Best ways to use your rewards points

May 23, 2011 4:58:06 AM PDT
Millions of people who use credit cards earn reward points for every charge they make. Besides airline tickets, you can get merchandise, hotels, even tickets to the rodeo! What's the best way to spend your points?

Dawn Dankner-Rosen keeps track of her credit card reward points so she can book free flights. She has saved thousands of dollars for her family of six.

Dawn tells us, "We've gone to California. We've gone to France and Spain and Italy. So we've gone all over the world using our, our miles."

You can also cash in your points and miles for computers and TVs - even furniture and mattresses. But as Consumer Reports money advisor Chris Fichera explains, "Hands down, the best value for your miles is an airline ticket. The way we calculated the value is to compare the miles you spend to the actual cost of the item."

For instance, the average price of a domestic flight is about $350. Divide that by the 25,000 miles it can take to get a ticket and each mile is worth about 1.4-cents. Use 35,000 miles and the value of the mile is a penny.

Fichera says, "Buying merchandise with points or miles is generally a worse deal. One flat-screen TV we looked at cost more than 78,000 points."

A TV like that retails for around $400. That divided by 78,000 means the points are only worth about half a cent.

For hotel stays, using points may be worth it, but do the math because deals vary. And while air travel is the best way to spend your miles and points, you have to be persistent and flexible with blackout dates and other restrictions. But it pays off. Dawn has booked a trip for the whole family to China this summer.

"It's a way to, to bring everybody together. We have unbelievable memories. It's golden."

If you have just a few miles you'd like to use up, some of the best deals for small transactions are newspaper or magazine subscriptions.