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Here Are the 6 Ways People Use Their Travel Points

Couple dressed for tropical weather in a hotel room with luggage looking out the window.

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Travel points are a popular way to cover travel expenses. When travel deal site Going surveyed users for The State of Travel in 2024, 88% said that they earn and redeem travel rewards.

One of the perks of top travel credit cards is that they give you plenty of ways to use your points. For its survey, Going asked its users how they redeem their rewards. Below, you’ll find the six ways people use their points with the percentage of respondents who chose each one. They could help you decide how to use your own travel points (and see one method you should definitely avoid).

1. Economy flights (58%)

Most people use travel cards so they can save on their usual travel costs or travel more often. Case in point, the most popular way to use travel points by a wide margin is on economy flights. The typical traveler isn’t draining their points on fancy business-class or first-class tickets. They just want to get to their destination at a lower cost.

Economy flights are a great way to do that. With many of the major airlines, economy flights start at 5,000 to 10,000 miles each way. The exact price depends on the flight, but you can often book round-trip domestic flights for 20,000 to 30,000 miles.

2. Hotels (11%)

Outside of flying, the other big travel expense is accommodations. So it makes sense that hotels are the second-most-popular way to use travel points. The best-case scenario is that you book your flight and hotel with travel rewards, which is as close as it gets to traveling for free with points.

The one downside with hotels is that you often need a large number of points to book a stay. That’s not an issue if you’re earning points using hotel credit cards.

But if you have a card with transferable points that you can use with multiple airlines and hotels, then a hotel may not be the right choice. For example, if you have a card that earns American Express points, you can often get more value transferring those points to airlines than hotels.

3. Premium economy flights (10%)

Premium economy is a nice middle ground between economy and business or first class. Seats are larger — on international flights, premium economy is often similar in size to domestic first class.

It costs more miles than economy, but isn’t nearly as expensive as business class. For example, with American Airlines, premium economy generally costs about twice as many miles as economy. Business class costs about three times as many miles as economy.

You won’t find premium economy seats on all routes. But when it’s available, it’s a good choice for added comfort at a reasonable cost.

4. Flight upgrades (7%)

As many frequent flyers know, it’s normally cheaper to upgrade a seat than to buy a ticket in premium economy or business class from the start. That’s true whether paying in cash or miles. There will need to be upgrade availability available. If so, upgrading can help you get a premium seat at a lower cost than usual.

Note that most airlines don’t let you use miles to upgrade award tickets. So if you bought your ticket with miles, you probably won’t be able to pay for an upgrade with miles. But if you bought your ticket with cash, you can typically upgrade with miles (or cash, if you prefer).

5. Business-class flights (6%)

People often rave about booking expensive business-class flights with points. It turns out these redemptions aren’t that common, likely for two reasons:

  • Award availability in business class is much more limited. Since there are far more economy seats to fill, you’re more likely to find tickets you can book with points there.
  • Business-class tickets cost much more, even with miles. You could end up paying three times as many miles as you would for economy, or more. Business-class award tickets also have more expensive taxes and fees.

That’s not to say business class is a bad way to use your points. It’s much more comfortable, and the travel experience is more enjoyable. It’s just a matter of whether the advantages of business class are worth spending more miles.

6. Cash back (4%)

Cash back is the least popular way to use travel points, which is good news. Unless you need the money, it doesn’t make sense to redeem your travel points for cash back.

You normally get much less value this way. With some credit cards, points are worth half as much (or less) when redeemed for cash back. For example, 50,000 points could be worth $500 to $1,500 if you use them for air travel, compared to $300 as cash back. If you want to earn cash back, you’re better off using one of the many quality cash back cards.

The best way to use your travel points

Using travel points has a bit of a learning curve. And when you’ve spent time earning points, you probably also want to make the most of them.

Take a little time to see how you can use your points. You can find your redemption options in the rewards section of your credit card account. The Ascent also has helpful guides covering the major credit card rewards programs:

Once you know your options, use your points to book the travel you want. Economy flights, premium economy, business class, and hotel stays are all valid ways to use your points. What’s important is that your points help you save on your travel bookings.

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The Ascent does not cover all offers on the market. Editorial content from The Ascent is separate from The Motley Fool editorial content and is created by a different analyst team.JPMorgan Chase is an advertising partner of The Ascent, a Motley Fool company. Citigroup is an advertising partner of The Ascent, a Motley Fool company. American Express is an advertising partner of The Ascent, a Motley Fool company. Lyle Daly has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has positions in and recommends JPMorgan Chase. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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