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How Do Credit Card Miles Work?

Last Updated: May 21, 2024
4 min read

Key points about: credit card miles and how they work

  1. Many travel credit cards offer miles rewards but earning, and redemption options depend on the issuer.

  2. Credit card miles usually have more flexible reward options than airline frequent flyer miles.

  3. You can earn credit card miles on everyday purchases, not just travel purchases.

Credit card miles are credit card rewards that you may be able to redeem for travel expenses. 
 
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 travel expenses.
 
The best credit card for miles for you depends on what travel reward makes sense based on your purchases and how you want to redeem your travel credit or airline miles.

What are credit card miles?

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

Travel rewards rates vary across cards. Some issuers offer bonus rewards 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 for retail purchases with select merchants.

What types of credit cards earn miles?

Travel credit cards typically allow you to earn miles as you use your card. Most travel credit cards are either co-branded with specific airlines or unbranded.

Co-branded travel cards

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 and membership rewards like a free checked bag, priority seating, or a free flight.

Unbranded travel cards

You may gain more flexibility through unbranded travel credit cards because they earn air miles that you can redeem across multiple airlines. You can also use them for other travel purchases, like hotel stays and tours.

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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, you would need 20,000 miles for a $200 roundtrip flight.

 

As with any credit card cash back or rewards program, the percentage of miles you get back varies depending on how you use your card.

Travel spending

Travel rewards 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 on general purchases but get a bonus of two or three miles per dollar if you buy airline tickets 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. Still, other credit cards—such as the Discover it® Miles credit card—offer the same flat rate for everything you buy — earn 1.5x Miles on every dollar of every purchase, whether airline tickets or groceries.

Bonus miles

Some travel credit cards have miles rewards programs that give you bonus miles as a reward just for signing up. With the Discover it® Miles credit card, we’ll automatically match all the Miles you’ve earned at the end of your first year. There is no limit to how much we’ll match.2

How do you use credit card miles?

All credit card miles can usually be redeemed toward travel costs, but each card issuer provides different 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 for every credit card mile you accumulate.

Redeem for a 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).

Did You Know?

Certain travel credit cards offer flexible redemption options. With the Discover it® Miles Card, cardmembers can turn Miles into cash. Or redeem as a statement credit for your travel purchases like airfare, hotels, rideshares, gas stations, restaurants and more.3

Redeem for merchandise

Some travel credit cards let you use miles earned to buy merchandise sold through affiliates or even a retail gift card. It’s easy to redeem rewards with the Discover it® Miles card. Redeem your rewards in a few easy steps at Amazon.com4 and PayPal5.

What’s the difference between miles and points?

The terms “credit card points” and “credit card miles” are often used interchangeably. You earn both as you spend money on your credit card. Each reward’s value depends on the underlying rewards program. In some cases, one point is equal to one mile. However, the two reward currencies aren’t exactly the same. Miles relate more directly to travel.

 

Most airlines let you earn airline miles for booking flights, even if you don’t have a travel credit card, but these miles may have more restrictive redemption rules than credit card miles. Some co-branded credit cards may combine miles you earn from spending with miles earned by flying. On the other hand, credit card miles often give you more flexible redemption options than 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, merchandise, or a gift card.

Are all credit card miles rewards the same?

A credit card miles rewards program typically offers you some travel benefits. But they’re not all created equal. To use your credit card miles, you have to understand how your credit card miles work, as programs offer different ways to 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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  1. There is no hard inquiry to your credit report to check if you’re pre-approved. If you’re pre-approved, and you move forward with submitting an application for the credit card, it will result in a hard inquiry which may impact your credit score. Receiving a pre-approval offer does not guarantee approval. Applicants applying without a social security number are not eligible to receive pre-approval offers. Card applicants cannot be pre-approved for the NHL Discover Card.

  2. Discover Match®: We’ll match all the cash back rewards you’ve earned on your credit card from the day your new account is approved through your first 12 consecutive billing periods or 365 days, whichever is longer, and add it to your rewards account within two billing periods. You’ve earned cash back rewards only when they’re processed, which may be after the transaction date. We will not match: rewards that are processed after your match period ends; statement credits; rewards transfers from Discover checking or other deposit accounts; or rewards for accounts that are closed. This promotional offer may not be available in the future and is exclusively for new cardmembers. No purchase minimums.
  3. Redeem Miles: Starting at 1 Mile, you can redeem your Miles as a credit to your account to pay for all or part of your bill, for cash as an electronic deposit to your bank account, or for a credit for Travel Purchases made on your statement within the last 180 days. Travel Purchases include airline tickets, hotel rooms, car rentals, travel agents, online travel sites, commuter transportation, restaurants and gas stations. Restaurant purchases include those made at merchants classified as full-service restaurants, cafes, cafeterias, fast-food locations, and restaurant delivery services. Gas Station purchases include those made at merchants classified as places that sell automotive gasoline that can be bought at the pump or inside the station. Gas Stations affiliated with supermarkets, supercenters, and wholesale clubs may not be eligible.

    Even if a travel purchase on your statement appears to fit in a Travel Purchase category, the merchant may not have a merchant category code (MCC) in a Travel Purchase category. Merchants and payment processors are assigned an MCC based on their typical products and services. Discover Card does not assign MCCs to merchants. Certain third-party payment accounts and digital wallet transactions may not be eligible for credit redemption if the technology does not provide sufficient transaction details or a qualifying MCC. See Terms and Conditions for more information.

  4. Use Rewards at Amazon.com: For complete details on how to Pay with Rewards at Amazon.com see Amazon.com/DiscoverRewards. Amazon is not a sponsor of this promotion. Amazon, the Amazon.com logo, the smile logo and all related marks are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates. To redeem your rewards at checkout, you must select the Discover Card from which you want to redeem rewards. If you do not pay for your full purchase with rewards, you may use the Discover Card from which the rewards were applied or an Amazon.com Gift Card to pay for the remainder of your purchase. You may not use a credit card from an issuer other than Discover or another Discover credit card enrolled in Shop with Points in conjunction with the rewards transaction.

  5. Use Rewards with PayPal: For complete details on how to Pay with Rewards with PayPal see PayPal.com/Discover. Pay with Rewards with PayPal will be available for eligible credit cards on eligible purchases or rewards can be donated to support a charitable cause with PayPal Giving Fund. To learn more about Pay with Rewards, see terms and conditions.

    All reward redemptions are subject to Discover’s reward program terms. To redeem your rewards at checkout, you must select the Discover Card from which you want to redeem rewards. If you do not pay for your full purchase with rewards, you must use the Discover Card from which the rewards were applied to pay for the remainder of your purchase. You may not use a credit card from an issuer other than Discover or another Discover credit card enrolled in Pay with Rewards in conjunction with the rewards transaction.

    PayPal, and the PayPal logo are trademarks of PayPal and its Affiliates.

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