There are lots of ways to use travel points, but luxury bookings get the most attention. If you read much about travel credit cards, you’ll probably see stories about using points for expensive business-class airfare or five-star hotel stays. And it’s exciting to hear about how someone saved $5,000, $10,000, or more with travel points.
But as it turns out, redemptions like these aren’t all that common. Travel deal site Going surveyed travelers on how they use their points for its The State of Travel in 2024 study. The most popular option will probably surprise you.
The most popular ways to use points
It’s not luxury travel, but everyday economy flights that people pay for most often with points. Over half (58%) of travelers said they use their points for economy flights. Here’s the full list of options and the percentage of travelers who chose each one:
- Economy flights: 58%
- Hotels: 11%
- Premium economy flights: 10%
- Flight upgrades: 7%
- Business-class flights: 6%
- Cash back: 4%
- Haven’t used them yet: 3%
So if you’ve been wondering whether you’re the only person who doesn’t use their points for super expensive travel, rest assured that you’re not alone. Those types of redemptions get attention precisely because they’re far from the norm. Using 25,000 points for a $350 economy flight may not get covered much on travel blogs, but it’s how most travelers redeem their rewards.
Why economy flights can be a smart way to use travel rewards
It’s often said that points are worth more when you use them for more expensive travel. This is generally true. A $350 economy flight may be available for 25,000 points — a value of $0.014 per point. A $2,000 business-class ticket may cost 65,000 points — a value of $0.031 per point.
Except that assumes you value the business-class seat at $2,000. If you’d never pay that much for it, and you don’t care that much about flying business class, then it’s probably not the best use of your rewards. Because even though you’re technically getting more value, you’re still spending 40,000 more points.
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For travelers who are fine with flying economy, that’s often the best way to use points. You won’t need to spend nearly as many points per flight, which means you can travel much more. You could potentially book three economy flights for the same number of points it would take to book one business-class ticket.
Now, if you have a big trip planned where you’d like to book higher-end travel, then it’s a good idea to save points for that. For example, if you’re going on your honeymoon and want to fly business class, try to book that with points. This will likely save you more money overall.
How to make the most of your points
The key to using travel points is to learn what your redemption options are first, and the values you can expect to get with each one. Once you know that, you can figure out how to use your points and get a reasonable value from them.
Sometimes, this is straightforward. If you have an airline credit card, it earns miles in that airline’s frequent flyer program. You can use those miles to book flights. If you have a hotel credit card, it will work the same way, earning points in the hotel’s loyalty program.
Other credit cards give you more options. They have points you can transfer to airline and hotel partners, redeem at a fixed rate for travel, redeem for cash back, and potentially much more. You get options like these with credit cards in the following rewards programs:
You’ll usually get a good value for your points as long as you use them for travel. Economy flights, business class, premium economy, and hotels can all be worth it. The only redemption option to avoid is cash back, as travel points are worth much less this way.
Don’t feel like you always need to use your points for an expensive travel booking. If you want to book that anyway, then points can help you save money on it. But there’s nothing wrong with using points for budget travel. If your points are helping you save on travel, then they’re doing their job.
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