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How To Earn Miles and Points

TL;DR There are generally three basic ways to earn points: 1) paid flights, 2) credit cards and 3) other. Flying is the classic way that people earn points, but most will find credit cards to be most practical.

Image: Austrian Airlines


This is why loyalty programs exist—earning miles by flying incentivizes you to patronize certain airlines! When you do earn miles this way, make sure you understand the two types of mileage-accrual programs:

  • Distance-based: earn points by actual miles flown. This is the most friendly towards casual flyers, since it's possible to earn a lot of miles through inexpensive tickets.
  • Revenue-based: earn points by some multiple of the ticket price. This is mostly advantageous to business travelers, who can afford expensive itineraries.

A few things to consider: your ticket's fare class affects how many points you will earn. Many people also don't know that you can credit a flight to an operating airline's partner programs (e.g., you can credit a British Airways flight to AAdvantage). Use our program directory to find exactly what partners each program has.

Why It's Good
  • If you're flying, it takes no extra effort to earn points.
Why It's Not
  • Most US-based programs are switching to revenue-based programs, making it harder to earn meaningful amount of points.

Credit Cards

For savvy travel hackers, this is the most efficient way to earn points. Our guide to chooisng a credit card can help you decide what cards may be a good fit for you.

Why It's Good
  • Lucrative spending bonuses can help you earn huge points.
  • Bonus spending categories can help you earn 2x points (or more) on daily credit card spend.
Why It's Not
  • Can have negative impact on credit score.
  • Spending bonuses may require a high amount of spend.
  • Many cards have annual fees (which often can be waived).


Some programs, like Delta Skymiles have hotel partnerships that can help you earn miles during hotel stays. American Airlines AAdvantage offers a online shopping portal that helps you earn bonus points on merchants like Best Buy. Others, like United MileagePlus have dining programs can help you earn bonus points just at dining out at participating restaurants!

Next: Credit Cards and Score, Explained »

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