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Have Cards, Will Travel

Not traveling anytime soon? Here’s what do to with your points and miles

You can’t always transfer unused credit card points and miles, but you can use them in different ways

Summary

Have thousands of miles on your frequent flyer account, but the pandemic has you grounded indefinitely? You can redeem them for statement credits, gift cards and even electronics without having to transfer them to another loyalty program.

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So, you’re one of those points collectors with no plans to travel for the rest of 2020 (and maybe into 2021); yet your rewards balances are bigger than ever.

Perhaps it’s time to cash out some of those points and miles for non-travel pursuits like gift cards, statement credits or a new iPad.

I know – I normally tell you to save your points to use for high-value travel. In these strange non-travel times, however, scoring gift cards to fill Christmas stockings or turning your miles into cold hard cash to pay your rent might actually be higher priorities than stockpiling miles for a far-off trip in 2022.

If you’re looking to liquidate some of your points (or even all of them) this year for cash, credits or to make a big purchase, you’ve got options!

Check out all the answers from our credit card experts.

Ask Stephanie a question.

Of course, the menu of reward options and the value you’ll get in exchange for each point in your arsenal will depend on which loyalty or bank program(s) you have your rewards points stashed in. Nearly every points program offers a handful of non-travel redemptions which you can usually easily find by looking at the “redeem/use my points” page on their website.

While I can’t share every option for every card in one short column, here are a few of the most popular non-travel options for cashing out your points to get you started on thinking what might be lucrative for you.

See related: Coronavirus: I’m not traveling right now, but I’m still maximizing travel rewards

Cash out points

The most straightforward way to cash out points is to turn them into actual cash either returned to you as a statement credit or directly deposited into your checking or savings account.

For example, Chase Ultimate Rewards points can be redeemed via Chase for 1 cent back per point. That’s $500 deposited into your bank for 50,000 points. American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards, and Capital One all have similar options for cashing out your points at varying rates.

While 1 cent of cold hard cash per point is certainly not the best redemption value you’ll ever get, if your bank balance is currently in the red, exchanging points for dollars might be a good value for you.

Pay yourself back

Similar in concept to cashing out your points for a statement credit, pay-yourself-back credits are refunds applied to purchases you’ve already made. Chase’s Pay Yourself Back program pays out redemptions at a higher rate when offsetting purchases for specific categories like supermarkets, home improvement, dining, some delivery services and eligible charities.

Charge $150 at the supermarket using your Chase Sapphire Reserve card, then pay yourself back using 10,000 Ultimate Rewards. For 1.5 cents per point, you’ll be getting a free week of groceries.

Turn points into gift cards

While statement credits offset the cost of something you’ve already bought, turning your points into gift cards lets you pay your points forward for future purchases.

Each of the big bank rewards programs offer options to use your points to “buy” gift cards for a wide variety of stores. American Express, for example, lets you redeem Membership Rewards points for gift cards from a range of retail, dining and entertainment partners. You can also swap your points for an American Express Gift Card.

While most of the major airline and hotel programs also have gift card redemption programs in normal times, many of these programs have temporarily put their gift card programs on hold. United’s MileagePlus eGift Cards portal is one exception to these program suspensions.

If you aren’t going to fly United or a Star Alliance partner anytime soon, you can trade your stacks of United miles you’ve been earning for gift cards from over 270 merchants. Redemption rates aren’t great as a $10 gift card costs 3,330 miles – but it’s still an option. You’ll have to calculate your own value based on how many United miles you have and how likely you will use them for a higher travel value anytime soon.

One more option in the realm of trading hotel and airline loyalty points for gift cards is to check out Points.com’s Loyalty Wallet transfer program. Again, the redemption values are low, but an option to explore.

Buy a gift through a merchandise partner or Amazon

Maybe you aren’t interested in low-redemption-value cash or cash equivalents, but wouldn’t mind trading your points for a new TV or something else to make wintering through a pandemic more enjoyable.

Early in COVID, my friend Kevin had the foresight to know he wouldn’t be using his Chase Ultimate Rewards balance to travel anywhere for a long time. But a new fitness tracker would motivate him to get outside every day to stay active through lockdown. Wisely, he redeemed a handful of points to get an Apple Watch through the Ultimate Rewards Apple Store.

Buying merchandise with points is easy. Log into your bank’s rewards account just like you would to buy a plane ticket or book a hotel, but instead, select the retail partner of your choice.

The Ultimate Rewards Apple Store is offering bonus redemption rates through mid-November. A new series 6 Apple Watch ($399 retail) could be yours for just 26,600 rewards points earned on the Chase Sapphire Reserve or 31,920 rewards points earned on the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card*.

For big Amazon shoppers, Amazon’s “Shop with Points” program gives you the option to use your rewards directly as a payment method. Complete the registration to link your loyalty account, then “pay with points” will appear as an option in the shopping cart checkout process.

Amazon partners with every big flexible bank program as well as the Hilton Honors loyalty program.

See related: Pay with Points: What issuers offer it, how it works

Donate to someone in need

If you’re feeling like liquidating points is the right move for your rewards strategy, but you don’t actually need a new iPad, there are plenty of ways to donate points to help meet the needs of others. If your miles are banked in a specific airline program, check out its charitable giving partner program.

There is no right or wrong way to use your reward points for yourself or for others. Assess your options and choose what has the best value for you!

*All information about the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card has been collected independently by CreditCards.com and has not been reviewed by the issuer. This offer is no longer available on our site.

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: November 25th, 2020
Business
13.91%
Airline
15.50%
Cash Back
15.85%
Reward
15.75%
Student
16.12%

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