Key takeaways

  • Use points and miles to access travel opportunities that would otherwise be out of reach, such as international business- and first-class tickets.
  • For the best deals, book luxury (or all-inclusive) hotels and resorts closer to home instead of in remote locations.
  • If you're traveling with your family or a large group, use hotel points for low-category extended stays.
  • Compare points and cash values during peak travel seasons since you might still find a great deal. But for the best deals, consider traveling during off-peak seasons and being flexible with your travel dates.

If I had a point for every time I got asked about the best way to use points for travel, I’d have enough to fly around the world — twice. After over a decade in which I turned an interest in loyalty programs into a full-time job, I know how to stretch my points as far as possible.

Used correctly, points can be more valuable than cash. You can use them for everything from a staycation at an extended-stay hotel to a first-class trip to the Maldives. You can plan a cross-country road trip with motel pit stops or literally fly around the world. The key is to know what your points are worth and use them wisely. As a general rule, you should aim to get at least 1 cent of value out of each point (though that won’t always be possible).

If you’ve been saving up your points and wondering how best to use them for travel, we’ve got you covered. Here’s everything you need to know about maximizing value from your points and miles:

Traveling with points and miles

Bankrate insight
  • 42 percent of American consumers surveyed by arrivia have redeemed points or miles to lower the cost of their trip and 32 percent expect to pay for all of their trip with points or miles. (arrivia)
  • 56 percent of credit card holders belong to a loyalty program with travel benefits. (arrivia)
  • 23 percent of consumers surveyed haven’t redeemed their credit card rewards in the past year. (Bankrate)
  • 55 percent of consumers surveyed who did use their rewards have redeemed rewards for cash back and gift cards, while 13 percent have redeemed their rewards for a free flight and 16 percent for a free hotel stay. (Bankrate)
  • Millennials are more likely to have a credit card that earns travel rewards than other generations. (arrivia)
  • Roughly one-third of consumers surveyed believe travel rewards programs don’t provide enough value. (arrivia)

1. Use points and miles for international business- and first-class tickets

International business- and first-class tickets typically offer the highest-value return for your points and miles. For example:

  • A round-trip business-class ticket to Europe typically costs between 80,000 and 140,000 points or miles, while a cash fare for the same route will typically set you back about $5,000.
  • An economy-class ticket to Europe typically costs between 30,000 and 60,000 miles round-trip, with cash fares often going as low as $400 during the off-peak season.

As you can see, you’re more likely to get more value for your miles on a premium cabin redemption than on a coach redemption. However, international business- and first-class travel doesn’t just provide the highest redemption value for your rewards — it’s also something most people can’t afford without points and miles. That’s why they’re considered to be the best use of points and miles for travel, as they allow you to keep your expenses low and access travel opportunities that would otherwise be out of reach.

Some of my best mileage redemptions have been flying business and first class. It’s a memorable experience that I’ll never take for granted, and the few times I’ve been able to share it with family members has been equally rewarding. Starting your trip off on a comfortable note with a flatbed seat that lets you rest and enjoy a flight is a special experience that’s worth the splurge.

2. Book luxury (or all-inclusive) hotels and resorts

Luxury hotels can also offer a tremendous return on your points. The Maldives, for example, is a popular destination for maximizing hotel points. Hotels in the Maldives can go well over $1,000 per night, making them a great place to use hotel points and free night awards.

But one aspect that often gets overlooked is that these “free” luxury hotel stays often come with many additional expenses. Even if you don’t pay for your hotel room, food can be expensive in these remote destinations, and boat and seaplane transfers can cost over $500 per person. Unless you were planning to pay out of pocket for the room anyway, you may not save much money on this type of redemption.

A high-value alternative would be to book all-inclusive hotels closer to home (i.e. Mexico and the Caribbean). Hyatt, Hilton and Marriott all have all-inclusive resorts that require a reasonable amount of points. Hyatt’s all-inclusive hotels start at 12,000 points per night (in the off peak season). You can easily accumulate enough points for five free nights using the welcome bonus from The World of Hyatt Credit Card* or Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.

To elaborate, the World of Hyatt Credit Card currently offers up to 60,000 bonus points – Earn 30,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in your first three months from account opening. Plus, up to 30,000 more bonus points by earning two bonus points total per $1 spent in the first six months from account opening on purchases that normally earn 1 bonus point, on up to $15,000 spent. The Chase Sapphire Preferred, on the other hand, currently offers 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months of account opening.

It’s worth noting this 12,000-point rate is for two people per room. Hyatt charges an additional 6,500 to 22,000 points per night for each additional person staying in the same room. That said, the great thing about Hyatt’s all-inclusive hotels is that all meals and accommodations are included, making it possible to check out with a $0 bill. That’s not always possible at luxury resorts, where even a trip to the minibar can put a serious dent in your wallet. All-inclusive hotels like these are ideal for budget-conscious travelers who want to enjoy themselves without going overboard.

3. Use hotel points for low-category extended hotel stays for families and large groups

There’s more than one way to get value out of hotel points, and I’m a firm believer that extended-stay hotels can be an excellent use of points.

Extended-stay properties tend to be some of the cheapest hotels, often requiring a fraction of the points required by their luxury counterparts. But lower redemption rates don’t impact value. In fact, these affordable hotels often offer high-value perks that will improve your hotel experience.

For example, complimentary breakfast is typically standard at these types of properties, along with free or cheap parking. Thanks to larger beds and additional sofas, these properties can usually accommodate more than two guests per room. This makes extended-stay properties ideal for families and large groups, allowing them to fit into one room instead of two.

4. Look for great deals on peak travel bookings

During peak travel seasons — including summer, spring break and the holidays — everything from airfare to hotel rates skyrocket. This can be a great time to utilize points and miles to keep your costs down.

It’s worth noting that an increasing number of airline and hotel loyalty programs — many of which are highlighted in Bankrate’s travel toolkit — are moving toward dynamic pricing. That means redemption rates will fluctuate based on the cost of airfare and room rates. However, you can still put your points and miles to good use in spite of dynamic pricing.

Hotel loyalty programs serve as an example of how these redemptions can work out favorably. For example, a stay at the Westin New York Grand Central over Christmas and New Year’s could cost well over $6,000. The same stay could run you roughly 480,000 Marriott Bonvoy points, giving you a value of 1.25 cents per point. That’s a fantastic value for a Marriott redemption, if you’re able to get the points.

Award pricing goes up during peak travel season, but that doesn’t mean the math won’t add up favorably. It’s always a good idea to compare redemption rates against cash prices to determine if that’s the case. Recently, I was able to book a $750 domestic United flight for just 20,000 Aeroplan points, getting me well over 3.75 cents per point on a peak-travel economy class ticket.

5. Travel during off-peak seasons and be flexible with your travel dates

While expensive peak-season travel bookings can increase the value of your rewards, off-peak award redemptions can save you points and miles.

Case in point: American Airlines is one of the few major airlines that still publishes an award chart, which includes off-peak travel dates for its own awards and partner awards. You may be able to save around 20 percent on an award ticket by traveling during the off-season. For example, a one-way economy class fare to Europe typically costs 30,000 miles on the airline. The same award costs about 22,500 miles if you’re willing to travel during off-peak dates.

The same goes for fare-based programs like Southwest Rapid Rewards. By searching through the airline’s low-fare calendar, you can score incredible deals on off-peak award tickets. If you can afford to be flexible with your travel dates, you can stretch your points and miles even further by booking off-peak travel.

6. Look for sweet-spot redemptions with different airlines and hotels

Sweet-spot awards are one of the best-kept secrets of airline and hotel loyalty programs. A “sweet spot” refers to an award that’s offered at a significantly lower price compared to most other programs. Familiarizing yourself with sweet-spot redemptions is a great way to get more travel out of a limited points or miles balance.

For example, United MileagePlus often requires over 160,000 miles for a round-trip business class ticket to Europe. Meanwhile, fellow Star Alliance carrier All Nippon Airways (ANA) requires just 88,000 miles for the same flight. ANA typically gives you a free stopover on these awards itineraries too, allowing you to book multiple trips for the cost of one.

Award tickets to Hawaii are always in demand, and even off-peak travel from the West Coast can cost 40,000 AAdvantage miles or more round-trip. However, British Airways Executive Club has a sweet spot for West Coast travelers starting at just 13,000 Avios each way.

Air France and KLM’s joint loyalty program, Flying Blue, doesn’t get much mainstream recognition, but it’s packed with sweet spots that can save you miles and cash. For instance, you can book a ticket between the U.S. and North Africa for just 100,000 miles. Considering most other programs require 160,000 or more miles for the same award, that’s a fantastic deal.

Bankrate tip

If you’re interested in Flying Blue, be sure to check out its monthly Promo Rewards. These award tickets are discounted by as much as 50 percent, and they present an excellent way to stretch your rewards further.

7. Take advantage of consecutive-night discounts

Numerous hotel loyalty programs offer the fourth or fifth night free when you book consecutive nights. By booking longer stays, you can stretch your hotel points much further.

As an example, Marriott Bonvoy offers the fifth night free on award stays for all members, while Hilton Honors limits this benefit to those who hold their co-branded credit cards and those who earn Silver Elite status or higher. Additionally, IHG One Rewards provides the fourth night free on consecutive-night bookings for members with an IHG co-branded credit card like the IHG One Rewards Club Premier credit card*.

8. Redeem rewards for good-enough value when needed

While following the above advice will ensure maximum value for your points and miles, you should use your rewards however you see fit. If redeeming Chase Ultimate Rewards points for a New Orleans ghost tour makes you happy, then go for it. If using your American AAdvantage miles for a rental car keeps cash in your pocket, do it.

While the best way to use points and miles usually involves redeeming them for international business- and first-class flights, the best way for you to use your own points and miles may differ. Your rewards are yours to use, so you may want to ignore what the influencers are doing and do whatever works best for you.

However, points and miles devalue over time — they may even expire after an extended period of time — so the absolute best way to redeem them is as quickly as possible, for the best value you can get. Don’t hoard them, and don’t let them accumulate and devalue before you have a chance to use them. Further, consider redeeming them for lower-value awards like gift cards if they’re about to expire and you’re not able to keep them active.

The bottom line

The best way to use points and miles for travel comes down to your personal preferences. However, by redeeming them strategically, you can stretch their value further. Take advantage of sweet spot awards, splurge on luxury travel and redeem your points either during peak or off-peak travel seasons.

By planning ahead and comparing cash rates to award prices, you can save money on travel and make the most of your points and miles.


  • Credit card points and miles are types of credit card rewards that you can earn for all eligible spending with your card. These types of rewards structures are usually a feature of travel credit cards.
  • Whenever you swipe your travel rewards credit card, you’ll earn points or miles for all eligible purchases. For example, you might earn a higher points or miles rate for select types of purchases (such as airfare, rideshares or dining) along with a fixed rate on all other purchases.
  • Many points and miles cards allow you to redeem your rewards for different types of travel, cash back, merchandise and gift cards, but redemption options will vary from card to card. Since credit card points and miles are usually a feature of travel credit cards, you’ll typically get the best value for travel-related redemption options.

*The information about the World of Hyatt Credit Card and the IHG One Rewards Club Premier credit card has been collected independently by The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.