What to do with your points and miles when travel isn’t an option

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Travel may be the furthest thing from your mind at the moment. You’re sitting atop a heap of valuable airline miles, hotel points, and bank rewards that unlock free business class flights to free five-star hotels anywhere on Earth.

However, as COVID-19 maintains hostages worldwide, there is little reason to travel quite yet. But that doesn’t mean your miles and points have to get stale and moldy — there are other ways to use them apart from travel. We don’t usually recommend these methods, as you’ll often get less value for your rewards, but it’s always good to know your options.

You can use certain points programs towards your mortgage payment at a decent rate. (Photo by alexandre zveiger/Shutterstock)

Using points and miles for non-travel related items

No matter which rewards currency you’re collecting (even airline miles and hotel points!), there’s often a way to redeem those miles and points for things that have nothing to do with flights or hotel stays — things like merchandise, cash back, gift cards, etc. The catch is that you’ll often receive an abysmal value per point.

Of late, a few airlines and hotels have suspended the option to redeem their miles for non-travel related things (presumably thanks to COVID-19 causing many to jettison their rewards). Airlines include:

  • American Airlines
  • Best Western
  • Delta
  • Southwest

You’ll be glad to know that plenty are still fully functioning. Today we’ll look at the top transferable points and how to use them during the worldwide coronavirus quarantine.

Redeeming for cash back

While many flexible bank points give you the option to redeem them for travel through a portal or transfer to valuable airlines and hotels, they also give you the option to cash them out (often at an unfavorable rate). Here’s what the most popular points programs offer. And be sure to read our recommendations of the best cashback credit cards.

Those with Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve® can redeem points for a statement credit to offset spending on groceries, gas, and dining.

From May 31 to September 30, 2020, you can redeem your points at the following rates:

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred – 1.25 cents each
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve – 1.5 cents each

You may have noticed that this is the same rate at which you can redeem your points for travel through the Chase Travel Portal.

You can also simply cash Chase Ultimate Rewards points out at a rate of 1 cent per point. Although if you have any grocery, gas or dining purchases you’re much better off using your points against those purchases since you’ll be getting a better rate than the traditional cash back rate.

For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred currently comes with 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. If you were to redeem that bonus for cash back, you’d get $600. Nobody in their right mind would say no to $600 — we simply don’t recommend using your points that way because you’ll get at least $750 in value by using your points for flights, hotels, rental cars or cruises through the Chase Travel Portal — or by requesting travel credits against groceries, gas, and dining. For instance, you could use 10,000 points to cover a $125 grocery purchase with Sapphire Preferred.

 

Citi ThankYou points value is only 0.5 cents each when you redeem them for cash back with credit cards like the Citi Rewards+℠ Card. Cash back comes in the form of a mailed check (though you can also redeem your cash for statement credits.

If you’ve got the premium Citi Prestige® Card, you can redeem your Citi ThankYou points for cashback at an improved rate of 1 cent each.

You can redeem Amex Membership Rewards points for statement credits against your balance, but they’re worth a measly 0.6 cents per point when you use them in this way. This is significantly lower than our estimation of Amex points value, at 2 cents each.

Capital One

You’ll only receive 0.5 cents in value per mile when using Capital One miles for cash back. Considering you can redeem them for travel at 1 cent each, this 50% value is not a good option.

However, Capital One now allows you to use to redeem your miles at a rate of 1 cent each (as you would for travel) towards food delivery, takeout, and streaming services. This benefit ends September 30, 2020.

Redeeming for Shop With Points

All major flexible transferable points programs allow you to link your account to Amazon and use points to offset your bill. Most points programs allow you to redeem your rewards at a more favorable rate than for cash back or a statement credit. Here are the rates of each when using them for Amazon purchases:

  • Chase – 0.8 cents (worse value than cash back)
  • Citi – 0.8 cents (better value than cash back, unless you have the Citi Prestige)
  • Amex – 0.7 cents (better value than cash back)
  • Capital One – 0.8 cents (better value than cash back)

It’s also worth noting that Amazon occasionally offers promotions that make your points more valuable. For example, we’ve seen deals that give you a $15 discount on your order of $60+ when you use at least 1 Chase point to offset your bill at checkout.

Redeeming for gift cards

If you’re still dissatisfied with the value you’re receiving, it’s possible to receive a better value by redeeming your points for gift cards. The trade-off is inflexibility with your rewards. Here’s the rate you’ll find for each points program:

  • Chase – 1 cent (occasionally a sale that bumps up your return to 1.1 cents)
  • Citi – 1 cent each (occasionally a sale that bumps up your return to ~1.1 cents)
  • Amex – Varies, though possible to receive slightly above 1 cent per point from certain merchants
  • Capital One – 1 cent each (update: Capital One has temporarily removed this option from their site due to constraints resulting from the coronavirus outbreak)
Gift card sales can allow you to breach 1 cent in value with your points.

Redeeming for student loans/mortgage

As you may be stuck indoors with little to do, note that you can redeem Citi ThankYou points for student loans or mortgage payments. You’ll receive a decent value of 1 cent each, and you’ll receive a check to be sent to your lender. You can redeem up to $1,000. Just call 800-THANKYOU.

Wait to book future travel

The coronavirus prevails only temporarily. Before you know it, this horrible situation will be an unpleasant memory, and the world will intermingle again.

Until that time, you can continue to build your points balances in preparation for post-pandemic travel. It is likely not a good idea to transfer your points to airline and hotels, as we aren’t sure of the implications COVID-19 will have on loyalty programs. There have been whispers of airline and hotel bankruptcy if travel is frozen for an extended period of time. Our advice: Collect flexible points, and wait to transfer them until you’re ready to travel again.

Here are a few cards that earn COVID-19-proof rewards — these are the ones we’d open to prepare for upcoming travel in the current climate:

One profoundly important note: Do not open a credit card if you’re in a position that you might not be able to pay off the balance each month. Credit card rewards are unbelievably valuable, but if you’re accruing interest with hanging balances, it’s not worth it.

Don’t forget all the new (temporary) credit card benefits!

Chase has added a new bonus category to many of their credit cards for shopping at grocery stores between May 1 and June 30, 2020, notably:

  • Chase Sapphire Reserve: 5 Chase points per dollar
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: 3 Chase points per dollar
  • Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card: 6 Marriott points per dollar

Additionally, if you have a Chase Sapphire Reserve and haven’t used your entire annual $300 travel credit, Chase has expanded the usefulness of this credit beyond travel. The credit will now reimburse purchases at gas stations and grocery stores. Also, if you renew your Chase Sapphire Reserve before December 31, 2020, you’ll pay only $450 for the annual fee (instead of the regular $550 fee).

American Express card benefits have increased a lot this year. Here are the new non-travel credits you’ll receive for the following cards:

  • The Platinum Card® from American Express: Up to $320 in statement credits on select streaming and wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S (up to $20 per month on each, from May through December 2020)
  • The Business Platinum Card® from American Express: Up to $320 in statement credits on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and U.S. purchases for shipping (up to $20 per month on each, from May through December 2020)
  • American Express®️ Green Card: Up to $80 in statement credits when using your card to pay for wireless telephone services directly from U.S. service providers (up to $10 per month from May through December 2020)

The information for the Amex Green Card has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.          

You’ll earn 4 Delta miles per dollar at U.S. supermarkets (May through July 2020) with the following cards:

You’ll earn 6 Marriott points per dollar at U.S. supermarkets (May through July 2020) with the following cards:

  • Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card
  • American Express Marriott Bonvoy (not available to new applicants)

Also, Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant cardholders can now use their up to $300 annual Marriott statement credit towards any purchases at U.S. restaurants (takeout and delivery included), instead of just for eligible Marriott hotel spending.

You’ll earn 12 Hilton points per dollar at U.S. supermarkets (May through July 2020) with the following cards:

  • Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card
  • Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express

Also, the Amex Hilton Aspire‘s up to $250 annual Hilton resort credit can now be redeemed for purchases at U.S. restaurants (takeout and delivery included) from June to August 2020 — instead of just at Hilton resorts.

Citi has slightly improved their most premium travel credit card. The Citi Prestige® Card annual up to $250 travel credit now works for restaurant and grocery purchases between May 1, 2020 and December 31, 2020.

The information for the Citi Prestige has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Bottom line

We recommend you don’t use your miles and points for anything except travel. You’ll receive by far the best value when you book flights, hotel stays, rental cars and more. However, if travel isn’t in your future, there are plenty of ways to redeem your rewards:

  • Cash back
  • Shop on Amazon
  • Gift cards
  • Mortgage payments

These are great ways to distract you from your coronavirus claustrophobia. But we still recommend you keep your points and continue to build your stash for when this tragedy is over, and the travel industry booms again.

Let us know your favorite non-travel way to spend your points — and subscribe to our newsletter for more posts like this delivered to your inbox

Joseph Hostetler is a full-time writer for Million Mile Secrets, covering miles and points tips and tricks, as well as helpful travel-related news and deals.

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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