Credit Cards

Travel Question: What is the point of applying for cards if I do not travel?

This question is one that I have received a c0uple times from people who hear or read about the great point/mile bonuses. They are intrigued by the possibilities available, but they do not have an interest in travel. While I do not understand why someone would not want to travel when they can do it for free, I do recognize that there are times when travel is impractical. In those instances, is it a waste to apply for these credit cards? Why use credit inquiries for one of the cards mentioned here instead of applying for a department store credit card?

First of all, if you are saving your credit inquiries to get some card like a Target or Barnes and Noble credit card, you are really only getting a very small bonus. Unless you are spending a lot of money at Target, the 5% bonus you get is not something that would excited most people. When I hear someone trying to get me to sign-up for a store card telling me that I can get a $25 gift card, I chuckle inside. In my life, I have gotten card bonuses that have given me a value of $7,000 for getting the card – a $25 gift card really is pathetic in comparison. Again, I realize that it may work for some people, but I wanted to give some thoughts to those of you who do not want to travel but would still like to learn how to get value from these card applications.

  • Flexible Point Programs
American Express Membership Rewards Program – American Express has an online mall setup where you can use your points for merchandise, experiences, and gift cards. You can also shop on Amazon with your points.

You will notice the Canon camera. This is the bad part about using MR points for merchandise – that camera is the Canon ELPH 300s. American Express is “selling” it (all-inclusive – no tax or shipping) for 36,000 points. The problem is I can purchase it right now for $200 (after tax). That gives my MR points a value of .55 of a cent! That is at least 1/6 of the value I could get by transferring to Delta. So, that is not the best of deals.

A look at some items in the Membership Rewards redemption area

They do have gift cards that you can redeem for and they often have promos where the gift cards are greatly reduced. For example, last year, they discounted the Cheesecake Factory gift cards to 5,000 points for a $100 card. That gives the points a 2 cent value. I was able to redeem for $200 in gift cards by using only 10,000 points. Using the offer currently available for one of Amex MR cards now, that would mean I could have received $500 in gift cards for the 25,000 point sign-up bonus! They had a similar deal recently with Old Navy.

In addition to merchandise and gift cards, you can also get certificates (for travel companies), experiences (like a create-your-own safari), and shopping at Amazon (you can link you Membership Reward account with your Amazon account).

The Good – You can get gift cards at a great rate during the times of their promos and you can get adventures/experiences that you would be unable to get otherwise for no out-of-pocket costs

The Bad – The point value to redeem through their mall is around an average of .65 cents per point. That is a horrible redemption rate – IF you are going to be doing travel. But, we are not discussing travel in this post, right? 🙂

Summary – American Express Membership Reward points have a lot of options with how you can redeem your points. If you are just looking to use the points you have and you are NOT planning on traveling, there are some good deals out there.

Chase Ultimate Rewards – This is my new favorite rewards program. They have a lot more flexibility with transfer partners and no excise fees for domestic airline transfers. They also have a great redemption mall. You can pretty much count on items in the Ultimate Rewards mall to give you at least a 1 cent per point value. You can also use your points to take money off of your credit card statement (again, at a 1 cent per point value). In addition, you can also get gift cards to a variety of places, again at a 1 cent per point value.

The gift cards available from Ultimate Rewards

They also have activities and entertainment options for your points. You can get tickets to different events and sporting venues redeemable immediately or via a point auction. There are many changing events that are available through this portion of the site.

One of the best parts about the Ultimate Reward shopping mall was on Black Friday this past year. Their supplier of electronics is Best Buy and they had a 25% reduction in price that day. In addition to that, their online prices  were tied to Best Buy’s holiday pricing. So, that meant people were able to get incredible values that day. For instance, a $1500 Macbook Air was available for 78000 points – putting the points at almost 2 cents per point value. That was an incredible option! They had TVs, computers, tablets, etc. With Black Friday 10 months away, this gives you plenty of time to start accruing those points. If you were to get the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Chase Ink Bold, you would have 108,000 points if you just met the spending thresholds. That means that you could get electronics valued around $2,000 for free!

The Good – Excellent point value, special discounts, great products

The Bad – Unlike Membership Rewards, you cannot see what is available in the Ultimate Rewards mall unless you have a point earning credit card.

The Summary – If you wanted to get incredible non-travel value out of your points, this would be the option to go with.

  • Airline Mile Programs
Airline programs have many different options for use of your miles. Here are some of the programs:
American Airlines – You can use your American Airlines AAdvantage miles for newspapers and magazines. The redemption rate is fairly good. For instance, you can get Sports Illustrated for 1,400 miles or 300 miles and $2. That same subscription would cost $39. If you only have a few miles in your account, this would make a good option. Here is more information about how to do this – AAdvantage
The Good – A great rate for magazines and newspapers if you have a few miles or would like to use your miles for gifts
The Bad – Nothing else really available beyond print media – no merchandise, experiences, etc.
Delta Airlines  – Delta has their Marketplace. Unfortunately, they have just restricted the redemption site to their elite members or those who hold a Delta-branded credit card. That makes it difficult for the people that have just a few miles left in their accounts, but it give incentive to get the credit card if you want to redeem for merchandise. The merchandise there is overpriced, but you can use your points to get something to hold in your hand. To give you an idea of value, the camera we looked at from American Express before sells here for 51,000 miles! If it were 1:1 ratio of miles to cents, that would mean that camera costs $510! It is only $200, so that means you are only getting .4 cents per mile for something like that. They do have a lot of options, but the prices have gone up. They have gift cards, but they have greatly inflated those as well. A $100 American Express gift card used to cost 10,500 miles, which is almost a 1:1 ratio. It now costs 21,500 miles. That is a horrible redemption rate.
You can also use your Delta Skymiles for magazines and newspapers. In addition, you can use them in their auctions. This is an area where the redemption rates could shine. Most of the experiences available are not available for purchase, so it is hard to put a true value on that. For instance, a recent auction was for 5 tickets courtside tickets at a Knicks pre-game and then seats in the Delta luxury box. Also, a signed basketball and a chance to meet one of the players. That ended up going for 90,000 miles. You cannot purchase that and the game that the auction was for was for another great game by Jeremy Lin (who was not playing at the time the auction started!). Delta Marketplace – here
Southwest Airlines – Southwest Airlines has many options with how you can use RapidReward points. Their merchandise redemptions are not that great – for example, an 8GB Ipod Touch costs 37,747 points. Considering that you can redeem points for gift cards at 1 cent per point, you are better off getting gift cards and using that to buy something like an Ipod touch. You can redeem for gift cards to just about any place – Amazon, Best Buy, Home Depot, JC Penney, Kohls, Macys, and Wal-mart, to name just a few. If you are not going to travel, this is definitely one of the best options to use points on. You can get a card here that gives you 50,000 points after first purchase. Not only that, but last year during the Christmas shopping season, they were giving you a 20% bonus towards gift card redemptions. Southwest redemption mall – here
United Airlines – United has a merchandise mall as well. Again, the redemption rates are not that great, but if you are getting 50,000 miles (as detailed in this post) after a first purchase, why not burn them on something? 🙂  Back to our Canon camera example, United requires 40,000 miles for it. That is about 1/2 cent per mile for redemption. Really not a good rate considering United/Continental miles can be redeemed for a value of 20 cents per mile (or higher). However, if you are not going to be traveling, feel free to look around their mall to see what catches your fancy – here
US Airways – US Airways miles can only be used for newspapers or magazines (other than travel). Sports Illustrated can be had for 1,400 miles – again, it would cost $39 for a cash subscription. I recently did this with some spare US Airway miles as a little gift for someone. It is a good redemption option. However, should you have miles earned from a credit card, you would probably be able to get every magazine and newspaper subscription they have. 🙂 US Airways info – here
  • Hotel Point Programs
As a general rule, I really cannot recommend using hotel points for merchandise. It makes me shiver to see the redemption amounts that Marriott, for instance, charges for merchandise. Please stay someplace with your points instead of using your points to buy something! 🙂 For instance, a 8GB Ipod Touch costs 60,000 Marriott points. That is really, really high! That makes each point be valued at about .33 cents per point!
Instead of redeeming for merchandise, I would suggest using for experiences. They are all fairly similar in their offerings, so I will just put the sites down below.

So, hopefully there is enough information here to determine what to do with your points/miles if you do not intend on traveling. There are some good options and deals out there, but always remember that the best values are to be had through the travel side of the system. That is what the points/miles are for. However, the companies found that people wanted to use their collection for something different, so they found a way to clear the points/miles off of their books and let the consumer think they are getting a good deal. Having said that, value of points is determined by the bearer. So, if you want to sign-up for cards to get some great bonuses, remember there are some great options out there. My recommendation on what cards to get would be Southwest for gift cards (first purchase, 50,000 points); some type of Delta card for special experiences; and a Chase Ultimate Rewards card for merchandise.


Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by American Express. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of American Express, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by American Express. This site may be compensated through American Express Affiliate Program.

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About the author


Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.