Frequent flyer miles aren’t what they used to be but they’re still a traveler’s best friend for getting perks, discounts and those double-triple-diamond status badges that every traveler covets.
But flying isn’t the only way to gain points. In fact, earning them by making purchases while on the ground might be a better way to move up the ranks, especially if you’re a big spender. Some credit cards award tens of thousands of miles or more per year to customers, whether or not they’ve boarded an airplane. Here are some of our favorites.
Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard®
It’s not a name that rolls off the tongue, but this card is considered one of the best travel cards on the market and for good reason. To earn your first 50,000 miles, all you have to do is spend $3,000 in the first three months of opening the account. For the average family, that’s fairly easy to do.
For every dollar you spend on a purchase, you receive one AAdvantage mile; you earn two miles for every dollar spent with American Airlines or US Airways (though not with partner hotels and rental cars). You even earn 10% of your miles back when you use your miles. For example, use 10,000 miles, and you'll get 1,000 miles back – up to 10,000 per year.
There are also perks, including your first bag – and those of up to four travel companions – being checked for free; enhanced boarding privileges; and a 25% discount on in-flight purchases.
The interest rate is between 13.99% and 21.99%, the APR for cash advances is 25.24% and the card has an annual fee of $95 (however, the first year's fee is waived). If you’re an international traveler, there might be better cards for you since this one has a 3% foreign transaction fee. (See Top Credit Cards With No Foreign Transaction Fee .)
Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card
People tend to either love or hate Southwest Airlines, but it’s hard not to like its Rapid Rewards Premier Card. You can earn 50,000 miles after spending $2,000 in the first three months of opening the card, though it's a limited time offer, the airline notes, that may come and go at any time.
Like the AAdvantage
card, you earn two points for every dollar you spend with Southwest – as well as with partner hotels and rental cars – and one point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
The points don't stop there: You also receive 6,000 on each of your card member anniversaries; 1,500 tier qualifying points for every $10,000 in purchases (up to a total of 15,000 per year); and one point for every dollar in balance transfers (again, up to a total of 15,000) within the first 90 days of opening your account.
The card comes with a 15.99% interest rate that includes balance transfers and no foreign transaction fee. There is a $99 annual fee that isn’t waived the first year. The Rapid Rewards card is offered through Chase, one of the biggest banks in the world.
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
If you’re looking for a card that isn’t tied to one airline, look no further than the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card. Earn 40,000 miles after you spend $3,000 in the first three months of holding the card and two miles for every dollar you spend on any purchase. Unlike many other higher-end travel cards that come with an annual fee, Capital One’s fee begins in the second year of holding the card and, at $59, is lower than many of its competitors'.
The interest rate is a variable 12.9% to 22.9%, depending on your credit score, and if you transfer a balance, the same rates apply. If you’re an international traveler, you won’t pay any foreign transaction fees. According to the company if you spend $2,000 per month in your first 12 months of holding the card, you could qualify for $880 towards travel rewards.
The Bottom Line
Earning miles doesn’t just come from flying. Using your credit card for everyday purchases could earn you enough miles to fly two or three times for free when you combine bonuses with purchases. Just be sure to read the fine print so you know what’s being offered. Of course, no rewards program is worth it if you charge more than you can pay in full at the end of the month. Practice good financial discipline and don’t be lured in by rewards perks. You’re already paying an annual fee; don’t pay interest too.