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Why high earners should earn airline miles (whether they want to or not)

High earners who have plenty of cash can truly benefit from credit card rewards since they're the least likely to end up paying interest on their purchases.

Female traveler wearing face mask showing electronic boarding pass on phone to ground attendant at check-in counter at airport terminal during pandemic.
Jacob Lund / Getty Images

Unless you have been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard all about rewards credit cards and how their programs work. If not, the basic premise is this: You choose a rewards card and use it for regular spending and bills, and you earn cash back or other rewards points as you spend.

If you’re a higher earner with a high credit score, you’re more likely to be eligible for premium credit cards that earn airline miles and other types of travel rewards. This is important since travel-related rewards points can be worth considerably more than regular-ole cash back.

Why should high earners be earning airline miles?

That said, there are so many reasons to focus on earning airline miles specifically, and this is especially true if you’re a high earner. After all, the best credit card to earn airline miles can give you valuable rewards for each dollar you spend, along with frequent flyer perks to boot.

Here are some additional reasons consumers with big incomes should focus on earning miles.

You’re spending a lot anyway

First off, high earners tend to spend a lot of money each month, and that spending should help you get something back. Fortunately, credit cards that earn airline miles can help you earn points for travel while potentially scoring benefits like free checked bags, priority boarding, and even airport lounge access.

The miles component can be significant for big spenders. If you spend $5,000 on a credit card each month, for example, you’ll earn an absolute minimum of 60,000 airline miles per year without taking into account points earned through bonus categories or sign-up bonuses. With some of the best airline rewards programs, that many miles will get you at least two round-trip domestic flights per year.

You can afford to pay your credit cards in full

Of course, being a high earner also means you can afford to pay your credit card bill in full each month, right? This part is more important than it seems, especially since the average credit card interest rate is well over 16%.

High earners who have plenty of cash can truly benefit from credit card rewards since they’re the least likely to end up paying interest on their purchases. However, those who do have credit card debt should probably steer clear of rewards.

There are few ways to save money on airfare

There are tons of ways to save on other forms of travel if you’re flexible and open-minded. For example, you could travel somewhere to visit friends that let you stay in their home for free, or you could use a family member’s timeshare to stay in a tropical locale for a week. You can also have your pick of hotels, resorts and rental condos, and you can shop around to get the best deal.

When it comes to airfare, on the other hand, there aren’t nearly as many ways to save. You can compare airlines with the itinerary you want, but you’ll only have a few options either way.

With a stash of airline miles, however, you can score almost-free flights for the cost of airline taxes and fees. This can mean saving up enough miles to fly your entire family somewhere spectacular, but it can also mean using your miles for Business or First Class flights you’ll actually enjoy.

Which cards are best for earning airline miles?

When it comes to the best way to earn flight points, you should take the time to compare the top credit cards that earn airline miles. Here are a few options we can heartily recommend:

  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®: This card lets you enjoy perks and earn miles in the American AAdvantage program, which is crucial if you want a leg up in your pursuit of American Airlines Gold status. At the moment, new cardholders can earn 50,000 American Miles after spending $2,500 on purchases within three months of account opening.
  • United Explorer Card: This card lets users enjoy frequent flyer perks while they earn miles in the United frequent flyer program. Currently, new cardholders are eligible to earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 on purchases within three months of account opening.
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred®: This flexible travel credit card is unique because it lets you earn points that transfer to domestic carriers as well as some of the best international airlines. New cardholders are eligible for 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases within three months of account opening.

Which airlines have the best miles programs?

If you’re wondering which airline is best when it comes to earning frequent flyer miles, there’s no single right answer. The reality is, the best airline rewards program for you depends on factors like:

  • Where you live, and which airport you depart from most often
  • Which destinations you want to fly to
  • Whether you prefer to fly in economy or in premium cabins

As an example, the Southwest Rapid Rewards program is a great option for people who fly within the U.S. and to Mexico and the Caribbean, mostly because this airline offers two checked bags for free with no blackout dates or limits on award flights. However, this program is a poor option if you don’t live near an airport serviced by Southwest, or if you like to fly in premium cabins (because Southwest planes don’t have one).

By contrast, major programs like United MilagePlus, the American AAdvantage program, or Delta SkyMiles can be advantageous for domestic or international travel regardless of whether you want to fly economy or upgrade for a better experience. The best one for you depends on where you live and where you travel most often.

Yes, you should get on board with airline niles

If you’re a high earner who spends a lot on plastic each month anyway, earning airline miles makes a ton of sense. You can rack up miles for a fun family trip if you want, but you can also save your miles for a much more comfortable experience in a premium cabin.

Of course, you have some work to do before you pick a card and start earning frequent flyer miles. The best airline to fly is different for everyone, and you need to do some research so you know for sure.