Points vs. miles: Which is actually better?

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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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Takeaways

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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.

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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.

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Points vs. Miles

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.

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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.

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1. Airline Points & 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.

Examples:

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Pros

  • 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

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Cons

  • 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

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2. 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.

Examples:

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Pros

  • 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

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Cons

  • 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

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3. 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.

Examples:

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Pros

  • 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

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Cons

  • No airline or hotel specific perks
  • Spending does not help earn elite status
  • Premium cards might come with steep annual fees

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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.

Expert Tip: 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

Related: What’s the difference between miles and cash back? 

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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.

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How to calculate the value of airline miles

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.

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How to calculate the value of hotel points

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.

Expert Tip: Compare travel credit cards based on parameters such as annual fees, welcome offers, reward rates and travel-specific perks. We have analyzed more than 2,000 consumer and business cards combined so that you may select one with ease.

Related:  Should you get a cash back or points credit card? 

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Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing Between a Points or Miles Card

Miles/Points Card (Airline or Hotel)

  • Do you favor using any particular airline or group of hotels?
  • Are you OK with redeeming your rewards?
  • through a specific airline/group of hotels?
  • Do you want to maximize your reward-earning potential?
  • Are you flexible with your travel plans?

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 rewards?
  • Do you want to be able to transfer your points/miles to airline/hotel loyalty programs?

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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.

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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.

  • When is it better to use points vs. miles? Getting a non-co-branded card with points might work better for you than a card with miles if you don’t favor using any particular airline.
  • When is it better to use miles vs. points? You might be better off with miles if you are a frequent flyer and loyal to a particular airline. Similarly, a card with hotel points might work well for you if you favor using any particular group of hotels. If neither of these applies in your case, you may consider getting a non-co-branded card with miles or points.
  • What’s the difference between miles and cash back credit cards? The cash back you earn translates into a corresponding dollar amount. For example, if you use a 2% cash back card, you get $2 back on every $100 you spend. The value of miles, on the other hand, depends on multiple factors. Another significant difference between cash back and miles is that redeeming the former is typically simpler.
  • Can credit card points be used the same as cash back? How you get to use your credit card points depends on the card you have. For example, if you have a credit card that’s part of the Chase Ultimate Rewards program, you may use your points as cash back or receive a statement credit for one or more eligible purchases. Other options include getting gift cards, paying for Apple purchases, paying for purchases through Amazon.com, checking out with PayPal, paying for travel and transferring your points to airline/hotel partners. However, the value of points and cash back might not be the same.
  • Can you transfer credit card points to hotel and airline programs? If you have a general travel credit card, you might be able to transfer your credit card points/miles to partner loyalty programs. Some of the American Express Membership Rewards partners include Asia Miles, British Airways Executive Club, Emirates Skywards, Etihad Guest, Virgin Flying Club, Hilton Honors and Marriott Bonvoy. Some of the travel partners associated with the Chase Ultimate Rewards program include Aer LingusBritish Airways Executive Club, Emirates Skywards, Southwest Rapid Rewards, United Airlines MileagePlus, Virgin Flying Club, IHG Rewards, Hilton Honors and Marriott Bonvoy.

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Questions to Ask About Specific Cards

  • What is the Chase Ultimate Rewards program? Credit cards that are part of the Chase Ultimate Rewards program let you earn points faster when you make travel purchases through the Chase Ultimate Rewards platform. Transferring the points you earn to partner travel loyalty programs is an option. You may also redeem your points in other ways, some of which include cash back, statement credit and making online purchases through select merchants. Examples of cards linked to the Chase Ultimate Rewards program include the Sapphire Preferred Card and the Sapphire Reserve Card.
  • What are Citi ThankYou points? You get to earn Citi ThankYou points when you make purchases by using cards linked to the Citi ThankYou rewards program. Examples of these cards include the no-annual-fee Citi Rewards+ Credit Card and the Citi Premier Credit Card. Both cards come with higher reward rates on bonus categories. When it comes to redeeming your Citi ThankYou points, your options include statement credits, direct deposits, gift cards, travel rewards and shopping online through partner merchants. Citi also lets you transfer your points to partner loyalty programs.
  • What is the American Express Membership Rewards Program? The American Express Membership Rewards Program lets you earn points on all eligible purchases. Some of the cards that are linked to this program offer higher reward rates on category-based spending. You may redeem the points you earn in different ways, such as covering recent charges on your card, getting gift cards, paying for travel, shopping online or making charitable donations.

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Next Steps

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.

This article originally appeared on MoneyGeek.com and was syndicated by MediaFeed.org.

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