How Do Credit Card Miles Work? Earning, Redeeming & More
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Credit card miles work by rewarding you for making purchases using your card and then allowing you to use your stockpiled miles for travel, gift cards, cash back or other options. Credit card miles are one of the three major types of credit card rewards, the other two being cash back and points. Points and miles basically function the same way, but miles are more closely tied to travel, especially air travel.
Just like there are different types of credit card rewards, there are also different types of credit card miles. For example, your miles credit card may be tied to a certain airline and give you miles in that airline’s loyalty program. Or, it may give you general miles you can use for any travel.
Many miles credit cards (of all types) will give you an initial bonus of thousands of miles for spending a certain amount in the first few months your account is open. And you should expect at least 1 mile per $1 spent on all purchases, sometimes with bonus miles in certain categories.
Keep reading to learn more about how credit card miles work and how you can earn more of them, faster.
Types of Credit Card Miles
Credit card miles come in three varieties: flexible miles that can be used for any travel, miles tied to a specific airline, and miles that are worth most when redeemed through a credit card company’s online travel booking portal. That last type of arrangement is actually more common with credit card points than credit card miles, but there are some miles cards that require it.
Most major airlines, like American Airlines, Delta and Southwest, have their own miles credit cards. So when you earn rewards with a Delta credit card, for example, you’re getting SkyMiles, the currency of Delta’s loyalty program.
If you’re not a frequent customer of any one airline, a general miles card will serve you better.
Examples of Different Types of Credit Card Miles:
|Example Credit Card||Flexible Miles||Airline Miles||Travel Portal Miles|
|Card Name||Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card||Lufthansa Credit Card||First Hawaiian Bank Priority Destinations World Elite Mastercard|
|Initial Bonus Miles||50,000 miles||50,000 miles||N/A|
|Regular Miles Rate||2 miles / $1||1 - 2 miles / $1||1 - 5 miles / $1|
|Avg. Mile Value||1 cent||2.29 cents||1 cent|
|Annual Fee||$0 for 1st yr, $95 after||$89||None 1st yr, $50 after|
|Editor’s Rating||5.0 / 5||4.5 / 5||N/A|
There are a lot of great miles credit cards available, but WalletHub’s editors have compiled and compared some of the best. Most require you to have at least good or excellent credit, but there are a few options for less than perfect credit.
Here are the best miles credit cards:
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
Lufthansa Credit Card
Discover it® Miles
Frontier Airlines Credit Card with No Annual Fee
|Annual Fee||$0 for 1st yr, $95 after||$89||$0||$0|
|Rewards Bonus||50,000 miles||50,000 miles||N/A||10,000 miles|
|Rewards Rate||2 miles / $1||1 - 2 miles / $1||1.5 miles / $1||0.5 - 1 mile / $1|
|Purchase Intro APR||Not Offered||Not Offered||0% for 14 months||Not Offered|
|Transfer Intro APR||Not Offered||0% for 15 months|
Transfer Fee: 3% (min $5)
|10.99% for 14 months|
Transfer Fee: 3% intro balance transfer fee, up to 5% fee on future balance transfers (see terms)*
|0% for 15 months|
Transfer Fee: 3% (min $5)
|Regular APR||17.49% - 24.74% (V)||17.74% - 26.74% (V)||13.74% - 24.74% (V)||17.49% - 26.49% (V)|
|Editors’ Rating||5.0 / 5||4.5 / 5||4.2 / 5||N/A|
|Details, Rates & Fees||Learn More||Learn More||Learn More|
Rates & Fees
How to Earn Credit Card Miles
- Initial bonus: Your card may offer you a lump sum of miles for spending a certain amount of money in a certain number of months. For example, you might get 50,000 miles for spending $3,000 in your first 3 months.
- Making purchases: Miles cards will typically give you at least 1 mile for every $1 on all purchases. But some will have a higher earning rate on everything. And others will give bonus points only on certain categories of spending. For example, you could get 3 miles per $1 on travel and 1 per $1 on other purchases.
- Yearly spending: This is similar to an initial bonus but not limited to the first year. Your card might give you a lump sum of miles for spending a certain amount in any given year.
- Referring a friend: If a friend applies for the card you have using your referral link and is approved, your issuer might give you miles as a reward.
- Account anniversary: You might be able to get extra miles just for keeping your card open for another year.
You shouldn’t necessarily expect any miles you earn to show up in your accounts immediately. In some cases, it can take the issuer up to two months to put them in your account. Once you do get your miles, though, you can redeem them for travel and more.
How to Redeem Credit Card Miles
Every issuer handles credit card miles redemption in their own way. But for the most part, what you’ll have to do is log in to your online account or to a separate rewards portal run by your issuer. You can then choose what to redeem your points for and how many you’d like to spend. People with miles cards tend to spend their miles on travel most often, but there are usually options to get gift cards, cash back, statement credits or even things like charity donations. But there are a few things you should know before redeeming.
Here’s how to redeem credit card miles:
- Compare redemption rates. Though you may have many options for spending your miles, they won’t necessarily all be worth the same. For example, you might be able to book travel for one cent per point but get cash back for only half a cent per point.
- Be mindful of minimums. It’s possible your issuer might require a certain minimum number of miles to book a reward. Or, they might require you to redeem your miles in certain increments (e.g. 1,000 miles).
- Check for blackouts. Typically, issuers won’t limit when you can use your reward miles to travel, but some may. And while general miles cards will let you use your miles on any airline, co-branded cards may give you miles in a specific airline’s loyalty program. In the latter case, you’ll only be able to use your miles for that airline or other airlines in its airline alliance. The three major airline alliances are Star Alliance, Oneworld and SkyTeam.
- Be aware of expiration. Depending on what card you have, your miles might expire after not being redeemed for a certain amount of time. Or, they might expire if you don’t use your card for an extended period. On most cards, though, points won’t expire as long as the account stays open.
Credit Card Miles vs. Cash Back & Points
Credit card miles are very similar to points in that both are a non-monetary currency used by credit card issuers. And miles and points can generally be used for the same things. While miles are associated more with airlines and points more with hotels, you can still usually redeem miles for hotel reservations or points for airfare. Together, points and miles cards make up the travel credit card category.
Cash back credit cards just return some of what you spend, hence the name. They’re more flexible because you can use cash for everything, not just a list of options that your issuer gives you. But cash back cards tend to reward everyday spending more than travel spending. If you travel often, you’ll likely get the most value from a credit card with miles or points.
Credit Card Miles Over Time
Initial Bonus MilesBase Earn Rates
Image: AleksOrel /Shutterstock
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