If you’re looking to apply for a new travel credit card, it can feel like you’re comparing apples and oranges. Just because one card offers a bigger sign-up bonus and higher rewards rates doesn’t mean you’re going to get more value.
So, how much are credit card points worth? It depends on the rewards program tied to the card.
Here’s what you need to know about different rewards programs and the kind of value you can generally expect to get from each point or mile you earn.
Points vs. miles: What’s the difference?
The terms “points” and “miles” are simply different names for the rewards you can earn with your credit cards. While miles are traditionally associated with airlines, there are some airlines, including JetBlue Airways and Southwest Airlines, that use points instead.
Also, some general travel credit cards, including the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, call their rewards program currency miles instead of points.
Hotel loyalty programs, on the other hand, all call the rewards you can earn with their credit cards points.
Because the two terms are more about nomenclature than anything else, you’ll have an easier time differentiating how much credit card points are worth based on the type of rewards program your card comes with. More specifically, we’ll look at general travel credit cards, airline credit cards, and hotel credit cards.
General travel cards
General travel credit cards typically offer a static valuation scale instead of a dynamic one. While you might get a different value when you redeem points or miles for travel versus cash back, the value you get within each redemption type stays the same.
Each major credit card issuer offers its own proprietary general travel rewards program. Instead of being tied to a specific airline or hotel brand, you usually redeem your rewards directly through the card issuer for airfare, hotel stays, or car rentals, or transfer them to one of the card issuer’s travel partners.
Here’s what kind of value you can expect from four of the best travel credit cards offering general rewards programs.
|Type of rewards redeemed||Chase Ultimate Rewards||American Express Membership Rewards||Capital One Miles||Citi ThankYou|
|Travel||One cent to 1.5 cents per point when booked through Chase, depending on the card||Up to one cent per point||One cent per mile||One cent to 1.25 cents, depending on the card and type of redemption|
|Cash back or statement credit||One cent per point||0.6 cents per point||0.5 cents per mile||0.5 cents per point|
|Gift cards||One cent per point||Up to one cent per point||Up to one cent per mile||One cent per point|
|Merchandise||0.8 cents per point||0.5 cents per point||0.8 cents per mile||Varies|
Best way to redeem rewards
The best way to maximize the value of rewards you earn with a travel credit card is to redeem them for travel. For example, 60,000 points with the Chase Sapphire Preferred is worth $600 if you get cash back or $750 if you book travel through Chase.
That said, redeeming your rewards for travel through the general rewards program isn’t necessarily the best way to maximize value, either. All of these rewards programs have travel partners — either airlines, hotel brands, or both — that you can transfer points to and potentially squeeze more value out of each point or mile.
Worst way to redeem rewards
Because general travel credit cards offer the most value for travel-related redemptions, it’s virtually never a good idea to redeem your points or miles for cash back, gift cards, or anything else (if you can help it).
If you want the extra flexibility of those redemption types, you may be better off with a cashback credit card.
Airline credit cards
Unlike general travel rewards programs, airline loyalty programs have points or miles with dynamic values. This means the effective cash value of your rewards can vary based on how you redeem them for flights.
Along with that difference, airline points or miles can lose value over time as airlines make changes to their rewards programs. As a result, it’s best not to stockpile airline rewards — earn them and use them.
Because the value of your airline rewards can vary based on how you book, here’s the type of value you can expect to gain on average.
|Alaska Airlines||1.8 cents per mile|
|American Airlines||1.4 cents per mile|
|Delta Air Lines||1.2 cents per mile|
|Frontier Airlines||1.1 cents per mile|
|Hawaiian Airlines||0.9 cents per mile|
|JetBlue Airways||1.3 cents per point|
|Southwest Airlines||1.5 cents per point|
|United Airlines||1.3 cents per mile|
Best way to redeem airline miles
Because point values can vary, there’s no surefire way to get the maximum value out of your airline rewards every time you book. That said, if you’re planning for a specific destination, try to be flexible with when you fly to see if you can get a better redemption value.
Also, first-class tickets tend to offer more value per point or mile, especially on international flights. So if you’re stocked up on airline rewards and want that luxury experience, it can be a worthwhile redemption.
Whenever you’re using miles to book your flight, check the cash value of the fare and do the math to find out what you’re getting.
Also, look at other perks your airline card might offer. For example, the Delta SkyMiles Gold Credit Card offers a free checked bag for you and up to eight others on your itinerary, and the United Explorer Card offers complimentary passes to the airline’s lounge, plus a suite of other perks.
Worst way to redeem airline miles
As you’re comparing redemption rates from different bookings and get one that offers a below-average valuation, it may be better to consider paying cash or — if you’ve diversified your rewards — using a different airline.
Also, it’s rarely a good idea to redeem your airline miles for anything other than free flights if you’re looking to get maximum value.
Hotel credit cards
Like airline credit cards, hotel cards offer access to dynamic rewards programs, with points that can vary based on how you book your free hotel stays. And as with frequent-flyer programs, it’s possible for your hotel points to get devalued over time as hotel brands make changes.
That said, here’s what you can expect to get on average from each point you earn with some of the top hotel chains.
|Hotel rewards program||Average value|
|Hilton Honors||0.6 cents per point|
|World of Hyatt||1.7 cents per point|
|IHG Rewards||0.5 cents per point|
|Marriott Bonvoy||0.8 cents per point|
|Radisson Rewards||0.4 cents per point|
|Wyndham Rewards||1.1 cents per point|
Best way to redeem hotel points
The best way to get the most out of your hotel points is to check out different properties at your destination and be flexible with your dates. If you’re earning points with a big brand, you may have the choice between several properties, allowing you to easily maximize the value you’re getting. And as nightly rates can change based on when you book, so can point values.
Just be sure to run the numbers to make sure you’re getting more than the average value every time you book.
Also consider getting a credit card, such as the IHG Rewards Club Premier Card, that offers a free anniversary night without any spending requirements.
Worst way to redeem hotel points
If you’re getting below-average value from a redemption, it may be better to pay cash or look for a different redemption option. Also, while hotel rewards programs also allow you to use your points on other things, you’ll almost always get the best value by redeeming your points for free stays.
How many credit card rewards points equal $1?
The value of credit card rewards can vary dramatically from one card to another. The method by which you redeem your points can also impact their value. For example, in some cases, your points are worth more if you redeem for travel than for other purchases.
The Chase Ultimate Rewards Program is a good example of how your redemption method can impact the value of points. Depending on which specific Chase card you have, your Ultimate Rewards Points may be worth between one cent and 1.5 cents if you use them to book travel through Chase. But if you redeem them for cash back or gift cards, they're worth about one cent apiece. And if you use them for Amazon purchases or other merchandise, they're worth around 0.8 cents per point.
Cardholders can also compare Chase Ultimate Rewards with other credit card rewards programs to get an idea of how the value of points can vary. For example, miles earned through the Capital One Miles program are valued at one cent apiece when redeemed for travel, while miles redeemed for cash back or a statement credit are worth just .5 cents apiece.
Which credit cards offer the most valuable rewards?
The value of credit card rewards can differ depending on how you redeem them. However, some of the cards offering the best rewards include:
- Chase Sapphire Reserve: Chase Sapphire Reserve points could be worth as much as 1.5 cents each. You'll get a 50% bonus on your rewards when redeemed for travel through Chase, making these points especially valuable for those who book flights or hotels often. The Sapphire Reserve also offers a welcome bonus: 60,000 points for new cardmembers who spend $4,000 during the first 3 months after account opening. These bonus points are worth $900 in free travel if the points are redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
- Chase Sapphire Preferred: Chase Sapphire Preferred points have a value of up to 1.25 cents each when used for travel, as this card provides a 25% bonus for travel redemptions through Chase. This makes it another good choice for frequent travelers. And the card comes with 100,000 points for new cardmembers who spend $4,000 during the first 3 months after account opening. That's worth $1,250 in free travel when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
- The Platinum Card® from American Express: American Express points are worth up to one cent per point, and you can maximize their value by redeeming them for travel through AMEX. New cardmembers can earn 100,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $6,000 within the first 6 months of card membership.
- The American Express® Gold Card: Like the Platinum card, you can get up to one cent per point when redeemed for travel with this American Express card. You can also earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points for spending $4,000 on purchases within first 6 months of becoming a cardholder.
What's better, earning points or cashback rewards?
Cashback rewards and points can both be very valuable for cardholders, and there's no one right answer to which is better.
If you want to spend your credit card points on travel, you may prefer a card that allows you to earn points or miles. Some of these cards, such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Chase Preferred, offer a value boost when you redeem your rewards for travel. But if you don't want to be forced into redeeming for specific purchases, cashback cards could be a better bet.
You should also take into account a card's annual fee and how well its bonus categories match your spending habits when deciding on the best credit card for your situation.
How do you get the most value from your credit card points?
To get the most value from your credit card points:
- Fits your spending: Choose a card that's a good fit for your spending because it offers bonus rewards for purchases you make often.
- Use the shopping portal: If your card has an online shopping portal, consider using it to get extra rewards for purchases through participating merchants.
- Look for bonuses: See if your card offers a bonus for certain types of rewards redemptions. For example, many Chase and American Express cards offer travel rewards bonuses if you book airfare or trips through their portal.
- Activate bonus categories: If your card has rotating bonus categories, make sure you activate your bonus rewards each quarter and keep track of which purchases earn you rewards bonuses.
- Pay attention to spending limits: If you spend a lot in a particular category such as groceries, be aware of limits on the number of points you can earn and consider avoiding cards that cap your bonus points at a level well below your spending.
What credit score do you need for a travel rewards card?
Credit score requirements can vary by card and among card issuers. In general, you'll need at least good credit to qualify for mid-range travel cards, which means a minimum FICO score of 670. However, you'll typically have a broader choice of some of the best travel credit cards with a higher score.
If you’ve ever wondered how much credit cards points are worth, you now know that answers can vary wildly. As you’re trying to pick the right credit card for you, look at more than just the sign-up bonus and rewards rate — see how much real value those points or miles will actually give you.
Also consider getting a general travel credit card that will allow you to transfer rewards to different airline and hotel programs. That way, your points and miles aren’t as susceptible to devaluations, and you’ll have a better chance of maximizing rewards value.