If you’re still in holiday shopping mode but are running low on cash, check how many points you have available on your most-frequently-used rewards cards. Depending on the card, you may be able to use your leftover points to score some unique and memorable gifts.
Depending on the card, you may be able to use your leftover points to score some unique and memorable gifts, such as a cooking demonstration with a renowned chef, tickets for a nearby ski lift or sports tickets with a postgame meet-and-greet.
If you have a rewards card aficionado in your life, you may even be able to give the gift of credit card rewards points themselves.
Here are five last-minute ideas for leveraging your credit card rewards this holiday season:
See related: Holiday shopping and credit card guide 2019
5 last-minute holiday gifts you can buy with rewards
1. Give the gift of a memorable experience
Depending on your card and the number of points you have available, you may be able to purchase an unusual experience that’s unlike anything else your friends or family members have received.
Some credit card rewards programs, such as Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou, allow you to trade in your points for theater and concert tickets, sports events, cooking demonstrations, wine tastings and more.
For example, here are just some of the experiences that rewards programs are currently offering:
- Looking for a gift for a golf fanatic? For 3,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points (a $30 value), you can purchase grounds access to the 2020 PGA Championships in San Francisco.
- Or, for the more active members of your family, you can treat loved ones to a ski day. For 8,000 Ultimate Rewards points (an $80 value), you can purchase ski lift tickets for Stratton Mountain Resort in Vermont. Or, for 13,000 Ultimate Rewards points (a $130 value), you can get lift tickets for Squaw Valley Resort in California.
- For 15,000 Ultimate Rewards points (a $150 value), you can treat a loved one to a private dinner event with Chef Jeremy Fox at Santa Monica, California, hotspot Birdie G’s.
- For around 20,000 rewards points (a $200 value), Marriott Bonvoy members can bid for two tickets to the 2020 Cubs convention in Chicago – a great pick for baseball die-hards.
- If you have friends or family in Houston, you may be able to treat them to a Celine Dion concert in February. 30,000 Marriott Bonvoy points (a $300 value) could get you two balcony seat tickets, access to a luxury suite and free food and drinks.
If your card doesn’t offer any experiences, but it does allow you to transfer your points to travel loyalty programs, check if a partner airline or hotel is offering a cool experience. Hilton, Marriott and Delta, for example, all offer experiences you can purchase with your points. Some loyalty programs offer flat rates for certain activities. Others require you to bid on a rewards purchase.
You don’t necessarily have to stick with the experiences picked out by rewards programs either. Some card issuers, such as American Express, will allow you to use your points at checkout when you purchase an event through TicketMaster.
Others, such as Citi, will reimburse you for qualifying entertainment purchases. Do the math, though, before you use your rewards to purchase entertainment. You may find that you get a better value for your points by redeeming them for cash than redeeming them for tickets or other entertainment purchases.
2. Sponsor a staycation
If you have a flexible travel rewards card, such as the Discover it® Miles card, the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card or the Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card, you can purchase an indulgent stay for a friend or family member at a nearby hotel or resort and get reimbursed for the purchase.
Or consider purchasing tickets for tourist attractions in your loved one’s hometown. If your lender reimburses you for purchases made through a travel booking site, such as Orbitz or Expedia, you can choose from a wide variety of local activities, such as:
- Theme park tickets: If your loved one lives near a theme park, check if you can buy tickets through a travel booking site. You can often score tickets from major parks, such as Disneyland, Universal Studios, Six Flags and Legoland, as well as smaller parks.
- Aquarium and museum tickets: You may also be able to purchase tickets to a local tourist attraction, such as a zoo or safari park, a children’s museum, an aquarium, an adventure park, a factory tour or other local tourist attractions.
- Adventure rides: In addition, many cities offer boat and helicopter rides, balloon rides, themed bus rides, Segway tours, trolley pub tours, sky diving packages, scavenger hunts and other adventure experiences that are available for purchase on travel booking sites.
- Local lessons: You may even be able to find educational experiences on a travel booking site. For example, if your loved one lives in L.A., you can purchase surf lessons through Orbitz. Or, if they live in Charlotte, North Carolina, you can purchase kickboxing or tractor lessons through Expedia.
- Concert tickets: Tickets for local concerts and plays are also sometimes sold through travel booking sites – particularly if they cater to a tourist crowd.
3. Opt for cash or gift cards over merchandise
If you’d prefer a simpler gift, you can also trade in your points for a gift card or redeem your points for cash. This is usually a better option than using your points to directly buy a gift.
Card issuers often dramatically overcharge for merchandise, giving you a poor return on your points. “Pay with points” options are also frequently a poor deal. But, depending on your card issuer, you will likely be able to find gift cards valued at a penny each, which is a better rate than you’ll typically find for rewards-funded merchandise. You may also be able to convert your points to cash for the same rate.
So, for example, if you have 250 points saved up, you can redeem your points for a $25 gift card or get a $25 statement credit, check or deposit. Your lender may even offer a sale on select gift cards, making your rewards even more valuable.
You can give away the gift card directly or use it to buy a gift. Be aware, though, that it may take a while (sometimes as long as a week or more) for a physical gift card to arrive in the mail – especially during the holiday season. But if you’re in a rush, check if your lender offers e-gift cards instead.
4. Pay down someone else’s loans
Some lenders, such as Citi, will also allow you to use your points to pay down select loans, such as a mortgage or student loan. If a younger member of your family is just starting out in life and already dealing with some significant expenses, it would be a kind and likely appreciated gesture if you put some of your points toward their student loans or their first-ever mortgage.
5. Transfer your points as gifts
Some rewards programs will also allow you to transfer your points to others, especially if they’re members of the same rewards program. For example, Wells Fargo and Citi will let you transfer your points to other rewards program members, even if they aren’t related to you. Similarly, you may be able to transfer miles to someone else’s frequent flyer program.
However, you may have to pay a small fee to do so. Check with your rewards program to see what you can transfer. Some rewards programs are much stricter than others and will only allow you to transfer points to immediate family members – or won’t let you transfer points at all.
See related: 5 ways to maximize gifting for good
Aim for a return of at least 1 cent per point you spend
If you’re short on cash but rich in credit card rewards points or travel miles, you have plenty of options. There are a variety of gifts you can buy with your rewards. You may even be able to find special holiday deals, cutting the number of points you need to spend.
Just make sure you read the fine print and do some math to make sure you’re getting a good return on your rewards. For example, if something costs 5,000 rewards points, but is valued at $40, some simple division will show you that you’re only a getting a return of 0.8 cents per point, which is a less-than-stellar return.
If you can, aim for a return of at least 1 cent for every point that you spend. Otherwise, you may be better off saving your points and spending cash instead.
The Bank of America content was last updated on March 3, 2020.