This series of articles about credit cards, points and miles, and budgeting for travel is brought to you in partnership with The Points Guy.

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Once you’ve figured out how to get started with points and miles, it’s time to put those tips into practice and save money on travel. Points and miles can provide savvy travelers with a much-needed solution to the problem of rising travel costs. Even with a sizable travel budget, points can help you upgrade your travel experience. 

If you’re new to points and miles, there is a lot of information out there, and it’s challenging to sift through. While it’s worth taking the time to understand the ins and outs of loyalty programs, doing so takes time. We've compiled the basics to help you figure it out faster.

Whether you’re a budget traveler looking to keep your out-of-pocket costs low or you want to experience luxury experiences for less, points and miles can be excellent tools. Here are nine ways to use points and miles to save money on travel:

How to make a travel budget using points and miles

The peak travel season in Nantes, France
The peak travel season in Nantes, France © RossHelen / Shutterstock

1. Use your points for peak-season travel  

One of the best ways to save money with points and miles is by redeeming them during the peak travel season. For example, Europe experiences peak travel demand during the summer months. Whether you’re looking to visit Paris or stroll through Old Town Istanbul, you can expect to pay exorbitant prices for everything from airfare to hotels and transportation. Peak season travel is an ideal time to save money using points and miles.

Booking well in advance is the key to redeeming points for peak-season travel. This is especially true for airfare since most airlines release award space up to a year in advance. Peak season flights get booked up quickly. You’ll want to make your reservations as far in advance as possible. Doing it right when the award calendar opens up provides you with the best point deals.

Many airlines and hotels have limited award inventory and even impose dynamic pricing, meaning award rates increase substantially alongside travel demand. The sooner you book, the better your chances of avoiding exorbitant rates. 

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The off-season quiet of Madrid's Malasana district
The off-season quiet of Madrid's Malasana district © Getty

Redeem statement credits for off-peak travel

Going in the off-season is a great way to avoid crowds and get cheaper travel deals. Europe is much more affordable in the fall while traveling to parts of Asia is more affordable in summer. For example, it’s common to see fares to Italy in October for around $500 round-trip. Most airlines require 43,000-60,000 miles for that same flight. 

At this rate, you’re better off saving your airline miles for a higher-value redemption and using transferable currencies for flight bookings instead. You’ll redeem fewer points and earn frequent flyer miles through the airline’s loyalty program. 

Most transferable currencies allow you to redeem points toward travel purchases at a rate of about 1 cent per point. Chase Ultimate Rewards offers up to 1.5 cents per point to Chase Sapphire Reserve® cardholders and 1.25 cents per point if you have a Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. So, a $500 flight would cost about 33,333 Ultimate Rewards points for Sapphire Reserve cardholders or 40,000 points for Sapphire Preferred cardholders. That’s much cheaper than transferring those same points to an airline (i.e., United or Flying Blue) and redeeming them through those programs. 

It’s always best to shop around before booking travel – regardless of whether you’re redeeming points or booking cash. Comparing cash and points rates can help you save on travel and stretch your budget further. 

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Use points to upgrade your flight

Upgrading your travel experience is the greatest benefit of points and miles. But it takes a lot of miles to save up enough for a business or first-class flight. Luckily, there’s a shortcut that can save you money if you usually pay for premium cabins: Using miles to upgrade your flight. While there are certain restrictions around the type of fares you can do this with, it can still work out much cheaper than paying for business and first-class tickets.

Alaska Airlines offers first-class upgrades starting at just 15,000 miles each way, while American Airlines allows upgrades on international flights for 25,000 miles each way. If you can snag a reasonable paid fare on British Airways, you can redeem Avios for the difference between the existing cabin and the one you want to upgrade to. 

Sometimes, airlines allow you to upgrade your ticket with a cash co-pay. For example, I often fly Turkish Airlines between San Francisco and Istanbul. In the off-season, I’ve been offered an upgrade from economy to business class for just $500 one-way. 

Cash upgrades are an excellent opportunity to use your Capital One Venture Rewards miles. Simply charge the upgrade fee to your Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card or Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card and redeem miles towards the charge. In the case of the $500 upgrade, it would take 50,000 miles. If you were going to buy a business class ticket anyway, using miles to upgrade an economy class fare is a great way to save money on travel.

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The first class suite of ANA, All Nippon Airways
The first class suite of ANA, All Nippon Airways © Chris Dong / The Points Guy

Use miles for first and business-class tickets

Premium travel is the best way to use your points and miles for maximum value. Most people can’t afford a $5000+ ticket in business class, but points and miles make these seats more attainable. Whether you have your eye on Qatar Airways’ luxurious Qsuites or want to experience Lufthansa’s first-class service to Europe, you can get there for under 90,000 miles each way. The best part? Most of these points can be earned from just 1-2 credit card welcome bonuses. 

If experiencing first or business-class travel is on your bucket list, here are some awards worth splurging out on:

  • Singapore Suites from New York-JFK to Frankfurt: 86,000 Singapore KrisFlyer miles one way. Singapore KrisFlyer miles transfer from all the major rewards programs, including American Express Membership Rewards, Capital One miles, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards. 
  • Qatar Airways Qsuites business class from the US to Doha: 70,000 American AAdvantage miles one-way.
  • All Nippon Airways The Room business class from the US to Japan: From 75,000 ANA miles round-trip. You can transfer 75,000 American Express Membership Rewards points directly to ANA Mileage Club.

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Book a night with miles at the stunning Conrad Koh Samui in Thailand
Book a night with miles at the stunning Conrad Koh Samui in Thailand © The Points Guy

Book luxury hotels

Similar to first and business-class travel, booking luxury hotels with points is a great way to save money. Even if you’re usually a budget traveler, you can maximize the value of your points by redeeming them for upscale hotels. Popular luxury destinations for point travelers include Hawaii, the Maldives, Paris and Bora Bora. Depending on the time of year, the luxury hotels at these destinations can cost well over $1000 per night.

For example, the Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort is a luxury Hyatt resort in Maui that costs over $1,200 per night in the peak summer months. Redeeming 45,000 Hyatt points during peak pricing is a great alternative, getting you over 2.7 cents per point. The best part? Hyatt waives resort fees on award redemptions, saving you over $50 per night. 

You can save even more points by booking consecutive nights with IHG One, Hilton Honors and Marriott Bonvoy. IHG One offers the fourth night free to those with an IHG One Rewards Premier Credit Card, IHG One Rewards Traveler Credit Card and IHG One  Rewards Premier Business Credit Card

Marriott Bonvoy offers the fifth night free to all Bonvoy members who book at least five consecutive nights, while Hilton reserves this benefit for Silver members or above. You can earn Silver status automatically by having the no-annual-fee Hilton Honors American Express Card*. 

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Book all-inclusive hotels

All-inclusive hotels are great for travelers who don’t want to be nickel-and-dimed for every hotel expense. You pay a flat rate that includes nearly everything: The room, meals and select entertainment. While all-inclusive hotels provide convenience for many guests, they’re not always the cheapest option when all is said and done. Nightly rates often exceed regular hotels, even when factoring in meals. Still, travelers flock to these resorts for a stress-free vacation.

You can save a lot of money on all-inclusive hotels by booking them with points. Most hotel chains have all-inclusive hotels you can book, with rates as low as 12,000 points per night. For example, the family-friendly Hyatt Ziva Cancun has standard rates of over $600 on peak summer dates. The same hotel can be booked for 35,000 Hyatt points or less per night. On a week-long vacation, that amounts to $4,200 in savings. 

Booking an all-inclusive hotel is a great way to save money without opting for a lower-caliber property or foregoing the all-inclusive experience. Hyatt points are also easy to earn, thanks to transfer partnerships with Chase Ultimate Rewards and Bilt Rewards.

If you have points saved up with your Chase Sapphire Preferred, Sapphire Reserve, Ink Plus or Bilt Mastercard, you can transfer them to Hyatt at a 1:1 ratio. Alternatively, you can earn Hyatt points with the World of Hyatt Credit Card or World of Hyatt Business Credit Card.

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Cruise ship passengers get a close-up view of Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska
Cruise ship passengers get a close-up view of Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska © lembi / Shutterstock

Redeem your points for a cruise 

Cruises are popular thanks to their convenience and all-inclusive pricing. There are different cruises for travelers seeking adventure, relaxation and family fun. Granted, cruises charge extra for drinks, WiFi, premium dining and off-site activities. However, you can still get value from cruising because they allow you to visit multiple destinations on a single cruise. Best of all, you can save money by booking most cruises with points. There are different ways to do this, depending on the points you have:

Take note of transferable rewards

Booking a cruise with transferrable rewards is generally the best value proposition. Points are worth up to 1.5 cents each, depending on the program. The other advantage is that you can enter your cruise loyalty number and potentially earn additional rewards and benefits. The booking form has a space for you to provide your loyalty number. Whether you’ll earn points and perks will depend on the cruise line.

Chase Ultimate Rewards offers the highest redemption rate to Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholders (1.5 cents per point), while Chase Sapphire Preferred cardholders qualify for 1.25 cents per point. 

  • Chase Ultimate Rewards – 1.25-1.5 cents 
  • Capital One miles – 1 cent
  • Citi ThankYou Rewards – 1 cent
  • American Express Membership Rewards – 0.7 cents

While Capital One has a lower redemption rate at 1 cent per point, you have more flexibility in which booking platform you use. Rather than being restricted to the Capital One booking portal, you can book any cruise through any travel site and redeem your miles as a statement credit after the purchase posts. This provides added flexibility, and you’ll still earn 2 miles per dollar spent. 

American Express Membership Rewards has the lowest redemption rate for cruises, at 0.7 cents per point. You can easily double this value by transferring your American Express points to an airline for flight bookings instead. That being said, The Platinum Card® from American Express* cardholders get extra perks for booking cruises through the Cruise Privileges program. Benefits include additional shipboard credits, bonus points and added freebies that vary by cruise line. So even though you’re getting less value for your points, the extra perks could be worthwhile. 

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A JetBlue Airbus A321neo at New York's JFK airport
A JetBlue Airbus A321neo at New York's JFK airport © Zach Griff / The Points Guy

Airline miles

Nearly every major loyalty program allows you to redeem miles for cruise bookings. The rates vary by cruise and airline, but you can typically get around 1.2 cents per mile. This is significantly less than the value you can get from redeeming miles for flights (especially in premium cabins). However, not everyone likes to fly, and cruises include lodging, standard dining and many activities. Plus, the point of rewards is to save money on travel. If you can do that and feel good about how you’ve redeemed your points, more power to you. You can book cruises with airline miles from American, Delta and United. 

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Mango House Seychelles, LXR Hotels & Resorts
Use your Hilton Honors points for a swim with a view at the Mango House Seychelles, LXR Hotels & Resorts © Mango House Seychelles, LXR Hotels & Resorts

Hotel points redeemed for cruises

You might be surprised that hotel points can be used for cruise bookings, but this option is relatively new. Hyatt has partnered with Lindblad Expeditions, a small adventure cruise liner, to allow members to earn and redeem points for cruising. You can redeem Hyatt points towards Lindblad Expeditions for about 1.6 cents per point. This is a good value, though Lindblad cruises are pricey, with the cheapest option costing 174,000 Hyatt points.

Meanwhile, Ritz Carlton’s inclusion in the Marriott Bonvoy program allows you to redeem points on Ritz Carlton cruises at 0.56 cents each. Again, this isn’t the best value for your hotel points but if you want to save money on travel, go for it.

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Use your miles for a tour of Sydney Harbour, Australia
Use your miles for a tour of Sydney Harbour, Australia © Javier Catano Gonzalez / Shutterstock

Cover the cost of activities and transportation

The best use of points and miles is generally for hotels and airfare. However, you can save significantly by using them for tour activities and transportation. For example, you can redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards for 1.25-1.5 cents each by booking tour packages, theme park tickets and transportation through the Ultimate Rewards travel portal. These rates are the same regardless of whether you book flights, hotels, or activities. 

There are better uses of Ultimate Rewards points (as outlined above). However, this is one option if you want to save money on travel. Activities and transportation can add up to thousands of dollars, especially on group trips. If you have some points to spare and want to eliminate these costs, this is one way to do it. 

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Redeem points for statement credits when needed

Sticking to a travel budget can be challenging when discovering new places and wanting to experience them to the fullest. Sometimes, you overspend during a shopping trip or exceed your activities budget. It happens to the best of us. If you have a healthy stash of transferrable rewards (Capital One miles, Citi ThankYou points, Chase Ultimate Rewards, etc.), you can cash them out at 1 cent per mile. While this isn’t the best use of points, it’s a perfectly acceptable option to lower out-of-pocket travel expenses and stay on budget.

Most transferable currencies allow you to redeem points for cash back at a rate of 1 cent per mile or better. Here’s a look at all of your options:

  • Chase Ultimate Rewards – 1.25-1.5 cents
  • Capital One miles – 1 cent
  • Citi ThankYou Rewards – 1 cent
  • American Express Membership Rewards – 0.7 cents 

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A United plane takes off
A United plane takes off © Zach Griff / The Points Guy

Bottom line

Regardless of your travel style, points and miles are an excellent way to save money on travel. The right points balance can help you upgrade flights, book your next cruise or set off for an all-inclusive vacation, all while bringing your cost as close to zero as possible. Even if you have most of your travel expenses covered, you can use points and miles to pay for activities and ground transportation or upgrade your flight. The possibilities are numerous, and that’s the big takeaway – points and miles provide options. 

*Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Enrollment may be required for select American Express benefits and offers. Visit to learn more.

Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

This article was first published August 2023 and updated November 2023

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