By Johnny Jet – For the past 20 years, Johnny Jet averaged 150,000 miles and 20 countries a year. He has been featured in many major publications and appeared on ABC, CBS, CNBC, CNN, FOX, MSNBC, NBC and PBS.
Are you looking for creative ways to use your balance of travel miles without booking an award trip? Most of us are pausing our travel plans and working remotely, but there are ways your points or miles can help you save money on other daily purchases or give back to your community.
Each loyalty program has different point redemption options so you will need to look at what your account options are. Your flexible miles credit cards are likely going to have more options than an airline or hotel co-brand credit card will. You should also pay attention to the redemption value so you can maximize each point or mile earned.
Here are some ways you can use your points and miles that don’t involve travel.
Gift cards for your favorite stores and restaurants can be the most flexible redemption option. Most participating loyalty programs offer gift cards with a minimum $10 balance (some offer gifts as low as $5)—giving you plenty of flexibility to redeem your points and miles. Plus, gift cards can require fewer points than award travel. For example, you can get a $10 gift card with just 5,000 IHG points.
Your travel credit card may also offer gift card rewards as part of your credit card benefits. As an example, both Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards offer gift card rewards.
As gift cards are the most cash-like alternative, not every loyalty program offers them. Be aware that some airline and hotel programs are temporarily stopping gift card redemptions until travel picks back up again. If it’s still possible to redeem your points for gift cards, you may want to pursue this option sooner instead of later.
Several airlines and hotel loyalty programs offer digital and physical merchandise rewards. If you can’t decide between spending or saving your loyalty miles but need to make purchases, this option can be the answer you’re looking for.
Consider digital rewards first if you have the option. Digital awards can require fewer points since your points redemption likely doesn’t cover shipping and warehouse fees. There can also be some exciting digital services you can join by using travel miles. Two of the most valuable options are using IHG points for a one-year Amazon Prime or Costco membership. You may also be able to buy subscription boxes, stream movies, or purchase digital books.
If your loyalty program only offers physical merchandise, you may need to redeem more points, but your item can last several years. For instance, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines let you redeem your miles for Apple products. The newest iPhone can be a worthy consideration, though, it can still be on the pricey side. You will spend 133,000 United miles or 173,694 SkyMiles for a 64 GB model.
Other popular merchandise rewards can be small electronics such as headphones or Bluetooth speakers. If you’re looking for something more practical and less costly, you can buy things like food storage containers, baby items, and wine.
In most cases, magazines and newspaper subscriptions are the cheapest non-travel award option. In fact, airline and hotel loyalty programs are more likely to offer magazine subscriptions before merchandise and gift cards. Several airlines partner with MagsforMiles to offer six-month and twelve-month subscriptions. Alaska Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines are three of the largest MagsforMiles airline partners. You can also subscribe to daily local newspapers in select cities.
Redemptions start at 100 miles for an annual subscription. Actual award prices will vary with each program. For example, American Airlines offers digital subscriptions to Financial Times starting at 1,960 miles for 24 weeks. But, the most expensive annual subscriptions still cost less than 3,000 points, which can be an easy way to redeem some points or miles when you need to show account activity but don’t want to spend a lot.
While some airlines and hotels are pausing their non-travel award options, most programs are still offering charity donations. Charities, specifically medical charities and food banks, need more resources than usual during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most airlines and hotels require a minimum balance of 1,000 points to donate. You can make larger donations in 500-point increments.
The American Red Cross can provide local medical aid and Second Harvest donations help stock the shelves of local pantries across the United States. Similar domestic and international organizations, including Make-A-Wish, Angel Flights, Habitat for Humanity, and UNICEF, are also available with most travel programs. Your points help provide basic necessities to those in need. Some charities even help protect endangered places and animals affected by overtourism.
Redeeming travel miles and credit card points for something other than travel may not be your first preference. Your points and miles are usually worth less when used for non-travel rewards than when they are used for flights and free nights. But until it is safe to travel again, redeeming your points now ensures they don’t expire and may even help reduce your short-term expenses.