5 creative ways to redeem credit card rewards

Don't sink into a traveling rut before summer even gets here – these creative rewards redemptions will give you the travel bug in no time


Bored with going on the same vacation all the time? Change things up a bit with these creative ways to redeem credit card rewards.

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Spring is the season for fresh ideas, making changes and, of course, planning summer travel!

When we are in vacation planning mode, many of us get stuck in a rut – using our points for the same types of travel over and over again. You might even fall into the rut of letting your rewards points wither away by not using them for one reason or another.

If this is the season you are looking for something different, you’ve come to the right place. This week, I’ve got five creative ideas on how you can use your rewards points.

See related: Using your points to explore your heritage

Creative redemptions

1. Buy a reward ticket for a friend or family member

Want to see a special friend or a family member this summer, but don’t have the extra time to get away? Instead of flying to visit them, use your points to bring your friends or family to you.

While you can’t give points to your friends without a cost to transfer, you can book a ticket using your points in someone else’s name. Have a friend who might need an extra nudge to take a vacation? You can use your points to send them off!

I once had a friend with lots of miles from his business travel book me a one-way, first-class ticket to New Zealand on American Airlines for one of my milestone birthdays. He knew that I wanted to explore the Pacific and would have enough miles from my Citi AAdvantage World Elite Mastercard to get myself back home via Bora Bora if I didn’t have to use my own miles for an outbound flight. Talk about an amazing birthday present.

See related:  Sharing miles with friends, family: These airlines allow it

2. Escape on a staycation

You don’t have to go anywhere far away to make good use of your points. Play tourist in your own town or region and redeem points to check into a fancy local hotel for a night or two. Discover something new in your city or hide away with room service.

Whatever your reason, a staycation can be a great escape even if you only go a mile or two away. As an added bonus, you can guarantee your trip will be jet lag free.

When I lived in Cambodia, I had a practice of taking a 24-hour staycation once a quarter at the Sofitel about a mile from my house. A $200 per night hotel in a city where most nice guesthouses ran $40 was an extravagance but easily justified as I could pay with points from my Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. The beds were plush, there was unlimited air conditioning (a novelty for my Cambodian life), a giant soaking tub, and room service. Even though I only stayed one night each time, I felt like I had gone worlds away to rest.

Sure, you might not live in Cambodia, but you can do this with points in the fanciest local hotel wherever you call home.

See related: Staycation savings: Earn rewards on local summer entertainment

3. Book a spontaneous last-minute flight

Every trip does not need to be planned months or even weeks in advance. Last-minute tickets can be a sweet spot for using your miles.

Last year I booked a same-day ticket to fly to Florida for my sister’s 50th birthday – which also happens to be New Year’s Eve. When my NYE plans changed at the last minute, rather than scrambling to find something else to do until midnight, I scrambled to get myself across the country.

I woke up early, checked award availability on AA.com, and then called my sister to ask if there was a seat available for me at the birthday dinner. Thanks to American AAdvantage miles from my Barclays AAdvantage Aviator Silver Mastercard® and an early morning transcontinental route, I was there by the time she blew out her candles.

For last-minute tickets, you’ll have better luck if you’re heading to places where it isn’t high season, and double luck if you’re only looking for one available award seat. Remember that last minute is also a good time to check if there are first- or business-class seats available.

See related: Last-minute summer travel: Your rewards can help score savings

4. Barter or trade points

If you’ve got a steady stream of incoming miles, consider trading with a friend for a service you need. I have a friend who helps me out by bartering her bookkeeping skills in exchange for a free flight every year.

Trading points for travel is a big win for both of us. I hate balancing my bank accounts but love maximizing my credit card spend – and she is great at numbers and wants to travel more.

You can also barter with friends who have miles in other programs, and even travel together as part of the trade.

This month, I’m spending a week at the Ritz Carlton Grand Caymans paid for with my friend Emily’s surplus of Marriott Bonvoy points from her Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card. In exchange, I’m using my balance of American Airlines to cover both of our return flights. We both win!

Remember when you’re trading that you can’t transfer miles without cost. You’ll have to book the ticket on their behalf.

5. Fly yourself around the world

If you’ve always wanted to circumnavigate the globe, points are your secret weapon.  Most people think of plane tickets as an out-and-back affair to get to their destination and return home. Why not just keep flying the same direction and take the scenic route across the skies?

Round-trip tickets often save money when you’re paying for an international itinerary with cash, but when you’re paying with rewards points, the math is different. The total amount of points you pay is the sum of your outbound and return trips – so it doesn’t matter how you travel.

Last year I traveled to the Maldives (MLE) from New York (JFK) via Hong Kong (HKG) on a Cathay Pacific partner award flight booked with AAdvantage miles.

Rather than returning home the same way, I kept traveling west using an Etihad partner award flight from MLE to JFK via Abu Dhabi (AUH). Life’s more fun when you don’t have to travel back the same way you came.

I hope these ideas get you thinking about a new way to garner value from your credit card rewards points. What will you do with your points this summer?

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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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