There’s no doubt that collecting and cashing in credit card rewards is a lucrative exercise. But as someone who’s flown around the world for free (often in first class)—and literally makes a living studying loyalty programs—I’ll admit that finding the best airline deals requires expertise not everyone has the time or interest to develop.
Fortunately, there are plenty of low-effort ways to earn money off your points—like the options below. While you’ll typically get a less-competitive rate of one cent per reward (compared to the chance to recoup two cents or more when redeeming for airfare), these options can provide immediate savings and are nice alternatives if your points are about to expire. They’re especially nice this time of year, if you’re looking to trim your holiday budget.
Don’t forget that you can often use points to cover travel expenses besides flying, too. Frequent flyer programs like United MileagePlus, American Airlines AAdvantage and Southwest Rapid Rewards also allow you to redeem miles for hotel stays or rental cars. Some flexible programs, like Citi ThankYou and Chase Ultimate Rewards, add cruises and tours to the list of eligible travel expenses as well.
And some rewards, like those earned by using the Capital One Venture and Barclaycard Arrival Plus cards, can be redeemed for credit card statement credits toward an even broader range of travel expenses, including train, bus and subway fares.
Of course, you might be most interested in padding your bank account (especially this time of year). Chase Ultimate Rewards and rewards earned by using the Discover it Miles card can be redeemed for one cent each. (So 50,000 points nets $500.) With Citi ThankYou Rewards, you can redeem points to pay off any loan, including a mortgage, car loan or student loan.
Most programs allow you to trade rewards for gift cards—a nice solution for holiday expenses and gifts. Check out your options by logging into your rewards account or through a third-party site, like Points.com.
You can often redeem rewards for merchandise either through a shopping portal you can access while logging into your account or directly through a major retailer. For example, when you link your AmEx Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards, you’ll have the option to pay with points when completing an order on Amazon.
Many hotel and airline reward programs are now offering “experience rewards,” like tickets to concerts and sports events or the opportunity to meet an athlete or celebrity—either at a fixed cost or through an auction. Just be sure to do the math before pulling the trigger. While it’s possible to find good deals, it’s not uncommon to recoup just half a penny per reward.