How to hack free travel: 10 smart ways to earn miles

The Best Way to Use Frequent-Flier Miles

Just because you don't actually travel doesn't mean you can't earn tons of free miles.

I used to travel for business all the time. Like, constantly.

Then I grew sick of it. I got another job. (Well, that wasn't the only reason.)

One of the big benefits of traveling so much for work was that I banked a ton of miles, but when I stopped traveling, I stopped accruing.

That was a mistake. It turns out that even if you never board a redeye back to New York or D.C., or check into a hotel in Seattle on a Tuesday evening (for example), you can still bank tons of miles by doing things you're already doing.

If you're not reading Stephanie Rosenbloom's New York Times column, The Getaway, you might want to check it out. (Also, download free bonus content: 8 Things That Make Air Travel Less Disgusting -- most are free or cheap.)

Here are 10 of the everyday ways Rosenbloom suggests hooking up frequent flyer programs to earn miles all the time. For example, you should be earning miles while you...

1. Buy stuff you'd buy anyway.

Check out before you make just about any major purchase. In addition, Rosenbloom suggests it should be like second nature to earn miles while online shopping at almost anywhere from Apple to WalMart, by going through the airlines' portals before visiting the retailers' sites.

"For each dollar spent at stores as varied as Neiman Marcus, Walmart, Apple, Sephora and Groupon, you receive miles," Rosenbloom writes. "For instance, a recent offer on Spirit's mall was four miles for each dollar spent on Etsy."

2. Go to the movies (or cheer on your favorite sports team).

Next up, link your frequent flyer account to certain ticket websites, you can get miles for going to see movies, sporting events, theater performances, and other events.

Rosenbloom suggests connecting your American, Delta or United account with sites like, or linking up with ScoreBig (partners with JetBlue, Southwest, United, and Hilton).

3. Make more money (hopefully).

It takes a disciplined person to open and close credit cards quickly to take advantage of free miles offers, or to deposit money with a brokerage just for the miles. But these do represent opportunities.

Deposit $25,000 with Fidelity for example, and you'll get 15,000 American Airlines miles, Rosenbloom suggests. Delta and United have similar programs.

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How to hack free travel: 10 smart ways to earn miles

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4. Beautify yourself.

If you're buying beauty products anyway, this is a great opportunity to look for mile linkage opportunities. (In fact, if you're buying just about any high-margin product, there's a very good bet that a little online searching will turn up miles programs.)

Rosenbloom specifically cites Spafinder Wellness 365, which has partnerships with Delta, American and JetBlue as an indulgent way to earn miles.

5. Drink wine. Also, drink wine.

This one's so nice, we said it twice. Rosenbloom suggests earning miles on American, Delta and United by singing up for Vinesse wine club, or earning miles with JetBlue through Club W.

6. Binge watch.

Got DirectTV? No? Good. Boom: 25,000 miles through American or United for signing up. Rosenbloom also mentions Sprint, where you can get 20,000 miles on American for singing up new service.

7. Use electricity.

This one seems a bit more obscure, but if it applies, great. Rosenbloom points out that some solar energy companies offer miles on American, JetBlue and United if you become a customer.

8. Rest your tired head.

It's an amateur trick, but if you're booking a hotel or renting a car, you can usually get airline miles instead of accruing points in the hotel's or car rental company's program. Rosenbloom also suggests signing up for Rocketmiles, which gives you points on JetBlue just for booking travel.

9. Nom nom nom ...

Yep, you can earn miles while eating out. Rosenbloom suggests looking for "airline dining program from American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest or United and then whenever you eat at a participating restaurant, you'll earn miles."

10. While you are literally earning other miles...

This one is my favorite, and it's your reward for reading to the end of the article. The idea is to use a miles-generating card to pay for the other items on this list. For example, Rosenbloom suggests the Chase Sapphire Preferred card.

"The sign-up bonuses alone can be enough for a free flight or hotel stay (the current offer is 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months). And then you regularly earn points if you pay your bills, like phone and cable, with it," she writes.

There are many other opportunities of course--Bloom field suggests car services and charitable giving for example. Let us know your best suggestions in the comments, and don't forget to download the free bonus content: 8 Things That Make Air Travel Less Disgusting -- most are free or cheap. And check out Rosenbloom's article in the Times for more ideas.

RELATED: Check out these 4 travel hacks we tested out for you

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How to hack free travel: 10 smart ways to earn miles

1. Homemade Food for an In-Flight Meal, tested by Kenzi Wilbur

For a recent trip to Seattle, I took a page from Heidi Swanson’s book and tried making spring rolls before my flight—a food already leagues ahead of what I’d make for myself with much more time on my hands. I chopped carrots into neat little matchsticks; picked delicate leaves of cilantro; slivered avocado; felt really twee.

Normally, airport food for me isn't some beautiful little snack I've diligently packed away—it is bodega yogurts and bags of pretzels and peanut butter cups. Why, Heidi, would you ask me to gently sauté a ginger onion paste while I’m supposed to be packing? I hardly have the time to fold my laundry, let alone swaddle herbs in barely warmed oil. 

But here's what I learned: Making proper food for yourself before a flight will likely be an emotional roller coaster. You will be annoyed, sometimes angry. If it’s late enough and you are behind enough, some of this may manifest into tears. But just make the damn spring rolls—the next day you will feel full, happy, and, most importantly, smug, like you’ve beat all the other meals sitting at your gate. And it’s because you have. 

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Photo credi: Kenzi Wilbur/Food52

2. Lavender Oil for Stress, tested by Samantha Weiss Hills

I'm a nervous flyer—especially if I haven't flown in a while—and I admit to being skeptical when Amanda handed me a bottle of lavender essential oil to "soothe" my discomfort during takeoff and landing. As it turns out, dotting a few drops of it on the inside of my wrists does do the trick (especially if it's too early to have a glass of wine), as I recently discovered when testing it out on a flight to Chicago that required leaving home before sunrise.

To be fair, the lavender oil might have been a stretch for the violent discomfort I've felt when flying in the past, but I've gotten better with more frequent travel and the bit of oil is kind of nice to smell instead of the person sweating in a suit next to you. I think you could also mix it with some unscented lotion for extra coverage!

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3. Travel-Sized Spray Bottle for Wrinkled Clothes, tested by Maryam Shamlou (friend of Ali Slagle)

Whether you’re a master packer, who makes lists and consults the weather forecast to pick out the perfect, portable wardrobe, or one who exercises less foresight, throws caution to the wind and packs 20 minutes before you’re out the door, you’re bound to encounter a shared enemy among all travelers: the wrinkle.

To keep from looking a ruffley and wrinkly mess: a travel-sized spray bottle. When filled with water, this unassuming travel hero works sartorial magic. Simply place the wrinkly garment on a hanger, hold it up or hang it up, and spray away the pesky wrinkles. I like to aim for the wrinkles and dampen the bottom of the garment to weigh it down, but any strategy will work. Once the garment dries, the wrinkles are long gone—and this works for all fabrics, too! It’s just too easy not to do. 

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Photo credit: Maryam Shamlou/Food52

4. Pack in a Small, Open Bag to Simplify, tested by Amanda Sims

I wasn't always a smart packer, more the type who would rather lift a whole stack of shirts from the drawer and slip them into a duffel rather than thinking critically about which two I actually might need. 

But that system recently changed when I started taking simpler, more spontaneous trips. The reality of day trip travel from New York City, which frequently requires more than one mode of transportation, is that you really cannot be bogged down by a suitcase the size of your body. There are lots of tips for paring down when you pack—from rolling clothes so more will fit to mapping out your days by outfit and packing them in Ziplocs. But the most foolproof method I've found is to limit the size of the bag you travel with: Pack in an open tote bag and you will take less, feel freer. 

You'll have room for one pair of presentable shoes along with a kick-around pair on your feet, a few bottoms and a few tops. Your laptop, if it insists on tagging along, can slip inside. Toiletries? Get the minis. Even on plane flights, an open tote bag can slip right under the seat in front of you, and the feeling of freedom as you stroll past baggage claim will last well beyond the return trip home. 

Photo credit: Amanda Sims/Food52


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