Maximize Credit Card Points and Miles
Earning credit card points and miles through welcome bonuses, category spending, referrals, and other rewards structures is justthe first step. Maximizing their value comes down to smart redemption strategies.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore proven techniques for getting the most from your accumulated credit card points and frequent flyer miles. We’ll also look at common redemption mistakes that ruin value.
Follow these tips and you’ll unlock huge savings on travel, cash back, gift cards, and more with your points and mile balances.
Credit Card Points and Miles Basics
Let’s first understand the distinction between points and miles:
Credit Card Points
- Earned through general rewards credit card spending
- Examples: Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Points
- Redeemable for cash, gift cards, travel, transfers to loyalty programs, etc.
Frequent Flyer Miles
- Earned primarily through airline branded credit cards or flying
- Examples: Delta SkyMiles, United MileagePlus, American AAdvantage
- Redeemable for award flights, seat upgrades, hotel stays, etc
Now let’s look at techniques to maximize both types of rewards.
Tips to Maximize Credit Card Points
Follow these strategies to get the most from flexible credit card point programs:
Transfer points to airline/hotel partners
Programs like Amex Membership Rewards transfer points to various airline and hotel partners. Transferring nets you more value than redeeming for statement credits.
Book high-value travel through the portal
Cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve let you book discounted travel through the issuer portal. This provides outsized value from points.
Purchase points to top-up accounts
Some issuers let you buy extra points at reasonable rates to gain enough for an award ticket. This can provide good value on premium cabin international flights.
Redeem for high-value gift cards
Even redeeming points for gift cards to offset household shopping budgets beats letting them expire.
Take advantage of transfer bonuses
Issuers periodically offer 30-50% bonuses when transferring points to partner programs. Transfer when bonuses align with your upcoming redemptions.
Don’t sacrifice value just to burn points
Using points wastefully just to empty an account negates their value. Only redeem if there is good monetary value in doing so.
Tips to Maximize Frequent Flyer Miles
Here are some key strategies to maximize airline miles:
Book high-demand routes
Use extra miles for routes that typically require buying expensive premium fares, like transcontinental or intercontinental flights.
Upgrade your seat/cabin
Paying a few thousand extra miles to move up from economy to business class represents huge value.
Take advantage of airline sales
Watch for flash award sales that discount mileage rates to specific destinations. Jump on sales to places you want to visit.
Leverage airline partners
Most airlines let you redeem miles on alliance partner airlines. Use partners to access more destinations.
Pay surcharges and fees with miles
Use miles to cover taxes, fees, baggage costs, seat selections if needed to get full value from your redemption.
Book early and set alerts
Premium cabin award seats get snatched up quickly. Book 11 months out with alerts set for low award availability.
Transfer flexible points to loyalty programs
Transfer programs like Amex Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards points to frequent flyer accounts to top up balances.
Common Point and Mile Redemption Mistakes
Avoid these pitfalls when redeeming points and miles to maintain maximum value:
Using airline miles for magazine subscriptions or accessory gifts
This is fun but negates the monetary potential of using miles for premium flights and upgrades.
Redeeming flexible points for cashback at less than 1 cent per point
Transferring to airline programs or booking travel returns more value from points.
Not checking award charts
Knowing the lowest available mileage rates ensures you don’t over-redeem on an award ticket or hotel stay.
Paying cash and points on the same transaction
Generally you lose value by redeeming a few points just to offset part of a purchase. Only use points on 100% rewards redemptions.
Buying miles when not running short on a specific redemption
There’s rarely value in buying miles speculatively outside of topping up for a current award ticket.
Transferring points speculatively without an immediate redemption planned
Only transfer when you have a redemption in mind to get the specific currency you need.
Using points for purchases you’d never pay cash for
Frivolously redeeming for high-end luxury freebies often gets little real value compared to cash savings. Don’t waste points just because redemptions seem free.
Maximizing Credit Card Rewards
To accumulate more points and miles:
Open new cards strategically
Apply for lucrative sign-up bonuses when you have large expenses coming up. Meet spending requirements through regular purchases.
Refer friends and family
Referring people to open cards can score you easy bonus points through referral programs.
Take advantage of limited promotions
Partners periodically offer bonuses like 10x points at restaurants or grocery stores for a quarter. Maximize spending during elevated earn periods.
Put as much household spending as possible on rewards cards to let balances grow automatically through routine purchases.
Pay your bill on time
Set up autopay to avoid late fees or interest charges negating what you earn.
Meet status requirements
Card spending can help you earn elite status for perks like free checked bags and airport lounge access.
Stack cashback sites
Portals like Rakuten let you earn additional points/cash on purchases on top of credit card rewards.
Ways to Use Credit Card Rewards
Common redemptions for credit card points and miles include:
Flights – Book free or discounted airline award seats to your destination
Hotel Stays – Frequent sleeper points let you book free hotel nights
Gift Cards – Exchange points for gift cards to popular merchants you frequent
Cash Back – Get statement credits, direct deposits or checks to spend anywhere.
Merchandise – Some programs offer electronics, home goods or other physical rewards.
Pay with Points – Use at checkout to pay for all or part of a travel purchase.
Credit Card Statement Credits – Erase charges or receive refunds to your account balance.
Donate to Charity – Many issuers partner with charities to allow donating points.
Sell Points – Some points brokers will purchase points and miles at discount for cash.
Transfer to Friends/Family – Combine balances from multiple accounts for bigger redemptions.
Closing Thoughts on Maximizing Points and Miles
The key principles for maximizing credit card rewards are:
- Earn rewards from routine spending on the right cards
- Optimize value by transferring points to partners
- Redeem smartly only when there is strong return on points used
- Avoid unnecessary spending just to earn
- Don’t waste points on low-value redemptions just to empty accounts
It takes effort to maximize flexible currencies. But huge travel savings make it worthwhile long-term.
Monitor your accounts routinely, follow redemption strategies, and your points and miles balances will offset your vacation costs before you know it!