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Dubai: The best value for airline rewards like free miles comes when you fly international flights in business or first class. But what if you barely travel and you would love to still earn and save airline miles for a bigger and better trip one day? It pays to sign up for them anyway! Here’s why..

“Most travellers don’t bother if they’re not going to earn miles by buying airplane tickets. That’s natural. But what many still don’t know is that there are a lot of ways you can accumulate miles besides flying,” said Sophia Sanchez, travel planning manager at a UAE-based European tour operator.

“Once you have all those miles, you can save up for a dream trip or one amazing vacation per year. And if you truly plan to never fly, by earning the bulk of your miles right here on the ground, you can even spend your airline miles on stuff other than flights.”

Here are a few such ways to earn frequent flyer miles without flying:

• Credit cards

The fastest and easiest way to accumulate frequent flyer miles is by getting a new credit card that rewards you in miles, opined Dubai-based travel agent and itinerary consultant Richa Dev. “You can sign up for credit cards that will pay your thousands of miles after your first purchase of any amount.

“Typically, I’ve observed that a new travel-incentivised credit card will pay a bonus after you meet a required minimum spend in the range of Dh1,000 to Dh5,000. These cards will pay you one or more mile per dirham you spend.

“You can accumulate 3,000 or more miles per month paying for things such as groceries, or fuel, etc. Even without the sign-up bonus, that would amount to over 30,000 miles per year — enough for a one-way ticket abroad.”

• Gift cards

If you don't have any travel planned or are saving up for a big trip, consider cashing in a small number of airline miles for a gift card, advised Dev. “Only certain airline programs offer this option, and you may also need the program's co-branded credit card to be eligible,” she added.

“Also, a better option than taking on debt may be to redeem your points or miles tucked away in your loyalty accounts for gifts. However, redeeming miles for non-travel redemptions isn’t always cost-effective as you'll usually get a higher value when you redeem them for travel instead.”

• Dining programs

Airline dining programs also offer an easy way to keep your miles active. Each airline's program has different restaurants, and the number of miles you'll earn will vary, but they all work similarly: You sign up for the program, dine at a qualifying restaurant, and then earn miles for what you spend.

“Airline dining programs also help reset the expiry date on your airline travel miles. But if you don't want to deal with a complicated dining program or dine at specific restaurants, using a rewards shopping portal is another easy way to save your miles,” added Sanchez.

“Nearly all major airlines worldwide offer an online mall or portal that lets you earn extra bonus miles for each UAE dirham or US dollar you spend through the site. Also, any purchase will reset the clock on your airline account. You don't need to spend hundreds of dirhams or dollars.”

• Online shopping

Airline shopping portals also offer an easy way to earn additional miles for every UAE dirham you spend. “The use of airline miles is still as rampant when shopping online. You may find it more rewarding to use an airline shopping portal than other sites,” added Sanchez.

How does it work? “Shopping portals allow you to earn bonus points and miles for the online shopping you might be doing every day. You're still purchasing the same items directly from the merchant, but because you started at the shopping portal, you'll earn bonus points,” she added.

Key takeaways

When you shop at your routine portals with an airlines rewards card, you can double dip, earning more miles for every purchase. Also, look out for additional offers from airlines and credit card issuers. They may offer additional cash back or bonus miles when spending on a specified card.

This means you could stack your points earned, getting you closer to your redemption, by first shopping through a shopping portal, then purchasing from a retailer with a bonus offer from a card issuer, and then paying with a points-earning credit card.

Most airline loyalty programs also offer a dining rewards program, allowing you to earn extra points or miles. Before you can use a dining rewards program, you have to sign up for the program online and then register at least one credit or debit card with the program.

Then, you'll automatically earn rewards through the dining program when you use your card to pay for eligible charges at participating restaurants. The bottom line is there are ways to earn airline miles, even if you are not a regular traveller.

“While all the programs, cards, airlines and options can seem like a lot, it is a good idea to start by considering which airline you want to focus on and joining its loyalty program. Then, you can look for ways to increase your rewards balance, one step at a time,” added Dev.