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Top Uses for Credit Card Points

After a year and a half so dramatically different, many of us are sitting on piles of unredeemed credit card points. Learn how to maximize them to the fullest now.

August 12, 2021

The year 2020 truly deserves the designation of “unprecedented,” and that’s true in more ways than we might initially think. It may not be the top priority, but many of us have a bounty of credit card points sitting in our accounts and are curious, “How do credit card points work?” especially in “these times.” 

In this post, we’ll provide an overview of the status of credit card points today and answer frequently asked questions about them.

What are credit card points?

When an account holder makes purchases on a credit card or meets another requirement, such as spending a certain amount of money or referring people to the rewards program, they can earn credit card points. 

Typically, the account holder would get at least one point per dollar spent on purchases with each of the credit card points valued as at least one cent at redemption time, although program specifics vary. 

How do credit card points work?

These points can be redeemed for merchandise, gift cards, travel, cashback, donations and so forth, depending upon what a particular credit card company offers in their reward program. Sometimes, how you use your points can determine how much each one is worth. You might, for example, get more bang for your buck if you redeem points on travel than if you wanted cashback. 

Credit card points in 2020/2021

In more ordinary times, travel points credit cards are popular with frequent travelers. Not a surprise, right? As points out, though, these kinds of rewards just weren’t resonating in the same way during the pandemic — again, not a surprise. In response, many credit card companies created alternative ways that people can earn and use the points they’ve accumulated.

During COVID, The Frequent Miler has been keeping track of the temporary perks and enhancements offered by credit card companies. These perks include rewards that focus on the essentials people have continued to need during the pandemic, such as groceries, gas, pharmacy purchases, food delivery and streaming services. Other credit card companies have been offering more attractive bonuses and rebates as enticements for people to use their cards.

It’s extremely rare to see so many opportunities — so many different ways to take advantage of bonus dollars in such ordinary spending categories — especially at the same time. Not using a credit card in ways that can maximize bonus points right now is an expensive mistake to make.

How people used 2020 points

So, how did people use their points during the tumultuous year of 2020? Well, according to a new survey by Bankrate:

  • 30% of people were able to receive $300 or more in cash or gift cards when redeeming their points

  • 15% claimed a complimentary stay in a hotel

  • 11% earned a free airline flight

And, ready for this? Nearly one in three credit card users (31%) didn’t use their points at all.

Talk about leaving money on the table. 

Ways to use credit card points: Summer 2021

First things first, pull out your credit cards and investigate what perks the companies might be offering. Do any of these rewards need to be activated? If so, do that, ASAP. Then, out of the current reward options, pick which ones make the most sense for you right now and take advantage of them. 

Here are some possibilities, depending upon what your credit card company offers.

  • Using points for travel. As increasing numbers of people in the United States have been vaccinated against COVID, more of them will start to feel more comfortable with using accumulated travel points. Here, you can see

    , which may influence your travel plans if you want to leave your home state.

  • Taking a staycation. If celebrating a staycation still seems like a better idea right now, perhaps by renting a cabin close by or staying in a nearby resort, take advantage of gas discounts and other local transportation options (train, rideshares, taxis and trains). Load up with your favorites from supermarket reward points and consider cashback options for extras on your closer-to-home trip. 

  • Selecting gift card options. If your credit card company offers gift cards in exchange for points, and one or more of your favorite venues is on the list, this can be a great option. In fact, some stores will give you bonus dollars if you choose to redeem your points with one of their gift cards. You can then spend the money yourself or give it as a present.

  • Getting cash back. Deposit that money into your bank account and you’ve got full flexibility in how you spend it. Doesn’t get much better than that. It can make sense to compare credit card points vs cash back options on your card and make the most financially savvy choice for your unique situation.

  • Paying down debt. Instead of taking the cashback reward and depositing the dollars into your savings or checking account, use them to pay down your credit card balance. This will help you to pay less in interest, overall, so it’s a double benefit.

  • Donating to your favorite charities. Some companies will allow you to use credit card points to support causes that matter. Check to see how many points you’ll need to accumulate before that reward option kicks in.

So, what can you do with credit card points you’ve accumulated? With so many options nowadays, ways to use them can be as individual as you are!

Tackling credit card debt

Some people found themselves relying more heavily on credit card use during COVID and may be looking for ways to pay down the balance and cut down on interest charges. If your goal is to tackle credit card debt in 2021, let’s talk.


Debt payoff can be a huge step towards greater financial freedom and this is where Tally can help.