As with money, the best way to spend your rewards is at a discount.
However, you won’t find “20 PERCENT OFF!” signs when it comes to redeeming miles and points, as you would when browsing the racks at the store. Read on for some of our favorite point-stretching techniques.
Discounted gift cards
Several cash-back rewards programs (including Discover, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou) allow you to redeem your rewards for gift cards (as an alternative to cash back). In many cases, you’ll still get the 1-cent-per-point value you’d get with cash-back redemptions. But in some cases, you’ll get a discount on the face value of the gift card. For example, you might be able to redeem 2,000 reward points (which would normally get you a $20 gift card) for a $25 gift card (which would normally require 2,500 points). You can probably put those extra 500 points to use somewhere.
This is most common for the Membership Rewards program from American Express (a CreditCardForum advertising partner). Arguably the best value for your MR points is transferring them into AmEx’s partner travel programs. A certain number of MR points (it varies) yields a certain number of loyalty points in whatever program you’ve transferred into.
Occasionally, the MR program will offer a bonus for transferring. For example, you can usually convert MR points into Hawaiian Airlines miles at a 1:1 ratio. So, you’d need 30,000 MR points to get 30,000 Hawaiian miles (enough for a one-way flight from North America to Hawaii at the Coach Saver level). However, if the Membership Rewards program is offering a 25 percent transfer bonus (which it has in the past), you’d need to spend only 24,000 MR points.
Transfer bonuses in the Membership Rewards program tend to be spontaneous and available for a limited time only, so they can be difficult to plan for in advance. However, especially if you’re
transferring a large number of MR points, they are a savvy way to stretch the value of your points.
Here are a few cards that earn transferable Membership Rewards points:
Hotel rewards discount programs
Some hotel rewards programs will discount the number of rewards needed at certain properties. It’s a rare option, and only two major chains currently offer it (Hilton discontinued its Point Stretcher program in 2012):
- Marriott PointSavers: Up to a 33 percent discount on point redemptions for certain stays. Find out if your stay is eligible by entering your hotel location and dates.
- IHG PointBreaks: Redeem for only 5,000 points per night at various properties worldwide. IHG keeps an update list here.
Generally, hotels rotate properties in and out, so, even if the property you want to stay it isn’t discounted, it might later. There are plenty of restrictions as well, so read the terms carefully.
The airline equivalent of hotel rewards discount programs (see above), airline reduced mileage programs give deep mileage discounts on some (emphasize on “some”) itineraries.
Delta rolled out 5,000-mile reward flights in 2015 for limited routes. United has been known to run limited-time mileage discounts for certain types of tickets to certain destinations.
However, the longest-standing reward flight discount program is American’s MileSAAver program. If you have one of its co-branded credit cards, you’ll get a discount of up to 7,500 miles round trip, depending on which American Airlines rewards card you have and how long the flight is. American keeps a list of destinations eligible for this discount.
Free hotel nights
Buy-one-get-one deals are de rigueur at supermarkets and department stores. But several hotel rewards programs and credit card rewards programs offer essentially the same thing: Four nights for the price of three, for example.
When you do the point-value math, you’ll learn how beneficial this discount can be – especially if you’re into staying at luxury properties.
For example, if you have the Hilton HHonors Surpass card, you get automatic Hilton HHonors Gold status, which entitles you to a five-nights-for-the-price-of-four special on rewards bookings.
If you stay at the Hilton Times Square in mid-September, a five-night stay would cost $1,990 or 400,000 points, yielding a per point value of 0.49 cents per point:
The free rewards night, however, would your point value to 0.62 cents per point and save you 80,000 points that you can redeem for a free night later.
Credit card redemption bonuses
This discount is easy and automatic, so there’s no bargain-hunting required. It’s like walking into a store and seeing a “10 percent off on all merchandise” sign.
Some cards simply give you a percentage of your miles back every time you redeem. For example, the BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ Card from Bank of America gives you 10 percent back whenever you redeem into a Bank of America account. That means each of your rewards points will be worth 1.1 percent each instead of the standard 1 cent.
The Starwood Preferred Guest card, meanwhile, offers a particularly advantageous redemption bonus. Whenever you redeem by transferring 20,000 Starpoints into any one of Starwood’s airline partner programs, you get a 5,000-point bonus. The Points Guy values Starpoints at 2.5 cents each, so it’s especially lucrative to get some back every time you use them.
Check out our list of other cards that offer an immediate redemption bonus.