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Points, Miles & Credit Cards

The Beginner's Guide to Points and Miles

Kurt Adams

Kurt Adams

September 6, 2023

10 min read

Going has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Going and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses, and recommendations are the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed, or approved by any of these entities. Some of all of the card offers that appear on this page are from advertisers; compensation may affect how and where the cards appear on the site; and Going does not include all card companies are all available card offers.

Table of Contents

It can be overwhelming to start earning and redeeming credit card points and airline miles, especially when you’re starting from scratch. But everybody has to start somewhere, so here's what you need to know to get started in points and miles. 

Ready to travel? Let’s get going.

What are points and miles?

Points and miles are rewards currencies that can be earned and redeemed for a free flight, hotel stay, or other travel.

This guide will walk you through the common points and miles currencies and the best ways to earn more points and miles. Finally, we’ll explain the different ways you can redeem points.

What are credit card points?

Each credit card issuer earns its own type of points currency. They are:

Credit card issuerPoints currency
American ExpressMembership Rewards
Capital OneMiles
CitiThank You Points
ChaseUltimate Rewards
Wells FargoRewards Points

To earn a specific type of points, you usually need to hold an eligible, points-earning card with that specific issuer. To use these points for travel, you want to transfer them to an airline or hotel partner and then redeem them for a free flight or hotel stay with the partner. More on this below.

It’s important to note that you can earn multiple types of credit card points by having an American Express card and a Bilt card in your wallet, but you cannot transfer or combine credit card points across issuers.

There is one way you can have different types of credit card points work in collaboration with each other: For example, both Chase and Capital One have British Airways as a transfer partner.

Let’s say you’re looking for two roundtrip tickets on British Airways costing you a total of 120K Avois. 

  • You have 80K Chase points, which is close, but not enough.
  • You have an additional 40K Capital One Miles (their term for points). 
  • You could transfer both Chase points and Capital One Miles to British Airways miles (called Avios) to book your flight.

What are airline miles?

Each airline has its own reward currency, often known as frequent flyer miles. In the interest of clarity, we’ll refer to airline reward currencies as miles and credit card currencies as points. Most of the time, they are called miles, but some airlines call their rewards systems points.

Below are the rewards currencies for each of the major US airline carriers:

AirlineAirline miles
American AirlinesAAdvantage Miles
Alaska AirlinesAlaska Mileage Plan
Delta Air LinesDelta SkyMiles
JetBlue AirwaysTrue Blue points
Southwest AirlinesRapid Rewards points
United AirlinesUnited MileagePlus

When it comes to points and miles, the following are some important international airlines.

AirlineAirline milesUS partner
Air CanadaAeroplan milesUnited
British AirwaysAviosAmerican
Air FranceFlying BlueDelta
KLMFlying BlueDelta
Virgin AtlanticPointsDelta

What credit cards earn points and miles?

General-purpose travel credit cards are issued by banks and earn points that can be transferred to airlines or hotel partners. These points are often the most valuable because they are the most versatile form of reward currency.

American Express

The following credit cards earn American Express Membership Rewards points. You can use these points to transfer to Amex transfer partners:

Personal cards

Business cards


The following card earns Bilt Rewards. You can transfer its points to Bilt transfer partners.

Capital One

The following credit cards earn Capital One Miles (points). You can use these points with Capital One transfer partners:

Personal cards

Business cards


The following credit cards earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points, which you can use with Chase transfer partners:


The following cards earn Citi ThankYou points, which you can use with Citi transfer partners:

Wells Fargo

The following cards earn Wells Fargo Rewards points, which you can transfer to its partners:

  • card_name (annual_fees annual fee): bonus_miles_full
  • Wells Fargo Autograph Journey℠ Card ($95 annual fee): Earn 60,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 in purchases in the first 3 months - that’s $600 toward your next trip.

Airline cards

Airline credit cards earn airline miles. Unlike the cards listed above whose points can transfer to airlines or hotels, airline miles can only be used to book flights with that specific airline or its partners. Because the redemption options are more fixed, airline credit cards are better if you prefer to fly only one airline.

Airline credit cards can range from entry-level to ultra-premium options. Depending on its level, some possible benefits airline credit cards offer include:

How to earn points and miles

Travel credit cards

Hands down, the easiest way to earn points and miles is with credit cards. Travel credit cards often offer a shiny welcome bonus for spending a certain amount (usually $4,000 or up) within a few months after opening the card (often three to six months). A welcome offer can get you 50K-100K points or miles, depending on the specific card. This bonus alone could very well be enough points or miles to earn you a free roundtrip flight!

In addition to the welcome offer, travel credit cards allow you to earn bonus points on your everyday spending, such as groceries or dining out, internet and cell phone bills, and even your monthly rent. Picking a card that matches your spending habits means that you earn points and miles toward your next trip just by paying your bills.

Other ways to earn points and miles

While credit card spending is the easiest (and sometimes fastest) way to earn miles or points, there are other ways, too.

Flights or other travel purchases

If you sign up for a free loyalty membership with an airline or hotel, you’ll earn points or miles with that brand that you can put towards future travel.

In addition, some travel credit cards let you earn bonus points on flight purchases or other travel-related expenses. When you pay for a flight or hotel with this sort of card, you’ll earn additional points per dollar.

Shopping portals

Many airlines, credit card issuers, and even hotels have online shopping portals that allow you to earn additional points per dollar spent if you click through to the merchant’s site. The portal rewards you with additional airline miles or points in exchange for using the portal’s referral link.

For example, you’re looking to get a new pair of running sneakers from Nike. After seeing Nike on the shopping portal of your choice, you click their link to go to the Nike site and make your purchase as normal.

Dining rewards programs

Many major US airlines, hotel chains, and even Bilt Rewards have dining programs that let you earn more points when dining out. You sign up by linking your airline or hotel loyalty membership number and a credit card to the account. Then, when you eat at participating restaurants in the rewards program and pay with the card you enrolled, you’ll earn points or miles with that brand.

While you can enroll in the dining programs with multiple airlines or hotels, you cannot use the same card with more than one program at a time. You could enroll one card in American’s dining rewards and another card in Delta’s, but it also may be more strategic to enroll in one and focus your efforts there.

If you’re working toward earning the Southwest Companion Pass, you might want to target Southwest’s dining rewards program.

Other ways to earn points and miles through travel

  • Earn Marriott Bonvoy points through Uber: Then use those points toward a stay at Marriott property. Or, you can transfer Marriott Bonvoy points to an airline partner to top up for a flight redemption.
  • Earn points on Lyft rides: You can link your Lyft account to earn bonus miles or points with Delta SkyMiles, Alaska Mileage Plan, Hilton Honors points, or Bilt Rewards points. Choose the points currency you want to earn most of here. To maximize earning point and miles, you could select the same airline or brand that you’re also focusing earning dining rewards or shopping portal rewards with, too.
  • Rental car portals: Many airlines, hotels, and credit card issuers allow you to book a rental car through their own travel portal. This will often allow you to earn points and miles at a higher rate than if you booked directly through a car rental company, but do your research and compare prices before you do so. Also, be aware that if you need to make any changes or cancellations to your reservation, you’ll likely have to go through the travel portal first, adding an extra layer of bureaucracy.
  • Earn airline miles with rental car reservations: When you rent a car through a rental car company, you have the option to opt into earning airline miles or hotel points with your car reservation instead of earning loyalty points with the car company. Depending on the car rental company, this may be a flat number or airline miles per day or it may be miles per dollar spent. Just be aware that rental car companies may charge you a fee for opting to earn airline miles, so read the fine print first.
  • Earn airline miles on vacation rentals: If you link your Delta SkyMiles account with Airbnb, you can earn 1 mile per dollar on Airbnb bookings. Earn United MileagePlus miles through VRBO by booking through their portal.
  • Earn Delta SkyMiles on Starbucks purchases: For all the PSL lovers out there, Starbucks has a separate partnership with Delta that allows you to link accounts and earn SkyMiles with each Starbucks purchase.

How can I redeem points and miles?

Redeem for flights with airline transfer partners

Transferring your credit card points to airline miles and using those points-turned-miles to redeem for a free flight is often the best way to maximize points.

Banks and credit card issuers don’t always make the transfer process easy to follow, so we outline the steps in our guide to transferring credit card points. You’ll want to sign up for airline loyalty accounts ahead of time, link those to your credit card account, and then transfer the points you need for a redemption.

One word of caution: transferring credit card points to airline partners is a one-way, permanent transaction. Once you move some credit card points to an airline partner, you cannot transfer those airline miles to back to credit card points. You should only transfer the amount of credit card points you need to make a redemption.

Redeem for hotel stays with transfer partners

Another good option for your credit card points is to transfer them to hotel partners. With enough points, you’ll be able to redeem for a free night’s stay anywhere within the hotel chain’s network of properties. This could run from a modest room in a hotel off an interstate highway or a luxury beachfront villa resort.

Hilton and World of Hyatt waive resort fees with reservations booked with points, while Marriott does not.

Redeem with the bank’s travel portal

Nearly all credit card issuers have their own travel portal where you can book flights, hotel stays, and rental car reservations. When making the reservation through the travel portal, you have two options for payment:

  • Pay cash fares with your credit card: Depending on the card you use, this option may allow you to earn 5X or even 10X points per dollar spent.
  • Pay with points: Usually, the point cost for the travel purchase comes out to a fixed ratio of 1 point, equalling 1 cent. If you have specific cards, 1 point may equal 1.25 cents or 1.5 cents.

When does paying cash with your card make sense? 

If you have the Capital One Venture X card, which gives you a $300 annual travel credit toward purchases in the travel portal, paying for your purchase with that card would make sense because it would trigger the credit. After the credit, you’d effectively get a $300 statement credit toward whatever flight or hotel.

When does paying with points make sense?

In most cases, redeeming points in the travel portal is not going to be a good value redemption. You’ll most likely get a better redemption rate if you transfer your points to the airline or hotel partner.

The five points commandments  

Moses had 10. I have just five. 

Here are my five points commandments you should know:

1. Begin with the end in mind. 

If you’re just starting out with points and miles or if you’ve redeemed before but are eyeing your next card, ask yourself first what your travel goal is. 

Is it to fly cross-country for a family event? 
Planning a honeymoon to Jamaica
Dreaming of a trip to Athens?

All of these can be great ways to use points, but deciding on a destination helps you stay focused on your goal. Having a place in mind also helps you decide if you’re opening the right card. For example, if you want to fly business class to Asia, opening a hotel co-branded card is not going to get you too far. 

2. Never miss a welcome bonus. 

Most new credit cards come with a welcome bonus or welcome offer, which is a great way to accumulate the points you’ll need to redeem to reach your goal. 

Welcome offers are usually structured something like this: spend a certain amount of money (usually $4,000 or up) within a set timeframe (somewhere between 3 to 6 months) and you’ll get several thousand points. In order to earn this in time, you’ll want to reverse engineer your spending. 

Take a look at your existing bills and see what you can shift to your new card. Are you planning a large, one-time purchase, like a computer? Paying for that with a card (and then paying off the card in full before the bill is due) can help you efficiently earn your card’s welcome offer without extra spending. 

3. Your spending habits are your superpower. 

Welcome bonuses are sexy, but they’re a one-and-done thing. It’s your card’s bonus earning rates that you’re in a long-term relationship with, and will be the ways you continue to earn points long after the welcome offer. So, before you even sign up for a new card, take a hard look at if it offers bonus rates on specific spending categories. 

If you live in an area where you rely on public transit, a card that earns 3x bonus points on gas probably isn’t a good fit for you. But if you spend a lot on food and groceries, you’ll want a card that rewards your eating habits, like the American Express Gold Card.    

4. Don’t pay interest. 

The points you earn from travel credit cards can be valuable, but credit card interest can quickly cancel that out. If you can, pay off your card bill in full each month. 

5. Redeem with what’s best for your travel goals. 

I believe that the answer to what is a good redemption depends on you. This is a hill I will die on. Some folks say you want to look for redemptions equivalent to 2 cents per point or greater, and sure, that’s not a bad target, but ultimately, the best redemption is one that helps you reach your travel goals. 

Just don’t redeem your points for gift cards. You deserve better. 

Reminder: You’re allowed to take it slow.

The trick to getting better with points and miles is to empower yourself with knowledge and get inspired to travel. Set your own pace and explore what most excites you. As long as you keep it fun, you’ll get going in no time.

Going has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Going and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses, and recommendations are the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed, or approved by any of these entities. Some of all of the card offers that appear on this page are from advertisers; compensation may affect how and where the cards appear on the site; and Going does not include all card companies are all available card offers.

Kurt Adams

Kurt Adams


Published September 6, 2023

Last updated May 2, 2024

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