How To Maximize Fixed Value Points & Miles

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Fixed-value points and miles don’t get near as much attention as their transferable counterparts, but they form an essential part of any solid points and miles strategy. They:

  • Are immune to the devaluations so common to frequent flyer programs
  • Are simple programs that don’t require any specialized knowledge of award charts or partners
  • Have are no blackout dates
  • Allow you to earn frequent flyer miles, elite qualification miles and elite qualification dollars when you redeem

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Which Cards Offer Fixed-Value Points?

Alongside the some well known fixed-value cards most familiar to U.S. travelers, a few new fixed-value cards have entered the market over the past 12 months.

We rate the Arrival Plus our favorite in the fixed-value points category as it offers the best mix of points and travel protection, sports a decent signup bonus, and waives the annual fee for the first year.

If you’re looking for a solid short-term return on spend, the Discover it® Miles Card earns a flat 1.5 points per dollar on everything, and Discover will match all the miles you earn in the first 12 months, and there's no annual fee. If you can rack up some big spending on the card in the first 12 months, you’ll double your return to three points for every dollar you spend, redeemable against any travel expense.

The new Altitude Reserve deserves a hot mention here too. Although it sports a $400 annual fee, you can redeem points for 1.5¢ per point on any airfare, hotel, or car rental service. This card also comes with $325 back in annual travel credits, effectively making the annual fee $75.

Fixed-Value Points Don't Don't Lose Their Value

Fixed-value points retain their value and are less susceptible to rewards program devaluations. When Delta pulls one of its regular, unannounced devaluations, the value of your SkyMiles goes down as it now requires more of them to get where you're going.

Fixed-value points, on the other hand, are simply worth 1¢ per point when redeemed against a travel expense, the value remains at 1¢ whether the award price goes up or down, as the value is tied to the cash-price of the ticket. Yes, the Altitude Reserve is an exception as those points are worth 1.5¢ each, but you get the point — they're a fixed-value. Never more, never less.

In the current market of cheap transatlantic airfares, the Arrival Plus comes into its own as a fixed-value rewards card. It allows you to purchase heavily discounted tickets or mistake fares, and redeem the cost back as a statement credit, while still retaining the auto rental and trip delay insurance benefits you get with traditional travel rewards cards.

Easy to Redeem and Offer the Ultimate Flexibility

Fixed-value points don’t require any specialized knowledge of rewards programs, transfer partners, or award charts, you simply make the purchase on your card and apply the points as a statement credit against any travel charge.

There are some restrictions depending on the card or merchant, for example, you can only redeem miles from the Arrival Plus for charges over $100, and across the board, the merchant needs to code as a ‘travel’ expense if you want to redeem miles against a charge.

If your travel dates aren’t flexible or you’re trying to travel around Christmas or Thanksgiving, you’ll find it much easier just to purchase a ticket with your card and redeem the points back as a statement credit.

One of the significant drawbacks to earning traditional points and miles is that you’re handicapped by blackout dates and award availability. With fixed-value points, as long as there are still seats available to purchase, you can buy them using a fixed-value points card and redeem the points against the charge for a penny a piece.

This also applies to mistake fares and cheap airlines that aren't part of a rewards program; you can purchase the cheapest ticket available across any airline or OTA, and still redeem points against the expense.

Earn Miles and Elite Status Credits

As you’re buying outright, not redeeming points or miles within a particular program, you’ll still earn points/miles and elite status credits. For anyone trying to attain or retain elite status, this is a huge plus.

First Class Seat

You should also factor the miles you’ll earn when paying cash for a ticket, and add it to the decision of whether you use fixed-value or transferrable points for a flight.

Redeem for Award Fees and Taxes and Retain Travel Insurance

Barclaycard updated the travel protection on the Arrival Plus earlier in 2017, adding a $300 trip delay feature into the card’s benefits. Even better news is that you don’t have to purchase a ticket to get the coverage! When booking an award with any program, you can use the Arrival Plus to pay the taxes and fees, redeem your Arrival Miles against the charge, and you’re still covered by Barclaycard’s travel protection insurance.

Use for Hotels/Airbnb (Lodging Not Part of a Rewards Program)

We regularly sing the praises of Airbnb as an alternative to chain hotels when availability is slim, or there is little coverage in that area. Unfortunately, Airbnb doesn’t have a rewards program, so unlike Hilton or Starwood, you can’t redeem points for your stays. You can, however, redeem fixed-value points against the expense of vacation rentals like Airbnb and VRBO that don’t fall under the umbrella of a rewards program. Just be sure to pick up a few SkyMiles when you book with Airbnb.

When Not to Use Fixed-Value Points

Fixed-value points are best used for cheap domestic tickets or mistake fares, award taxes and fees, or vacation rentals and hostels. Generally speaking, use fixed-value points when the cash price of the item is low enough that you can’t justify redeeming frequent flyer miles or transferrable points, which are more valuable when redeemed towards business and first class redemptions that can cost thousands of dollars.

For instance, if a domestic award is 25,000 miles or $187.00, you would get better value redeeming 18,700 fixed-value points at 1¢ per point. However, for an international business class award that costs 80,000 miles or $4,500, you’re better off spending the miles as opposed to dropping 450,000 fixed-value points. Just run the numbers!

Final Thoughts

Fixed-value currencies like those earned via the Arrival Plus have a fixed redemption value of 1¢ per point, but you can redeem them for a wide variety of travel expenses ranging from cheap domestic airfares to vacation rentals or the cost of car hire. Fixed-value points should be on your radar as part of a well-balanced rewards strategy, to help pay for incidentals and travel expenses not typically covered by points and miles, or where you’re likely to get less than one cent per point in value using program-specific awards.

If you have any questions or a fixed-value tip you’d like to share, please reach out in the comments.

How To Maximize Fixed Value Points & Miles
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Comments

  • I hadn’t really considered the altitude reserve before this…what do the “annual travel credits” consist of? airfare? or just incidentals?

  • There’s definitely nothing wrong with fixed value options. They can be a part of a larger strategy.

  • nice overview if you are interested in another card

  • Great tips! Thanks.

  • Thanks. This post is super helpful. I didn’t realize that you still earned miles when using fixed value cards. And I like your example on how to determine when to use miles or when to use fixed value. The only problem is there is a pretty big spend requirement to get the fixed value bonuses. While you can still get some miles card bonuses for relatively little spend.

    • lorem ipsum says:

      It’s not explicitly stated in the blog post as a distinguishing feature, but Discover has no minimum spend to earn miles. You could use the Discover It Miles card for one year, and Discover will double the miles for all spending during that year. 3% is pretty compelling, imho. After the first year, I don’t think I’d put much spend on this card, absent a promo.

  • This tutorial is very enlightening. Do not just accumulate miles. You also need to know when to use them.

  • Some of these are about equivalent to other currencies such as UR which can be redeemed for 1cent as cash. In this situation cash and “miles” or “Points” are basically the same since they’re all worth around the same. I’d much rather have cashback than these points unless theres some real advantage to them such as being worth more than a cent or getting a significant rate of return on spend.

  • I had not heard of the U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve before. Even though it has a larger annual rebate $325 vs $300 on my Chase Sapphire Reserve, I prefer transferable points.

  • Very helpful information. I only have miles with airlines so I should start some fixed value points for cheaper flights.

  • are AMEX membership rewards and Chase Ultimate reward points also considered fixed-value since they can be used to book travel directly?

    • They have the ability to be used as a fixed-value reward, but because they also can be transferred to other loyalty programs, and that is where often-times you’ll be able to achieve the maximum value from them, we don’t consider them fixed-value rewards. Citi ThankYou Points and SPG points could be added to the list as well.

  • Definitely good advice to always run the numbers (FV vs flexible) when redeeming points. However, one also should consider the opportunity cost of earning points. For instance, spending money on your FV-point-earning credit card means you’r also NOT earning flexible points for a given transaction. It’s always good to think about the value of the points you’re earning as well.

  • On another note, while it’s nice to see a list of available bonuses, this article could really have been useful if it included more comprehensive information on the earning rates for everyday spend & bonus categories for the cards mentioned. Or at least a link to a previous post, if that’s been examined before.

  • One nice feature of FlexPerks cards is that you can use points to pay for the card’s annual fee.

  • Bertrand Say says:

    In this case, cash or cash equivalent points are the way to go.

  • Great article, thanks for the information

  • Damn I don’t have any of the above.

  • The_Bouncer says:

    Hotels.com is an often overlooked and under-rated program.

    Ok, the “status” benefits are negligible, but the return is good – one night per 10 at average spend, i.e. 10% return, plus good percentages through cashback sites and airline portals.

    This beats the average return of most hotel programs and frees you from being tied to any particular chain.

    • Great point Tim. I personally use it for non-chain brands and my brother uses it exclusively (fight the battles I can fight). I think we need to cover the program and cash back portals a bit more — and we’ll do just that.

      • I use them mostly for places where the chains are weak – South Africa, for example.

        I do sometimes use them for chains where I stay too rarely to get anything. I certainly wouldn’t use it for the two chains where I maintain any status – IHG (plat) and Hilton (gold).

  • Fixed value is cool and all, but somehow less fun than hunting for sweet spots of outsized value (although harder these days!)

  • Many people would indeed be better off with a fixed value reward. I suspect that thousands of people willingly spend 25,000 miles on a $150 ticket without knowing.

  • I’ve always been reluctant to these cards since the points can only be used to cover travel, etc. However, I can see the benefit.
    One question though, to redeem a credit on Discover does it have to the It travel card towards credit? I thought my mom used to have just a regular Discover card and just credited her points towards her balance at the end of the year. Is that still a thing or have the separated it all?

  • I have been eyeing the Bank of America Rewards Premium Rewards Card, but after this post I am wondering if the U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite Card might be a better choice.

  • I was declined for Arrival Plus. I called the reconsideration line and was told it was because I have the no fee Arrival card. Heads up to cancel the no fee card before applying for the Plus.

  • One of these would work great for me, since I regularly fly on Allegiant Air, which has no (worthwhile) points system. They do have an expensive MasterCard ($69 a year for a free in-flight beverage and priority boarding), no thanks.

  • While it’s true that fixed value programs “Are immune to the devaluations” in terms of face value, programs can still be nerfed incrementally. For example, the Barclaycard Arrival+ a couple years ago increased the minimum redemption amount and also reduced the redemption bonus.

  • Award Traveller says:

    Another way to obtain a stacking benefit on miles with Airbnb is to use the free United Plus X app. A United card is not needed although a United Mileage Plus account is necessary.

    Airbnb is now a listed vendor on the app. If you do have the Chase United card you get another 25% on top of the Airbnb multiplier. Your payment card also accrues its regular miles.

    This can result in many thousands of extra miles at no cost. Quite easy to do. You get the bonused United miles through the app plus whatever currency (I tend to use the Hilton Surpass for 6X Hilton points) you are using within the app to charge the Airbnb cost on. The app is quite ingenious in how it works.

  • There’s also an HSBC Premier World Mastercard if you have a HSBC Premier account.

  • Can fixed value points such as those earned on the Discover It Card be combined with points earned on a Delta card or points that can be converted from an SPG card?

  • Other than international business or first class, it is difficult to find miles tickets now that come out better than using fixed value points / cash back. So I have moved a lot of my spend to cash back. But even better than anything shown here is the Alliant Credit Union visa card which is 3% cash back the first year, then 2.5% after that. Frankly at those cash back rates, and the current low pricing on airfares, it’s even hard to beat that with international business class and points.

  • I just had this talk with my daughter-in-law, Craig is right. Some will burn miles on a cheap domestic ticket when there is a better value out there.

  • For any of these point cards to make sense you need to be earning at least 2 points per dollar spent. Otherwise just get the citi double card which gives you 2% spendable cash on anything you want, not just hotels or airline tickets. Simple math.

  • Fixed value points do have their… value.

  • It’s great that you still earn frequent flyer miles when using fixed value points to pay for your ticket.

  • Travelfreek says:

    Thanks for this article! I just got approved for the Barclay card – my first adventure into the fixed award arena! Cheers!

  • This is the first time that I heard about Fixed-Value Points. Is this a new feature? Why there are only a few banks offer this? I think Fixed-Value Points is much better than other loyalty programs. I want to see more banks to offer this to their customers.

    • fixed-value points are simply a name we’ve associated with a rewards currency that has a fixed value. If you have 100 of them they are always worth X. If you have 1,000 of them, they are worth 10x of 100; no more, no less.

      Airline miles and hotel points don’t necessarily correlate to fixed cash values for what an airline or hotel might sell that travel product. Every bank I can think of offers some type of product like this, but they don’t necessarily offer the best value.

  • Please correct me if I’m wrong, but in addition to the $.015 of value for every point redeemed that is implied, the link to the US Bank Altitude(TM) Reserve VISA signup page says it earns 3 points per dollar spent on eligible travel and net wallet purchases. That would make each dollar spent using that card for those categories worth $.045. If that’s true, the $325 annual travel credit, plus the annual Priority Pass Select membership and Global Entry application fee statement credit every four years make this card worth an average of $458/yr, justifying the $400 annual fee. And that doesn’t include the signup bonus (worth $750), onetime GroundLink(R) promotional credit (worth $30), or any of the other card benefits.

    It seems U.S. Bank is either dissembling or has sweetened these card terms since this article was written. I think this article requires clarification and an update.

    • Yes, 4.5c on travel, same as the CSR. But here you get it also on mobile pay. No place that I go seems to have mobile pay yet. You also get 12 in flight gogo per year which is nice. But the Priority Pass membership isn’t nearly as good. You only get 4 visits free, then they are $27 each. The website I found didn’t discuss travel insurance benefits, so I’m not sure how that compares
      .

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