Traveling woman sits in airport

How Do Credit Card Miles Work?

Published April 6, 2022
4 min read

Credit card miles reward you for using your card on everyday spending, so you can earn miles even without traveling. You can then redeem your miles to pay for travel, with the most flexible cards issuing a bank deposit or statement credit that you can use to cover hotels, flights, or other types of travel expenses.

What are credit card miles?

Think of credit card miles as a type of rewards currency you earn in exchange for every dollar you spend on purchases with a participating credit card. Unlike frequent flyer miles, which airlines usually reward you in exchange for flights you’ve taken, credit card miles are based on overall spending.

The exact rate of miles earned per dollar spent varies across cards, and some issuers let you earn bonus miles for certain purchases, like plane tickets or hotel stays. Once you’ve accumulated enough miles, you can redeem them for travel-related expenses as a statement credit or sometimes even with select merchants.

How does earning miles on credit cards work?

You earn credit card miles as a percentage of credit card spending. Most major travel rewards cards earn at least one mile per dollar spent. If that mile is equivalent to one cent, then you would need 20,000 miles for a $200 roundtrip flight.

Some credit cards are co-branded with airlines. In those cases, you can typically use the miles you earn only for travel with the corresponding airline, but you may get added perks, like a free checked bag or priority seating. You can gain more flexibility through unbranded travel credit cards, because they earn miles that you can redeem across multiple airlines. You can also use them for other travel purchases, like hotel stays and tours.

With any rewards program, the percentage of miles you get back may vary depending on how you use your card:

Travel spending

Travel credit cards may let you earn a higher percentage of miles for spending in travel categories. For instance, you may earn one mile per dollar spent on general purchases, but get a bonus of two or three miles per dollar if you’re buying flights or hotel accommodations with your travel credit card.

General spending

Certain travel credit cards offer miles rewards for non-travel spending. You’ll often get more value per dollar on travel purchases, but other credit cards—such as the Discover it® Miles card—offer the same, flat rate for everything you buy — say 1.5 miles per dollar spent on any purchase, whether it’s plane tickets or groceries.

Bonus miles

Some travel credit cards have miles rewards programs that give you bonus miles just for signing up. The Discover it® Miles card  will automatically match all the miles you’ve earned at the end of your first year.1 No matter how much you spend, you get a miles-for-miles match your first year.

How do you use credit card miles?

All credit card miles can usually be redeemed toward travel costs, but not every card issuer provides the same redemption choices. While a co-branded airline card may restrict you to depositing your credit card miles in the airline’s frequent flier program, general travel cards usually offer more flexible redemption options:

Redeem for statement credit

Some cards let you redeem miles for cash, which you can use to cover travel purchases, general spending, or even to offset your annual credit card fee (if you have one). With the Discover it® Miles card, cardholders can also redeem Miles as a statement credit towards travel purchases with no blackout dates.2

Redeem for merchandise

Some travel credit cards let you use the miles you’ve earned to buy gift cards or merchandise sold through affiliates. It’s easy to redeem rewards with the Discover it Miles card at to pay for all or part of your purchases.3 With the Discover it Miles card, you can also use your rewards when you pay with PayPal.4

What’s the difference between miles and points?

Credit card points and credit card miles are often used interchangeably. They’re both earned in exchange for dollars spent on your card, and their value depends on the underlying rewards program.

Most airlines also let you earn miles for flying, even if you don’t have a travel credit card, but these miles may have more restrictive redemption rules than credit card miles do. While some co-branded credit cards may combine miles you earn from spending with miles earned by flying, credit card miles often give you more flexible redemption options than you get with airline miles. If you don’t have a co-branded card with an airline, your miles can usually only be exchanged for additional flights, not statement credits or merchandise.

Are all credit card miles rewards the same?

Every credit card miles rewards program should offer you some sort of travel benefit. But they’re not all created equal. You will need to understand how your credit card miles work, since the programs vary for how you accrue and redeem them. You should also look out for rewards that best align with how you use your card — whether that’s flights, hotel stays, or something else entirely.

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