Tips, Tricks & Tactics: Best Uses for Points and Miles Other than Travel

So, this is a tricky subject. Especially when the answer is usually: nothing. Points and Miles (that are not strictly cash back) are generally best used for travel to achieve maximum value. But sometimes there are opportunities and exceptions.  Because sometimes a gift from 1800-Flowers just isn’t enough.

Let me give you a few examples:

On the top of the list is Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR) Points. These (flexible) points can be redeemed for cash on a 1:1 ratio. So if you have 100,000 UR points, you have $1,000 cash (or $1,000 in gift cards). This is fine in a pinch, but you can easily squeeze $0.015-0.02+ out of each point (for a $1,500-2,000 value).

Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) Points are some of the most flexible and valuable points out there. And you can transfer these points for gift cards on a 1:1 ratio, or sometimes, slightly better: 14:15 ratio. But, please, don’t ever do this.

American Express Membership Rewards (MR) Points are also great. And should probably never be used for things like gift cards (1:1 ratio) or, worse, paying of statement charges (1:0.6 ratio). But, as Amex also is a founding partner with the loyalty program, Plenti, you can also transfer points there. And every so often there are transfer bonuses of up to 50%. So, during a Pre-Black Friday event on Macys.com, there was Series 1 Apple Watch Sport going for $209.41 (tax included). I already had 3,447 Plenti Points (through Macy’s and AT&T spending) and after transferring 10,000 Amex MR Points (with a 1:1.5 bonus ratio), I had 18,447 Plenti Points. I used all of them to discount the watch to $24.94, and earned an additional 10% Macy’s Rewards (worth $2.49), plus 200 Plenti Points (worth $2.00). So, I got an Apple Watch for less than $25 and 10,000 Amex MR points.

Series 1 Apple Watch Sport. Image Credit: courtesy of Apple.

Finally, there are Citi ThankYou (TY) Points. These points aren’t as flexible as the other programs, with slightly more obscure travel partners. I knew I was going to try and buy something during Black Friday this year (a first for me), so I went to Best Buy in the morning armed with $600 in Best Buy Gift Cards received from 60,000 Citi ThankYou Points. Also procured at a 1:1 ratio, this wasn’t so terrible. Especially in combination with Black Friday deals. A $1,183.22 Surface Pro 4 i5 128GB 4GB RAM bundled with Surface Pen and Type Cover was discounted to $890.03 (tax included). After applying the $600 in gift cards, I brought that down to $290.03. I earned an additional Amex Offer rebate of $25 off of $250, plus 2x Amex Points for 580 (approx. $5.80+), plus a measly 138 Best Buy points towards the 500 needed for a $5 gift certificate. Ultimately, this was a Surface Pro 4 plus accessories for less than $260 and 60,000 in Citi ThankYou Points.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4. Image Credit: courtesy of Microsoft.

In the entire remaining points and miles landscape, I am sure there are some good or fair deals to be had. But I’m not aware of them (or I might be blanking). Again, you will always achieve maximum value by exchanging your points and miles for their intended purpose (especially when dealing with non-flexible hotel points or airline miles). I know you can procure a 50 gram gold bar with 466,398 Etihad Guest Miles, but that’s not a good exchange either. If anyone knows of some good exchanges out there, please let us know in the comments!

Questions, Comments or Criticisms?