Traveling woman sits in airport

How Do Credit Card Miles Work?

Last Updated: May 10, 2023
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, but instead of accumulating through a point system, you earn ‘miles.’ 
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 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.

The exact rate of miles earned per dollar spent varies across cards, and some issuers let you earn bonus miles, bonus points, or travel 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.

How does earning miles on credit cards work?

Did You Know:

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.

Learn More about the Discover it® Miles Card

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. You can 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.

As with any credit card points or reward 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 —1.5 Miles per dollar spent on all purchases, whether airline tickets or groceries.

Bonus miles

Some travel credit cards have miles rewards programs that give you bonus miles or bonus points as a reward just for signing up. The Discover it® Miles credit card will 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.1

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 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 turn Miles into cash. Or redeem as a statement credit for your travel purchases like airfare, hotels, rideshares, gas stations, restaurants and more.2

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; you can use your rewards at Amazon.com3 checkout and with PayPal4.

What’s the difference between miles and points?

The terms 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. In some cases, one point is equal to one mile.

Most airlines also let you earn airline 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. 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. 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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