The 7 Worst Ways to Redeem Travel Credit Card Rewards

Earning travel rewards through credit cards can be an exhilarating experience, especially when you start racking up points and miles for future adventures. However, the excitement can quickly turn into disappointment if you don’t redeem your hard-earned rewards strategically. Not all redemption options are created equal; some can leave you with significantly less value than others.

The 7 Worst Ways to Redeem Travel Credit Card Rewards

Key Takeaways

  • Redeeming travel rewards for non-travel options, such as cash back, merchandise, or gift cards, typically offers lower value.
  • Transferring points to travel partners without a specific redemption plan can lead to lost value.
  • Hoarding points and letting them expire is the worst-case scenario, as unused points have no value.
  • Stick to travel redemptions, either through the card issuer’s travel portal or by transferring points to airline and hotel partners, for maximum value.

7 Worst Ways to Redeem Travel Credit Card Rewards

Below are the seven worst ways to redeem your travel credit card rewards, so you can avoid making costly mistakes and get the most out of your points and miles.

Redeeming for Non-Travel Options Offers Poor Value

One of the most common pitfalls when it comes to redeeming travel rewards is using them for non-travel options. While these redemptions may seem convenient, they often provide significantly lower value per point or mile compared to travel-related redemptions.

Paying with Points When Shopping Online

  • Many travel credit cards offer the option to use your points or miles to pay for purchases at online retailers like Amazon or through services like PayPal.
  • While convenient, this redemption option typically offers poor value compared to travel redemptions.
  • For example, Chase Ultimate Rewards points are worth $0.0125 to $0.015 per point for travel bookings but only $0.008 per point when used for online purchases, resulting in a significant loss of value.

Getting Cash Back

  • Another common option is redeeming points or miles for cash back in the form of a statement credit.
  • While convenient, cash back redemptions often provide the lowest value.
  • With American Express Membership Rewards points, cash back redemptions yield only $0.006 per point, whereas strategic travel redemptions can yield $0.02 per point or higher.

Buying Merchandise or Gift Cards

  • Travel credit card rewards programs often include shopping portals for redeeming points or miles for merchandise or gift cards.
  • However, these redemptions typically offer abysmal value, with rates ranging from $0.006 to $0.01 per point, depending on the card.
  • Redeeming 50,000 points for $500 worth of merchandise would result in a value of only $0.01 per point, a significant loss compared to travel redemptions.

Transferring Points Without a Concrete Redemption Plan

  • Many popular travel credit cards allow you to transfer your points or miles to airline and hotel partners, which can maximize value.
  • Transferring points can often yield redemption values of $0.02 to $0.03 per point or higher when booking premium travel experiences.
  • However, it’s crucial to have a specific redemption plan in mind before transferring points, as transfers are typically irreversible.
  • Blindly transferring points without knowing how you’ll use them can lead to lost value or even expired points.

Hoarding Points Without Using Them

  • While it may be tempting to hoard travel rewards in hopes of redeeming them for an amazing deal or experience, this strategy can backfire.
  • Unlike cash in a high-yield savings account, travel rewards don’t earn interest or appreciate in value over time.
  • If you let your points or miles sit unused for too long, you risk them expiring due to inactivity or program changes.
  • It’s best to have a plan for using your travel rewards within a reasonable timeframe to ensure you don’t miss out on their potential value.

Sticking to Travel Redemptions for Maximum Value

To get the most out of your travel credit card rewards, it’s essential to focus on redeeming them for travel-related purposes. This typically involves either using your points or miles through the card issuer’s travel portal or transferring them to airline and hotel partners.

Using Points Through Issuer Travel Portals

  • Many credit card companies, such as Chase, American Express, and Citi, offer travel booking portals where you can redeem your points or miles for flights, hotel stays, rental cars, and more.
  • These portals often provide competitive rates and can be a convenient way to book travel using your rewards.

Transferring to Airline and Hotel Partners

  • For truly exceptional value, transferring your points or miles to airline and hotel partners is often the way to go.
  • By transferring your rewards to these travel partners, you can unlock access to premium cabin awards, luxurious hotel stays, and other high-value redemptions that may not be available through the issuer’s travel portal.
  • For example, transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards points to United Airlines or Hyatt Hotels can unlock incredible redemption opportunities, such as flying in United’s Polaris business class or staying at the luxurious Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme.

Avoiding Keyword Stuffing

  • When redeeming travel rewards, it’s important to avoid awkwardly over-optimizing with your keywords or using them excessively.
  • Instead, use your keywords and related terms naturally throughout the content to maintain a natural and engaging tone.
  • Mention semantic keywords and variations to come across as natural, not spammy.

Staying Updated on Program Changes

  • Travel rewards programs and their redemption options are constantly evolving, with changes to point values, transfer partners, and redemption rates.
  • It’s crucial to stay informed about program updates and adjust your redemption strategy accordingly to ensure you’re getting the most value from your points and miles.

Considering Opportunity Cost

  • When redeeming travel rewards, it’s important to consider the opportunity cost of your redemption choice.
  • For example, redeeming points for a low-value option like cash back means missing out on the potential for a high-value travel redemption.
  • Always weigh the value of each redemption option to ensure you’re maximizing the potential of your hard-earned rewards.


Earning travel rewards through credit cards can be a rewarding experience, but it’s essential to redeem those rewards strategically to get the most value out of your points and miles. Avoid the pitfalls of redeeming for non-travel options, transferring points without a plan, or hoarding rewards without using them.

Instead, focus on redeeming your travel rewards for the travel experiences they were meant for – whether through the card issuer’s travel portal or by transferring to airline and hotel partners. By doing so, you’ll unlock exceptional value and create lasting memories from your well-earned travel adventures.

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