​​Here Are the 2 Most Popular Ways to Redeem Credit Card Travel Points. Are They Worth It?

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  • The two most common travel purchases made with credit card points are airline tickets and hotel stays.
  • Far fewer people use their points to cover upgrades to airfare or hotel rooms, likely because it can be harder to do this with points.
  • To get the most out of your travel rewards, learn about your redemption options and try to use rewards for more expensive travel bookings.

There are plenty of ways to redeem your points, but they don't all offer equal value.

Most travelers pay for their trips the old-fashioned way, but there's also a sizable portion who pay with credit card points. A December 2022 survey by Destination Analysts found that nearly 31% of Americans had used credit card rewards for travel-related purchases in the previous 12 months.

That's a smart move, as the right credit card can save you quite a bit of money on your travel costs. However, it can sometimes be challenging to know how to use your rewards. Many of the top travel credit cards give you several options, with some being a much better deal than others. Here are the most popular choices and what you should know to get the most value from your points.

Destination Analysts asked respondents who had redeemed credit card rewards about the types of travel purchases they paid for this way. Here were the two most common types of purchases and the percentage of respondents that had used rewards for each one:

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  • Airline tickets (52.7%)
  • Hotel stays (50.8%)

Relatively few respondents had used rewards to cover upgrades. Only 13.3% used rewards to upgrade their hotel rooms, and 11.7% used rewards to upgrade their airline seats.

A likely reason for this difference is that reward upgrades can be hard to come by. Airlines don't always let you upgrade your seat with miles. It depends on the flight and what type of availability there is in higher travel classes. If there are seats available, most will usually be made available for passengers who want to pay cash to upgrade.

Room upgrades at hotels are also subject to availability. While most hotels allow you to upgrade with points, some don't. For example, Hilton says in its FAQs that points can't be used to upgrade an existing reservation.

The good news is that most people appear to be using their rewards well. Airline tickets and hotel stays are two of the best ways to travel for free with credit card points. Upgrades can be a worthwhile option when available, but they're not always available. That's why you should never rely on being able to upgrade a booking with points later. You might, but it's not guaranteed.

How to redeem credit card travel points

If you have a travel card, the way you can use your points will depend on the card. With airline credit cards, you'll earn miles for your frequent flyer mile account. You can use your miles on the airline's website. Hotel credit cards work the same way. Your points go to your account in the hotel's loyalty program.

It's different if you have a travel card that's part of one of the major credit card rewards programs. Examples of these programs include:

With a card in any of these programs, you'll need to go to the reward program's website to use your points. You can also access this website through your online credit card account. The rewards program's site will show you how you can redeem your points.

Getting the most value from your travel rewards

The way you redeem your travel rewards is extremely important. With some types of credit card points, you could get anything from a fraction of a cent to $0.03 or more per point, depending entirely on how you use them. That means 100,000 points could potentially be worth $500 to over $3,000.

Fortunately, it's not difficult to get good value from your points. There are only a few things to keep in mind here:

  • Always use your travel rewards for travel. You may be able to redeem your points in other ways, such as cash back, gift cards, or Amazon purchases. These are almost always a bad idea, because you don't get nearly as much as you could through travel redemptions.
  • Higher-priced travel is usually a better deal. For example, it's often possible to get $0.03 per point or more booking business-class airfare. On the other hand, economy bookings may fetch $0.01 to $0.015 per point.
  • Take some time to learn about your redemption options. Read up on your travel card and its rewards program, and explore the ways you can use your points. It's a lot easier to get the best deal when you know what all your options are.

The world of travel credit cards can be a bit intimidating at first, but it doesn't take much time to learn how to use them. And there's really nothing like using your points to cover airfare or a luxury hotel stay that would otherwise cost you thousands.

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