Earn miles every day to get closer to your next award

A photo of an Alaska Airlines Visa Signature card sticking out of a billfold on a restaurant table.

It’s possible to earn miles from lots of everyday activities — not just when flying with Alaska Airlines or Alaska Global Partners. In fact, these alternative methods are how my wife and I earn the majority of our miles each year. Our strategy for booking upgrades and award tickets depends on earning lots of miles in everything we do.

First, always pay attention to the credit card you use for making purchases. The Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card, for example, earns 3 miles for every dollar you spend on Alaska Airlines flights or onboard purchases. You can also earn 1 mile for every dollar on other purchases. I personally value Alaska miles close to 2 cents each, so that’s comparable to a 2 percent cashback card. (The actual value depends on how you choose to redeem your miles.)

If you’re still using cash or a debit card, consider switching to credit where available. Credit cards offer more protection in case of fraud. The main disadvantage is that you need to manage your credit wisely. Racking up bills that you can’t pay off in full each month could mean fees and interest payments. These will be much higher than the value of any miles you earn.

It’s possible to use a credit card for lots of transactions that don’t seem obvious at first. Want to be rewarded for paying your taxes, car payment, student loan, rent, or mortgage? That could be thousands of miles every month! Many services will let you pay these bills with a credit card, or your landlord may have an existing online payment option. The catch is that you’ll have to pay a transaction fee in the range of 1-3 percent.

Remember I said that I value my Alaska miles at about 2 cents each. Any time I can find a way to pay a transaction fee of less than 2 percent for using a credit card means that I’ll come out ahead with my Alaska Airlines Visa Signature card because the miles I earn are worth more than the fee.

Second, consider where you place your purchase. Online shopping portals are an easy way to earn extra miles on transactions you would make anyway — such as 2 miles per dollar at Macy’s or 3 miles per dollar at Groupon — just by clicking on a link to each retailer from the Mileage Plan Shopping website. Promotions can sometimes double or triple these numbers. Don’t want to wait for delivery? Retailers might let you order online and pickup in-store, so you still earn miles by starting with a shopping portal.

Any miles you get from using the Mileage Plan Shopping website are in addition to the bonus you might earn from your preferred credit card. If you planned on using a coupon during your purchase, using a shopping portal usually will not interfere.

Similar to online shopping, the Mileage Plan Dining website lets you find and earn miles by going out to eat at participating restaurants in your neighborhood. Simply register your credit card and then dine out like usual — there’s no special app or coupon required. You can earn up to 5 miles per dollar when you eat at restaurants you already visit. For example, some of my favorite neighborhood restaurants like Latona Pub are on this list, so I can earn extra miles when my wife and I go there for a burger.

Third, take a look at Alaska’s partnerships with other loyalty programs and travel partners. You can often transfer points from hotel programs like Hilton Honors and Marriott Rewards to Alaska Mileage Plan. This can be a good value if you already have other plans for accommodation but need miles to reach your destination. Car rental firms and airport parking lots may also issue Alaska miles, but be sure to check if this feature requires adding an extra fee to your bill; it may only be worthwhile for larger purchases.

Finally, consider involving friends, family, and coworkers in your miles-earning strategy. Some of the tactics I’ve proposed here just don’t make other people comfortable. I know some family members who love paying with cash. That just makes it easier for me to pay the bill and ask them to reimburse me later. Now dinner with friends or a big family vacation all go on my Alaska Airlines Visa Signature card.

We’ve sometimes been able to earn over 10,000 miles a month just by carefully watching where and how we pay for the purchases we already plan to make. Over the course of a year, that could be 120,000 miles — enough for two round-trip award tickets to many international destinations served by Alaska Global Partners.