5 Ways You’re Leaving Airline Miles on the Table

And how to get more miles to save on travel.

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Airline miles make it easy to travel further from home and stretch your travel budget to the max. By racking up airline miles through various means, you can save hundreds or thousands of dollars on airfare, and save the bulk of your travel cash for hotels, food, and fun.

If you’re a frequent flyer, you probably already know just how easy these miles are to earn. Sign up for a free frequent flyer account and use it to buy airfare, and you’re on your way to racking up miles you can use to make your travel dreams come true.

But if you’re only earning miles by planting your butt in a seat on an airplane, chances are good you’re leaving miles on the table, and could be racking up more with a few simple strategies.

Here are five ways you’re probably giving up airline miles, and what you should do about it.

1. You're Not Signing Up for Airline Cards

Because airlines dole out miles to consumers who fly on their planes, flying is one of the easiest ways to rack up a stash of miles. If you’re loyal to a specific airline, you can expect to earn base miles for each mile you fly, with the potential for more miles if you achieve airline status over time.

But you could easily earn more miles if you added another layer to your strategy. By signing up for a co-branded airline credit card, you could earn additional miles for each dollar you spend with the airline–and elsewhere, for that matter.

Here’s a good example of how this could work. Let’s say you fly Southwest Airlines all the time, and so you have taken the time to sign up for the Southwest Rapid Rewards program. As a loyalty member, you’ll earn points based on the type of fare you book, starting with 6 miles per $1 spent on Wanna Get Away fares, all the way up to 12 miles per $1 spent on their priceir Business Select fares. By signing up for one of the co-branded Southwest credit cards from Chase, however, you’ll also earn an additional 2 miles for every dollar you spend with their airline.

2. You're Ignoring Flexible Travel Credit Cards

In addition to co-branded airline credit cards, there are flexible travel cards that work with more than just a single airline. One example is the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, which lets you transfer points to several popular airlines including Southwest, British Airways, Korean Air, and United at a 1:1 ratio. As an added bonus, this card offers 50,000 points as a signup bonus once you meet a minimum spending requirement. Believe it or not, this signup bonus could be worth as much as two round-trip domestic flights on its own.

Whether you have a co-branded airline credit card or not, you could be racking up even more miles with a flexible card that lets you transfer your points. Our advice: Figure out which airlines you fly frequently, then figure out which flexible travel cards work with that airline. Over time, you’ll rack up even more miles you can use for free flights.

3. Dining Clubs Aren't Even on Your Radar

If you dine out often and haven’t checked whether your preferred airline offers a dining club, you’re probably leaving miles on the table. Airline dining clubs make it easy to earn extra miles just for going out to eat, plus they’re free and easy to use.

Take the American AAdvantage Dining Club, for example. Not only can you earn 3,000 bonus miles within 30 days of joining the program, but you get miles each time you dine out at a participating restaurant as well. Signing up is free, so make sure to check which restaurants in your area participate in the program.

Also remember that most major airlines have a dining program. That’s true with Southwest, United, Alaska, Delta, and many others.

4. You Shop Online Without Using a Portal

Shopping portals offer yet another easy way to earn miles you wouldn’t earn otherwise. To take advantage of these programs, all you have to do is click through your favorite shopping portal before you buy anything online. And let’s be honest: Who doesn’t shop online these days?

Every major airline has their own shopping portal, although the stores that participate vary depending on the program. With Delta SkyMiles Shopping, for example, you can earn extra miles via hundreds of stores including H&R Block, Nike, eBags.com, and Macys.com.

In addition to having a wide selection of participating stores, travel-related shopping portals offer different payouts as well. With the Chase Ultimate Rewards shopping portal, you can earn between 1 and 20 extra points for each dollar you spend.

Nothing is required to use these portals other than logging into your account and “clicking through” to the portal before you shop. Using a portal is both easy and free; why not take advantage?

5. You Use Debit to Pay Your Bills

We’ve talked a lot about using airline and flexible travel credit cards to rack up points you wouldn’t earn otherwise, but there’s still another way you could be leaving miles on the table—even if you have these cards already. If you’re not using your airline or travel credit cards for all of your regular bills, you are absolutely sacrificing miles!

To rack up as many miles as possible, make sure you’re using your rewards card for any purchases you can. Charge grocery purchases, utility bills, miscellaneous expenses, daycare, and gas in addition to the travel you actually pay for. Since these cards award miles based on how much you spend, charging as much as you can will lead to more accrued miles over time, whereas using your card sparingly may yield fewer rewards than you hoped for.

One final note: While earning more miles is the goal you can achieve with a credit card, it’s important to make sure you’re only charging what you can afford, and that you have the means and discipline to pay off your balance in full each month. If you carry a balance, you will be subject to interest rates upwards of 24 percent APR with many rewards cards, and those kinds of rates will deplete any benefit you get from earning more miles.

Earning more airline miles can be incredibly rewarding, but credit card debt never is. Make sure you can afford everything you put on your card, and set up automatic bill pay so you always pay off your bill in full.