial.

    • Forget to redeem miles before they expire.

    Advantages and disadvantages of earning airline miles on credit cards

    The hustle for airline miles through credit cards is a strategy many swear by, but it's not all cloudless skies. Dive into the pros and cons to determine if this high-mileage strategy aligns with your travel goals and financial profile.

    • Unlock travel experiences at a fraction of the cost.
    • Turn everyday purchases into something extraordinary.
    • Access travel perks like priority boarding or lounge access.
    • Flexibility to choose from multiple airlines with transferable points.
    • Risk of hurting your credit score with careless card use.
    • Annual fees can offset the value of miles earned.
    • Welcome bonuses are attractive but need smart spending strategies to unlock.
    • Shopping portal rates change, so you need to keep an eye out for the best deals.
    • Miles come with expiration dates, demand attention and strategic redemption.

    Why trust TuitionHero

    At TuitionHero, we help students and parents save money on travel by earning free flights with credit cards. We find the best cards for you to get the most rewards. Our goal is to make sure every penny counts, even when you're flying. With our help managing loans, you can use those earned miles to fly without worries.

    Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

    Absolutely! Airline miles can cover flights for study-abroad programs, making global education more accessible. By strategizing your credit card use and miles collection, you could earn your way across the globe. Our scholarship advice also discusses opportunities that help with other international study expenses.

    Once a batch of welcome bonus miles is awarded, you're generally free to redeem them right away.

    Yes! Some credit cards give you perks like getting money back for educational software or services on your statement.

    Final thoughts

    Earn miles today, and you'll have memories tomorrow. For more tips on managing the financial journey through education, check out TuitionHero. Let's navigate the skies of education finance together.



    Brian Flaherty avatar

    Brian is a graduate of the University of Virginia where he earned a B.A. in Economics. After graduation, Brian spent four years working working at a wealth management firm advising high-net-worth investors and institutions. During his time there, he passed the rigorous Series 65 exam and rose to a high-level strategy position.


    Rachel Lauren avatar

    Rachel Lauren is the co-founder and COO of Debbie, a tech startup that offers an app to help people pay off their credit card debt for good through rewards and behavioral psychology. She was previously a venture capital investor at BDMI, as well as an equity research analyst at Credit Suisse.

    At TuitionHero, we're not just passionate about our work - we take immense pride in it. Our dedicated team of writers diligently follows strict editorial standards, ensuring that every piece of content we publish is accurate, current, and highly valuable. We don't just strive for quality; we aim for excellence.

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