Discover it® Miles review: The card for beginner travelers
The ideal card for people new to the world of travel benefits
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Discover it® Miles Overview
The Discover it Miles credit card stands apart from every other Discover card as the only travel card in the issuer’s portfolio. Yet, it still works remarkably similar to its cash back siblings. Rather than using your miles to book travel, you can redeem them for statement credits that cover a wide variety of travel purchases.
While the Discover it Miles is a solid low-cost travel card option, its 1:1 value for all redemption options, including cash back, is what gives it a competitive edge over rival cards. This rewards program is fantastic if your future travel plans are uncertain and you want a backup plan for your rewards.
However, occasional travelers may find that the Discover it Miles’ streamlined structure can’t make up for the card’s lackluster travel perks.
What are the pros and cons?
- Reward miles can’t be transferred to airline frequent-flier programs
- The Discover credit card network has fewer international acceptance partners and perks compared to Visa and Mastercard
A deeper look into the current card offer
- Rewards rate: Unlimited 1.5X miles on all purchases
- Welcome offer: All miles earned within the first 12 months will be matched
- Annual fee: $0
- Purchase intro APR: 0 percent intro for 15 months
- Balance transfer intro APR: 0 percent intro for 15 months
- Regular APR: 14.99 percent to 25.99 percent (variable)
Current welcome offer
Instead of a traditional sign-up bonus, Discover will match all the miles you’ve earned at the end of your first year.
While this may seem like a clear disadvantage compared to an upfront welcome offer, cardholders who spend highly in their first year could get more value out of this offer than they would with a traditional sign-up bonus.
For example, the Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card earns 20,000 miles after you spend $500 on purchases within your first three months, worth $200 if you redeem Capital One miles for travel through the issuer’s portal. While this is a pretty valuable offer given the low spending requirement, it would take $16,000 in additional spending to earn another $200 worth of miles via the card’s ongoing rewards rate.
By comparison, spending just over $13,000 in your first year with your Discover it Miles card would earn you about 20,000 bonus miles, worth at least $200 in rewards. Discover would match those points, giving you a total of 40,000 points in your first year, worth $400 in travel.
As you can see, you’ll certainly need to maintain a decent spend over the first year to make the Discover it Miles card’s welcome bonus comparable to other card offers, but the earning potential is unlimited.
How you earn
You’ll earn unlimited 1.5X miles on all purchases. Given that the Discover it Miles is a no-annual-fee travel card, this bonus mile rate could be hard to beat if you’re sticking to flat-rate rewards. One of Discover it Miles’ closest rivals is the Capital One VentureOne card, since it doesn’t have an annual fee, but it only earns a flat 1.25X miles. Although other flat-rate rewards cards earn at slightly higher rates, the Discover it Miles stacks up pretty well as a middle-of-the-road option with the added benefit of retaining the value of your points across a range of different redemption options.
How to redeem
Rather than using your miles to book travel accommodations such as flights, hotels, vacation packages or rental cars, you use miles to reimburse yourself for travel purchases via statement credits.
Discover’s definition of travel is very broad, and you can earn credit to cover purchases including airfare, hotel stays, car rentals, travel website bookings, travel agents, commuter transit and gas stations — as long as they’re made within the last 180 days. You can’t get much more flexible than that.
Since miles are used for reimbursement and not for booking, you won’t have to worry about seat restrictions or blackout dates when you can’t use travel rewards to book accommodations. You will have to sacrifice the ability to transfer miles to other loyalty travel programs for a higher value rate. For example, Capital One miles have a value of 1 cent each when redeemed through Capital One, but our points estimate indicates a good transfer partner can boost this value to an average of 2 cents per mile. This means that while the VentureOne card earns only 1.25X miles compared to the Discover it Miles card’s 1.5X miles, your Capital One miles could be worth 50 percent more than your Discover it Miles with the right partner.
The upside to Discover’s program is that it offers a unique 1:1 value for all redemption options. With many other cards, your mileage value usually plummets when you redeem for anything outside travel, but with the Discover it Miles card, you’ll still get a value of 1 cent per mile when you redeem at checkout on Amazon.com or PayPal.com and even for cash back via direct deposit. Plus, Discover now allows you to pay your credit card bill with your miles — even the minimum payment.
Unfortunately, you can’t redeem miles as part of Discover’s unique gift card deal (an additional 5 percent to 20 percent value is usually added to the gift card balance), but the big takeaway is that you can essentially turn your travel card into a flat-rate cash back card if you’re not sure when you’ll travel next. That’s an excellent backup option to have if you’re looking for a starter card.
How much are the miles worth?
Discover miles are always worth 1 cent apiece across all redemption options, including cash back. This is a great perk since it’s rare to find a travel card that lets you opt for non-travel redemptions without sacrificing point value. However, the Discover it Miles card may not measure up to other cards that allow you to transfer points to partnering airlines or hotels to ultimately achieve a boosted point value (depending on the issuer and travel partner).
Other cardholder perks
Unfortunately, the Discover it Miles card’s versatility comes at a price. Discover uses its own credit card network, so you won’t receive basic perks — like rental car damage insurance or travel and purchase protections — available to Visa and Mastercard members. Instead, Discover trims these extras to focus on value, security and customer service.
Discover has long stood as a leader in credit card customer service and has proved it with their high ranking in the prestigious J.D. Power Credit Card Satisfaction Survey for five of the past seven years.
Along with its 24/7 U.S.-based customer service, Discover also provides the free FICO Credit Scorecard, a recurring charges dashboard and a year-end spending summary.
Beyond the basic $0 fraud liability for unauthorized purchases, account alerts and overnight U.S. shipping for replacement cards, you can instantly lock your accounts from Discover’s website or mobile app — which also ranked highly in J.D. Power’s 2021 survey for credit card mobile app satisfaction.
What’s more, Discover goes the extra mile while monitoring your account by scanning the dark web for your Social Security number. This depth of coverage normally requires a third-party credit monitoring service, but Discover automatically includes it for free.
Rates and fees
There is no annual fee, no foreign transaction fees, no penalty APR and no first late payment fee (none the first time you pay late; after that, up to $41).
You’ll also be able to keep interest at bay with a 15-month 0 percent intro APR on purchases and balance transfers. You won’t have to worry about the ongoing APR much either since it’s far below the current average interest rate — clocking in at 14.99 percent to 25.99 percent variable (depending on creditworthiness). This is a great deal considering other comparable cards sometimes have these charges.
How the Discover it Miles card compares to other travel cards
The Discover it Miles card is hard to beat when it comes to versatile and economical flat-rate miles. Considering how accessible it is for newcomers, especially since it’s obtainable with a good to “excellent” credit score (a FICO score of 670 or higher), rewards value isn’t the issue.
Instead, the Discover it Miles card’s major drawback is its lack of cardholder benefits. Travel cards are known for offering perks that bring more value to the table, including travel and shopping protections, access to exclusive cardmember experiences, annual credits or upgrades that make traveling a bit smoother. While the best of these perks come on cards with high annual fees, there are some competitive no-annual-fee cards and some with low annual fees that carry a great deal of value beyond rewards earned through card spending.
The Discover it Miles vs. Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card
If you want to avoid traditional travel miles, the Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card earns an unlimited 1.5 points for every dollar spent and rewards can be redeemed for travel purchase credits, gift cards or cash. The Bank of America card also comes with Visa Signature benefits and you can boost your rewards rate by up to 75 percent as a qualifying Bank of America Preferred Rewards member. Depending on which tier you qualify for in the Preferred Rewards program, this card could boast a higher flat rate than the Discover it Miles and its closest competitors.
The Travel Rewards credit card is a great choice for a cardholder who isn’t averse to remaining loyal to a single financial institution like Bank of America and can keep a large amount of savings in a Bank of America account. If you plan to — or already do — bank with Bank of America, then you’ll certainly want to reap the benefits of the Preferred Rewards membership as it can provide a substantial boost to how many points you’ll earn.
The Discover it Miles vs. The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
The Chase Sapphire Preferred card is one of the best beginner travel cards thanks to its elevated rewards rate for travel purchases, 25 percent value boost to Chase Ultimate Rewards travel redemptions, the ability to transfer points to partnering airlines and the card’s impressive list of additional perks. Although it comes with a $95 annual fee, it’ll be easy to find value and offset that by earning points or by taking advantage of perks like baggage delay insurance and trip cancellation insurance.
This is a more traditional travel card than the Discover it Miles and is an ideal option for cardholders who want to really lean into travel rewards. You might steer toward the Discover it Miles if you want to use your card for purchases outside the travel category to earn a decent flat-rate, but the Sapphire Preferred card’s elevated rewards rate will quickly outpace the Discover it Miles’ flat-rate on all travel-related purchases. You’ll also have an added 25 percent for travel redemptions through the issuer’s portal and Chase points are worth 1 cent each when redeemed for cash, meaning you’ll retain point value if you don’t have a trip coming up but still want to redeem your rewards.
Best cards to pair with the Discover it Miles card
Cards that earn a higher rate on your biggest spending categories may earn you more rewards than a simple flat-rate card can. And since Discover cash back cards can’t convert rewards to miles, you don’t need to feel obligated to stay within the network to maximize your rewards.
With that in mind, you should first consider how much you spend on specific categories, including travel and dining. You might want to look at cash back cards that offer higher reward rates on groceries or booking with a co-branded hotel or airline card that carries better benefits and rewards.
A great option might also be a card with an annual fee as these tend to carry more of the elite benefits and high-value perks available on some higher-tier travel cards that the Discover it Miles lacks.
The American Express® Gold Card could be a great option because the card has impressive rewards rates for purchases at U.S. restaurants and U.S. supermarkets as well as the option of transferring points to partnering airlines or redeeming points for travel through amextravel.com. Although it has a $250 annual fee, the perks available on the card, its stellar welcome bonus and ongoing rewards value should make it easy to offset the annual fee. Coupling it with a no-annual-fee card like the Discover it Miles can be a great way to fill gaps in your rewards strategy and take advantage of some elite benefits.
Bankrate’s Take: Is the Discover it Miles card worth it?
With its low rates and fees and 1:1 cash back redemption rate, the flat-rate Discover it Miles card is the perfect credit card for occasional travelers new to the rewards scene, but not so much for people looking for benefits beyond the basics.