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How to maximize travel rewards when you’re not traveling

Travel rewards cards come with flexible redemption options, allowing you to use your points and miles even when you’re not traveling

Summary

Your travel rewards have the best value when you redeem them for travel purchases. However, there might be situations where you want to look into alternative options.

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It’s not a secret that travel rewards offer the best value when redeemed for travel expenses. Even when you’re not traveling, it’s better to hold on to your points and miles until your next trip – whenever it happens.

However, there might be times when you’ll want to consider other redemption options. Travel rewards can be pretty flexible, and you may be able to redeem them for statement credits, gift cards or online purchases, among other things.

All around the world, travel has come to a halt amid the COVID-19 outbreak. The pandemic has also put many consumers under considerable financial stress. During this time, having alternative redemption options can be especially valuable.

Read on to find out how you can maximize travel rewards when redeeming for non-travel expenses.

Redeeming for cash back or statement credits

Travel rewards typically lose a lot of their value when you redeem them for cash back or statement credits. Nevertheless, when you need a quick cash influx, this redemption option can be helpful.

Take a look at the table below to see how much travel rewards from some of the most popular travel cards are worth when redeemed for statement credits.

CardRewards value
American Express® Gold Card0.6 cents
The Platinum Card® from American Express0.6 cents
Chase Sapphire Reserve®1 cent
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card1 cent
Citi Premier℠ Card*0.5 cents
Citi Rewards+℠ Card0.5 cents
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card0.5 cents

With some issuers, redeeming points for cash back can also be pretty convenient. For instance, Chase allows you to transfer your Ultimate Rewards directly into your linked bank account, and you can initiate a transfer as soon as you have at least one point in your Chase account.

Other issuers, however, have minimum redemption levels. For example, you’ll need at least 1,000 Amex points to redeem for cash back and statement credits. If you have 1,000 Citi ThankYou points, you can also redeem them for statement credits, but to get cash rewards you’ll need at least 5,000 points.

Redeeming for gift cards

Another way to make use of your travel rewards when traveling isn’t a priority is to redeem them for gift cards.

Again, the value isn’t great, but for some cards, it may be one of the best alternatives to redemption for travel spending.

For example, that’s the case for Capital One miles – which can offer up to 1 cent per mile in value when redeemed for gift cards. Citi ThankYou points are also worth 1 cent per point when used on purchasing gift cards, making it the second-best option after redeeming for travel.

If you’re interested in redeeming for gift cards, it’s also a good idea to check for special deals and discounts. For example, Chase is currently running a promotion allowing you to redeem Ultimate Rewards for gift cards with a 10% discount through its portal.

See related: Credit card special offers, limited-time promotions

Amex also offers the option to redeem for gift cards. The redemption rates vary, but it’s still possible to find cards at a rate of 1 cent per point.

Redeeming for online purchases

Using rewards for online shopping may seem convenient, but it doesn’t always make sense when you consider how much value you lose.

For instance, you could use your Ultimate Rewards when shopping on Amazon at a 0.8-cent-per-point rate. Considering that the redemption rate for direct deposit or a statement credit is 1 cent per point, you’ll be better off redeeming for cash and spending it on Amazon – or anywhere else.

However, choosing online shopping redemption over cash back or statement credit might be a better choice when it comes to Amex. You can spend your membership rewards on select online purchases at a 0.7-cent-per-point rate, including Amazon purchases, non-airfare purchases on AmexTravel.com and partner retailer purchases (such as Walmart, Best Buy and others).

Since redeeming for a statement credit would only get you 0.6 cent per point in value, online shopping might be a better choice. At the same time, you could get a better deal redeeming for some gift cards, so make sure to explore your options before making a decision.

You might also want to keep an eye on limited-time offers and targeted deals. For example, you can currently purchase Apple products with Ultimate Rewards at a rate of 1 cent per point.

Maximizing travel credits and card perks from home

Besides spending your miles and points, you can take advantage of annual credits that come with many premium rewards cards. Though most of these credits are designed to cover travel purchases, some extend to purchases you can enjoy from home.

Amex is especially big on this. The Platinum card offers up to $15 in monthly Uber credits (up to $35 in December) that can be used for Uber Eats. There’s also a $100 annual credit on online orders from the Saks Fifth Avenue website to help you save on your shopping from home ($50 from January through June and another $50 from July through December).

The Amex Gold comes with up to $120 in annual dining credits, given in $10 increments each month. The credits can be used at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Boxed and select Shake Shack locations.

If you have The Business Platinum Card® from American Express, you can take advantage of $200 in credits each year from Dell, given in two $100 increments.

Additionally, American Express recently launched a series of limited-time benefits to match cardholders’ spending patterns during the COVID-19 outbreak. These include statement credits on streaming and wireless services, dining, U.S. supermarkets and more.

Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholders can pay for food delivery in statement credits, too. If you have the card, you can enjoy $60 in DoorDash credit for both 2020 and 2021.

On top of that, your credit card may come with some perks you might not even be aware of. Such offers can help you make use of your travel card even when you’re stuck at home. For example, World and World Elite Mastercards offer a $5 discount on Postmates orders of $25 or more and 5% back on Boxed orders (applied to your next order). The best known World Elite travel cards are the Citi Prestige Card and the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard.

See related: Mastercard rolls out new perks for World, World Elite customers

Bottom line

Redeeming travel rewards for anything other than travel-related expenses may not be the best option, and your points and miles may lose a lot of their value.

However, when you’re not planning to travel for a while, it might make sense to look into alternative redemption options. They may offer an influx of cash when you need it or allow you to save on other expenses. Annual travel credits and some perks on travel cards can also help you ensure you’re maximizing your travel card’s value even when you’re not traveling.

*Information about Citi Premier Card and Citi Prestige has been collected independently by CreditCards.com. The issuer did not provide the content, nor is it responsible for its accuracy. 

Editorial Disclaimer

The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

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Credit Card Rate Report Updated: September 23rd, 2020
Business
13.91%
Airline
15.48%
Cash Back
15.94%
Reward
15.78%
Student
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