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 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||N/A||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 your 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||1.4 cents per point|
|United Airlines||1.35 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 brand||Average value|
|Hilton||0.5 cents per point|
|Hyatt||1.6 cents per point|
|IHG||0.5 cents per point|
|Marriott||0.75 cents per point|
|Radisson||0.35 cents per point|
|Wyndham||0.9 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.
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.