Tips for Using Travel Miles This Holiday Season

Couple happily pushing the trolley with their son at airport.
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The holidays can be a challenging time, especially with prices for airfare and hotels being higher than usual. That can create stress, even if you have no cancellations or other significant issues.

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While the holiday travel season usually has some minor hiccups, one thing in your control is how you use your rewards points and miles. These steps will help you keep your costs under control and find deals you may have missed otherwise.

Book Early

Booking your flights and hotels early is one of the best ways to avoid high prices both for miles and cash purchases. While this isn’t always the case at other times of the year, it is usually the case for the holidays. As more and more people book their trips, availability will decrease, pushing prices upward.

Plans change, and there might be situations where you are forced to book mere weeks before your trip. If you can, however, booking it farther in advance should help you avoid the most significant price surges.

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Travel on Less Popular Days and Times

Just like booking early helps you avoid fighting for the last seat on the plane, the same applies to traveling on off days. For instance, flying the day before Thanksgiving or the day after Christmas may result in poor miles redemptions. If possible, flying at least a few days before and a few days after the major holidays typically gets you better bang for your travel miles.

You can also consider flying on the day of the holiday. This may not be ideal for everyone, but it may be worth considering in some cases. Flying the day of will likely be better than flying the day before or after the holiday.

Lastly, early flights may have better redemptions than those in the middle of the day. It may be worth considering if you can make it to a 6 a.m. flight — or fly very late at night.

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Choose an Alternate Destination

If you are flying into a big city, there might be multiple airports you can select as your final destination. While the alternate airport might be further from where you’re headed, you might find that the miles redemption is much better. It might be a good option if you can tolerate a slightly longer commute while on the ground.

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Perhaps you can consider an entirely different destination. This won’t work if you are traveling to visit family in your hometown, but maybe you are looking to escape the cold and go somewhere warm. If you can be flexible with your destination, finding somewhere with favorable miles is much easier.

Use Your Credit Card’s Travel Rewards

One way to make your miles go a bit further while traveling is to take advantage of any travel-related rewards your credit card might offer. We tend to think the most about booking flights and hotels, which is understandable — those are often the costliest travel expenses.

However, credit cards often have other ways to redeem points and miles that can make your trip cheaper. Keri Baugh, who runs the family travel blog Bon Voyage With Kids, says you can use points and miles to book travel or to erase travel expenses.

“For example, look at your credit card reward points and see if they can be cashed in for gift cards to use toward travel (like restaurant gift cards, Hotels.com gift cards, or gas station gift cards),” she says.

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Baugh also noted that some credit cards, such as Capital One cards, let you “erase” your travel expenses.

“Capital One also allows you to book travel using your reward points (their system even tells you if the current price might go down and you should hold off or if you are getting a good price.) And, you can use those points to erase travel purchases (I often get hundreds of dollars back this way),” Baugh says.

Take Advantage of Hotel and Airline Loyalty Programs

Most major hotels and airlines have loyalty programs, which can help with redemptions. “On a recent road trip from Boston to Florida, we used my husband’s Marriott Reward points for two hotel nights en route and didn’t use any of our money,” Baugh says. If you plan to book a hotel, check to see if the one you use the most often offers rewards.

It’s also possible to book flights with points or miles; some credit cards increase the redemption rate when booking through the issuer’s portal. For example, the Chase Sapphire credit cards have higher point values when you book through the Chase travel portal.

However, you might find that the redemption rates are less favorable when using points or miles during the holidays. It might help to combine this with the other tips mentioned here, such as traveling on off days. Ultimately, the decision might come down to weighing how tight your budget is against potentially lower redemption rates.

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About the Author

Bob Haegele is a personal finance writer who specializes in topics such as investing, banking and credit cards. He left his day job in 2019 to pursue his passion for helping people get out of debt and build wealth. You can find his work at outlets such as Business Insider, Forbes Advisor and SoFi.
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