The most lucrative way to earn points and miles is through credit card sign-up bonuses.

This is no secret.

I tend to open only 1-2 cards per year and only for specific airline/hotel programs. Couple this with the fact that I’m nearly 100% committed to American Airlines and you’ll see why I need to look for alternative ways to earn AAdvantage points — I’ve just run out of AA cards to apply for!

AMEX SPG ✓

Citi AAdvantage ✓

Barclays Aviator ✓

Fortunately, you can earn a decent number of points and miles annually just by being smart about your shopping.

Shopping through a shopping portal carries no extra cost to you and can be very lucrative. I’ve never been serious about using shopping portals, but I recently did some quick number crunching on my April spend-to-date to see if it’s something I should pursue.

In the following screenshot, I extracted the merchants I bought from that currently exist in the American AAdvantage Shopping Portal. The ‘Other Spending’ category is comprised of all transactions that don’t earn additional miles in the shopping portal but still earn 1 mile per dollar using my Barclays Aviator Red credit card.

The sad part of this story was that I didn’t use a shopping portal for these transactions and lost out on almost 500 AA miles.

In the grand scheme, 500 miles are peanuts, but with some scaling, it’s easy to see how you can come out on top with this strategy.

Extra Work, but Worth It

Keeping track and shopping through shopping portals can definitely take some extra work, especially with the existence of Amazon. Nonetheless, as you can see, I do rely on big box stores for some items.

Another strategy often called double dipping requires you to use shopping portals to purchase gift cards and in turn use those gift cards (again through the shopping portal) to purchase the items you desire.

Here’s a quick back-of-the-napkin illustration on the process. If you use a rewards-earning credit card to make the gift card purchases, you’ll be triple dipping points.

Even if you don’t want to wait to receive your purchase(s), many stores allow for in-store pickup if you order online. Take advantage of this! It’ll earn you miles, save time at the store, and cut back on unnecessary spending by being inspired at the store to buy other things.

UPDATE: Shout out to reader Daniel for pointing out that some merchants exclude gift cards in their terms and conditions. This is true and your ability to earn points/miles from GC purchases relies solely on how the merchant reports the sale to the portal. Greg at Frequent Miler has a full page with data points on dozens of merchants.

 

Keep Organized

If you’re going to start tracking your portal shopping spend, I’d say it’s best to keep a spreadsheet (like the one I made for you here) and set a goal for each month.

For example, I want to try to earn 3,000 AA miles per month. It’s up to me now to convert my spend (Typically $2,500/month) into these 3,000 miles. Multiply that by 12 months and you have a free round-trip ticket to many cities.

That’s the definition of putting your money to work for you.

Shopping Portal Aggregators

CashbackMonitor and Evreward take the guesswork out of maximizing the use of shopping portals. All you do is type in where you’re shopping and you’ll see the best available offers across multiple loyalty programs.

What are your strategies for earning miles and points aside from credit card sign-up bonuses?

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[…] written extensively about shopping portals and think they’re a great way to augment your typical points and miles-earning regimen. […]

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[…] for the money you’re going to spend anyway? Great, me too, and it’s the reason why shopping portals take the cake as one of the best ways to earn miles outside of credit card sign-up […]