Not long ago, comparing rewards cards was pretty straight forward. Most credit card offers gave cardholders one point, or one mile, for each dollar spent and charged to the card. Credit card rewards programs sometimes offered bonuses for earning miles either for using the cards during specific periods of time or when shopping at certain types of stores. Often, these special offers came in the form of “double miles” or even “triple points”.
These days, such offers are non-expiring specials on some credit cards. Other cards, such as some Capital One rewards cards offer a base miles earning rate other than 1 mile per dollar. My Capital One No Hassle Miles credit card, for example, has a base miles earning rate of 1.25 miles for each dollar spent, with two times miles per dollar spent when the card is used in certain types of retail shopping establishments.
Of course, comparing which card offers the highest miles earned per dollar spent is useless without also comparing what rewards those miles or points can be redeemed for.
In order to determine which rewards cards are good values and which ones are below average (or worse) it pays to keep in mind that the “average” cash back credit card offers 1 percent cash back on all standard purchases. That works out to $1 cash back for every $100 spent. If the rewards program offers a value equal to or greater than 1% of dollars spent, the program can be considered average. Bigger rewards equal bigger value.
Redeem Credit Card Miles for Free Flights
Redeeming credit card points for free flights is a long-standing tradition. With both credit card companies and airlines tightening their belts, however, there have been big changes in how to redeem points for free airline tickets.
Many credit card rewards programs require you to book your tickets through them or a designated company. Doing so allows the company to collect fees from the airlines like a travel agent does, allowing them to offset the cost of rewards tickets.
Most credit card customers were savvy enough to use their miles and points only on more expensive flights, which is why most rewards programs have eliminated tiers of rewards based on miles. Instead, many programs charge a certain number of miles for a certain price range of airline ticket.
Others, like the Citibank rewards program cost a certain amount of points to redeem for the exact cost of the ticket. A recent check showed it cost 15,700 points to to get a free airline ticket that cost $149.40 directly on Expedia for the same flights.
Redeem Credit Card Points for Gift Cards
One great way to redeem points without traveling is to get free gift cards for gifts or to merchants that you use on a regular basis. A few years ago, we furnished our baby bedroom with free Babies R Us gift cards we got be redeeming 10,000 miles for every $100 gift certificate, the equivalent of 1 percent cash back.
There are still good deals to be found redeeming credit card miles for free gift cards, but you have to do the math and keep a close eye on the details within each program.
For example, the Capital One rewards catalog shows that a $100 Babies R Us gift card requires redeeming 15,500 miles. That is a lot more than the 10,000 miles it took a few years ago. However, with a base mileage earning rate of 1.25 miles per dollar, that $100 gift card works out to $12,400 of spending. That’s still worse than 1 percent, but not as bad as it looks at first glance.
Choosing the Right Rewards Card
The best rewards programs are usually those that offer rewards at approximately a 1 percent redemption rate that have significant bonus earnings where you shop regularly. For example, if you shop a lot at XYZ Stores and they have a Miles Supreme Plus Visa card where you earn 1 point per dollar spent but earn 2 points (or more) for every dollar spent at XYZ stores, those bonus miles will add up and make your point redemptions more valuable than ever.
Whatever credit card rewards program you go with, always read everything you receive about the program and monitor both the earnings rate and the cost of redeeming rewards, as these can change frequently. What starts out as a good deal, may end up becoming less valuable with one quick little notice that the company hopes you don’t end up reading or understanding.
With a little persistence and research, you can find the right rewards card for you and your family.