How Do Credit Card Miles Work?

The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice. See Lexington Law’s editorial disclosure for more information.

Credit card miles are rewards points that help you earn credits toward travel and other purchases. How credit card miles work and whether this type of rewards card might be a good idea for you depends on a few factors, which we’ll cover below.

What Are Credit Card Miles, and How Do They Work?

Credit card miles are similar to credit card points. They’re a reward that you earn by taking certain actions, including making eligible purchases with the card.

Once you earn enough miles, you can redeem them for rewards. They’re called miles because typically these types of rewards credit cards are aligned with an airline or travel service. That usually means the most value comes from redeeming miles for airfare or rewards miles in an airline program.

However, you can often choose to redeem them for other rewards, such as merchandise, hotel and other travel credits or gift cards at a lesser value per point.

How Are Credit Card Miles Different From Frequent Flier Miles?

In some cases, credit card miles and frequent flier miles may be the same thing. If you have an airline-branded card, such as a Delta SkyMiles credit card, your points may be in the form of the airline’s frequent flyer miles. You can redeem those for flights or other rewards within the frequent flyer program.

If you have a non-branded card, then you may earn generic credit card miles. Those may be redeemed for flights with numerous airlines or other rewards, typically via the credit card rewards program’s online portal.

Hotel rewards cards work in a similar manner. If it’s a branded card, you may earn rewards directly via the hotel chain’s membership rewards program.

How Do You Earn Credit Card Miles?

The exact way you earn credit card miles depends on your card. But typically, you can earn by spending with your card to qualify for various rewards.

Use Your Credit Card Often

Rewards cards are designed to promote spending. You usually earn a certain number of miles or points for every dollar you spend on qualified purchases. In some cases, you can earn more by spending with certain retailers or on certain categories.

For example, it’s common for an airline-themed card to reward more for spending in travel categories. You might earn 3x miles or 5x miles for every dollar you spend with a certain airline, for example, and one mile per dollar on all other purchases.

The key to earning a lot of miles is using the card as much as possible for things you would already be buying and then paying the balance off immediately so you don’t owe interest. For example, if you earn two miles per dollar spent at grocery stores, you could use your credit card to cover your grocery shopping each week.

If you spend $200 a week, that’s roughly 1,600 miles earned per month just for doing grocery shopping you already do.

Take Advantage of Sign-Up Bonuses

Many rewards cards come with sign-up bonuses, and this is a great way to earn a lot of credit card miles right from the start. Typically, the bonus requires you to spend a certain amount of money when you first open the card.

For example, you might earn 50,000 miles if you spend $5,000 in the first three months as an account holder. That sounds like a lot, but it’s often achievable just by using the credit card to cover all normal expenses, such as fuel, groceries and even utility bills. Just make sure you’re paying off the card balance regularly so you don’t end up with a high utilization rate and expensive interest.

Refer Your Friends

Some credit card rewards programs offer extra miles if you refer friends. If your friend applies for the card using your referral code and is approved, then you may be awarded extra credit card miles.

How Much Are Credit Card Miles Worth?

The value of credit card miles varies, but typically they’re worth about one cent. That means if a flight costs $400, you need 40,000 miles to cover it. In some cases, you may be able to raise the value of your miles by redeeming them through a select online portal or via certain airlines.

Redeeming Your Miles

Follow the general steps below, as well as any unique instructions from your credit card company or rewards program, to redeem miles.

Check Your Balance

First, find out how many miles or points you have. This is typically listed on your last statement, but most credit cards support online account access where you can get up-to-date information about your points. You can also call your credit card company or rewards customer service line to find out.

Understand the Limitations

Before you plan on using miles to pay for travel, look at the fine print to understand restrictions. Some rewards programs have blackout dates, which means you might not be able to use miles to pay for airfare during peak times. Others require mile minimums, which means you need a certain amount of miles to redeem to cover part or all of your airfare.

And miles do expire, so make sure you keep track of when you earned the miles and when they will expire so you can redeem them beforehand.

Have a Flexible Schedule

Being flexible about when exactly you travel can also help you get the most out of credit card miles. For example, in some cases you can save hundreds on airfare by leaving a day earlier or later than planned. That means your miles can stretch further to cover more trips or tickets.

Choosing the Best Card for You

Earning and using credit card miles helps you boost your spending power. With the right credit card, you’re getting more than your original purchase when you buy things. But you do need to stick to recommended credit card use, such as paying off your bill every month and keeping your balance as low as possible.

Otherwise, you could end up paying high interest rates or driving down your credit score, and the miles you might earn in the process are not valuable enough to make up for those costs.

Which card you should get depends on your personal needs and preferences. Popular options include the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, the Bank of America Travel Rewards card and the Capital One Venture Rewards card. These are unbranded cards that let you earn general miles.

If you fly regularly with a certain airline, you might be able to maximize value from a branded airline rewards card. Most rewards credit cards do require good or excellent credit. Check your credit before you apply so you know what cards you might qualify for.

And if you find anything inaccurate on your credit report that could be dragging down your score, reach out to Lexington Law for information on how we can help you dispute errors on your credit.


Reviewed by Kenton Arbon, an Associate Attorney at Lexington Law Firm. Written by Lexington Law.

Kenton Arbon is an Associate Attorney in the Arizona office. Mr. Arbon was born in Bakersfield, California, and grew up in the Northwest. He earned his B.A. in Business Administration, Human Resources Management, while working as an Oregon State Trooper. His interest in the law lead him to relocate to Arizona, attend law school, and graduate from Arizona State College of Law in 2017. Since graduating from law school, Mr. Arbon has worked in multiple compliance domains including anti-money laundering, Medicare Part D, contracts, and debt negotiation. Mr. Arbon is licensed to practice law in Arizona. He is located in the Phoenix office.

Note: Articles have only been reviewed by the indicated attorney, not written by them. The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice; instead, it is for general informational purposes only. Use of, and access to, this website or any of the links or resources contained within the site do not create an attorney-client or fiduciary relationship between the reader, user, or browser and website owner, authors, reviewers, contributors, contributing firms, or their respective agents or employers.