If you travel regularly, you know that travel rewards credit cards — backed by Chase, American Express, and other big-name credit card issuers — earn bonus points or miles on virtually every dollar spent. Every point or mile earned represents progress toward a free hotel night or complimentary flight. It’s no wonder the travel rewards category is so popular.
But travel rewards credit cards aren’t for everyone. Cards with strict underwriting standards are effectively out of reach to the millions of frequent travelers without excellent credit. Those designed for travelers who are building or rebuilding their credit tend to charge high interest on carried balances.
Qualification woes and high interest aren’t the only downsides of charging travel purchases. Every credit card carries inherent risks — among them, the budget-busting financial risks associated with carried balances and credit risks like irresponsible card use and failure to make timely payments.
Travelers leery of the financial risks posed by revolving lines of credit are well within their rights to avoid travel rewards credit cards entirely. They still have plenty of opportunities to earn bonus points and miles with their favorite brands — in many cases, at much higher rates of return than through credit card spending alone. Best of all, some opportunities require no out-of-pocket spending at all.
If you’re uninterested in applying for a travel rewards credit card from Chase, American Express, or anyone else, there are plenty of alternatives to take advantage of hotel rewards or frequent flyer programs. All earn rewards, none require new credit accounts, and some demand no out-of-pocket spending at all.
Open a Savings Account That Earns Miles Instead of Interest
Travel rewards credit cards earn points or miles on eligible purchases. In other words, they ask cardholders to spend money to make money, as the cliche goes.
The FDIC-insured Bask Savings Account makes no such request. In fact, it’s the only savings account that earns American Airlines AAdvantage® miles instead of interest. If you live near a commercial airport served by American Airlines or its partners, you’re an ideal candidate to open an account with Bask Bank and begin redeeming for free flights with American Airlines.
The Bask Savings Account offers a lot of value for frequent American Airlines flyers who participate in the airline’s rewards program. Highlight perks include several bonus opportunities for first-year account holders and ongoing mileage earnings on deposited balances.
Earning AAdvantage® Miles on Deposits
Every $1 deposited in your Bask Savings Account earns 1 AAdvantage® mile per year. Deposit $50,000 on Jan. 1, maintain that balance through Dec. 31 without any additional deposits or withdrawals, and you can earn 50,000 AAdvantage® miles through your December statement cycle.
Maintain that $50,000 balance for another full year, and you can earn a total of 100,000 AAdvantage® miles over two years.
Take Surveys, Earn Rewards
Your opinion is valuable. Marketing firms and the big-name brands that hire them are willing to pay good money for it — or in some cases, good travel rewards for it. All you need is time to participate in market research to earn airline miles or hotel points.
One of the most popular opinions-for-rewards outfits is e-Rewards. Just a few of its participating travel brands (mostly hotel chains and airlines) include:
- Accor Hotels
- Alaska Airlines
- American Airlines
- Choice Hotel
- Frontier Airlines
- Radisson Hotel Group
- Virgin Atlantic
Actual earnings depend on survey length and other factors, not all of which are clear to participants. Don’t expect to be eligible for most surveys, either. Survey-makers typically design surveys for respondents who meet specific demographic and behavioral criteria.
Shop Through a Rewards App
Many consumers use cash-back apps, shopping portals, and browser extensions to subsidize online purchases. Travel rewards apps and extensions offer similar benefits, just with points or miles instead of dollars and cents.
Curious shoppers looking to get a feel for the process can check out Evreward, one of the more established rewards apps. Evreward counts several major airlines among its partners:
- Alaska Airlines
- American Airlines
- Southwest Airlines
- United Airlines
A handful of other travel brands, including Choice Hotels and Amtrak, also participate. Reward rates commonly fall between 1 and 10 units per $1 spent. On the higher end, that’s significantly better than travel rewards cards, which typically earn no more than 5 points or miles per $1 spent.
And some Evreward shopping portal merchants are inordinately generous, at least temporarily. For a limited time in early 2020, Evreward purchases with 1-800-Flowers earned 30 United MileagePlus miles per $1 spent, for example.
Use a Travel Rewards Debit Card
Travel rewards debit cards aren’t as common or as generous as travel rewards credit cards. But they’re still useful for travelers who are uncomfortable with credit cards.
Your current bank probably doesn’t offer a travel rewards debit card, so you likely have to open a new account with a bank that does. The downside is that most banks partner with just one airline to offer reduced or free flights. But since most airlines belong to global alliances with a dozen or more members, that’s not as restrictive as it first seems.
SunTrust’s Delta SkyMiles® World Debit card and Delta SkyMiles® Business Debit card are representative of what’s out there. Note the annual fees, which they can reduce under certain circumstances. A quick search for “travel rewards debit cards” reveals more options, though not all are available online.
Participate in Social Media Promotions
Earn travel rewards without spending a dime by participating in brands’ social media promotions. Rewards are rarely guaranteed, but if you’re lucky enough to land among a promotion’s winners, you can lay hands on a pile of points or miles with relatively little effort.
Start by opening a loyalty account with every travel brand you’ve patronized in the past five years. Follow each brand’s social media handles, especially Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat — the most common promotion channels. Monitor these handles regularly, using lists or filters to sort through the noise.
articipate in every promotion that seems worth your time. More often than not, the required time investment is minimal — something like sharing a quick post about the brand along with a unique hashtag.
Most social media promotions don’t have jackpot-size prizes — figure 250 or 500 points or miles, equivalent to a few dollars in cash. Bigger hauls require more effort. In the hopes of winning enough miles to cover the cost of a cross-country flight, I once visited the Space Needle just to snap a picture with an airline’s in-flight magazine in the frame. I was already in Seattle, so it wasn’t hard to do. (Alas, I didn’t win.)
Use an App to Earn Miles on Hotel Stays
Book hotel stays through a hotel booking app like PointsHound to earn frequent flyer miles for every dollar spent — without making an extra purchase or spending a dime more than necessary. Among PointsHound’s many airline partners are:
- Alaska Airlines
- American Airlines
- Hawaiian Airlines
- Spirit Airlines
- Turkish Airlines
PointsHound is easy to use. Just sign up for a free account, choose your favorite loyalty program from about 20 in all, search hotels through the app, and book your stay. You can earn up to 10,000 bonus miles per booking, though most payouts are lower.
Who knew there were so many ways to earn rewards points and miles with your favorite travel brands without ever touching a travel rewards or airline credit card (or getting your credit score to the point where that’s even possible)?
These opportunities are entirely separate from the base points and miles you already earn on every eligible travel purchase as a member of your preferred brands’ loyalty programs. That means more points earned on everyday spending and saving — and less time to wait for your next award stay or flight.
How do you earn travel rewards without a credit card?
Bask Bank and BankDirect are divisions of Texas Capital Bank, N.A. Member FDIC. The sum of your total deposits with (i) Bask Bank; (ii) BankDirect; and (iii) Texas Capital Bank, N.A. are insured up to $250,000. Additional coverage may be available depending on how your assets are held.