Best ways to use credit card points and miles if you’re not traveling

Best ways to use credit card points and miles if you’re not traveling

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  • If you have a stash of airline miles or credit card points, you can still redeem them even if you’re not traveling anytime soon.
  • Alternative redemption options include cashing them in for gift cards or donating to a charitable cause.
  • You could even be able to use credit card rewards to pay your bill or cover purchases you’ve already made.
  • Fortunately, cash-back credit cards usually offer statement credits, which are easy to use whether you travel or not.
  • See Business Insider’s list of the best rewards credit cards »

The World Tourism Industry estimates that, by the end of the year, international tourism will show a drop between 60% to 80% worldwide. Travel restrictions are still in place around the US and many people are avoiding travel to slow the spread of COVID-19 — and this pattern could continue well into next year and beyond.

What does that mean for your credit card rewards? If you have a cash-back credit card that lets you redeem your rewards for a statement credit or a check in the mail, probably not a lot, since you can continue to get money back as usual.

But if you have a stash of airline miles, hotel points, or credit card points you’re wondering how to handle, you have options too. Here are some of the best ways to redeem rewards for something other than travel.

Redeem rewards for statement credits to cover your credit card bill

First, check if you have the option to redeem your rewards for statement credits to cover part of your credit card bill. While cash-back credit cards have long offered statement credits as a redemption option, flexible rewards programs like Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, and Citi ThankYou Rewards also offer this option.

Note that you may or may not get 1 cent per point in value if you opt for statement credits with a flexible rewards program like the ones mentioned above. Chase Ultimate Rewards gives a flat 1 cent per point for statement credits or cash back, for example, but you’ll only get around 0.6 cents per point in value with American Express Membership Rewards if you choose this option.

The Citi ThankYou Rewards program, which lets you earn points in with cards like the Citi Premier℠ Card, lets you cash in your rewards for cash back at a rate of 1 cent per point, although you’ll have to redeem in increments of $50 or $100.

Pay yourself back with Chase

If you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve®, you can take advantage of a recently introduced feature that lets you get extra value from your Ultimate Rewards. Through Pay Yourself Back, you can cash in Chase points to cover dining, grocery, home-improvement, or charity purchases with your Sapphire card.

This option lets you save money on the types of purchases that are common during quarantine — not only that, but you get a 25% to 50% bonus in value from your points. That means you get 1.25 cents per point (rather than just 1 cent) with the Preferred, and 1.50 cents per point with the Reserve. 

See if you can use rewards to pay your minimum due

Due to the unprecedented impact of COVID-19, the Citi ThankYou Rewards program has also made it possible for consumers to use rewards to cover the minimum payment on their credit cards. This feature can be extremely helpful if you’ve lost your job or you’re lacking income right now due to the pandemic.

According to a Citi representative, cardholders can check if they are eligible by logging into their Citi Mobile App or online account and looking for COVID-19 relief options within the Rewards Details section. You can also see if you’re eligible by calling the servicing number found on the back of your card. This redemption option is available through November 7.

Check for gift card redemption opportunities 

Flexible rewards credit cards tend to offer gift cards as a redemption option, so it’s easy to turn Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, and Citi ThankYou points into gift cards for restaurants, retailers, and more. However, you may find that your favorite frequent flyer program or hotel rewards program also lets you cash in points for gift cards, just not necessarily in a direct manner.

For example, you can use the Points.com website to redeem your American AAdvantage miles for gift cards to places like The Home Depot, Macys, and Wayfair.

Hawaiian Miles let you redeem your rewards for gift cards directly, and so does the Marriott Bonvoy program. The Delta SkyMiles program also has a Delta SkyMiles Marketplace that normally lets you redeem your rewards for gift cards, but it’s currently “under construction” so make sure to check back.

Shop for stuff you want

By now, you have probably found that some redemption options have been removed from airline portals due to COVID-19. For example, Southwest Airlines recently paused its alternate redemption options due to the pandemic, so you cannot redeem these points for gift cards or merchandise like you normally could.

However, some airline programs, like Delta SkyMiles, still let you redeem your rewards for magazine subscriptions. Flexible programs also offer options that let you shop with rewards. The Chase Ultimate Rewards program, for example, lets you shop with rewards with retailers like Amazon.com and Apple. With Citi ThankYou Rewards, on the other hand, you can use your points to shop with 1-800 Flowers, Amazon.com, Best Buy, PayPal, and more.

Make a student loan or mortgage payment 

The Citi ThankYou Rewards program in particular lets you redeem your rewards for a variety of unique options, including mortgage payments and student loan payments. This means that, if you have a card like the Citi Prestige® Card but you don’t plan to travel this year, you can use your rewards to cover these important bills.

Citi lets you make mortgage payments in denominations of $25, $50, $75, $100, $250, $500, $750, and $1,000.

Student loan payments can be made in the same amounts using points, and both of these options let you get one cent per point in value.

Donate to a good cause

Finally, see if you can donate your points or miles to a good cause. The Citi ThankYou Program offers this option, and the same is true for Discover credit cards. You can even donate some types of airline miles to charity, including American AAdvantage miles, Delta SkyMiles, and United miles.

Just keep in mind that you have to choose from partner charities if you want to use miles for a charitable donation. With United’s MileagePlus Miles on a Mission program, for example, you can donate miles to partners like Conservation International, the American Red Cross, Make-a-Wish America, and more.

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