December 4, 2023

The best credit card rewards sweet spots to maximize points and miles

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The best credit card rewards sweet spots to maximize points and miles

Personal Finance Insider writes about products, strategies, and tips to help you make smart decisions with your money. We may receive a small commission from our partners, like American Express, but our reporting and recommendations are always independent and objective.

  • Credit card rewards can get you deals on free travel, but there are other ways to maximize them too.
  • Some issuers allow you to redeem points for everyday purchases at a better rate or even invest them.
  • In some cases, you can use points to pay your mortgage or student loan instead of taking cash back.
  • Read Insider’s guide to the best travel rewards credit cards.

Picture this: You and your friends are at a restaurant — outside, obviously — and the bill arrives. One friend attempts to slap down a debit card but you push it away, telling them you’ve got it handled. Then you whip out your American Express® Gold Card
, pay for everyone, and send polite Venmo requests minutes later. 

Later, you tell them, I’ll teach you guys about the joys of credit card rewards. Because friends don’t let friends pay with debit. 

All joking aside, credit cards can offer some really sweet perks. From flying in first class to Hawaii for just 12,500 miles to cashing out points for 1.5 cents each, these are the best credit card rewards sweet spots for any kind of rewards credit card holder. 

Alaska Airlines miles are some of the most underrated in the business; most people think that since they don’t fly on Alaska, they won’t find any value in holding the Alaska Airlines Visa® Credit Card or otherwise collecting stacks of miles. But they should — because Alaska isn’t currently in an airline alliance (although it will join Oneworld later in 2021), it has instead created partnerships with various airlines. These alliances allow you to redeem Alaska miles for flights, and Cathay Pacific, one of its partners, has one of the best first-class experiences in the world. 

Thanks to Alaska’s generous award chart, it’s possible to fly from the US to Hong Kong and then onward to either Tel Aviv or Johannesburg for just 70,000 miles in first class.

You can then hop on a British Airways first-class flight for 80,000 miles, stopping in London before continuing home. If you’re itching to try out BA’s new business class instead, you’ll save 10,000 miles on your journey and spend just 70,000 miles. All in you’ll be out 150,000 miles, but in return, you’ll have several new pairs of pajamas, tons of airtime, and a whole round-the-world trip under your belt. 

British Airways operates on a distance-based award chart, which means that you’ll find some incredible value in flying expensive short-haul flights. BA is a part of Oneworld, so you can redeem your miles on airlines such as American Airlines and Cathay Pacific.

Flights within the US start at 7,500 miles one way, while outside the US you can redeem miles for flights starting at 6,000 British Airways Avios points. British Airways is a transfer partner of both American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards, which means it’s easy to top up your balance. 

Avianca is the flag carrier of Colombia and is infamous for its award program, Lifemiles. While the website’s clunky interface can be annoying to figure out, once you’ve managed it you’ll be able to book flights with any of the airline’s 25 Star Alliance partners.

This includes United, for whom you can find flights all throughout the US starting at just 6,500 miles. Avianca is a transfer partner of  American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Capital One, and Marriott Bonvoy, so no matter which card you have you’ll always be able to build your stash. 

Turkish Airlines is another Star Alliance partner with a difficult-to-navigate award program, but understanding how it works can pay off big. Turkish operates on a distance-based award chart, which classifies all of the US into one zone. All of the US. This means you can fly on United from New York to Hawaii for the same price you’d fly to Chicago: 7,500 miles in economy and 12,500 in first class.

You’ll need to call in to book these, but this is possibly one of the best values of any award program, anywhere. Citi ThankYou points transfer to Turkish at a 1:1 ratio and usually take about a day to appear in your account. It’s important to know that Turkish Airlines will allow you to put a hold on your ticket even without any miles in your account, so you won’t miss out while waiting for them to post.  

Chase traditionally offers the ability to redeem your Ultimate Rewards points as a statement credit at a rate of 1 cent per point. However, due to the pandemic, Chase has introduced a new option: Pay Yourself Back.

Through April 30, 2021, cardholders can redeem their points against purchases made in certain categories at an improved rate. For example, Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve® cardholders can redeem points toward purchases at grocery stores, home improvement stores, restaurants (including delivery services and take-out), and eligible charities.

The rate varies according to your card: Chase Sapphire Reserve® cardholders can redeem their points at a value of 1.5 cents each, while Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card cardholders can redeem at 1.25 cents each. These rates match the value of your points when redeemed for travel through the Chase travel portal, but are far more usable on groceries and restaurants. 

Although it’s the most popular, the original The Platinum Card® from American Express
isn’t the only Platinum card out there. There are, in fact, three current personal Amex Platinum cards for which you can apply, and one of those is perhaps the most lucrative of all.

The American Express Platinum Card® for Schwab is available exclusively to Charles Schwab account holders, and features all the same benefits as the regular Platinum Card, with one major difference: the Schwab version of the card allows you to redeem your Membership Rewards at a rate of 1.25 cents each directly back to your investment account. That’s a much better proposition than Amex’s usual rate for statement credits, which is just 0.6 cents per point.  

When the COVID-19 pandemic decimated travel and spending, consumers sitting on a stash of points wondered how they could spend their rewards. 

One unusual solution to this problem is redeeming your Citi ThankYou points for student loans and mortgage payments at a rate of 1 cent each, which is double what they’ll usually give you as cash for your points with cards like the Citi Premier® Card. This is especially helpful as many people have struggled with payments due to unemployment, furloughs, or other pandemic-related issues. Redemptions start at 2,500 points and you’ll need to call Citi in order to redeem. 

No matter which credit card you hold, there are ways to take advantage of sweet spots in order to score great redemptions. Whether you’re looking to travel or simply erase your grocery costs, card issuers have gone above and beyond to find solutions in these unprecedented times. 

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For rates and fees of the American Express® Gold Card, please click here.

For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, please click here.

For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, please click here.

For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, please click here.

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Please note: While the offers mentioned above are accurate at the time of publication, they’re subject to change at any time and may have changed, or may no longer be available.