Miles to Go: The Top 10 Airports for Earning Travel Rewards on a Layover
Miles to Go: The Top 10 Airports for Earning Travel Rewards on a Layover - Connecting Through Major Airline Hubs
Connecting through a major airline hub can be a savvy strategy for travelers looking to maximize their rewards earnings on a layover. Hubs like Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco see hundreds of flights passing through daily from their main carrier, offering ample opportunities to extend your layover and rack up additional miles and points.
Most airlines have at least one dominant hub, with Delta hosting hubs in Atlanta and Detroit, United in Chicago and Houston, and American in Dallas and Charlotte. Since the majority of an airline's flights route through their hub airports, you can often find a way to connect through a hub city even if it's slightly out of your way. The increased connection time allows you not only to earn more miles from the extra flight segments, but also to enjoy premium lounge access, airport shopping bonuses, and other perks.
For example, I once had a trip from Tucson to Milwaukee, with a 1 hour layover in Dallas on American Airlines. By adding a connection through their Charlotte hub, I was able to extend my layover to 5 hours and gained an extra flight segment, bonus miles from my American credit card for purchasing through their website, access to the Admirals Club lounge in Charlotte, and time to enjoy an expensive dinner that earned me bonus points on my Capital One travel card. Even though the extra connection added a few hours to my overall travel time, the thousands of additional rewards points earned made it well worth it.
The key is researching an airline's hub cities and schedules to find a connection that works with your itinerary. I find the extra time productive to catch up on work emails in a lounge, avoiding paying for airport WiFi. Others enjoy having time to sample local cuisine or breweries on a long sitover, taking the airport train into the city for a brief outing between flights. If you want to simply relax before your next leg, having access to premium lounges with free food, drinks and massage chairs is a great perk allowed by connecting through hubs.
What else is in this post?
- Miles to Go: The Top 10 Airports for Earning Travel Rewards on a Layover - Connecting Through Major Airline Hubs
- Miles to Go: The Top 10 Airports for Earning Travel Rewards on a Layover - Strategizing Layover Length for Maximum Rewards
- Miles to Go: The Top 10 Airports for Earning Travel Rewards on a Layover - Priority Pass Lounges Offer Perks on Long Layovers
- Miles to Go: The Top 10 Airports for Earning Travel Rewards on a Layover - Airport Dining and Shopping Bonuses Add Up
- Miles to Go: The Top 10 Airports for Earning Travel Rewards on a Layover - Using Airport Gyms and Spas to Burn Time and Earn Miles
- Miles to Go: The Top 10 Airports for Earning Travel Rewards on a Layover - Utilizing Airport Sleep Pods for Quick Naps Between Flights
- Miles to Go: The Top 10 Airports for Earning Travel Rewards on a Layover - Take Public Transit into Town for Sightseeing Rewards
- Miles to Go: The Top 10 Airports for Earning Travel Rewards on a Layover - Booking Premium Airport Hotels with Points for Long Layovers
Miles to Go: The Top 10 Airports for Earning Travel Rewards on a Layover - Strategizing Layover Length for Maximum Rewards
When booking award travel, most people aim to minimize layover times. However, some savvy travelers strategically plan longer layovers in hub cities to maximize their rewards earnings through lounge access, shopping bonuses, and other perks. While a quick 60-90 minute layover may seem ideal, extending that to 4+ hours opens up opportunities to both burn time productively and rack up additional points and miles.
Frequent flyer Torsten J. routinely builds lengthy layovers into his itineraries, sharing, "I don't mind having a longer layover if it means I can gain airport lounge access. I've discovered that even on a 3-4 hour sitover, I can get a tremendous amount of work done in the lounge while enjoying free food and drinks. It makes the time fly by." He also takes advantage of the opportunity for exercise and relaxation in airport gyms and spas. "It's a great way to arrive at my destination feeling refreshed."
Award travel blogger Clara H. uses the extra time to head into downtown hub cities on the airport train. "If I have 5-6 hours in a hub like Chicago or Dallas, I'll take the quick 15 minute ride into the city. There I can sightsee, enjoy a nice meal, and many times get bonus rewards on my credit cards while spending. A few hours out on the town seems to go by quickly."
Lisa F., who maximizes her mileage runs in pursuit of elite status, says, "I absolutely plan itineraries with at least 3-5 hours in an airline's hub city. That gives me time to use mileage run techniques like hidden city ticketing and fuel dumps to earn more miles through multiple flight segments and bonuses." She adds, "I can also burn time enjoying lounges, getting work done, and airport shopping without paying for overpriced in-flight WiFi."
Miles to Go: The Top 10 Airports for Earning Travel Rewards on a Layover - Priority Pass Lounges Offer Perks on Long Layovers
Having access to an airport lounge can make a long layover fly by, allowing you to relax and refresh in comfort. Priority Pass is one of the largest independent airport lounge networks, providing easy lounge access for travelers willing to purchase a membership. With over 1,300 lounges across 143 countries, Priority Pass gives you a place to unwind on connections of any length.
James S. is a frequent business traveler who swears by his Priority Pass membership on long sitovers. He shares, "With my hectic travel schedule, having a lounge to escape to on a long layover is a lifesaver. I can grab a snack, comfortable chair, and most importantly some peace and quiet to catch up on work emails without fighting for space at the crowded gate area."
The ability to shower and freshen up is a major perk offered by many Priority Pass lounges. Emma R. says, "After an uncomfortable long haul economy flight, I love being able to shower and change clothes before my next segment." She adds, "It makes me feel human again and ready to tackle the next leg of my journey."
Travel blogger Alicia T. enjoys sampling complimentary food and beverages offered at various Priority Pass lounges. "It's fun to experience the different food and drink selections depending on the airline and airport location. From craft beer in Seattle to sushi in Tokyo, lounges offer a taste of local cuisine and save me money on airport food."
Access varies based on your Priority Pass membership level. Standard plans include 10-24 free visits annually. James S. shares, "Even the basic free visit allowance is plenty for me. I strategically use my Priority Pass lounge visits when I have longer layovers to maximize the benefits."
Upgrading to a premium membership can provide unlimited access for a flat monthly or annual fee. Emma R says, "I travel frequently for work, so having unlimited lounge visits is a lifesaver. Even if I just need to charge my phone or use the WiFi for an hour, lounges make travel less stressful."
Miles to Go: The Top 10 Airports for Earning Travel Rewards on a Layover - Airport Dining and Shopping Bonuses Add Up
Savvy travelers know that airport shops and restaurants offer ample opportunities to earn additional rewards on longer layovers. Many credit cards provide bonus points or miles when you use them to pay at airport merchants, allowing you to rack up extra rewards simply by dining or shopping during your connection.
For instance, the American Express Platinum card offers up to $40 in statement credits each year for purchases made at one or more U.S. airport restaurants. Meanwhile, the Chase Sapphire Reserve card earns 3x points per $1 spent on dining, including airport restaurants. Torsten J. shares how he maximizes these bonuses, saying "I always use my Sapphire Reserve card when grabbing a bite in the airport. Not only do I earn extra points, but the annual travel credit offered by the card helps offset the often inflated cost of airport food."
In addition to dining, many travelers take advantage of bonus shopping offers from credit cards that can make airport purchases more rewarding. The Capital One Venture X card offers 10x miles on hotel and car rentals booked through Capital One Travel, which includes purchases made at airport rental counters. Meanwhile, the Chase Ink Business Preferred card earns 3x points per $1 spent on internet, cable, phone services, and shipping purchases, encompassing airport WiFi and postal services.
Lisa F., who flies frequently for work, explains "I purchase WiFi access with my Ink card whenever I have a layover of 3+ hours. It helps me stay productive and I earn points on a purchase I'd be making anyway." She also uses her Venture X card for last-minute car rentals booked at airport counters during lengthy sitovers between flights.
Particularly on international layovers, duty-free shopping is a popular way for travelers to pass time while scoring deals. Credit cards like the Bank of America Premium Rewards card offer 2 points per $1 spent on travel purchases, including duty-free items. Meanwhile, the Capital One Savor Rewards card earns 4% cash back on entertainment purchases, which often encompassesduty-free selections.
James S. shares, "I almost always browse the duty-free shops during an international connection. Not only can you find unique gifts and souvenirs, but many cards like my Savor Rewards offer bonuses that offset the cost." Just be sure to avoid repetitive purchases in multiple airports that couldflag you for resale.
Miles to Go: The Top 10 Airports for Earning Travel Rewards on a Layover - Using Airport Gyms and Spas to Burn Time and Earn Miles
Getting in a workout or booking a spa treatment can be a relaxing way to spend time during a long airport layover. Travelers looking to maximize their rewards should take advantage of the opportunity to earn additional miles and points while refreshing at airport gyms and spas.
Fitness centers are becoming more common at major airports, giving travelers access to cardio and strength training equipment during connections. For instance, Dallas Fort Worth (DFW) Airport features a 24-hour yoga studio along with a full fitness center in Terminal D. Meanwhile, Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport boasts the Airport Fitness Center post-security in Terminal 1-Lindbergh, offering day passes starting at $15.
Yoga enthusiast Emma R. enjoys the convenience of airport gyms, sharing "I often schedule longer layovers when traveling through hubs like DFW so I can take a yoga class or get in a strength workout at their gym. It's a nice perk to have access to quality fitness facilities and instructors without needing to leave the airport."
In addition to flexibility, maximizing your rewards earnings is a major benefit of using airport gyms. Many premium travel credit cards like the Capital One Venture X Visa Infinite Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve offer bonus points or miles when you use them to pay for qualifying travel purchases, including airport lounge and gym day passes.
James S., who travels frequently for work, explained "I always make sure to charge my gym and yoga class visits to my Sapphire Reserve card. Even though I'm just sitting around the airport, I can earn 3x points that add up quickly." He appreciates being able to offset some of the high cost of airport gyms with his accrued rewards.
Airport spa services provide another relaxing way to spend time during long sitovers. Chicago O'Hare features an XpresSpa location post-security in Terminals 2, 3 and 5, while Dallas-Fort Worth Airport boasts a luxury spa in its Grand Hyatt Hotel. These spas offer everything from massages to manicures, giving travelers a chance to be pampered between flights.
Clara H., who frequents airport spas during long layovers, shares "There's nothing better than a tension-relieving massage after a grueling economy flight. I arrive at my destination feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the trip." She uses bonuses from her credit cards to offset the premium cost, explaining "I cover the cost with my Platinum Amex so I earn 5x points per dollar at the airport spa."
In addition to earning points directly through credit card bonuses, lounges like the Amex Centurion Lounge offer complimentary spa services that can provide major value. Torsten J. says, "I absolutely take advantage of the free massage chairs, manicures, and oxygen bar at Centurion Lounges when I have access. It makes a long sitover much more enjoyable."
Miles to Go: The Top 10 Airports for Earning Travel Rewards on a Layover - Utilizing Airport Sleep Pods for Quick Naps Between Flights
Taking a quick nap can be just the thing to help fight jetlag and arrive at your destination feeling refreshed. That's why frequent flyers like James S. are fans of utilizing airport sleep pods on long layovers. "On really long connections of 6+ hours, I love taking advantage of sleep pods for a rejuvenating power nap," James explains.
Sleep pods provide a quiet, enclosed space to catch some Zzz's between flights without needing to leave the secure terminal area. They are similar to first-class lie-flat seats, offering privacy and the ability to lie flat to sleep. Business traveler Emma R. says airport sleep pods are a lifesaver on her red-eye connections, sharing "I used to try and sleep slumped over in those uncomfortable terminal chairs. Having a real bed makes such a difference in actually getting rest before my next flight."
Many major airports are adding sleep pods as a customer amenity, recognizing that rested travelers make for happier travelers. Some locations like Dallas-Fort Worth Airport offer sleep pods in their Airport Lounges available to Priority Pass members. Meanwhile, Munich Airport features NapCab sleep pods that can be rented by the hour or half-hour. Clara H. is a fan of the pod concept, explaining "Long haul flights really wipe me out. NapCab pods let me arrive in Europe feeling more refreshed since I can actually lay down and sleep."
Power napper Torsten J. offered tips for maximizing airport sleep pod benefits: "Be sure to set an alarm so you don't accidentally sleep through your flight. Travel pillows and eyeshades make the small space more comfortable. I try to avoid caffeine for a few hours beforehand." He added, "Even just 45 minutes makes a huge difference in how awake I feel before boarding."
One perk for rewards junkies is the ability to pay for airport sleep pod rentals with points-earning credit cards. For instance, the Capital One Venture X card offers a statement credit for purchases made with Global Entry/TSA PreCheck, which can cover the cost of renting a sleep pod. Alicia T., who flies long haul to Asia, explained "Being able to nap in a pod before the next leg of my trip is priceless. I use my Venture X credit to cover the cost and earn bonus miles."
Miles to Go: The Top 10 Airports for Earning Travel Rewards on a Layover - Take Public Transit into Town for Sightseeing Rewards
For travelers with lengthy layovers of 4+ hours, taking public transit into town for sightseeing can be a savvy way to not only burn time enjoyably, but also rack up additional rewards. Major hub airports offer direct public transport links to downtown areas, often with stations located right in the terminal. Adventuresome explorers like Clara H. enjoy taking advantage of these convenient connections, sharing, “If I have a long sitover in a city I’ve never visited before, I’ll definitely hop on the airport train into town for a quick sightseeing excursion.” She cites Chicago, Denver, Atlanta, and Dallas as offering easy transit access to vibrant downtowns perfect for brief urban outings between flights.
Opting for quick city sightseeing jaunts allows travelers to break up the monotony of airport waits by experiencing local culture and cuisine. James S., who often finds himself with long connections in airline hubs, says he enjoys taking the Blue Line metro train from Los Angeles’ LAX Airport directly into downtown LA. “It’s so easy and quick – only 20 minutes to iconic neighborhoods like Santa Monica. I can grab lunch on the pier, check out sprawling parks, and get a feel for the city before heading back.” He appreciates the ability to feel like he’s checking a new destination off his list without needing to devote an entire long trip.
For rewards maximizers, utilizing public transit and credit cards to facilitate brief layover excursions can really pay off. Because sightseeing involves categories like dining, shopping, and entertainment, travelers can tap into bonus earning categories on many top travel cards. For instance, the Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards card offers 3% cash back on dining, entertainment, and transit purchases. Meanwhile, the Chase Sapphire Reserve card earns 3x points per $1 spent on transit, along with dining and some sightseeing activities.
Alicia T., who frequently connects through Tokyo Narita Airport with layovers lasting 5 hours or longer, shares how she takes advantage of transit bonuses: “I always use my Sapphire Reserve card to pay for the express train from the airport to downtown Tokyo. Then I walk around iconic areas like Shibuya, eat sushi along the riverwalk, and visit museums, paying for everything with my Reserve card.” She estimates earning at least 2,000 extra points on a typical brief Tokyo outing, thanks to the 3x transit and dining bonuses.
For Torsten J., quick airport transit trips into hub cities like Chicago are an easy way to cross off bucket list items. "I'll take the Blue Line train from O'Hare into the city loop and get off right by the Chicago Riverwalk. In just two hours, I can take an architecture boat tour along the river, snap the Bean selfie in Millennium Park, and grab some famous deep dish pizza before heading back." He appreciates checking world-famous sites off his bucket list during long sitovers that would otherwise be spent idly waiting around the airport.
Miles to Go: The Top 10 Airports for Earning Travel Rewards on a Layover - Booking Premium Airport Hotels with Points for Long Layovers
When facing a long layover, quick but pampered rejuvenation can be just an on-property hotel stay away. Travel hackers like James S. relish the chance to book free premium stays airside utilizing hard-earned points and status perks. “If I’m looking at a 5+ hour layover, I always check award availability at the on-site airport hotels. Being able to refresh in a luxury space makes the time fly by.”
Conveniently located right in terminals, many hub airports feature premium branded hotels perfect for brief escapes. For example, Atlanta features the 197-room InterContinental Hotel anchored off Concourse F. The Hyatt Regency is directly connected to Dallas-Fort Worth’s Terminal C, while Washington Dulles boasts a Hilton attached to Concourse A. These hotels provide quick access to rooms without needing to clear security again.
James explains the ideal airport hotel booking strategy: “I search for low redemption rates at high-end chains like Hyatt, Marriott, and Hilton. Then I book award nights using points earned from co-branded credit cards and frequent travel. It lets me experience luxury on long sitovers that I’d otherwise be squandering in a crowded terminal.”
Frequent business traveler Torsten J. loves utilizing his elite status for long layover benefits, sharing “As a Hilton Diamond member, I can access executive lounges when booking airport locations with points. The free food, drinks and amenities make it worthwhile.” He also enjoys elite perks like guaranteed late checkouts. “It allows me to freshen up before a redeye flight out later that evening.”
For Clara H., on-site hotels provide safety and convenience during overnight layovers. “If I’m traveling solo and I have an early morning connection, I’ll book an airport hotel using points. It lets me get real rest without needing a taxi or transit late at night in an unfamiliar place.” She keeps costs low by booking with earned sign-up bonuses. “The Hilton cards gave me enough points for two free weekend nights at their DFW property. It was better than paying for an expensive short-term stay.”
Airport hotel amenities can also help maximize productivity on work trips. Emma R., who often travels for client meetings, shared “Having a proper desk and chair in my room allows me to get work done effectively during a long layover. It sure beats sitting on the floor propped against an outlet in the terminal.” She suggests looking for options with club lounges and meeting rooms.