There are three major credit card rewards programs: cash back, points, and miles. All three operate similarly, but credit card miles have some important differences from the others. Learn more about what credit card miles are and how they work.
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What are credit card miles?
Credit card miles are rewards you earn from using a travel credit card. In their most direct form, credit card miles are redeemed for airline flights. However, credit card miles can usually also be redeemed for travel bookings (such as on hotels and cruises) or simply for their cash value.
Miles are offered by two types of credit cards:
- Travel credit cards: Travel credit cards are credit cards from standard issuers (like Capital One or Chase) that offer travel-centered benefits and rewards. Travel cards often offer higher rewards rates for travel purchases, as well as higher value when redeeming rewards for other travel expenses.
- Airline credit cards: Airline credit cards are co-branded credit cards (in which the airline partners with a bank or credit card issuer) that offer rewards for booking flights through a particular airline. These cards tend to have more limited earning and redemption potential, but they may offer more generous perks. For example, many airline credit cards offer exclusive lounge access and complimentary flight upgrades.
An easy way to think of credit card miles is as a stand-in for credit card points. You earn a certain number of miles and you can redeem those for their cash value or to pay for airline tickets or other travel-related purchases.
How much are credit card miles worth?
How much credit card miles are worth depends on the credit card’s terms and who your card issuer is. Generally speaking, credit card miles tend to be worth 1 cent each (1 mile = $0.01).
For example, Capital One is a popular travel credit card issuer. If you earn miles with one of their credit cards and then book a flight using that credit card, you can get $1 off for every 100 miles you use.
To help you understand miles more clearly, look at the examples in the table below, which show how you can redeem Capital One miles for various flights. This also applies to other issuers that offer $1 per 100 miles spent.
How much Capital One miles are worth
|Miles||Dollar Value||*Round-trip flight from New York to…|
*Flight information is based on flight listings from May, 2022. Air travel rates vary, so use these examples as rough gauges of how far your credit card miles can take you.
How do you earn credit card miles?
You can earn credit card miles by using your travel or airline credit card. Similar to how you earn cash back on a credit card or other rewards points, there are various ways to reap in miles:
- Use your card regularly: The most common way to get credit card miles is simply by using your travel or airline credit card. Your credit card will have a rewards rate for everyday purchases. For example, if your card offers a rate of 1%, you’ll earn 1 mile for every dollar spent.
- Make travel purchases: Most travel cards offer a higher rewards rate for travel purchases, including flights, hotels, trip packages, and excursions. Furthermore, many travel and airline cards offer additional discounts or benefits when you book travel through their platform or with affiliate companies.
- Get a signup bonus: You may be offered a signup bonus (aka welcome bonus) when you open a new miles card. Bonuses usually come in the form of a certain number of bonus miles (e.g., 10,000 bonus miles) either when you open your card or when you spend a certain amount of money after opening it (e.g.,10,000 bonus miles if you spend $1,000 within 3 months of opening).
- Refer a friend: Most rewards credit cards, including miles cards, offer referral incentives. For example, you may get 5,000 extra miles if you refer a friend (using a unique referral code your credit card company will send you) and they apply for or get approved for the same card.
- Reach a spending goal: Rewards for spending thresholds aren’t as common as the other ways to earn miles, but some credit cards still offer this route. Similar to many welcome bonuses, you may get awarded miles if you spend a certain amount of money on your card in a certain period of time. For example, you could get 20,000 miles at the end of the year if you’ve made $10,000 in purchases that year.
- Hit a milestone: A less common way of getting extra miles is through milestones. Milestones are important dates (as determined by your credit card company) on which you’ll be gifted bonus miles. For example, you might get miles on your birthday or on your cardholder anniversary.
How do you redeem credit card miles?
You can redeem credit card miles for both travel purchases and non-travel purchases. How you can redeem them (and for what) depends on the credit card, but you usually have some flexibility in redemption.
How much value you get out of your miles will likely vary based on how you redeem them. For example, you may be able to redeem miles for flights and hotels at full cash value (i.e., $0.01 per 1 mile), but redeem them for cash or credit at only 75% of that value.
Here are the most common ways to redeem credit card miles:
- Book flights: The most common way to redeem credit card miles is on flights. You can accrue enough miles to pay your entire airfare, or you can use miles to pay a portion of your fare (if your credit card issuer allows).
- Upgrade air travel: Along with the flight itself, many travel and airline cards let you put miles toward air travel perks and upgrades. You can upgrade your seat or travel package, buy airport commodities (like lounge passes and food), or make in-flight purchases.
- Plan trips: As miles cards are aimed at travelers, they usually offer broad travel rewards versus just flight rewards. With your miles, you can buy hotel stays, trip packages like cruises or tours, and excursions or events tickets.
- Get cash back: Most rewards credit cards, regardless of the reward type they offer, will allow you to cash out your rewards for a dollar value. You can usually exchange your miles for a check, direct deposit, or a statement credit on your credit card account. Keep in mind that the value of miles is usually less when you redeem them as cash versus travel. So you may be able to purchase a $300 flight with your miles, but only redeem them for $200 in cash value.
- Buy gift cards or shop retailers: Many credit cards have partnerships with specific retailers and allow you to redeem miles while shopping with those franchises. For example, you may be able to redeem your miles as gift cards or certificates, or use your miles directly at checkout (this is especially common when shopping at Amazon, which has multiple credit card partnerships).
Are credit card miles worth it?
Whether or not a rewards card that offers miles is the right choice for you will depend on your spending habits and on the card itself.
Here are a few questions to consider when deciding if miles are the right credit card reward for you.
- Do you travel frequently? Of course, travel and airline cards are aimed at frequent travelers. Not only can you get the most out of point redemption on travel purchases, but you’ll likely also earn bigger rewards on travel-related purchases. If you aren’t a frequent flier or hotel hopper, you should probably consider a cashback or points rewards card instead.
- Do you have an airline membership? If you’re already a member of an airline’s club or points program, a miles card may be a great addition to your wallet. You could see if the airline itself offers a credit card and enjoy greater perks and rewards, or you could get a standard travel card that’s compatible with your airline. Many travel cards have airline deals that let you transfer your miles into your airline club account (often at a higher redemption rate).
- Is the annual fee worth it? Many rewards cards, especially those with high rewards rates, charge annual fees. Before committing to a high annual fee, make sure you earn more in rewards within the year than you’ll pay for the credit card’s annual fee.
- Do you need to adjust your spending to earn rewards? As a general rule with all rewards cards, only consider whether the card is worth it if used for your current spending habits. For example, if you force yourself to shop more at a certain retailer or tack on unnecessary travel purchases just to earn more miles, the card probably isn’t worth it.