In the travel hacking community you’ll hear points and miles referred to interchangeably. Both (points and miles) serve the same purpose – they are a form of currency, issued by a bank or travel provider, that can be redeemed for something of value.
Points and miles are most commonly redeemed for free travel – such as flights and hotels – but some points can also be redeemed for cash. Since there are so many different banks and travel providers, issuing their own individual currencies, it can be challenging to understand what each of them is good for and how much value each point or mile really has.
In this article, I will go over the major airline, hotel and bank points that every aspiring travel hacker should be aware of. I’ll also discuss how these points and miles are earned and redeemed.
Airlines have been rewarding customers for their loyalty since the late 1970s. These days, most airlines each have their own loyalty program that uses ‘miles’ as their form of currency. One would think that if most airlines are using miles as their form of currency, you should be able to pool together your miles from each airline program and redeem for a free flight with whichever airline you like – but unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
Even though most programs reward their loyalty members in the form of miles – each individual program sets different rates for earning and redeeming miles. With so many different rates for earning and redeeming, you also get a lot of variance in value. With this variance it’s safe to say, one Delta SkyMile is not equal to one Alaska Mileage Plan mile.
Now that we’ve established the fact that not all miles are created equal, let’s discuss what they’re actually good for. The simplest way to redeem miles is for a flight on the airline with which they were earned. For example, if you consistently fly with American Airlines and have a stash of American AAdvantage Miles, you can turn around and use those miles for a free flight on American – pretty straightforward.
Another, more complicated, option for using those AAdvantage Miles would be to book a ticket on British Airways. This is known as a partner award. Because American Airlines and British Airways are both in the oneworld alliance, you can use one program’s miles to book a flight on a different airline within the alliance. The three airline alliances and their corresponding US airlines are:
- Star Alliance – United Airlines
- SkyTeam – Delta Airlines
- Oneworld – American Airlines and Alaska Airlines
In addition to booking partner awards within an alliance, several airlines have individual partnerships with other airlines. This allows travelers to use miles from one program to book flights on a different airline, even when they don’t participate in one of the major alliances. An example of this would be using Delta SkyMiles to book a flight on Virgin Atlantic. Virgin doesn’t participate in any alliances but because of their partnership with Delta, you can still book flights on Virgin with your Delta SkyMiles.
Similar to airline loyalty programs, hotels reward their loyalty members by giving them points for every dollar they spend on their hotel stay. Hotels don’t participate in alliances like airlines do, but most hotel brands are a part of a chain. Hotel chains work similarly to airline alliances but offer even less restrictions when it comes to redeeming points. Points earned at one brand can then be used for a free night stay at any hotel within the same chain.
For example, if you consistently stay at a Fairfield Inn for work, you’re likely to earn lots of Marriott points. You might think that because those points were earned at a Fairfield Inn, you have to also redeem them at a Fairfield Inn – that isn’t the case though. Because Fairfield Inn is a part of Marriott Bonvoy, you can use those points for a stay at any Marriott property – even much higher-end hotels like St. Regis or Ritz Carlton.
When it comes to earning and redeeming hotel points, there are four major chains that points travelers should be aware of – Hilton Honors, World of Hyatt, IHG One Rewards and Marriott Bonvoy. There are several other chains and independent properties around the world, but these four will make up the vast majority of hotels.
World of Hyatt
IHG One Rewards
Unlike airline miles and hotel points, which are issued by travel providers, bank points are a form of currency that provide much more flexibility. The level of flexibility varies by bank, but in general, bank points can be transferred to travel partners, redeemed for travel through the bank’s own travel portal or even cashed out.
American Express Membership Rewards
American Express issues several different Membership Rewards earning cards, such as the American Express Gold card . Membership Rewards are able to be transferred to any of Amex’s 20 transfer partners. In addition to being able to transfer points to travel partners, you can also redeem Membership Rewards for flights and hotels in the Amex Travel Portal. Some other, less valuable, redemption options include cashing them in for statement credits, gift cards, or Amazon purchases.
|American Express Transfer Partners|
|Air France/KLM||Asia Miles||Delta SkyMiles||Iberia Plus|
|Virgin Atlantic||Aer Lingus||AeroMexico||Aeroplan|
|ANA Mileage Club||Avianca LifeMiles||British Airways||Choice Privileges|
|Emirates Skywards||Ethiad Guest||HawaiianMiles||Hilton Honors|
|JetBlue TrueBlue||Marriott Bonvoy||Qantas||Singapore KrisFlyer|
Capital One Venture Miles
The reason Capital One miles are so flexible is because they can be used to ‘erase’ any travel purchase from your statement. In addition to erasing travel purchases, Venture Miles can also be transferred to travel partners to unlock additional value. If you prefer to use your Venture Miles to pay for something other than travel, you can also cash them out, redeem towards a statement credit, or get gift cards with them.
|Capital One Transfer Partners|
|Accor Live Limitless||Asia Miles||Aeromexico||Aeroplan|
|Asia Miles||Avianca LifeMiles||British Airways||Choice Privileges|
|Emirates Skywards||Ethiad Guest||EVA Air||Finnair Plus|
|Qantas||Singapore KrisFlyer||TAP Miles&Go||Turkish Airlines|
Chase Ultimate Rewards
Cards issued by Chase earn points in the form of Ultimate Rewards. Just like with Capital One Venture Miles, Chase Ultimate Rewards are really easy to use and provide lots of different redemption options for travelers. Ultimate Rewards can be earned with a variety of Chase cards but one of my favorites is the Chase Sapphire Preferred card.
Ultimate Rewards can be transferred to any of Chase’s 14 travel partners or used to book travel through the Chase portal. Depending on which Ultimate Rewards earning card you have, your points could be worth as much as 1.5 cents each when used to pay for travel. You can also turn Chase points into cash back, gift cards, or use them to pay for purchases with select merchants.
|Chase Transfer Partners|
|Aer Lingus||Aeroplan||British Airways||Emirates Skywards|
|Air France/KLM||Iberia Plus||JetBlue TrueBlue||Singapore KrisFlyer|
|Southwest||United MileagePlus||Virgin Atlantic||IHG One Rewards|
|Marriott Bonvoy||World of Hyatt|
Citi ThankYou Points
Citi ThankYou Points are another form of transferable currency that can provide travelers with additional flexibility and value. A great way to earn lots of ThankYou points is with my favorite card for beginners , the Citi Premier card. ThankYou points can be redeemed for cash or gift cards, transferred to travel partners or used to pay for purchases with select merchants.
|Citi Transfer Partners|
|Aeromexico||Air France/KLM||Avianca LifeMiles||Asia Miles|
|Choice Privileges||Emirates Skywards||Ethiad Guest||EVA Air|
|JetBlue TrueBlue||Qantas||Qatar Airways||Singapore KrisFlyer|
|Thai Airways||Turkish Airlines||Virgin Atlantic||Wyndham Rewards|
Even after many years of earning and redeeming points and miles, it can still get confusing trying to remember what each is good for. In general, miles refer to the currency earned with an airline program and points are earned through hotels and banks. You can oftentimes turn bank points into airline miles or hotel points, but you can’t turn your miles into bank points – it’s a one-way street. No matter how confusing it gets, taking the time to learn the basics of points and miles is the key to unlocking outsized value with your rewards and becoming an expert travel hacker.