So what are you supposed to do with all these dumb points?

Ok. Here’s where the rubber meets the road, or some such cliché. You’ve got some credit card points, such as Amex Membership Rewards, or Chase Ultimate Rewards, or even those dodgy Citi ThankYou Points. Or you’ve got airline miles or hotel points. What do you do with them?

You fly somewhere or stay somewhere, that’s what. (Or you can cash them out or buy gift cards or some shit like that, but you don’t get much value that way.) I’m gonna write a few posts about how to do this, but here’s the overview:

If you have credit card points, you can:

  • Transfer your points to an airline’s frequent flyer program, and from there book an award ticket, meaning you don’t pay anything other than (sometimes trivial, sometimes awful) taxes and fees. Dates may be limited, and you won’t earn towards elite status on the airline. The flight will be on the airline you transferred the points to, or one of their airline partners. More on that later, but the gist is that you can fly on more airlines than you think you can. Alternatively, you can use frequent flyer miles to upgrade a paid ticket to a better cabin, though this is often not that great a deal.
  • Transfer your points to a hotel’s loyalty program, for free nights. These work pretty differently than airline programs — for example, you earn towards elite status even when using points. It’s not always the best use of credit card points compared to what you can get using them for airlines (though transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Hyatt isn’t too bad).
  • Pay with points, for an airline or hotel, using the online search engine provided by your credit card company. This can work out to your advantage when the cash price is low and the miles needed for an award ticket is high. Unlike an award ticket, you’ll earn towards status on airlines; and unlike free nights, you won’t earn toward status at a hotel.

If you have airline or hotel points rather than credit card points, then you’re already at step one or two above. But: If your hotel points are with Starwood or Marriott, then you also have the option of transferring them to a (a lot!) of airlines if you’d rather use them for that instead of a stay. (SPG/Marriott points are a pain in the ass to accumulate, but are very flexible.)

I’ll go over the above options in more detail in later posts. I know you can’t wait.

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