Credit Cards

8 Ways to Earn Points and Miles Without Credit Cards

One of the biggest barriers (really, the only one) to people getting into this hobby is bad credit. A lot of skeptics are either concerned about ruining their credit through credit card churning or they simply don’t have the minimum 700 credit score required to get approved for rewards credit cards. Those are legitimate concerns, though I know people who have regularly churned credit cards for a decade and only seen their scores improve. As for folks with bad credit, there are still plenty of options for them to earn points and miles. Here are 8 ways to earn miles without a credit card:

American Airlines First Class Seat 777-300ER
American Airlines 777-300ER First Class Seat

1. Mile-earning Debit Cards

There are three airline debit cards out there for people who can’t get approved for credit cards. There’s the Delta Skymiles World Check Card from SunTrust Bank, the UFB Direct American Airlines Debit Card and Bank of Hawaiian Airlines Visa Check Card. Of these cards, the UFB Direct American Airlines Debit Card is the most accessible and lucrative. Sure, it only earns 1 mile per $3 spent on debit transactions, but opening an AAdvantage Checking Account comes with tons of bonuses that can amount to over 120,000 miles per year.

If you’d rather earn Delta SkyMiles or Hawaiian Airlines miles, both airline offer mile-earning debit cards. However, there are resident-based eligibility rules. Thus, these two mile-earning debit cards won’t be as accessible to as many people as the the UFB Direct American Airlines Debit Card:

Delta SkyMiles World Debit Card

  • Earn 5,000 bonus miles after your first PIN Point of Sale or signature-based purchase.1
  • 1 mile for every $2 spent on PIN Point of Sale or signature based purchases (up to 2,000 miles per card monthly).1
  • $75 annual fee

Delta SkyMiles Business Debit Card

  • Earn 5,000 bonus miles after your first PIN Point of Sale or signature-based purchase.1
  • 1 mile for every $2 spent on PIN Point of Sale or signature based purchases (up to 2,000 miles per card monthly).1
  • $120 annual fee

Bank of Hawaiian Airlines Visa Check Card

  • 1 mile per $2 spent, Up to 1,000 miles per month
  • $3 monthly fee

2. United Prepaid Card

The United MileagePlus GO Visa Prepaid Card was introduced this summer and is a solid alternative for those who can’t get approved for a Chase United credit card. The United MileagePlus GO Visa Prepaid card earns 1 miler per $1 spent, which is capped at 2,500 miles per month. So basically, you’re paying a $85 annual fee to earn a maximum of 30,000 United miles per year. Worth it? Yes, since you can easily get more than $85 worth of value out of 30,000 United miles. However, this being a prepaid card with no travel benefits, they really should have lowered the annual fee to $50 or less. Still, it’s a good alternative for people with bad credit or those who simply don’t want to get involved with credit card churning.

3. Credit Card Authorized Users

If you can’t get approved for a rewards credit card, perhaps a family member can add you as an authorized user to their account. Chase allows authorized users to transfer points to their own travel partner rewards accounts, so it’s possible to keep your points separate if necessary. You’ll obviously want to make this arrangement with someone you trust (preferably someone in the same household). Otherwise, conflict can arise over tracking points, how many you earned vs. the primary account holder, etc.

If your credit is less than stellar, becoming an authorized user is a great way to earn miles without getting your own credit card. Some  credit cards, most notable the Amex Platinum card, even extend valuable travel perks to authorized users (hello Centurion Lounge!). Of course, you’ll have to pay a $195 annual authorized user fee for that particular card. It might be worth it and much more preferable to paying a $550 annual fee for your own card.

4. Airline Shopping Portals

Nowadays, more and more people are doing their shopping online. Everything from groceries to clothes and essentials can be purchased online – and often at a lower price than in-store. If you’re going to purchase online, don’t leave miles on the table: Use a shopping portal. Often, you’ll earn more points and miles through a shopping portal than you would with a mile-earning credit card. Pretty much every airline and most hotel programs have online shopping portals that pay out 1-10 points per $1 spent at popular merchants. I personally earn thousands miles every year by clicking through airline shopping portals. If you can’t get approved for an airline credit card, this is the probably the easiest way you can earn miles at a substantial rate. Just remember to check with EvReward, CashBack Monitor, and Cashbackholic for the highest payouts.

5. Dining Rewards Programs

Just like nearly every rewards program has an online shopping portal, almost all partner with a dining rewards program. All you have to do is sign up, register your credit or debit card, and you’ll earn miles or hotel points at participating restaurants. Every dining rewards program also offers generous first-time dining bonuses, along with rewards for writing reviews and meeting certain spending thresholds. If you dine out frequently, it can really add up. It’s an easy way to earn points without having to think about it. Really, everyone should be incorporating this into their travel hacking strategy.

Keep in mind that you can’t register the same card with more than one program. This can be problematic if you’re a debit card users. So I suggest focusing on the program that best meets your travel goals. Personally, I find Southwest Dining Rewards to be the best for earning free flights quickly. However, if your goal is to travel abroad (not counting Mexico or the Caribbean), you’ll want to focus on a different airline.

6. Mobile Apps that Earn Miles

In the short time that I began using the United MileagePlus X App, I’ve earned well over 5,000 airline miles. It’s very easy. Download the MileagePlus X App, link your credit or debit card. Every time you’re shopping in-store (or Amazon), simply use the MileagePlus X App to purchase a gift card in the amount due. You’ll earn at least 1 mile per $1 spent, though I’ve managed to earn about 3-5 miles per $1. This works out great if you don’t qualify for a rewards credit card because you can still earn substantial points on in-store purchases. What if you do have a rewards credit card? Then the MileagePlus X App is a great way to earn even more rewards. Think of it as a tool that gives you a category bonus pretty much everywhere.

7. Buy Airline Miles

If you don’t qualify for a mile-earning credit card but still want to travel in premium cabins at a substantial discount, you might want to consider buying miles. I’m normally not an advocate of this because it’s much cheaper for me to earn miles via manufacture spending than to buy miles. But if that’s not an option for you, then buying miles might make sense. For example, at the moment Alaska Airlines is offering a 50% bonus when you buy 40,000 – 60,000 miles. Purchasing the maximum 60,000 miles would get you 90,000 Alaska miles at a cost of $1773.75. That’s just 10,000 miles short of a roundtrip ticket to Hong Kong in Cathay Pacific business class. Booking two one-way awards would also get you a free stopover in each direction, helping you stretch your points even further.

Lots of other airlines frequently run sales on mileage purchases. These sales can be a great way to stock up on enough miles to book a first or business class award. Buying miles is ideal for people to earn miles without a credit card. Would I do it? Sure – if I’m short on miles, don’t have time to manufacture spend, or am not eligible for a credit card under the many restrictions banks are putting into place. But be aware of the cost and think about whether buying miles is the best option for you.

Note: I will earn a commission if you use my affiliate link to purchase Alaska miles. 

8. Mistake Fares and Fare Wars.

Mistake fares are a great way to book cheap (premium or economy) fares without redeeming miles. If you don’t qualify for an airline credit card and all the other methods above aren’t earning you enough miles, keep an eye out for mistake fares. They usually happen on weekends, though they have been a rare occurrence lately. Fare wars are much more common and a great alternative to redeeming miles. The great thing about these cheap fare deals is that they often earn some elite and redeemable miles. So not only will you save substantially on airfare, you’ll also earn miles. That’s the entire purpose of this game to begin with.

Having good credit and utilizing it to earn miles is an important factor in earning points and miles. However, they are not absolutely crucial. While it’s easier to earn miles through credit card churning, you can still earn miles through other means. Regardless of whether you have good or bad credit, it’s smart to stack these methods in order to earn the most miles possible.

Are you averse to getting credit cards for the purpose of earning points and miles? Or do you have less than perfect credit? I want to know how you’re earning points and miles.

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  1. I believe the info you have for the SunTrust debit card is for the Business version; the Personal account version earns 1 point per $1 spent and is only $75/year. It’s the checking account fee that kills that one – $25/mo unless you have a $25K balance with them.

  2. Hey. I am someone who has only recently been able to get into normal credit card stuff due to a lack of credit history and really low income. However, this did not prevent me from traveling all over the world for a year mostly using miles deals, 25 countries, some more difficult places included like the stans, Maldives, rando Pacific Islands etc.

    #8 is a good one, though I used it only for stuff that I actually wanted to fly to as well. I really didn’t earn all that many miles this way. A great resource to get the cash to do those or buy other tickets is getting those vouchers for overbooked flights; I always ask to volunteer and got as much as $1000 (plus free day/hotels/meals in Guam) towards future flights. I did buy miles a couple times when there was a sale and I had a good usage (best was LAX-MUC-IST-CPT//JNB-PEK-BKK//NRT-LAX with long layovers at all the intermediate stops for 65k UA. Another good one was 25k to go RT from Japan to a couple S Pacific Islands). But really the biggest thing is all those dinky deals. Example: the Economist one that’s going now, you can (could?) get 2400-3000 miles for $12. Do of these. Sites like this one, DoC, Frequent Miler are some great resources.

    But really the most important thing if you don’t have a zillion miles is to know how to use them most effectively. For this I found the travelisfree website the best, though it doesn’t seem it updates anymore.

    • I agree. Using them correctly is the best way to maximize them. I think Drew launched a new business he’s busy with, so he that’s probably why he hasn’t been updating the site. It’s definitely a great place for research on award redemptions.

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