Credit card points and airline miles are strange aspects of the modern economy. On the one hand, they’re not really worth all that much—airline miles, hotel points, and credit card reward points max out at about 1.5 cents per point, with most valued significantly less than a penny. On the other hand, they’re basically free money—you get them whenever you use the card, so as long as you’re traveling places you need to go to and buying stuff you need anyway (and not paying interest on those purchases), those points will eventually add up to something of value you wouldn’t otherwise have.

If you’ve got an airline-affiliated credit card like the United MileagePlus card or something similar, you’ve probably used the points you accrue mainly to offset the costs of travel. Points can be pretty easily used to pay for flights, hotels, and rental cars, and if the exchange rate is awful it’s still essentially free. But hotels and flights aren’t the only ways to cash in those points.


The points and miles you earn via credit card purchases or airline loyalty programs may not have much cash value, but they have some cash value. If you want to make the world a slightly better place without actually taking a hit in your bank account, you can probably donate your miles or points to charity. Most loyalty programs already have built-in relationships with charities that make this pretty easy. Keep in mind that these donations are probably not tax-deductible; the IRS views points and miles as discounts, not income.


Your loyalty program or credit card website might have a built-in option to subscribe to magazines or newspapers, or you can check out MagsForMiles to see if you can trade those points for reading material. If you’ve got nothing else to do with your miles and you will actually get something out of the periodical, this could make sense—especially because points and miles are often high-value when used this way, for some reason. For example, with MileagePlus miles you can get a 15-issue subscription to Wine Spectator for 1,000 miles; that sub costs about $72 annually if you bought it directly, which values your point at about 7 cents each, which is not bad at all.

Gift cards

If you want to convert your miles or points into something a little more flexible, a solution most people overlook is a gift card. Most of these programs will happily sell you a gift card (you can also sometimes exchange your unwanted gift cards for points—United’s MileagePlus program does this—creating a weird kind of circular economy of craptastic gift cards). As with all points/miles transactions, you have to dig in to see if you’re getting any sort of value. A $5.00 Starbucks card through MileagePlus will cost you 1,666 points, making those points worth about 3 cents each. On the other hand, a gift card makes it a lot easier to actually buy things at Starbucks, so it might make sense. Plus, it’s a way to give someone a gift without spending any real money, you cheap weirdo.


Yeah, the word “experiences” is kind of silly, but if you’ve got a stash of miles or points sitting in an account somewhere, you should look into the “experiences” you can either buy or bid on. MileagePlus offers a bunch of sporting experiences you can bid on with your miles, and Hilton Honors members can bid on a wide range of special events, like concerts, sporting events, or special dinners. Since these are usually auctions of some kind, you might get tempted into using more points or miles than you want—but since those miles and points are more or less free, it might be fun to just yeet them into an adventure you might otherwise never pay for.


While it’s generally legal to sell your points or miles to a third party like MilesBuyer, it’s not a great idea because most airlines and credit cards prohibit the practice. If you’re caught, you could lose your account and all your accrued points or miles.

But there are some options. Many rewards programs have options to cash out your points—Citi, for example, makes it pretty easy to convert your ThankYou points into a direct deposit into your bank account, a credit to your credit card balance, or even a check in the mail. That transforms your difficult-to-redeem points into actual cash, so it’s worth checking into the details of your program to see what your options are. But do the math before you jump on it—generally speaking, you want to get at least a penny a point before you convert to cash; otherwise waiting to redeem them for other goods or services might make more sense. For example, Citi’s ThankYou points are worth exactly one penny each when you turn them into cash, so 5,000 points becomes a $50 deposit in your account.