5 Ways to Top Off Your Airline Miles

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Don't let a few miles keep you from your next trip.

Airline miles are a fantastic tool for getting free flights or upgrades -- when you have enough miles to redeem. But as they say, almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.

There are any number of reasons why you could come up a few miles short of a free flight. Maybe the airline tweaked its algorithm and award costs changed. Or perhaps you flew less than you expected the year before and simply didn't earn many miles.

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Whatever the case, it's easy to top off your miles balance -- and you don't even need to fly to do it. These five options can help you reach your miles goal without leaving the ground.

1. Open an airline credit card

Most major airlines these days have co-branded credit cards that let you earn frequent flyer miles on purchases. Even better, most airline credit cards come with hefty sign-up bonuses that can easily add tens of thousands of miles to your cache.

If you're a frequent traveler, you can find airline cards that offer extra perks, such as airport lounge access and free checked baggage. While these cards tend to come with larger annual fees, it can be worth it for the extras.

Of course, even casual travelers can benefit from an airline credit card. Lower-fee airline cards still earn miles on purchases, which can help you top off your balance and keep your existing miles from expiring.

2. Purchase points from the airline

One way to close the award gap is to purchase miles directly from the airline. However, this is rarely the most affordable option, as the per-mile cost can be significant -- unless you catch a sale.

Most airlines will offer discounts on miles purchases a few times a year, with some offering up to 50% off during miles promotions. In many cases, the more miles you purchase, the less you'll pay per mile. That said, buying miles to redeem will rarely be less expensive than outright buying a ticket, so it's usually best to save this method for small miles purchases to meet a miles goal.

3. Transfer from another rewards program

A convenient thing about travel rewards of all types is that there is a ton of overlap between programs. For example, your favorite travel rewards credit card may have points that you can transfer to a number of airline programs when you're in need of a few extra frequent flyer miles.

But it's not just credit card rewards that can be transferred. Some hotel loyalty programs also allow you to transfer your points to a partner airline, turning hotel rewards into miles. Marriott, for example, allows you to transfer hotel rewards to more than three dozen airline programs.

The per-point value you get by transferring your rewards will vary a lot, based on both the transfer rate and the final value of your redemption. If you're transferring more than a few points, it can be worth crunching the numbers to see if a transfer is your best option.

4. Join a dining program

Many airline loyalty programs have built-in dining programs that you can join. You'll link your account to a specific credit card, then use that card to make purchases at participating restaurants. This allows you to earn airline miles on your dining purchases, with rates up to five miles per dollar spent.

You can also double down on earning miles by using a rewards credit card to make your purchases. Choose a card that offers bonus rewards on dining or even an airline credit card to really maximize your dining purchases.

5. Spend with a shopping portal

Most airlines these days offer their own partner shopping portals, which let you earn bonus rewards for shopping with partners. These are similar to credit card shopping portals. You simply sign into the portal and use the designated links to make your purchases. Every dollar you spend will equate to miles earned.

As with the dining program, you can boost your rewards earned by choosing the right credit card for your purchases. A good transferable rewards card or airline miles card will make the most of your spending.

Just a few more miles...

Earning airline miles used to be a matter of, well, miles -- miles spent in the sky, that is. But you can't always get miles just by flying to and fro. With these five options, you can get the miles you need for your next award redemption without having to take extra flights.

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