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Little Work, Big Results: The Secrets of Online Surveys & Frequent Flyer Miles

You don’t have to travel to have a meaningful adventure. But it helps.

There are lots of ways to experience adventure in your life, but most people who tell me about one they’re getting ready to embark on are heading somewhere far away.

Heading faraway, though, is expensive. That’s why I also get a lot of emails asking about frequent flyer miles and how to get more of them. Normally, I refer people to my friend, Chris Guillebeau—he’s the ultimate travel ninja.

But I’ve racked up a bit of knowledge myself over the last few years, and one of the most important things I’ve learned about frequent flyer miles is that it’s just as important to make a slow, concerted effort to gain small amounts of miles as it is to orchestrate big, one-time bonuses.

This is Part III in a four-part series about earning and spending frequent flyer miles. Join our newsletter to stay up to date:

Big paydays are fun, but there are three major benefits to taking things slowly and carefully:

  1. It’s easy; you don’t really have to think about much.
  2. Small bonuses add up over time.
  3. Frequent deposits keep your accounts active so that you never lose miles due to inactivity.

In Part I of this series, we talked about a number of ways to slowly bolster your mileage accounts, and my favorite of them is survey taking. I use these three services to keep my mileage accounts active:

  1. E-rewards for Delta
  2. E-miles for U.S. Air
  3. My Points for United

My favorite, though, is E-rewards because I’ve had the most success there taking lots of surveys and building up my mileage account relatively quickly.  It’s been a relatively passive way to add about 8,000 miles each year to my Delta account. Just getting into the E-rewards program, though, is a bit of a mystery, and there are smart and… not so smart ways to use it once you’re inside.

Let’s demystify the process.

Elitist Surveys: How to Get Invited to E-rewards

Earning frequent flyer miles through E-rewards is not really a complicated process. The most difficult thing about it is just figuring out how to get in the program.

E-rewards has an interesting membership model. They partner with airlines and other major businesses, and the only way to get in is to be invited by one of these partners.

Here’s how you get in:

  • Go to the E-rewards website and make a list of all the airlines they partner with. Currently, it’s Hawaiian, Jet Blue, Southwest, U.S. Airways, Virgin, Air France/KLM, Alaska, Delta, Emirates, and United.
  • Sign up for frequent flyer accounts with any of the airlines listed above and be sure to enable email updates (see here for a strategy to manage frequent flyer emails).
  • Fill out your member profile information for all these new accounts. This is how the airline decides if you’re a “good demographic” for E-rewards.
  • Wait for one of your preferred airlines to mail you an invitation (could take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months).

Sometimes—for a limited period—E-rewards will allow open enrollment. When this happens, you don’t need a special invitation, you can just sign up and choose which program to enter.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to say when this will happen, but if you follow this thread on the FlyerTalk Forum, someone usually posts when it happens.

Danger Ahead: Choose Your Rewards Program Carefully

While you’re waiting for an invitation to come, think about which airline program would be the most valuable to you. You’ll either want to pick one you rarely earn miles with but are likely to use in the future (so that you don’t lose miles due to inactivity), or one that you earn lots of miles with (to boost your mileage accounts even further).

When they start coming, be a little selective about which invite you accept because you must sign up to the program that you’re invited by, and you can’t change it. So, if you accept an invitation from Delta, then you have to redeem E-rewards currency for Delta Sky Miles, and you can’t change to a different program in the future—without sneaking around, that is.

Long ago, I picked the first invitation that came my way from Delta. Had I thought about it a little more, I probably would have chosen an airline that’s more valuable to me, like U.S. Airways or American. I rarely redeem Delta awards, so it’s not incredibly useful to me. However, thanks to E-rewards, I am earning plenty of Delta miles.

In the future, I may try to change my program using a loophole suggested directly by an E-rewards representative. Since your account is primarily identified by email, you can do the following to change your program:

  1. Sign up for a new, free email address.
  2. Change the primary email address in your E-rewards account to the new address.
  3. Close your E-rewards account.
  4. Sign up again with a different invitation using your normal email address.

Getting Pre-selected for Lots of Valuable Surveys

Once you’ve received your invite and made it inside, you’ll be asked to fill out a survey that tells E-rewards more about you. They’ll use the information you give to send you relevant surveys.

Personally, I don’t care if surveys are completely relevant to me. I care more about getting lots of miles! So, I’m very liberal about how I fill out my information and interests survey. The more liberal you are with this, the more offers you’ll get to take surveys. This is a numbers game, so you want as many offers coming to you as possible.

Side note: The more income you report, the more survey offers you’ll get because people with more money buy more stuff. If you identify yourself as the “sole decision maker” for a number of categories, you’ll get more offers because surveyors are most interested in hearing from people who actually make purchase decisions. And if you’re a parent, that will also get you more offers because parents spend a lot of money on their children.

Calculating Value: Should You Take this Survey?

Once you’re set up, you’ll start getting invitations via email to take surveys. The topics will vary based on your E-rewards profile, but I regularly get invitations to surveys about business, financial products, and consumer products.

They look like this:

Since I get a lot of invitations, I have a simple system in place to decide whether to spend the time to take a survey.

The way E-rewards works is by setting the value of each survey in “E-reward dollars.” Once you accumulate enough dollars, you can trade them for a block of miles. Don’t let the dollar value fool you, though. $1 in E-rewards currency is not worth $1. It’s really worth about $0.33 depending on how you redeem it.

I set the value of my time at $15/hour (E-rewards dollars, that is). That’s quite a lot less than I’d value it otherwise, but I actually enjoy surveys, and taking them helps to further another passion of mine—adventure, so I’m happy to do it at that valuation. Besides, you can’t command a lot of money for survey taking. It’s not exactly a skilled trade.

To figure out if a survey is worth your time, divide 60 (minutes) by the number of minutes they estimate they survey will take to finish, and then multiply by the reward for the survey. If the result is $15 or more, I’ll take it.

In the example above, the equation would look like this:

(60 / 25) x $6.25 = $15/hour… We have a winner!

You have to be careful, though. E-rewards will sometimes trick you by sending you an email with one figure and then changing the payout or the length of the survey.

Recently I got this invitation:

And I was excited to take the survey. But then I clicked through, and the confirmation screen reported this:

Not as good of a deal! I don’t know if they do this on purpose, but it happens frequently, so be sure to look at this page before you begin the survey to know what you’re really getting into.

Side note: I don’t trash surveys that don’t meet my criteria. I set them aside for a time when I’m less busy. Prioritize the most valuable ones!

Demystifying the Secrets of Survey Qualification

E-rewards offers two tiers of payments for each survey. The full amount is what you’ll receive if you qualify for the survey after answering a few demographic questions and then fully complete it.

The smaller amount—the partial credit—is what you’ll get for attempting to take the survey but not qualifying. A consolation prize, if you will.

It’s always more valuable to qualify and complete the survey, so it’s good to know exactly what you’ll need to do to pass the test.

You’ll want to answer the demographic questions as truthfully as possible, but also remember there are certain ways you can respond that are more likely to get you through the filter and onto the full survey.

Before almost every survey truly begins, you’ll be asked a series of questions about you and your personal situation. Most of them won’t help or harm you, but through many (many!) rounds of trial and error, there are a few important questions you’ll be asked that will determine if you’re allowed to complete the survey and earn full credit for it.

Here are some examples from a recent survey I completed.


This number should be as high as you can comfortably make it. Think like a business. Who’s more likely to buy your product, someone with more money or less money? More, of course. They want opinions from people with the money to buy stuff.

Decision making:

Even if you have a lot of money, you should let them know that you’re the one that makes the purchasing decisions. They’re less interested if you have the money, but you’re not the one who decides what to do with it.

Recent purchases:

If you see this question, it’s likely that they’re looking to survey people who have actually purchased something before. If you can’t answer yes to any of the items, you probably won’t qualify for the survey.

Recent surveys:

If you see this question, it’s likely that they’re looking for someone who has not completed a survey about these topics recently. Probably because they think your memory of the other one will skew the answers. If you answer “yes,” to any of them, you probably won’t qualify for the survey.

Line of Work:

This is a tricky one. Often, surveyors will ask if you or anyone you know works in a specific industry. Sometimes they phrase the question in a way that makes you think they want people in a certain industry to respond, but in almost every case I’ve experimented with, answering “yes” to any option has disqualified me from the survey. Likewise, answering “no” has never disqualified me without also answering another qualifying question poorly.

The qualification round is typically 5-10 questions depending on how much the payout is for the survey, and you’re never told when you’ve passed it; you just skip straight to the survey questions.

Other Helpful Tips

Beyond qualifying for lots of surveys, there are a few other things you can do to make E-rewards a fruitful venture for you.

  • If you’re invited to a good survey, take it immediately. Most of the best surveys are limited in responses, so if you wait too long, it’ll be full.
  • Don’t flounder on your answers. I can finish most surveys in half the estimated time or less just by being decisive. At first, I would have an initial answer, then debate two or three other possibilities before settling on my first instinct. This eats up a ton of time, so now I just go with my gut feeling. This actually makes me more honest with my answers.
  • Disregard the instructions. Most surveys spend far too much time explaining how to answer simple questions. They do this on every screen. If you must, read the instructions once, and then don’t read them again until the question format changes. This saves a lot of time.
  • Never use your browser buttons to navigate. As long as you’re skipping instructions, I should warn you about this. Always use the navigation buttons provided in the survey. Using anything else can cause it to malfunction and you won’t get your credit. If a survey ever becomes frozen, take a screen shot so that you remember your answers, then reload the page.
  • Have a business (or at least pretend like it). I get far more invites to business related surveys than any other type, and they also pay better. From what I hear, the same goes for parents. I may experiment with being a parent soon.

The Bottom Line: Strategy + Patience = A Steady Flow of Miles

That’s basically the gist of E-rewards. Pretty simple! Like I mentioned earlier, I use E-rewards to add around 8,000 Delta miles to my account each year. It’s nothing spectacular, but I enjoy taking surveys (probably because I overvalue my opinion!) and this— combined with other tactics—adds a hefty sum to my balances each year.

Do you have a strategy you like to use for earning frequent flyer miles with online surveys? Leave your wisdom in the comments below.

Image by: Blue Square Thing