It’s not too late to plan a great Valentine’s Day for your significant other. We reached out to experts and rewards enthusiasts to learn their top strategies for covering trips and gifts with rewards.
However, they won’t have to fork over an arm and a leg for the trip thanks to rewards points. The couple booked their airfare with Southwest Rapid Rewards points from Berman’s Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card and his Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card – two cards he used to earn the Southwest Companion Pass last year that is still in effect for the remainder of 2020.
Where Berman paid for his flight from Boston with 40,000 Rapid Rewards points, he used his companion pass to cover his girlfriend’s flight with rewards, paying just the $11.20 in airline taxes and fees for her round-trip fare.
The duo also plans to cover their Uber ride to and from the airport with rewards from his Capital One Spark Cash for Business (no longer available), which lets cardholders redeem rewards for any purchase they want at a rate of 1 cent per point.
This means that Berman, who blogs about his path to financial independence at FlytoFi.com, will be able to treat his girlfriend to a four-day ski trip for the cost of their hotel, ski passes, food and fun.
See related: Rewarding others: Booking travel for a friend, family member or partner
4 ways to surprise your loved one for Valentine’s Day (using rewards points)
That’s not bad, but a cross-country trip to a luxury ski destination isn’t the only way you can redeem rewards to cover a Valentine’s Day splurge, and that’s especially true if you’re planning last-minute. We reached out to experts and rewards enthusiasts to learn their top strategies for covering Valentine’s Day gifts and surprises with rewards, and here’s what they said.
1. Cash in rewards for gift cards to your favorite eatery
Travel blogger Brandon Neth, who writes at Finance Buzz, says many award travel enthusiasts recommend redeeming travel-related points and miles for the highest redemption value possible. However, cashing in your rewards for something specific you want can also make sense.
“If you’re planning on going to a nice dinner for Valentine’s Day and you’d rather keep cash in your pocket, gift cards could certainly be an option to cover this expense,” he says.
There is an array of credit card programs that let you cash in points for gift cards to your favorite restaurants, and some even allow electronic gift cards you can get right away and use for a last-minute splurge.
For example, Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards all give the option of redeeming rewards for gift cards to restaurants like Benihana and the Cheesecake Factory, usually at a rate of 1 cent per point.
Airline programs like Delta SkyMiles and Southwest Rapid Rewards also let you cash in rewards for gift cards to restaurants and more, so make sure to check on these options if you have a random number of miles in your account and want to put them to use.
2. Use cash back to cover your Valentine’s dinner
Fifty-two-year-old Cara Palmer is dining out on rewards this Valentine’s Day, but she’s using cash back from her Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature card instead of gift cards. Palmer and her husband are going to Texas Roadhouse, which is their favorite local eatery.
“Last year we got over $800 in cash back, and we like to use the extra money for vacations and celebrations,” said Palmer. “It will probably cost us $50 for our meal on Valentine’s Day, and right now we have $74 cash back from our credit card that we can use.”
The Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature card lets consumers earn 5% back at Amazon.com and Whole Foods, 2% back at restaurants, gas stations and drugstores and 1% back on other purchases, so it’s easy to rack up rewards fast.
However, any cash back credit card that lets you rack up rewards good for statement credits could be utilized for a pricey Valentine’s Day meal, so take stock of all your rewards to see what you could use.
3. Redeem points for merchandise
In addition to dining, Neth suggests redeeming your rewards for merchandise you can “gift” your loved one for Valentine’s Day.
“Although this isn’t always the optimal use of your points, this can certainly help you keep more cash in your pocket,” he says.
Neth notes that most of the major rewards currencies let you cash in points for merchandise in one way or another, and that even major frequent flyer programs like United MileagePlus and Delta SkyMiles have portals that let you redeem miles for merchandise.
If you are worried about getting your merchandise on an abbreviated timeline, consider rewards portals that let you cash in points with Amazon.com and score two-day shipping in the process.
Also, note that Chase Ultimate Rewards lets you redeem your points directly through the Chase portal for Amazon.com purchases.
4. Book an award trip with rewards
Valentine’s Day is almost here, but you can still check frequent flyer programs you use to see if they have any availability for the trip you want to take. It’s possible you could even take advantage of a last-minute deal.
For example, Delta SkyMiles has its own SkyMiles Deals page full of award fares that are only good for a limited time. American Airlines also has economy web specials that make it possible to book last-minute flights with American AAdvantage miles for fewer miles than normal.
When it comes to using hotel points from major loyalty programs like Hilton Honors or Marriott Bonvoy, you may also be surprised to find your hotel has award space over Valentine’s Day. And if not, consider using flexible rewards currency to book any hotel you want.
Jun B. Yun of Getting Away with Points suggests checking rewards programs with travel portals if you’re aiming for a last-minute Valentine’s Day trip – specifically Chase Ultimate Rewards.
Yun notes that cardholders who have the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve card can redeem their Ultimate Rewards points for travel at a rate of 1.25 cents per point each and 1.5 cents per point each, respectively.
By using your points to book travel through the Chase portal, which partners with Expedia.com, you can also redeem rewards for any hotel or flight you want instead of being tied down to a specific frequent flyer or hotel loyalty program.
See related: Financial advice for the newly engaged
A word of caution
While redeeming points and miles for gift cards, dining experiences and merchandise can seem like a stellar idea if you’re short on cash for Valentine’s Day, travel rewards expert Jason Steele says it’s important to think long and hard before you cash in all your miles.
This is because you’ll normally get 1 cent per point in value or less when you redeem for non-travel options. That may not be a consideration for you if you focus on earning cash back instead of travel rewards to begin with.
Still, you should “try not to be too impulsive,” he says. “Valentine’s Day is a fun holiday, but it’s not a reason to cash in all of your hard-earned rewards.”
If you’ve saved up 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points, for example, those points are worth up to $750 in travel depending on the card you have, but you could get even more value than that by transferring 1:1 to airline and hotel partners.
If you cash in for a $500 gift card to Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, however, you’re giving up a considerable amount of rewards and effort for one really great meal.
Only you can decide if the juice is worth the squeeze, but you should make sure any decision you make is an informed one.