Hi there! It’s Carly from 52 Cities, back today to talk about a subject that doesn’t usually get a ton of attention: how to use your travel rewards points for things other than travel.
Under normal circumstances, using your credit card points or frequent flier miles outside of the travel sphere isn’t a great idea if you can avoid it. If you play your cards right, you can get much better value out of your points when using them for flights or hotels.
But of course, these aren’t normal circumstances! While you can of course sit on a stash of points until it’s safe to travel again, if you’d like to put some of them to use now to enhance your time at home, you have plenty of options worth considering. Let’s dive into them!
7 Creative Ways to Use Your Credit Card Points Today
For the simplest and most flexible option, you can turn your points into cash back or statement credits that will help pay the bills, pad your savings account during an uncertain time, or give you a little disposable income to spend on creature comforts.
Chase Ultimate Rewards lets you go a step further, linking your bank account to your points account to transfer cash there directly.
You’ll frequently be looking at a redemption rate of 1 cent per point—although that can vary depending on the points program—and once again, that’s probably less than you could get if you put the points toward travel. But there’s no substitute for cash, particularly right now!
If you’d like to support a specific retailer or need a present for someone else, you can go the gift card route. Many programs, including Citi ThankYou, Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards, will let you swap points for gift cards to retailers such as Amazon, usually at a rate of around one cent per point.
Several rewards programs allow you to use your points to cover rental car bookings, which certainly have their uses right now. If you don’t have a car of your own, a rental car could help you do a major CostCo run, for example, helping you avoid as many future store trips as possible!
A rental car can also be great for getting out of an urban area and getting into nature. Whether it’s to see some beautiful scenery for the day or just to take a walk in an area with less foot traffic, a car can help you plan the perfect socially distanced escape from city living.
Got a specific home addition in mind? You can trade your points in for merchandise from a variety of different retailers, depending on the credit card program. Chase Ultimate Rewards, for instance, has a partnership that allows you to redeem your points for Apple purchases, while airlines including United and Delta let you shop with miles for brands including Dyson, Bose and Cuisinart, any of which could help you up your stay-at-home game!
One thing to watch out for: Make sure to check how much value you’re getting per point toward the cost of the merchandise. In some cases, it may wind up being favorable to exchange your points for cash and do your online shopping that way instead of using the points to make your purchase directly!
Some rewards programs will let you cash in your points for once-in-a-lifetime experiences related to food, culture, sports, music and more. Delta recently added the option to redeem SkyMiles for virtual experiences, such as private live virtual acoustic performances with famous musicians, video chats with professional athletes or cooking demonstrations from world-renowned chefs. Browse them all here!
One thing almost everyone can use right now is digital entertainment, and that’s where IHG’s Digital Rewards comes in. Use your points to download movies, music, games, ebooks, and software that can help you pass the time at home.
Want to help out those in need, but feeling pressed for cash? See if your points program offers an option to donate miles. American Express, for one, sports the JustGiving program, which lets members contribute their Membership Rewards points to thousands of different charities and fundraisers.
Maybe you don’t envision yourself using your points for travel in the near future—after all, many people have credits from canceled flights that they can use instead, and we’re likely to see cheap fare deals as travel begins to come back. Maybe you have more points than you can use. Or maybe you just need a quarantine pick-me-up!
Whatever the reason, if you feel like now’s the time to use your points, go for it. They’re your rewards, so choose whatever type of reward feels right to you. After all, if you’re using a good travel credit card, you can always earn them back!
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PS — Are You Booking a Trip Soon? Use My Booking Checklist!
These are the sites I use most to book my own trips. Using the links below is a great way to support Bon Traveler’s travel journalism at no extra cost to you. If you need help organizing your itinerary, get my free travel itinerary template here.
1. Book Your Flights
Use Skyscanner to find the best flights. It searches 100s of airlines and websites across the globe to ensure you’re not missing out on any route options or deals.
2. Book Your Accommodations
Use Booking.com for hotels and guest houses. They have the biggest inventory and consistently offer the best rates.
3. Book Your Tours & Experiences
4. Book Your Car
Use Discover Cars or Rentalcars.com to find the best car rental deals. I recommend comparing rental agency reviews on Google to ensure you are booking with the best company in that destination, as the reviews are often more accurate than the car rental search engines.
5. Don’t Forget Airport Lounge Access
Get a Priority Pass membership to gain access to 1,400+ VIP lounges and airport experiences worldwide. The Priority Pass app is the first thing I check when I have a layover. I’ve been a member for over a decade, and having a comfortable place to relax before and between flights makes air travel so much more enjoyable.
6. Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
I never leave the country without travel insurance. It provides comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong (ie. illness, injury, theft, and cancelations, etc.). I use it frequently for my travels to stay protected.
My favorite companies that offer the best coverage and rates are: