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Read enough first-person accounts of redeeming travel rewards, and it can be hard to escape the notion that "you're doing it wrong."
What, you don't keep detailed spreadsheets, agonize over maximizing every purchase, go on multiple mileage runs, or ditch work for a month and jet off — in business class, of course — to a five-star resort in Bali? Do u even churn, bro?
But even seasoned travel experts take “normal” trips much of the time. Yes, I stockpiled enough points for two jaunts across the Pacific in 2018 and had enough left over to fly to Italy the next year. But I also just cashed in the rest of my points from my Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card to cover the cost of two flights to Cleveland and a rug for my foyer.
However you decide to use your hard-earned points, they’re yours to spend in the way that works for you. And since they can expire or lose value over time, redeeming points right away on more mundane expenses can still be a pretty good use. Even if you don't squeeze every last drop of value out of them — but you do get to attend your high school reunion for free, or schlep to Minneapolis for your former roommate’s baby shower — then so be it.
Here are some options for cards offering flexible or high-value redemptions that make it easy to live your truth.
Points you can redeem for travel or cash back
The Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card, which I used for my own recent ho-hum redemptions, earns 2 points per $1 on travel and dining and 1.5 points per $1 everywhere else. You can redeem those points for travel, cash back in the form of a statement credit, and gift cards. (If you have a Bank of America® checking or savings account, you can get cash back as a direct deposit.) Crucially, though, your points are always worth 1 cent each no matter what redemption you choose. The annual fee is $95, but in exchange you get some sweet traveler-friendly benefits like up to $100 in statement credits to cover the cost of TSA Precheck or Global Entry (or NEXUS), plus another $100 worth of statement credit you can apply toward airline purchases including seat upgrades and baggage fees. There's also a nice sign-up bonus: Receive 50,000 online bonus points - a $500 value - after you make at least $3,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening..
Effortless travel redemptions
The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card earns 2 miles per $1 on all purchases. You'll also earn 5 miles per $1 on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel. It isn't a great cash-back option — points are worth a penny each when redeemed for travel, but only half that much when you redeem for cash. But trading in your miles is so easy that it can still be a great option for offsetting even small travel-related charges. You can request a statement credit toward travel expenses including airfare, hotel stays, rental cars, limos, buses, cruises, cabs, travel agents and timeshares. The annual fee is $95, but a statement credit of up to $100 for TSA Precheck or Global Entry helps soften the blow. The sign-up bonus is as follows: Enjoy a one-time bonus of 75,000 miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel.
Points that will get you further, no spreadsheets required
Chase’s sparkly pair of Sapphire cards are so popular in part because redeeming points for travel is so lucrative. Both cards value points at more than the typical penny apiece when redeemed for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards® portal. You can also transfer points at a 1:1 value to more than a dozen hotel and airline partners. These options allow you to maximize (and — dare I say it — hack?), even if you’re buying tickets to Des Moines instead of Dubrovnik.
The high-end Chase Sapphire Reserve® offers this juicy sign-up bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. (That’s a value of 1.5 cents per point — about as high as you’ll get.) Additionally, you’ll earn 10 points per dollar spent on Chase Dining purchases through Ultimate Rewards®; 10 points per dollar spent on hotel stays and car rentals purchased through Ultimate Rewards®; 5 points per dollar spent on air travel purchased through Ultimate Rewards®; 3 points per dollar spent on travel and dining not booked with Chase; and 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases. The annual fee is a hefty $550, but this card comes loaded with extras that offset that cost, like a $300 annual travel statement credit and a credit toward the TSA Precheck or Global Entry application fee.
If that annual fee is beyond your budget, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card costs $95 a year and offers this sign-up bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. (Points are worth a still-impressive 1.25 cents each.) You’ll rack up 5 points per $1 spent on all travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®; 3 points per $1 spent on dining (including eligible delivery services and takeout); 3 points per $1 spent on select streaming services; 3 points per $1 spent on online grocery purchases (not including Target, Walmart and wholesale clubs); 2 points per $1 spent on travel not purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®; and 1 point per $1 spent on other purchases.
» MORE: What is the 'Chase Trifecta'?