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How to Maximize Your Travel Rewards with Points, Miles and Cash Back

Optimizing Points, Miles and Cash-Back Travel Rewards from Credit Cards and Loyalty Programs

There are many ways to not only maximize, but optimize points, miles and cash-back you can receive from travel rewards you can get from credit cards and hotel/airline loyalty programs.  In this post, I take a look at the best ways to maximize points, miles and cash back to help save money and optimize your travel rewards.

If you’ve been following along so far in 2023 here at The Family Travel Guy, you know I have been discussing travel strategies I use to travel better, travel smarter and optimize for value as much as possible. 

Continuing with that theme, I take a quick dive into the world of travel rewards that come in the form of points, miles and cash-back.

Points, Miles or Cash Back

Travel rewards can be broken down into three different categories, which include Points, Miles and Cash-Back. Most people get a majority of these travel rewards using travel related credit cards, but you can also accrue these types of travel rewards when staying at hotels (hotel loyalty programs) or when flying (getting airlines miles).
  • Example of Popular Credit Card Points Rewards Programs: American Express Membership Rewards Points, Chase Ultimate Rewards Points, Capital One Rewards Points
  • Example of Popular Hotel Points Loyalty Programs: Marriott Bonvoy, World of Hyatt, Hilton Honors, IHG Rewards, among many more.
  • Example of Popular Airline Mileage Programs: United Mileage Plus Miles, Delta SkyMiles, Southwest Rapid Rewards, Alaska Mileage Plan Miles, AAdvantage Miles, Flying Blue Miles (Air France/KLM), among many more.
  • Cash-back: The best cash-back credit cards typically offer 1.5% or 2% cash-back for everyday spending, which makes it easy to track how much value you are getting and offers simplicity on using the travel reward money you get back however you’d like.

Optimizing Points, Miles and Cash-Back Travel Rewards

Here are two examples of how travel rewards may be used for a hotel stay or for flights:

  • Example: Hotel stay at the Westin Hapuna Beach Resort

    • Five night stay will cost ~$5,250
    • Marriott Bonvoy Points Redemption is available for the dates and will cost 230,000 points (one night free on points when staying 5 nights - Marriott Bonvoy award benefit)
The value of the Marriott Bonvoy points is $5250 / 230,000 = 2.28 cents per points, which is a great value when using Marriott Bonvoy Points.

Marriott Bonvoy Points Redemption at the Westin Hapuna Beach

  • Example: Flight to Hawaii for a family of four

    • Flight will cost $500/person on Hawaiian Airlines, for a total of $2000
    • Hawaiian Miles redemption is available for the travel dates and costs 35,000 miles roundtrip per person, for a total of 140,000 miles (assume miles are transferred in from Amex Membership Rewards)
The value of the HawaiianMiles is $2000 / 140,000 miles = 1.43 cents per point, which can be a good value depending on how you value these miles versus using them elsewhere.

As you can see from these two examples above, there is no one best credit card or loyalty program out there and a large part of it depends on your travel budget, preferences and the destinations you want to visit. How I accrue and use points and miles in certain travel rewards programs may not be the best way for you to accrue them or use them. Also, for example, where I may find great benefit in transferring points from American Express to its travel partners for free hotel stays using points, you may find better value by using them for flights or getting cash-back.


I feel that earning and accumulating travel rewards is a lot more straight-forward than redeeming them for the best possible value and that is where most people get frustrated, i.e., when they can’t find award availability or it gets too complicated to use and takes up too much of their time. The Points Guy (and a few other big travel sites) are a great resource for this: What are points and miles worth? TPG’s January 2023 monthly valuations

From my personal experience, I prefer to get better return on my spending with bonus categories offered by certain credit cards and then transferring those credit points to hotel points or converting them to airline miles depending on the value I receive from them.

One of the reasons I don't discuss more on how I exactly use points and miles to save on travel costs is because everyone accrues different types of points, miles or may prefer cash-back, as you can see from the differences above.

Another big reason why I haven't discussed this topic more is that "Your Mileage May Vary" (YMMV), meaning how I accrue and use points and miles may not be the best way for you to accrue them or use them. Where I may find great benefit in using points for family hotel stays, you may find better value by using them for flights, getting cash-back, exchanging for gift cards, etc.

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