How to spend your points and miles

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This post is part of our new series that will make up the Million Mile Secrets Learning Center.

So, you’ve taken the first step and earned some points and miles. Now you’re probably wondering, what should I do with them? Here we’ll explore the different ways to use them, whether that’s for luxury hotels in The Maldives or first class flights, or even just short domestic hops between Cleveland and Tampa to see grandma.

The last thing you’ll need to do is the most fun part — spend them and travel!

Flights

Using airline rewards can get you free or dirt-cheap flights all over the world. It’ll cost you fewer miles to fly economy, but typically you’ll get the most bang for your buck by booking business or first class seats. These seats in premium cabins usually cost thousands of dollars. Some airlines are in airline alliances, so you can also use miles from one airline to book on one of their partners.

For example, Star Alliance has 26 member airlines, including United Airlines and Lufthansa. If you want to book a flight on Lufthansa, you can actually use your United Miles to book it. And in some cases, it’s actually a better deal to use a partner airline’s miles for a flight than the airline who is actually operating the flight itself.

Below are some examples of awards you can book, but here are some round-ups of the best ways to use popular airline miles:

Book economy flights

Fly Delta Air Lines with miles. (Photo by Nieuwland Photography/Shutterstock)

If you’re looking to book an economy seat, Delta Air Lines is a solid option. We’ve seen round-trip economy flights for as little 8,000 miles. This varies based on where and when you’re traveling, but the deals remain pretty great. For example, you can book a round-trip flight from Los Angeles to Nashville for only 8,000 miles. That’s typically a $250 flight!

A welcome bonus from opening just one Delta credit card can easily get you multiple round-trip flights within the US.

Book business class

You can get a great deal on Cathay Pacific business class when booking with Alaska miles — cash fares can go for thousands of dollars! (Photo by Zach Honig)

You can also use your miles to score major seating upgrades on the plane. Using Alaska Airlines miles, you can fly in business class from U.S. to Asia for just 50,000 miles. A business class seat on the same one-way flight typically costs $3,000+! These flights include full meal service with real silverware, a lie-flat bed and unlimited drinks!

Pro Tip: Be careful with your rewards because some have an expiration date. But, there are ways to keep your miles from expiring without ever stepping foot on a plane. For example, doing your online shopping through an airline shopping portal or making a small donation from an airline shopping mall will keep your miles alive.

Hotel Stays

Just like you can spend your airline points and miles on flights, you can spend your hotel points on free or discounted nights at hotels. Redeeming your hotel points can save you a ton of money, and they’re versatile — you can use them anywhere from Bora Bora to Nashville. But, like airlines, hotel points expire if unused (there are ways to get around it, though!).

Below are some examples of hotel awards you can book, but we’ve listed some round-ups of the best uses of popular hotel points:

Book budget hotels

Hotel points can stretch really far when you book budget hotels. Over a week stay at the Holiday Inn Lodz, Poland, where rooms go for $100/night, can be booked for 125,00o IHG points! You can easily earn that many points from just one welcome bonus on a hotel credit card.

Book luxury resorts

(Photo courtesy of Hilton Queenstown Resort & Spa)

How does a trip to New Zealand sound? By booking with Hilton points, you can stay five nights in the luxury Queenstown Resort & Spa for 240,000 Hilton points. This luxury spot would cost around $1,400 if you booked it with cash.

Certain hotel points are worth more than others and can be stretched out for longer stays. Knowing which hotel points are the most valuable overall before you book. Many hotel rewards programs even offer the fifth night free when using points.

Transfer bank points to airlines or hotels

Bank points are incredibly valuable. That’s because they’re much more flexible in the ways you can redeem them. Transferring bank points into airline miles or hotel points can be done through a bank that offers transferrable rewards like American Express or Chase. Each bank’s program has its own (sometimes unique) variety of airline and hotel transfer partners.

Typically, the conversion between bank points and other forms of travel currency is 1:1. For example, 1 Chase Ultimate Reward point = 1 United mile; while 1 Amex Membership Rewards point can be converted to 1 Delta SkyMile or 1 British Airways Avios point.

Pro Tip: To transfer bank points, you have to know the travel partners and the ins and outs of each award chart. And note that you can’t transfer bank points to a hotel or airline your bank doesn’t partner with. Read our guides on the major players and their partners: Marriott Bonvoy, Citi ThankYou, Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express, and Capital One Rewards.

Book travel through a bank portal

Remember how bank points are super valuable? You can also use your bank points to book free travel through a travel booking portal. For example, you can redeem 10,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points through the Chase travel portal and get $125 worth of travel if you hold the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.

This is typically a more straightforward way to spend your bank points, and it allows you to book nearly any type of travel you want. However, it usually isn’t as good of a deal as transferring your rewards directly to airline and hotel partners.

Cash back and other non-travel redemptions

Perhaps the most straightforward way of all to spend your rewards is by getting cash back. When credit cards have a cash back offering, it allows you to “erase” purchases off your card with points or even get a check sent directly to you.

For example, in most bank’s programs, one point equals one cent. So, if you book a flight that costs $100 on your rewards card, you can use 10,000 points and simply erase that charge from your credit card statement.

You’re also able to use points and miles to pay for experiences, like amusement park trips or concerts. You can even redeem for gift cards to popular retailers, like Amazon.

With all that being said, you’re almost always going to get more value from your points and miles when you use them towards travel. This is especially true when redeeming airline miles and hotel points for non-travel items. We always recommend saving up your rewards for your next trip.

Bottom Line

Spending your points and miles can be done in so many ways, all of which give you the benefit of free or discounted travel. It can take some practice to become a pro at spending your rewards, but as soon as you start, you won’t be able to stop! For a more holistic view of everything to know about points and miles, check out our beginners’ guide.

Alexandra Maloney is a contributor to Million Mile Secrets, she covers topics on points and miles, credit cards, airlines, hotels, and general travel.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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