What are the most valuable uses of 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.

Once you get into the hobby of rewards travel, it’s hard to go back. Why? Because you’ll learn how to use the miles and points you earn in a variety of different ways, to avoid having to fork out cash for certain types of purchases.

Beyond that, you’ll need to understand the best way to use those hard-earned rewards. So we’re here to let you in on a little secret; the best way to use your miles & points is for travel. Converting your rewards to cash back or using them to shop for merchandise simply isn’t the best use of your rewards. That’s because you’ll get less value from them when you use them this way.

So, let’s take a look at the best ways to use your travel rewards:

Booking economy flights

If you’re looking for basic, no-frills travel, you can get good deals by booking an economy flight with points and miles. When booking, your options include either going directly through an airline’s site to book your award ticket. Or, by using flexible rewards points and booking through a travel portal.

Using flexible points, like Chase Ultimate Rewards, and booking through a travel portal is easy, and it’s sometimes possible to get a better deal than if you booked directly through an airline website. This is especially true if cash prices are low, and you have a card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve® that allows you to redeem your rewards for 1.5 cents apiece through Chase’s portal. Or, with a card like The Business Platinum Card® from American Express, that offers a 35% rebate on for all flights, including coach tickets, booked with your selected airline through the Amex travel portal using Pay With Points (up to 500,000 points per calendar year).

Alternatively, you could transfer your flexible rewards points to a travel partner. Ultimate Rewards points are a fan favorite because of their versatility; Chase has 10 airline partners, and most transfers are instant and at a 1:1 ratio. Booking with partners and air alliances is another easy way to get great deals on economy flights.

For example, when you transfer your Ultimate Rewards points to United, you can get a round-trip economy ticket from the mainland U.S. to Hawaii for around 45,000 United miles. But, you could also transfer your Ultimate Rewards points to Singapore Airlines, one of United’s partners. By doing that, you can get the same ticket for just 35,000 Singapore Airlines miles — a savings of 10,000 miles!

You can save hundreds of dollars on flights to Hawaii by using your Alaska Airlines Credit Card Companion Fare. (Photo by RCDIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY/Shutterstock)

 

Booking first and business class flights

By the same logic, you can also score big when you use points and miles to book business and first class flights. That’s especially true when you utilize airline alliances and book award tickets on partner airlines. International airlines usually have fantastic business and first class seats.

For example, both Delta and China Eastern are a part of the SkyTeam Alliance, meaning you can use your Delta miles to book a flight with China Eastern.  The MMS team was able to find a one-way business class flight from Los Angeles to Tokyo on China Eastern for 85,000 Delta miles and $121 in taxes and fees. The same seat cost over $12,000 if you paid cash. That’s a savings of ~$11,879 just for using your travel rewards. Plus, you get the added comfort that comes with traveling internationally in business class!

Or, consider a partner award like using 50,000 Alaska Airlines miles to book a one-way business class seat with Cathay Pacific to Asia. You can even build in a free stopover in Hong Kong before continuing to any other destination in Asia at the same price — a real two-for-one deal! And Cathay is known to have one of the best business class products out there, so an award ticket like this is a no-brainer.

Cathay’s business class is hard to beat when it comes to comfort and service. (Photo by Zach Honig)

 

Booking hotels

Booking hotels with rewards can also yield great deals. Similarly to award tickets, you’ll often find the best deals booking at higher-end (read: more expensive) properties.

You can accumulate hotel rewards through hotel loyalty programs, hotel credit cards, or just good ol’ fashioned travel credit cards. And once you have them, you’ll be able to use them in hundreds of situations.

For example, the Hilton Boca Beach Club, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, is a luxury resort with all amenities included in Boca Raton, Florida. If you were booking a night at this hotel with cash, the price tag is pretty steep, with standard rooms coming in at about $520, including taxes and fees.

(Photo courtesy of Hilton)

 

But, what if you booked the same exact room with rewards? By booking with Hilton points, you can actually get a better room (one with a water view that goes for $570+ per night) for the same number of points as a standard room — 89,000 Hilton points.

Plus, you’d be getting a value of over 0.6 cents per point, which is better than average.

Alternatively, you can use your rewards to pay for budget hotels and still get good value. For example, a standard room at the Cheyenne Mountain Colorado Springs, A Dolce Resort, regularly goes for about $320+ per night in the busy summer season. When you book using Wyndham Rewards points, you can get a free room for 30,000 points per night.

Sure, you may just be getting an “average” value from your rewards, but saving over $300 per night during vacation is a win in my book!

Staying at the Cheyenne Mountain Colorado Springs will put you within a short drive of the amazing Garden of the Gods park. (Photo by Sean Pavone/Shutterstock)

 

Peak & last-minute travel

Your points and miles can also be very valuable when you use them to book last-minute flights or if you’re flying over the holidays. These kinds of tickets are usually costly, so using your travel rewards instead of paying cash can lead to significant savings.

Take a look at this last-minute (at time of writing) round-trip coach ticket between Santa Barbara and Denver:

The cash price of the ticket is $583.

 

Or you could use 30,000 United miles for the same ticket, save your cash, and get a value of nearly 2 cents per mile (higher than average!) from your rewards. That’s an excellent deal! If you’re traveling with a group, the savings can really add up.

 

Bottom line

When it comes to figuring out how to use the miles & points you’ve worked so hard to earn, using them for travel, as opposed to using them to buy merchandise, for example, almost always offers the best value.

Whether you’re booking a business class flight or a luxury hotel stay, you’ll usually get the best deals by using your points and miles for these kinds of redemptions. Be sure to shop around before you book. If you master the art of earning and redeeming travel rewards, you might never have to pay out of pocket for travel expenses again!

Featured photo by Dean Drobot/Shutterstock.

Alexandra Maloney is a contributor to Million Mile Secrets, he 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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