Key takeaways

  • Some travel credit cards earn miles that work with a specific airline or airline alliance, whereas others offer flexible rewards points that can be used in more than one way.
  • Generally speaking, co-branded credit cards that earn miles are best for frequent travelers who are loyal to one brand.
  • Meanwhile, flexible rewards points are for people who love trying different travel brands and want to shop around for redemptions before they make a booking.
  • While you can choose to earn points or miles, earning both can help you score better redemptions and more perks over time.

Finding the best travel credit card can feel like an overwhelming task. From co-branded cards to points, miles and cash back, the choices are vast, and it can be hard to tell the difference between the various rewards currencies.

That said, knowing how different types of rewards work is the key to figuring it all out. Essentially, points are more flexible, transferable award currencies — ideal for people who aren’t loyal to any one brand for airfare or hotel accommodations. Also, these points can be redeemed for things other than travel spending.

Meanwhile, “miles” work well for those who are fine with limited redemption options — that is, award bookings within a loyalty program for a given travel brand. Even though you’ll forgo some flexibility using miles, you still have the potential to get more value for your miles while gaining access to certain status upgrades in your loyalty program of choice.

Points vs. miles: What’s the difference?

The difference between credit card points and miles comes down to how the issuer designates its rewards currency. Miles are typically redeemed toward award accommodations for airfare. In some cases, miles may also be transferred to other airline travel partners or even hotel nights and car rentals.

Credit card points, on the other hand, are usually issued by bank credit cards and have more flexible redemption options, which can include travel accommodations and a variety of other things.


Miles are typically associated with certain travel loyalty and frequent flyer programs and are the designated currency of co-branded airline cards. If you have a rewards card associated with a hotel loyalty program, the rewards will be called points, but they are similarly tied to the brand.

When you earn miles in these programs, you’ll typically get the most value out of your rewards when redeeming them for flights or other spending related to the brand. You could also get access to free perks and status upgrades if you’re earning via a co-branded credit card.

You can earn miles by flying, spending, shopping online, dining out and doing other activities designated by the card issuer. Airline miles (and hotel points) can offer great value if you know how to redeem them within the loyalty program they are associated with.


Credit cards that issue general travel rewards offer more flexibility because you can transfer points to multiple hotel and airline loyalty programs.

Like with miles, the actual terminology the card issuer uses may vary. Some travel cards, like the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card, use the term “miles” for their rewards. But, for the sake of this analysis, we’ll refer to the flexible rewards offered by a credit card issuer instead of a loyalty program as “points.”

With points, you’ll have many more redemption options than a co-branded credit card for one hotel or airline frequent flyer program. By using points instead of miles, you also won’t have to worry about being tied to one program’s award inventory fluctuations — especially during high-demand travel seasons.

When to choose a points-earning card

When should you try to earn points? The fact is, nearly anyone can benefit from having a stash of flexible points that can be used for a broad range of travel programs and bookings.

Take points in the Chase Ultimate Rewards program as an example. These points can be used for redemptions like cash back, gift cards and merchandise, but they can also be used to book airfare, hotels, car rentals and more directly through the Chase portal.

If Chase travel credit card customers prefer, they can even transfer their points to Chase airline and hotel partners at a 1:1 ratio. Chase partners include options like British Airways, Southwest Rapid Rewards and United MileagePlus, as well as hotel programs like Marriott Bonvoy and World of Hyatt.

With all these details in mind, you’ll want to choose a points-earning card if:

  • You want ultimate flexibility when it comes to redeeming your rewards.
  • Loyalty with specific travel brands doesn’t matter to you.
  • You prefer flexibility over program-based rewards like elite status, free checked bags or priority boarding.

When to choose a miles-earning card

While flexible cards that earn points are highly valuable, there are situations where a miles-earning card could leave you better off. This is particularly true if you frequently fly with a single airline or airline alliance and if you want to have elite perks like priority boarding, priority check-in at airports, free checked bags and even lounge access.

Many airline credit cards also let you earn elite qualifying miles toward elite status, which is something you just can’t do with a points-earning card. As an example, some Delta credit cards offer a perk called “Status Boost” that lets you earn a specific number of Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs) when you reach certain credit card spending thresholds. Note, however, the MQMs aren’t the same as the airline miles you can spend on award flights. Instead, MQMs help you work toward Delta Medallion Status and make it easier to reach the higher tiers without having to fly with the airline as much.

With all these details in mind, you’ll want to choose a miles-earning card if:

  • You want airline perks like free checked bags and early boarding.
  • You are loyal to a specific airline or airline alliance.
  • You have no problem earning airline miles that have a limited scope of use.

Which type of travel card is right for you?

If you aren’t sure which type of travel rewards card to get, take a look at who would benefit the most from a general travel card (points) versus a loyalty-based travel card (miles).

Points are better if you:

  • Want to redeem points for things other than travel
  • Want to take advantage of transferable points
  • Aren’t loyal to any hotel or airline brand

Miles are better if you:

  • Are brand-loyal
  • Want extra perks and status upgrades for loyalty programs
  • Like to get the most value out of your rewards

If you feel like you fall more into one group than another, choose a card based on how you identify. From there, take a look at our top picks for co-branded airline credit cards, hotel cards and travel credit cards that could work for you.

Another idea: Consider getting both a miles-earning card and a point-earning card, or even several. Having different rewards currencies can make it easier to book the travel you want when you need to, and the miles-earning card can ensure you get some airline benefits and earn miles with your favorite airline.

Choosing the best travel credit card

The right type of travel card depends entirely on the type of traveler you are and what you hope to get out of a credit card. If you’re new to points and miles, a credit card that earns transferable points could be a good option for you. You’ll have lots of transfer partners to choose from, but if you want to simplify things, you can charge flights to your card and redeem points for a statement credit.

Even if you’re an advanced travel expert, it’s important to have a diverse points portfolio. A card that earns transferable points can offer that so you don’t have to get multiple credit cards and incur hundreds of dollars in annual fees.

Then again, miles-earning cards can be huge money-savers for people who travel with a single brand often. For example, many airline credit cards offer a free checked bag benefit that can save the cardholder $30 (and potentially more) for each one-way flight they book. That’s something you just won’t get with a general rewards credit card.

If you’re still uncertain about where to go from here, take a look at Bankrate’s spender type tool to get personalized travel credit card recommendations based on your credit score.

The bottom line

Whether you’re new to travel credit cards or a seasoned pro, there’s a lot to consider before you decide on a travel credit card. Diversification is important at all levels, and cards that earn points and miles can help you achieve it.

And if you can’t decide between a credit card that earns points or miles, get both. Having more rewards to spend is never a bad idea, and having both types of cards can make finding award availability a much easier task.