Rewards credit cards can be a valuable addition to your wallet if you're earning points or miles on purchases you'd be making anyway. In one recent survey of 2,000 credit card holders, respondents said they'd saved an average of $757 per year using their rewards. What's important to keep in mind, however, is that the value of the points or miles you earn can vary significantly from card to card. The secret is choosing one of the best rewards credit cards and then using your rewards strategically. Here is what you need to know.
- Redemption values for credit card miles and points can vary greatly by card.
- Generally speaking, points and miles tend to be worth more when redeemed for travel versus cash, gift cards, or shopping.
- Some co-branded airline and hotel loyalty cards offer a better redemption value than some general travel rewards cards, but they may also limit how you can use your rewards.
- Some cards let you transfer points or miles to their other travel partners, which can give you greater flexibility in using your rewards.
Earning Credit Card Points
Reward points can be a strong incentive to choose plastic over cash. In fact, 53% of Americans say that earning points and rewards makes them want to use their cards more often, according to an Ipsos poll. In addition, 49% of those polled said they'd consider switching cards if it meant having a chance to earn more rewards.
Rewards credit cards can offer different structures for earning points. Some use a flat rewards rate with a set number of points earned per dollar spent. Others tier their rewards, with some purchases earning more points per dollar than others.
Cards can also offer an opportunity to earn additional points through introductory welcome bonuses, anniversary bonuses, and referral bonuses. Earning these points typically hinges on meeting certain conditions. So, for example, you might be able to earn 100,000 bonus points for charging $3,000 in purchases in the first three months.
You may be excluded from earning a welcome bonus if you've previously earned a bonus with the same card or another card from the same issuer.
What Are Credit Card Points Worth?
Typically, credit card points are valued at 1 cent each. But the actual value you receive in exchange for your points can vary based on what you redeem them for and which card you have. Depending on the card, your redemption options might include:
- Statement credits
- Paying off past purchases
- A cash deposit into a bank account
- A paper check
- Shopping with points
- Gift cards
- Charitable donations
Some cards even allow you to apply points toward mortgage, car loan, or student loan payments if your card and loans are issued by the same lender.
Hotel Cards vs. General Travel Cards
When comparing points redemption values, it's important to distinguish between hotel credit cards, which are issued in conjunction with major hotel brands' loyalty programs, and the general travel rewards cards issued by banks. The following tables highlight points values for some of the top card issuers, based on Investopedia's calculations.
|Average Value of Hotel Points|
|Hotel Loyalty Program||Value Per Point (Cents)||Value of 50,000 Points|
|Hyatt (World of Hyatt)||1.88||$940|
|Marriott (Marriott Bonvoy)||1.05||$525|
|Wyndham (Wyndham Rewards)||0.98||$490|
|IHG (IHG Rewards Club)||0.74||$370|
|Best Western (Best Western Rewards)||0.67||$335|
|Hilton (Hilton Honors)||0.48||$240|
|Radisson (Radisson Rewards)||0.42||$210|
|Average Value of Bank Rewards Program Points|
|Bank Credit Card Rewards Program||Value Per Point (Cents)||Value of 50,000 Points|
|Ultimate Rewards (Chase Sapphire Reserve Card)||1.44||$720|
|Ultimate Rewards (Chase Sapphire Preferred Card)||1.40||$700|
|Citi ThankYou Rewards (Citi Premier/Prestige Cards)||1.21||$605|
|American Express Membership Rewards (all Amex consumer and business charge cards)||1.11||$555|
|Capital One Venture Rewards (Capital One Venture/Venture One)||1.02||$510|
Earning Credit Card Miles
Earning miles with a rewards card may appeal to travelers who want to use their rewards toward plane tickets. Miles are often associated with the airlines' co-branded rewards cards, but there are some travel rewards options that allow you to earn miles without booking a specific airline.
Whether it makes sense to choose a card that's co-branded to a particular airline or one that offers miles on every purchase depends on your typical spending habits and how you prefer to travel. If you primarily fly with Delta, for instance, then it might make sense to have a travel rewards card that pays you a higher number of miles for booking Delta flights. On the other hand, if you're not loyal to any particular airline, a card that offers unlimited double miles on purchases could be a better fit.
Like travel cards that offer points, rewards cards that offer miles may have introductory welcome bonuses, anniversary bonuses, or referral bonuses. These are all opportunities to increase your miles balance over what you earn just by charging purchases to your card.
If you're considering a co-branded airline card, check to see if any blackout dates or other restrictions apply for redeeming travel miles.
What Are Travel Miles Worth?
Generally, airline miles are valued at 1 cent each. But again, the actual value you get from your miles can depend on which card you have and how you're redeeming miles. The primary redemption option is typically plane tickets, though you may also be able to redeem miles for:
- Rental cars
- Other travel expenses (such as cruise, vacation, or resort packages)
- Gift cards
You may also be able to transfer your miles to other airlines, hotel partners, or rail travel partners. It's important to keep in mind, however, that your miles may not transfer on a 1:1 basis. That means you could potentially lose miles value by transferring your rewards from one travel loyalty program to another.
Here's a look at the value of miles at some major airlines, according to Investopedia's calculations:
|Average Value of Airline Miles (Domestic Flights)|
|Airline Loyalty Program||Value Per Mile (Cents)||Value of 50,000 Miles|
|American Airlines (AAdvantage)||2.04||$1,020|
|United Airlines (MileagePlus)||1.98||$990|
|Southwest (Rapid Rewards)||1.50||$750|
|Hawaiian Airlines (HawaiianMiles)||1.26||$630|
|Alaska Airlines (Mileage Plan)||0.85||$425|
|Spirit Airlines (Free Spirit)||0.76||$380|
|Frontier (Frontier Miles)||0.62||$310|
Which Is Better: Points or Miles?
In terms of redemption value, miles tend to have an edge over points. Within the points category, hotel rewards tend to yield more value than general travel rewards cards. So there's a hierarchy of sorts to be aware of when determining which rewards option is most valuable.
That being said, whether points or miles are better for you will depend on your travel plans. It can also hinge on whether you pay your balance in full each month or carry a balance, as well as whether the card charges an annual fee.
For example, if you primarily take road trips and stay at hotels along the way you might find that a hotel rewards card is the better choice over a card that offers miles toward flights. But if you regularly fly for business or pleasure, miles cards could prove more rewarding.
Reviewing your purchase history for the previous six to 12 months can give you an idea of much you're likely to earn in rewards with any given card. You can then calculate how much you'd get back from those rewards, based on the redemption values provided here.
Look for a rewards card that doesn't charge foreign transaction fees if you expect to travel internationally.
How to Choose a Travel Rewards Card
Deciding whether you prefer points over miles is the first step. The next is narrowing down the options for earning travel rewards. When comparing rewards cards, it also helps to keep these things in mind:
- Rewards program structure. Consider whether tiered rewards or a flat-rate rewards program would work better for you, based on how you spend.
- Introductory bonus. If you're interested in a travel rewards card that offers a welcome bonus, compare the size of the bonus and the minimum spending requirement needed to qualify for it to what competing cards are offering.
- Redemption options. Some cards give you more choices than others in how you can redeem your points or miles. For example, a program that lets you transfer points or miles to other travel partners will give you greater flexibility.
- Expiration dates. With some cards and loyalty programs, your points or miles will expire after a certain period if your account has been inactive for a while. With others, they never expire.
- Card benefits and features. Some travel cards can add value through perks like lounge access, fee credits toward Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, or free checked bags.
- Annual fees. Paying an annual fee may or may not make sense for you, depending on how often you use your card and the rewards you can collect. So you'll want to consider how much you'd need to spend to earn the fee back in rewards each year.
- Foreign transaction fees. If you expect to travel internationally, a card without foreign transaction fees can save you money.
- APR. If you think you'll ever carry a balance on your card, take note of the annual percentage rate (APR). And if you're signing up for a card with a low introductory rate, make sure you know when the promotional period ends.
Of course, you don't have to limit yourself to just one travel rewards card. You might choose a hotel card, an airline card, and a general purpose bank card if that's the best way for you to maximize your rewards. Just make sure you're getting your money's worth if you have to pay multiple annual fees.
Credit Card Points and Miles FAQ:
What Is a Travel Mile?
A travel mile is a reward you can earn by making purchases with a travel rewards credit card or booking flights through an airline's frequent flyer program. Travel miles can be redeemed toward airfare and other travel expenses, though their redemption value can vary from one program to another.
What Are Travel Miles and Points Worth?
Generally, travel miles and points are worth 1 cent each. But the value of your miles or points can vary based on the card you earned them with and what you redeem them for. It's possible for travel points and miles to be worth more than 1 cent each or less, depending on the card and how you elect to use them.
How Can I Use Travel Points?
Travel points can be used in a number of ways, depending on the options your card affords. It's often possible to use travel points to pay for flights, hotels, rental cars, cruises, and vacation packages. You may also be able to redeem travel points for cash, statement credits, shopping, gift cards, or charitable donations.
What Is the Best Way to Use Credit Card Points?
The best way to use credit card points is the redemption option that yields the most value (assuming it's something you want). For example, you may get more value when using points for flights or hotels than you would by redeeming them for cash. Gift cards and shopping with points typically yield the least redemption value overall for points or miles.
Slickdeals. "Credit Card Rewards Paid Off Big Time for Americans in 2021." Accessed October 9, 2021.
Ipsos. "Majority Say Credit Card Rewards Are Very Important, and Drive Their Usage." Accessed October 9, 2021.