Gadling’s guide to topping off your frequent flyer account

After 17 long years of flying America’s skies, you’ve done it. You’ve almost saved up enough frequent flyer miles for a free ticket to anywhere you want to go in the United States. Nice work. Most people who remember to put their frequent flyer number into the box before departure forget about their miles and let them expire.

But you’re just a couple of miles short. And you really really want to go see Aunt Ximena in Palm Springs over Labor Day. Distressed, you check the airline website and see that you can buy two thousand miles for sixty bucks. And you’re so excited about In-n-Out and Aunt Ximena’s Uruguyan Barbeque that you’re just about to cough it up. But you shouldn’t.

Hold on fellow passenger! There are ways to accrue those miles without wasting money straight from your pocketbook. At the very least you can use your money practically and earn the miles on the side. Here are a few great ways to do that.

  • Check the website for promotions. Several carriers host small promos for new program members to indoctronate educate newbies on the advantages of their specific product. These change every so often, so it’s helpful to go back and make sure that you’ve qualified for all of your excitement.
  • Go shopping. Many airline programs have deals with an online (or in air) mall that let you purchase goods from a regular retailer (GAP, Home Depot, etc) and earn miles per each dollar spent. So if you needed to buy dog food for Fido or flowers for your mother anyway, you can get 5 miles / dollar online at petsmart or 10 miles / dollar at Not all of them mark up goods either — most gateways go directly to the vendor website.
  • Go out to eat. Sites like Dining for Miles let you enroll your favorite credit card or visa/MC debit card in a program that earns miles per dollar spent at a restaurant. You can peruse about to see if any of the restaurants are near you, then next time you’re out to lunch with co-workers, pick up the bill and take cash from everyone else.
  • Transfer miles from another program. gives you a pretty serious shaft when transferring miles among programs (I equate them to the TravelEx money exchange in the airport), but they’re good if you’re in a pinch and haven’t got a ton of spare cash. There are too many participants to list them all, so check the website and see if your favorite points program is listed.
  • Take some surveys. Several online sites let you accrue points by taking surveys that you can cash in for miles. E-rewards has worked well for me a few times, although I no longer have the time to take their somewhat elaborate surveys.
  • Get a credit card. This is a little more risk-involved, but if you were prepared to get some plastic anyway, it might be worth looking into a signature or platinum card that gives you 25k miles or a free ticket upon enrollment. You’ll have to pay an annual fee of course, but that should be significantly less than a round trip ticket.
  • Beg. Yes, airlines do give away coupons for free miles that do (illegally) get circulated around the internet. If you’re ready to live a life of sin, check ebay, flyertalk or your local craigslist for people giving away or selling miles. Don’t tell them I sent you though.
  • Go on a mileage run. I know it sounds crazy, but if you need a few extra miles, it may be cost effective to actually fly somewhere just to reap the miles from the trip. Check out Gadling’s Guide to Mileage Running for more info on that.

Finally, the best thing to remember is to be patient. Award availability does dry up pretty quickly and I’ll admit, if you’ve found an itinerary that works, you want to book it as soon as possible. But you don’t need to do anything brash to get tickets before the end of the day. Have some juice, think about your options and find a good workaround. Your miles and your pocketbook will thank you.