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How to redeem credit card miles on travel and airline credit cards

Redeem your airline miles online or on the phone

If your credit card provides airline miles in their reward program, log in to your account to check your current miles balance. Most credit cards that offer airline miles will direct you to their airline partner's site to complete the booking.

If you have a credit card co-branded with an airline, the airline will often allow you to redeem your miles directly on their page.

You can also call your airline to use your miles to book your flight over the phone.

How many credit card miles do you need before you redeem?

While the shortest flights will cost you about 10,000 miles for a free ticket, you can redeem any amount of miles you have in your account to find reduced fares on participating airlines. If your credit card is not partnered with a specific airline, you can shop around to find a flight that meets your needs and check to see if a miles transfer is available.

Can you redeem credit card miles for any flight?

Unfortunately, many airlines place restrictions on the number of award flights they provide on any given plane. Booking in advance is always your best bet—and reading the fine print on your rewards card terms and conditions can help you uncover blackout dates that may limit your ability to book the flight you want.

When should you redeem your credit card miles?

To get the most value out of your credit card miles, redeem them for the seats with the highest prices. International flights and first-class seats are the best ways to get big value on your miles redemption, so skip the puddle-jumper redemption and aim sky high to get the biggest bang for your buck. Most credit card miles programs do not expire after any time period, but check with your card issuer to make sure you can continue to add miles to your account and build towards a big trip.

How much are credit card miles worth?

While the actual value of each credit card mile is not shared by the credit card industry, some industry experts put the value of a reward mile between half a cent and two cents, so 10,000 miles can be worth anywhere from $50 to $200, depending on the card and how you use your redemption. This value range is not set in stone, but it's a good range to follow when figuring out the best way to earn big on your next redemption.

Can you transfer your credit card miles to someone else?

If you find that blackout dates or small mileage balances are preventing you from using your miles, you may be able to transfer your miles to a friend or donate your miles to a charity. Either option should be available through your credit card's miles redemption page, although there are sometimes limits on how many miles you can transfer and how often you can perform transfers within a given time period.

Other ways to redeem your miles

If a discounted flight isn't enticing enough, you can often convert your miles into other rewards options, including cash back, gift cards, and other gifts. However, as some credit card miles are valued between a half cent and two cents per mile, you should work out the math to make sure your conversion makes sense. Converting miles into cash can often reduce the payout to a half-cent or less per mile: so be sure that you count out the value of your rewards before you convert and redeem them.

How to get the most out of your credit card miles redemptions

If you are a frequent flier that flies more than ten times a year, the annual fees of a typical airline credit card may be worth it: even before you include additional benefits that some cards may provide like bonus miles when you book with the airline, preferred boarding, a credit towards TSA PreCheck, and free or discounted checked bags. When you are loyal to one airline, picking up a branded credit card is a no-brainer, even if there is a hefty annual fee to join the program.

If you don't travel as often but would love to earn travel rewards, you can find credit cards that cater to spenders who want to build up miles for flights or other travel rewards. For lighter annual fees, consider a more generic travel rewards card when your air travel is infrequent.

How credit card reward programs can earn you airline miles

Every time a customer uses a credit card, the card issuer charges the merchant a nominal fee. To encourage customers to use their plastic when they spend, credit card issuers will take a portion of that fee and direct it back to the customer in the form of reward points.

Credit card rewards come in various forms, depending on the credit card you use. Some credit cards offer cash back while others offer discounts on flights or hotel stays or allow redemptions for free flights or hotel stays, depending on your amount of reward points. While the reward points you earn are usually tied directly to the amount of money you spend on the credit card, many credit cards allow you to earn bonus reward points for spending in certain categories (like gas, groceries, restaurants, or travel), which can double, triple, or quadruple your points as you spend your credit on these types of expenses.

Some credit cards are co-branded with airlines and offer rewards points in the form of miles. Typically, these co-branded airline credit cards will offer bonus miles when you use your credit card to purchase flights on that airline — but they may also reward you with miles for other non-travel purchases. As you accumulate credit card miles, you can put those miles towards your next flight: this can earn you a free flight or a discounted flight, depending on where you are traveling and how many miles you have in your account.