Pay for Any Ticket Using Credit Card Points, Regardless of Award Availability (2021)
We primarily recommend earning credit card points that can be converted to frequent flyer miles or hotel points, such as Chase Ultimate Rewards points and Amex Membership Rewards points, and then using those points for frequent flyer tickets and free hotel nights. But it can also be helpful to be able to use credit card points to buy regular airplane tickets or pay for other travel expenses.
Most credit card points can be used like cash to pay for any airplane ticket (and sometimes other types of travel). This can be handy when tickets prices are too low to get good value from frequent flyer miles, when there is no available award space, or when you want to book lodging that isn’t part of a big loyalty program.
“Fixed-value” point basics
Programs that let you use your points like cash are called “Fixed Value” programs, because each point is worth a fixed amount of money. For example, every point you earn from the U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve card is worth 1.5 cents towards the purchase of almost any type of travel.
- Some credit card points can ONLY be used to buy travel or offset travel purchases. The points you earn from credits cards like the U.S. Bank Flexperks cards can only be used like cash. There is no option to transfer them to airline or hotel loyalty programs. For example, you can buy a United airplane ticket with the points, but you can’t convert them into United miles to book an award ticket.
- Each type of transferable credit card point can ALSO be used in this way. The points you earn from Citi’s ThankYou cards, Chase’s Ultimate Rewards cards, Amex’s Membership Rewards cards, and Capital One's Venture cards are normally used by converting them into frequent flyer miles or hotel points. But you can also use these points (like cash) to pay for any travel purchase. For example, if you have the Chase Sapphire Card, your Ultimate Rewards points can be used, at a value of 1.5 cents each, to purchase any type of travel via the Chase website.
- Fixed-value points can be used for a wide variety of travel purchases, not just with the largest airlines and hotel chains. For example, depending on the program, you could use your points for car rentals, hotels that don’t belong to the major hotel programs, cruises, flights on budget airlines, Airbnbs, and even travel activities or incidental fees and expenses associated with booking award travel.
- We recommend prioritizing earning "transferable points"—but you don't need to avoid "fixed-value" points. The rewards you earn from signing up and spending money on credit cards that earn transferable points are generally more valuable than those you can earn from fixed-value-only credit cards. However, once you’ve signed up for the most valuable Ultimate Rewards, Membership Rewards, and ThankYou Rewards cards, it starts making sense to start signing up for the most valuable fixed-value reward cards as well.
However, if you don't want to mess around with frequent flyer tickets, don't travel that often, and want to be able to use points instead of cash as frequently as possible, you are better off earning fixed value points and using them for a wider range of travel purchases.
Fixed-value-only credit card programs
- You should use your fixed-value-only points at the first opportunity. Unlike frequent flyer miles, there is no such thing as a higher-value or lower-value redemption. Your points aren’t going to be more valuable later, so you might as well use them now. You'll also be less likely to still have a points balance should you decide to get rid of the card.
- Most programs operate by providing a credit on your billing statement against any travel charges you make with your card You can purchase travel on any website, like you normally would (with the credit card). Then, after you complete your purchases, you need to visit the credit card website and apply your points against the charges on your bill, lowering the amount of money you owe for that month. With these programs, you can take full advantage of the rates and benefits that you can find on any travel website.
Bank of America points are worth 1 cent each. However, many customers can earn bonus points based on the size of their relationship with BOA. If you have at least $100,000 in assets with Bank of America and Merrill Lynch, you get a 75% credit card reward bonus, which makes their cards the most lucrative of the fixed-value cards. Points don’t expire as long as you have a point-earning card and the standard card doesn’t have an annual fee. Minimum redemption amounts are 2,500 points. If you have the Cash Rewards card or the Premium Rewards card, you can get a statement credit without even needing to offset a travel purchase—these points redeem directly against any charges. You can even transfer points from your Travel and Cash Rewards cards to the Premium Rewards card to cash out in this way. And in 2021, you can use points from the personal version of the Travel Rewards card to offset grocery and dining purchases. Bank of America Credit Cards.
FlexPerks have a fixed redemption value of 1.5 cents per point and work for all airline, hotel, and car rental redemptions made through their travel portal. FlexPoints expire 5 years after you earn them. U.S. Bank Credit Cards.
Alternatively, if you activate the feature, you can simply use your card to make a travel purchase that is over a certain amount (depending on the category) and U.S. Bank will send you a text message. You can then respond to the message to get a bill credit for the purchase. Unfortunately, this doesn't work for the FlexPerks Amex card, where points can only be redeemed through the portal and the triggering minimums for hotel reservations ($500) is way too high.
Using transferable points to pay for cash tickets
Each of the transferable credit card points can be used like cash, rather than being transferred to airline and hotel loyalty programs.
- It is usually more valuable to transfer these points to a partner’s award program, than to use them like cash. However, if you are having trouble finding good opportunities to use your points or you want (or need) to avoid using cash for an upcoming trip, it is easy to use your transferable points like cash.
- You need to buy your travel through the credit card company’s website. You CAN'T use your points to purchase travel on general-purpose travel booking sites like Hotwire.com or directly with airlines and hotels and then receive a bill credit, like you can with many types of fixed-value-only points. The exception is Venture points, which can be used to offset travel purchases made with your card.
- Buying airfare through these sites is not quite as good as buying them elsewhere. Prices should be the same, but cheaper "basic economy" fares are sometimes not available. Some airlines aren't supported, and some flights or fares just aren't listed. And it is usually more advantageous to book directly with the airline (or to receive extra rewards or benefits by booking through other third-party sites).
- Prices for hotels should match the normal “best available prices” available elsewhere, but usually won’t be as good as the lowest prices you might be able to find using our hotel booking strategies. In most cases, you also you won’t be able to participate with the hotel's loyalty program (if any).
Normally worth 1 cent each for airfare bought through Amex Travel. If you have the Schwab Platinum card, you can convert your points to 1.25 cents in cash and then use that to purchase airline tickets (or anything else).
If you have the Business Platinum Card, you’ll receive 35% of your points back after you make certain purchases, increasing the value to 1.54 cents each. For example, if you want to buy a ticket that costs $400, you’ll need to use 40,000 points. But if you have the Business Platinum card, you’ll get 14,000 of those points back, lowering the number of points you spent to 26,000. The Business Gold Card has a similar rebate, but it is only 25%, which works out to 1.33 cents each.
You only receive the rebate when purchasing tickets with your "preferred" airline (the same one you chose for the airline incidental credit) or when purchasing business or first class tickets with any airline. Points are worth less if they are used for other types of travel purchases.
If you have the Sapphire Reserve card, all your Ultimate Rewards points can be used to purchase travel at 1.5 cents each. If you only have the Sapphire or Ink Preferred, your points can be used at 1.25 cents instead. Without any of these cards, all your points can only be used at 1 cent each.
But with the new "Pay Yourself Back" feature, if you don't want to save your points for Hyatt award nights and frequent flyer tickets, it probably makes more sense to redeem your points against grocery store purchases and purchase your tickets with your card.
According to this article from Frequent Miler, you can use your points to book many fares that aren't directly available on the portal by calling 866-951-6592. If the agent says they can't help, ask to be transferred to the "Help Desk".
Normally worth 1 cent each for buying travel through Citibank. However, if you have the no-annual-fee Rewards+ card, you'll receive a 10% rebate on all your redemptions (on the first 100,000 points per year). For example, if you wanted to pay for a $200 airline ticket, you would need to use 20,000 points, but would get 2,000 of these points back. This increases the value of your points to 1.11 cents each.
Venture points are worth 1 cent each. You can redeem points up to 90 days after a purchase, with no minimum amount. But if you want to use your points to pay for only part of your purchase, you need to redeem at least 2,500 points. While the value per point is only 1 cent, the standard reward rate is 2 points per dollar. Capital One Venture Card.
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