Over the last few years, we’ve made more than 30 trips throughout the U.S. and around the world. We wouldn’t have been able to do it without credit card rewards. We’re talking about places like London, Rome, Paris, Venice, Cancun, Jamaica, Las Vegas, San Diego, St. Maarten, and more – all for pennies on the dollar.
Yes, traveling on points and miles is the backbone of our frugal travel strategy. For us, the easiest way to earn points has always been snagging a huge signup bonus. We’ve rarely seen a signup bonus we didn’t like! I mean, 50,000 points for spending $4,000 in three months with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card? C’mon! That’s equal to $500 in gift cards or $625 in travel through the Chase portal, yo! (Learn more here.)
Unfortunately, credit card companies are tightening up their bonus offers. As more people join the hobby, issuers are making it harder to grab those bonus points we crave.
But, hope is not lost! There are still plenty of ways to earn points and miles. While some of them seem obvious, others are relatively unknown. That’s why we’ve listed some of our favorite ways to earn points (without getting a new credit card) below. Enjoy!
6 Ways to Earn Points without a Signup Bonus
Spending on Your Card
You don’t have to get a new card every time you want to earn points or cashback. Nope. Remember those cards you already have? Chances are, you can earn a good amount of points just by using them.
Rewards and cashback cards always offer points when you spend on the card. Just by using your card to make a purchase, you’re getting ahead. In addition to using them for your regular spending, some cards offer bonus categories that increase your point haul further.
Let’s take our favorite card – the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card – as an example. With this card, you earn 2x points on travel expenses. If travel a lot, this could add up quickly. Read our full Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card review here.
Co-branded cards take it a step further by offering extra points for spending with that particular brand. For instance, with the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card you currently earn five points per dollar spent with the card at Marriott properties. You also get a free night at any Marriott hotel, categories 1-5, anywhere in the world… but who’s counting?
If earning cash back is more your style, try the Discover it® Cashback Match Card – which offers a 5% bonus on categories that rotate each quarter. From September through December 2016, you can earn that 5% bonus on the first $1,500 you spend at Amazon.com and other department store purchases. If you’re still within the introductory period, it’s even better. Discover doubles those points for your first year, so you essentially earn a whopping 10% cash back on those bonus categories. Learn more about the Discover it Cashback Match Card here.
Paying for Flights and Stays
Yep. You can still earn points and miles the old fashioned way. Sign up for airline or hotel’s loyalty program, pay for their services, and – voila – you’ll earn points!
Joining loyalty programs just makes sense, and it’s usually extremely easy to do. Just fill out a form and you’re done. Programs like the IHG® Rewards program allow you to earn points each time you stay. You can then redeem those points for free stays, travel, select merchandise, and more. You can even redeem your points with cash to stretch them farther. (See how we did that in Jamaica, here.)
Being a member with certain loyalty programs also means upgraded rooms, discounts on checked baggage, priority seating, and more. There are generally no fees to join, so signing up for these programs is a no-brainer, especially if you use a particular brand often.
Use Shopping Portals
Many credit card companies now offer shopping portals., and most of them are freakin’ fabulous! We use them all the time to book excursions and other travel experiences. In many cases, we can even use points to purchase cool side trips at a big discount.
Of course, using points and getting discounts isn’t the only thing these portals are good for. If you pay for goods or services through shopping portals, you can actually earn points for doing it. Simply login to your favorite shopping portal (ours are Chase and American Express) and shop away. Purchase something you like and you’ll usually earn points on your spending.
When you belong to a loyalty program, particularly with hotels, you’re bound to be sent a survey after your stay. Though you may be tempted to send it straight to your trash, you should take a second look. By spending a few minutes of your time, you could be eligible to earn a boatload of bonus points.
About a year ago, I decided to grit my teeth and take one of these surveys. We’d just completed a stay at an IHG hotel, and my experience there was very good. So, I wanted to give a positive review, never thinking I’d be a lucky winner of a points drawing.
Well, I was. My account was loaded with an extra 25,000 points – and I was stoked! Later in the year, Holly and I took part in a mail-in rebate promotion where we both earn tens of thousands more points. These things are real, and – sometimes – they work in your favor!
Many credit cards and loyalty programs have partnered with The Rewards Network, a dining club which offers additional points for eating out. All you have to do is connect a card you already own, such as the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier® Card, and use it at participating restaurants. Then, you’ll earn a signup bonus (plus additional points for spending) once you reach the required minimums.
Although the rewards vary by program, our favorite is Southwest Rapid Rewards® Dining. You earn 1,000 bonus points just for spending $25 at participating restaurants in the first 30 days. You earn an additional 3 points per dollar spent plus 10 points per restaurant review you complete. Once you’ve earn 1,500 points, you’ll get another 500 point bonus. From there on out, you’ll be awarded with 300 more bonus points for every 1,000 points you earn through spending and reviews! The points can pile up quickly and will be added to your Southwest Rapid Rewards® balance.
Adding Authorized Users to Your Cards
Another way to earn additional points is adding authorized users to your card. Most card issuers allow you to earn points on everything your authorized users spend, plus they may even give you a bonus for signing them up. Going back to the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, adding an authorized user in the first three months could net you an additional 5,000 bonus points. All they have to do is make a purchase before the deadline is up.
Though you earn points on your authorized user’s spending, you do need to be careful about who you allow on your account. Technically, you’re responsible for their balance, so be sure it’s somebody you can trust.
Even with new restrictions like the Chase 5/24 rule making it harder to earn points, traveling on points and miles is still possible. There are plenty of options for boosting those point balances and enjoying the experiences of your dreams. Take the time to try these programs and let us know what you think!
If you need help with your travel rewards strategy, please contact me here via my FREE travel advice page!