How to Earn and Use Travel Credit Card Points Without Traveling
Redeem points for food and dining, streaming services, and more—all without ever leaving home, according to financial experts.
If you generally earn the bulk of your credit card points through flights and hotel stays, you may be wondering if the current global situation has rendered your beloved card useless until more regular travel resumes. Don't cancel it—and forfeit any lingering points—just yet, experts urge. Those in the know say there are a variety of ways you can earn and use travel credit card points without actually traveling and, in some cases, without even leaving home.
"Credit card companies have been very adaptive to this rapidly-changing environment," says Gannesh Bharadhwaj, the general manager of credit cards at Credit Karma. "Many travel cards have started to offer benefits for non-travel categories, such as streaming services, groceries, food delivery, and gas stations, since most consumers have reduced travel via public transportation and are staying at home more."
Earn points on food and dining.
It's worth giving your credit card company a call to see what offers you can take advantage of right now with your current card, but a great example includes targeted Chase cards offering up to seven points per dollar spent on groceries and gas for up to $1,500 in combined purchases a month through September 30, says Benet Wilson, credit cards editor at The Points Guy. Additionally, the Hilton Surpass and Aspire cards are giving 12 points per dollar spent at supermarkets, and the Marriott Bonvoy cards are offering 10 points per dollar spent on all dining, including takeout and delivery, through September 15.
Earn points on streaming services.
For benefits that go beyond food categories, look to cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which is offering 10x points on select streaming services (up to $1,500), and the Capital One Savor, which is offering four percent cash back on streaming.
Review the terms of your card.
You may also want to take a second look at the original terms of your credit card. It's possible that the card you currently have offers one to 2x points or cash back for every dollar you spend, regardless of the category, says Bharadhwaj. With the United Explorer Card, for example, you earn two miles for every $1 spent on purchases from United and one mile per $1 spent on all other purchases. For more information related to your specific card, review your paperwork or call your credit card company and have them walk you through your rewards.
Take advantage of other bonuses
Many cards will also let you earn reward points, miles, or cash back by doing things like opening a new account, says Bharadhwaj. "I wouldn't typically advise taking out a credit card purely for the signup bonus, but if you are searching for a credit card, several offer a welcome bonus with a minimum spend," he explains. For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve pays out 60,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
Not in the market for a new card? Maybe you have a friend or family member who is—for example, the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless gives cardholders 20,000 points for each friend (up to five per year) approved.
Get creative about redeeming points.
You don't have to let your points sit idle, either. The way you can redeem points varies by each program, but many travel cards do allow you to redeem points for things that go way beyond travel. You can use the Chase Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership Rewards, or the Citi ThankYou portals to redeem your points for an Amazon shopping spree, says Wilson. You can also use points and miles for gift cards, statement credits, cash back, car rentals, and online shopping portals.
The catch? "Redemption rates are far better when you redeem them for travel," says Wilson. "For example, a program may allow you to redeem 25,000 credit card points to book a domestic flight worth say, $500, but if you redeem the 25,000 points for a statement credit, it may only be worth $150," explains Bharadhwaj. Because of this, it may make sense to hold on to your points until you can redeem them for a higher redemption value, like on travel-related purchases. The good news: "Unlike many airline miles and hotel points, most credit card points don't expire—as long as you keep your account open and in good standing," says Bharadhwaj.
If you really can't wait, Chase has a new Pay Yourself Back feature, where you can use your Ultimate Rewards points to offset certain purchases at a much more favorable rate, says Wilson. Through September 30, Chase Sapphire Reserve customers can redeem points at 1.5 cents apiece, while Chase Sapphire Preferred customers can redeem Ultimate Rewards at 1.25 cents each to offset purchases made at grocery stores, home improvement stores, and dining establishments, including takeout and delivery services—a pretty good deal, especially if you're sitting on a pile of points with nowhere to go.
Give your points away.
"The ability to give your reward points varies program to program, but generally speaking points are non-transferrable," says Bharadhwaj. That said, you can opt to book travel for someone else while redeeming your miles. Some of the large card issuers also have ways for you to donate your extra miles to charities, says Wilson, who donates her United Airlines miles to Fisher House, which provides lodging to military families when a loved one is in the hospital.