Flexible Points vs. Miles: Which Credit Card Reward is Better?
Credit card miles are typically linked to airline loyalty programs, whereas bank points tend to offer more redemption flexibility.
Issuers of rewards credit cards offer points or miles to encourage spending. And you get to capitalize on your spending by earning rewards. However, there are differences in the points vs. miles comparison that need your attention. For instance, the miles you earn usually accumulate in a linked frequent flyer program.
With points and miles, the value often depends on how and when you redeem them. Mileage redemptions vary based on travel dates, fare class and destination. Some credit cards let you convert your points to miles by transferring them to airline loyalty programs, which can sometimes yield even higher value. In this case, the number of miles you get for your points depends on your card provider and the airline partner in question.
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Miles and points of co-branded airline and hotel credit cards are linked to specific loyalty programs.
Non-co-branded cards give you greater freedom in redeeming the points or miles that you earn.
The value of airline miles and hotel points may vary based on how and when you redeem them.
Are Points and Miles the Same Thing?
While points and miles give you the means to earn rewards based on your credit card spending, they come with notable differences. Credit card miles are generally linked to an airline’s loyalty program, although this is not always the case. Credit card points, on the other hand, might or might not be linked to an airline or hotel loyalty program. Flexible points rewards cards tend to offer more options when it comes to redeeming the points/miles you earn.
If you get an American Express Card that earns Membership Rewards points, you may redeem your points to cover charges on your card, make online purchases through different partner merchants, book travel and in a few other ways. This is also the case if you get a card that’s part of the Chase Ultimate Rewards program. Incidentally, both programs let you transfer your points to various travel partners.
All cards from this segment let you earn points or miles on eligible purchases. Typically, the best way to earn airline miles is by using your card to book flight tickets directly through the linked airline or your card issuer's online rewards platform. Such cards might offer higher reward rates on other bonus categories as well. The number of points you stand to earn depends on the card you get. While you may earn a flat rewards rate on all purchases, you might also earn higher reward rates on category-based spending.
Some cards offer points that are more in line with miles. This is the case with all Southwest Rapid Rewards credit cards from Chase because the Rapid Rewards program uses points and not miles. Some cards, on the other hand, offer miles that have more in common with points. Examples include the Venture Rewards Card and the VentureOne Rewards Card from Capital One.
You can earn high reward rates on
You might need to redeem miles through a
particular airline or its airline partners.
You can redeem for travel rewards.
You can often redeem points for travel
purchases, statement credits, gift cards,
donations to charitable organizations and
Several cards let you transfer points to
airline and hotel loyalty programs
Different Types of Travel Rewards & Their Pros or Cons
Travel rewards credit cards come with different features and benefits. You may get a co-branded card that is linked to a particular airline or a group of hotels. Alternatively, you may opt for a flexible points card that gives you more freedom in redeeming your rewards.
Airline Points and Miles
Cards with airline miles or points give you the ability to reduce the cost of your flight tickets. In addition, you usually earn miles faster when you use such a card to book tickets directly with the airline or through your card issuer’s rewards website. Several cards with miles also offer multiple airline/airport benefits.
Airline Points and Miles Pros and Cons
- Ability to earn bonus miles through spend-based welcome offers
- Higher earn rates when you book flight tickets
- Ability to redeem miles for free flight tickets
- Possibility of getting free companion tickets
- Loyalty program status upgrades
- Perks such as discounts on in-flight purchases, priority boarding, free checked bags and airport lounge access
- Most such cards come with annual fees
- Generally limit you to one airline
- Value of points may vary based on different factors
- Usually cannot transfer miles to other loyalty programs
- Miles might expire because of account inactivity
Hotel Reward Points
Cards that offer hotel rewards points are linked to specific groups of hotels. When you use your card to spend at properties within the group’s portfolio, you typically benefit through higher reward rates. Redeeming your points for free nights is usually straightforward. A number of these cards offer hotel-specific benefits as well.
Hotel Reward Points Pros and Cons
- Bonus points made available through spend-based offers for new cardholders
- Spending at properties within the group comes with higher reward rates
- Can redeem points for free nights
- Some cards offer complimentary free nights after each account anniversary
- Loyalty program status upgrades
- Other perks may include early check-in, late check-out, free Wi-Fi and complimentary breakfast
- You might need to pay an annual fee
- Might restrict redemption of points to the group of hotels in question
- Transferring points to airlines is usually at a poor rate
- Points may expire if you don’t use your account often enough
General Travel Points and Miles
Flexible credit cards that offer points or miles give you considerable freedom when it comes to redeeming your rewards. Depending on the card you get, you might benefit from high reward rates on bonus categories. Several such cards come with no annual fees.
General Travel Points and Miles Pros and Cons
- Greater freedom to redeem your points or miles
- Several no-annual-fee options
- Might let you transfer your points or miles to various airline/hotel loyalty programs
- Travel benefits may include an upgrade in the status of your loyalty program, airport lounge access, priority boarding and travel insurance coverage
- No airline or hotel specific perks
- Spending does not help earn elite status
- Premium cards might come with steep annual fees
>> More: Are Travel Credit Cards Worth It?
Are Miles Worth More Than Points?
General travel points usually come with fixed dollar values. On the other hand, the value of hotel points and airline miles is based on a reward-to-dollar ratio. The value of airline miles, for instance, may vary based on when you plan to travel, the route and the class. Their value also depends on the loyalty program in question.
You may increase the value of your hotel points or airline miles if you are flexible with your travel plans. For instance, your miles/points might be worth more for a midweek booking when compared to making a booking for the weekend. In addition, you stand to get better value for your miles when you book international flights.
You can supplement the rewards from your airline or hotel credit card by applying for a flexible points card that transfers to that loyalty program. This gives you the best of both worlds — airline or hotel specific perks from their co-branded card and additional earning opportunities and flexibility with the general travel card. — Lee Huffman, credit card expert at BaldThoughts.com
How Do Points Translate to Miles?
Unlike credit cards with airline miles, the value of general travel points/miles usually remains the same. Typically, one such point or mile is worth one cent when booking travel. For example, if you have accumulated 25,000 miles through your Capital One Venture Card, they are valued at $250 in travel rewards. However, a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred offers a 25% bonus when booking travel with your points through Chase Ultimate Rewards. This makes 25,000 points worth $312.50. This structure gives you a clear indication of the worth of your points/miles. However, it does not give you the ability to maximize their value, as is the case with airline miles.
The best way to maximize the value of your general points/miles is by transferring them to airline or hotel loyalty programs for aspirational travel in luxury hotels or premium cabin international flights. Chase lets you transfer your points to its airline partners at 1:1 value, depending on the card you have. Most American Express and Capital One transfer partners are at a 1:1 ratio, but not all. So be sure to check the transfer ratios before initiating a transfer so that you're not disappointed. Once a transfer has been initiated, you cannot transfer the rewards back.
Also keep in mind that the value of your airline miles/points will vary widely and depend on many factors, including the loyalty program, redemption method and when you make travel reservations or redeem your miles/points. In general, you can expect that each point or mile will be worth anywhere from 0.3 cents to a little over two cents per dollar, although the majority tend to be worth between one to two cents.
Subtract the taxes paid from the cash price of your ticket. Then, divide the number of miles required to book a flight ticket by this amount. So, if it costs 12,000 miles and $5.60 in taxes to book a one-way flight worth $130, here's how to calculate the value. Subtract $5.60 from the $130 cash price to equal $124.40, then divide by 12,000 to receive a value of 1.04 cents. For most airlines, this would be considered a poor redemption value.
Divide the number of points needed to make a hotel booking by the actual price of the booking. For example, if you need 25,000 points to book a stay worth $240, the value of each point is 240/25,000 or 0.96 cents. Depending on the hotel brand, this could be a very good value redemption.
Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing Between a Points or Miles Card
- Card TypeQuestions to Ask
Miles/Points Card (Airline or Hotel)
- Do you favor using any particular airline
or group of hotels?
- Are you okay with redeeming your rewards
through a specific airline/group of hotels?
- Do you want to maximize your reward-earning
- Are you flexible with your travel plans?
- Do you favor using any particular airline
Regular Points/Miles Card
- Do you want the freedom to choose any
airline or group of hotels when traveling?
- Do you want flexibility in redeeming your
- Do you want to be able to transfer your points/miles
to airline/hotel loyalty programs?
- Do you want the freedom to choose any
When Does it Make Sense to Get Both?
Frequent travelers may benefit by getting branded and general travel cards. Branded credit cards let you earn points or miles faster, and you may maximize your reward-earning potential by redeeming them for free flights or hotel stays. A general travel card with points/miles, on the other hand, gives you more flexibility, which might come in handy if you wish to redeem them for non-travel-related rewards such as statement credits or gift cards. Besides, you may also consider transferring your points/miles from a non-co-branded card to an airline or hotel loyalty program, should the need arise.
Other Questions You May Have About Travel Cards
Going through answers to other commonly asked questions about the credit card miles vs. points comparison will give you a better indication of which might work better for you.
Now that you know where the points vs. miles comparison stands from your perspective, determine if you might benefit by getting a card with miles or points or getting both. Once you narrow your list down to a few options, compare them across parameters such as annual fees, reward rates, welcome offers, redemption options and added benefits.
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