Don’t Swap Gift Cards for United-Continental Miles - TravelNerd

Don’t Swap Gift Cards for United-Continental Miles


United-Continental Airlines recently rolled out a gift card exchange program that allows MileagePlus members to trade unwanted gift cards for frequent flyer miles. While novel, the transfer program is far from ideal. Better gift card exchange options exist. To receive the greatest value for your gift card, steer clear of the MileagePlus gift card exchange and check out more favorable alternatives.

What’s the problem?

Simply enough, United-Continental doesn’t offer a competitive exchange rate. Unfortunately, with the program being brand spankin’ new and failing to disclose rates to non-MileagePlus members, exchange rate data is limited. But Darren Booth of the Frequently Flying blog ran an experiment with a $25 Target gift card. Trading it through MileagePlus, Darren received 670 miles, which works out to 26.8 miles per dollar. Each mile is worth 1-2 cents apiece, depending on how you redeem. That means each gift card dollar translates to 27-54 cents. For a $25 Target gift card, United-Continental will award a sum of miles worth $6.75-$13.50 (trending toward the lower estimate). Ouch.

What are the alternatives?

Rather than throwing your gift cards at flyer miles, we recommend trading for cash. Not only will you get a better value, but you’re not locked into redeeming strictly for MileagePlus options. A number of gift card exchange websites will be more than happy to buy your cards. Here’s a comparison of the top gift card exchange sites and how their Target exchange rates compete against MileagePlus.

 Website  Target Exchange Rate  Reward for $25 Target Gift Card
Plastic Jungle up to 96.6% $24.15
Cardpool 92% $23.00
 Monster Gift Card 88% $22.00 91% $22.75
Card Cash 91% $22.75
Gift Card Rescue 85% $21.25
MileagePlus 24-54% $6.75-$13.50


As you can see, Target gift cards are eligible for rewards up to 69% larger through a gift card exchange site. Once you cash your check, you can put the money toward airfare, or, if you change your mind, you can use it for anything your heart desires.

Again, we don’t, at this point, have access to MileagePlus exchange rates for other gift cards trade-ins. But if a Target card is purchased for a mere 670 miles, we can venture a guess other rates will be comparably unfavorable. We’ll give them credit: United-Continental came up with a laudable idea with potential to be a real boon for frequent flyers. But, as with most first attempts, the program isn’t exactly flawless. Until better gift-card-for-miles programs begin to sprout, keep cash your king and stick to popular exchange sites.

  • Dennis

    Susan is absolutely correct. You cannot apply the miles you have to a travel expense unless you can cover the whole transaction. I just had a long discussion with Customer Service in the Capital One Rewards center. They do not allow partial credits. That’s certainly not the way the commercials and printed brochures lead you to believe. Sounds like a “hassle” to me.

    • phonebanshee

      In practice, it turns out not to matter. You’ll have plenty of smaller transactions that they consider “travel” that aren’t hotel and flights. Car2go, taxi, some public transit (Clipper in the Bay Area), car rentals, etc.

  • Tom Wyrick

    For what it’s worth, I have a Capital One rewards membership. and when I look at all the options? I think you get a better deal accepting one of the gift cards than asking for cash (a check mailed to you in 2-3 weeks). For example, it costs 7,750 miles to buy a $50 gift card (for such places as or Shell gas stations), but the same 7,750 miles converts to only a $38.75 check.

  • bill

    I rather “guessed” that “miles” might be involved with redeeming travel miles, and was surprised to find out the “miles” card is merely and ONLY a cashback card with a lot of conditions called “hassle free”, when redeeming is anything but. Where has this “hassle free” language come from with Capital One? I have to settle for 6/10 of 1% cashback for simple redemption verses my other cards which are “hassle free” 1% cashback cards…

  • brycenesbittt

    A $10 Target GiftCard is now 2,000 miles. And travel purchases are on a bucket system that resulted in about a half cent per point. Finding nothing worth redeeming, I tried to donate, but apparently need to set up a different giving account (can you say “hassle”) to do so. The information above is almost completely wrong.

  • brycenesbittt

    The “no hassle” example above is wrong. If you have a $109 purchase you need to redeem at the 0-$150 level for 15,000 points.

    • NerdWallet

      Hi there, if you redeem for travel it should be a 1 cent to 1 point ratio, so you can use 10,900 miles to wipe out $109 of travel.

      • brycenesbittt

        Incorrect. I’m offered 15,000 miles for $109 travel expense. Non-travel expenses are worse. I can get you a screenshot from the members only area.

  • Mike Driehuis

    Use 1 ticket to pay for your purchase. I had a trip $1,182.38 and paid with 118,238 Miles .
    If I sued 10 tickets, it would cost me 150,000 miles.

    • Chari Baldwin

      Hi there,
      Did it work out when you used one ticket on the capital one website because I’m thinking about doing the same thing. Chari

  • Chris Timmer

    Here’s the table. Much better than cash rewards. Just need to have an expense near the top of the range to get the best value.

    Miles Needed

    For Travel That Costs…

    Up to $150 15,000 miles
    $150.01 – $350 35,000 miles
    $350.01 – $600 60,000 miles

  • Shlomo Boukai

    One thing I want to add is that it looks like the old program still applies to the No Hassle Miles earned through just a Capital One bank account with no credit card. On top of that, in addition to not being able use your points on past travel purchases, for travel rewards, you can only use your points on their version of Sadly, for those trying to earn points only through a bank account with no credit card, this looks like the best option as it looks like Citi Thank You Points are worse, at least for travel.

  • Pat

    I had 18640 points on my cap one card–I could only redeem it for an account credit of $93.20–effectively 1/2% of the points. On my visa card I had 21,411 points and got an account credit of $214.11–or 1%. So, I plan to use my Visa, not my Capital one.

    • Rick

      I have a VISA Signature – Capital One, and just noticed that same math. Googled it and ended up here. It is effectively 1 % cash back, although looks like 2% if I choose to redeem by means of travel, but the website is down, so I can’t verify. In any case, it’s not the 2% advertised.

      Which VISA are you referring to that has 2% cash back that is not capital one? Or do you mean a Visa website and not the Capital one website?

    • Sam

      You get 2 points per dollar with Capital One, whereas your other card is probably 1 point per dollar. That means that you’re getting 1% cash back when you choose a non-travel statement credit — it has to cut your point value in half because each dollar you spent gave you double the points.

  • MF

    I was hoping you might be able to see the redemption rate to use the miles to purchase gift cards. The above article states there are Target gift cards, but I believe it’s quite old. Are Target or Walmart or Amazon gift cards available for purchase using mile, and if so, what is the redemption rate? I can’t, for the life of me, find something dated as current that shows the rewards.

    I appreciate your time and help!

  • Peter Hsu

    I actually just got off the phone with a repetitiveness and I was told that for new customers, you have to redeem in buckets again. Like the old program.

    I am sad to say this article is outdated.

  • Ahmed

    Great comment! thanks!

  • Kim

    Your comment was very informative. Thank you. I do have one question so I can understand. Prior to getting the Venture card, we had another card that earned us specific airline points. Can I book my travel on that airlines website and use the points I have with them and then the remainder of the cost pay with my Venture card and then turn around and use Purchase Eraser for the credit back?

  • QV

    Unless Capital One allows transferring their points 1:1 to airlines, the most you get is 1 penny per point. This is the worst travel reward credit card to have.

    • NerdWallet

      Hi @disqus_FF1F63ygGp:disqus – You’re right that No Hassle Miles can’t be transferred to airline frequent flyer programs – for some travelers, that might be a deal-breaker. But for people looking for a flexible, easy-to-use travel rewards program, the Nerds think it has a lot of value. It’s all about picking the card that’s right for you!

  • Donovan Nebreklievski

    Used to be able to purchase merchandise,they took that away.

  • Ray Berube

    Capital One will NOT take back the miles with purchase eraser . I always purchase the ticket & then redeem with purchase eraser . It’s a no brainer ! Pay the amount for the ticket …redeem the exact miles & still keep all your Double points ! Great Program

  • Shahzad Latif

    Bottom line is they don’t allow you to transfer miles to partners which apparently don’t exist. I wish the author had mentioned that upfront

  • jadera

    it seems that Capital one has changed the redeeming ratio. I just noticed that for $1 of purchases I need 200 points/miles. couple months ago that same $1 required 100 miles. Not cool to say the least and is making me pretty upset that they basically halved the rewards without even saying notifying us. So, you might think about other cards out there that don’t keep switching all the good stuff as soon as they got enough new customers – the month I signed up, they killed no fees on international transactions :((

  • NerdWallet

    Hi jadera,

    Thanks for your comment. Care to point us to the information you cite?
    To our knowledge, Capital One No Hassle Miles still return a $1 value for every 100 miles you redeem.

  • Clint Schauff

    jadera is correct. Today I logged into their site to redeem 100,000 miles for cash and it said those 100,000 miles are worth $500.00.

  • NerdWallet

    Hi Clint,

    I think the trouble is in redeeming No Hassle Miles for cash – the redemption value for cash has always been less than one cent per mile, unfortunately; gift cards and travel get you full value. Capital One confirms that there have been no changes to their rewards program recently, and that you can still get full value for travel/gift cards.

    The Nerds

  • phonebanshee

    Also, redeeming for travel can be retroactive; you don’t need to buy from the site. Just log in later, pick the travel expenses, and pay for them with points. (We ended up not doing that; some of the gift cards are better deals, if you already shop at the merchants.) The catch (and it’s not a big one) is that you can’t do partial redemptions; you need enough points to cover the entire cost.

  • Michael

    The reward ratio has definitely changed. .005 for good gift cards. Travel is .0064.

  • justthebest

    For my Cap One accounts (I have 2), if I charge the hotel or airline ticket on the card, I can wipe out the charge (get full credit) on the 1 cent/point system described in this piece. I’ve done in many times, with no problems at all. E.g., a $359 hotel bill–I ask them to please take if off the bill and use 35,900 of my points.

  • phonebanshee

    I just tried it and the travel purchase eraser is definitely one cent / mile as of 2 May 2014. ($50 credit cost me 5000 miles). That’s slightly misleading, since $1 spend == 2 miles, so if you have purchases that they consider “travel”, it’s trivial to use this card as identical to a 2% cash back (ok, there’s the overhead of going to the web site every few months and pushing a couple buttons.) The gift cards seem to all be the same as the travel eraser, so they’re not worth bothering with lately.

  • Dan

    Yes, get the gift cards, DO NOT bother booking travel. I just found out that a trip I cancelled in May, using 105,000 points will now cost me an additional $1200 if I want to rebook the tickets!!! That is NUTS. A rountrip today on Orbitz is $208. So $624 for three tickets direct through Orbitz or $1200 plus 105,000 miles if I want Capital one to book it. Either way the 105,000 miles are gone.Even the Capital ones reward travel lady said it seemed crazy. I also had 95,000 miles worth of hotels booked in May that has vaporized. I just got my new AA advantage card in the mail from Citibank and it is in my wallet. I am just going to take the rest of my miles in gift cards. Jeez!

  • properthwacking

    Trips purchased using cash are also nonrefundable. I don’t know what you were thinking, Dan.

  • Jimnation

    This card is perfect for the business owner fruggle traveler who doesn’t have any loyalty to a specific airline or hotel chain and uses discount travel websites. There are better options if you want perks like free checked bags or want to fly first or business class only (much better) Also there are better cards for cash back or gift cards since you can get 1-3% back using categories i.e. Freedom card imo for the average consumer cash back card is the way to go but for business owner who have reoccurring charges from certain vendors that are likely to be in the 1% category for cash back the Sparks miles is a great option.