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Credit Card Miles vs. Cash Back: Guide to Choosing Between Cash Back and Travel Rewards

By Austin Kilham · July 18, 2022 · 6 minute read

We’re here to help! First and foremost, SoFi Learn strives to be a beneficial resource to you as you navigate your financial journey. Read more We develop content that covers a variety of financial topics. Sometimes, that content may include information about products, features, or services that SoFi does not provide. We aim to break down complicated concepts, loop you in on the latest trends, and keep you up-to-date on the stuff you can use to help get your money right. Read less

Credit Card Miles vs. Cash Back: Guide to Choosing Between Cash Back and Travel Rewards

Credit cards often offer rewards to incentivize you to apply for a credit card and use it. Cash back cards and miles cards are two common types of rewards cards. The former gives you cash rewards, while the latter offers miles or points that you can use toward a purchase.

Both types of rewards can end up being quite valuable for cardholders. But how do you decide whether you want to earn miles vs. cash back? Here’s a look at cash back vs. travel rewards cards to help you decide which is right for you.

What Are Points and Miles Credit Cards?

Points and miles credit cards are technically two types of rewards cards, a broader category within what a credit card is. Points cards give you points that you can redeem for things like travel, merchandise, or cash back to reward you for your spending. Generally, a point is worth about $0.01, though that varies by card and, in some cases, what you choose to use your points for. For example, you might earn more points for travel than you do when you redeem your points for gift cards.

Miles cards usually offer airline miles associated with an airline’s frequent flyer program. You can earn them by using a credit card that’s co-branded with a specific airline, or a card that’s a more general travel card. With co-branded cards, you can redeem miles with that airline or their partner airlines. Cards that aren’t co-branded may allow you to use your miles with various airlines.

As with points, airline miles are typically worth about $0.01, though the value of each mile might differ depending on when you book your travel and what type of seat you purchase.

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Pros and Cons of Points and Miles Credit Cards

Before signing up for a miles or points card, it’s important to consider the advantages and disadvantages.

On the one hand, points and miles cards both offer travel-related perks, though miles cards may only offer travel through specific airlines. Cards may also come with bonuses to help incentivize you to apply for a credit card.

However, miles and points cards may charge a hefty annual fee that helps the credit card company offset the cost of providing the rewards program. With co-branded cards, you typically cannot transfer miles to other airlines. Additionally, the value of your miles may vary according to a variety of factors, such as the date you choose to travel or the seat you want to sit in.

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Pros of Points and Miles Credit Cards Cons of Points and Miles Credit Cards
Reduce the cost of travel. Can’t transfer miles to another airline loyalty program.
Provide travel-related perks. Value of points and miles may vary.
May come with a sign-up bonus. Points and miles cards may charge large annual fees.

What Are Cash Back Credit Cards?

Cash back credit cards offer you cash as a reward for making purchases with the card. For example, your card might offer you up to 3% cash back on all purchases, which means that for every $100 you spend, you’ll receive $2. Cash back cards usually let you redeem your rewards for cash via statement credit, bank transfer, or check.

Cash back cards can be flat-rate cards, meaning you’ll earn a fixed percentage on every purchase. Or, they worked based on a tiered system. For example, some cards will offer you higher rewards for certain purchases, like travel, groceries, or gas. In some cases, cards may have rotating rewards categories that change every few months.

Related: Enjoying Credit Card Bonuses

Pros and Cons of Cash Back Credit Cards

When you consider a cash back card, again consider potential disadvantages in addition to benefits.
On the plus side, cash back cards typically don’t come with steep annual fees. You can redeem your rewards for cash that you can use for any purpose, and the amount you earn is fixed — the value or your reward doesn’t vary by date or other factors as it might with a miles card.

On the other hand, the amount of cash you can earn may be limited, and these cards may not offer many other perks. Cash back cards also typically don’t come with credit card sign-up bonuses that are as big as those offered by miles and points cards, marking another difference between cash back vs. miles cards.

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Pros of Cash Back Credit Cards Cons of Cash Back Credit Cards
Usually have no annual fees. May offer lower sign-up bonuses.
Rewards can be redeemed for cash. Cash back cards may offer fewer perks.
The value of your reward is fixed. The amount you can earn may be limited.

Similarities Between Cash Back and Points and Miles Credit Cards

Both cash back and points or miles cards offer you rewards based on your spending, and they may offer higher rewards for spending in certain categories. Be aware that some rewards have expiration dates, as well.

Rewards cards often carry higher-than-average interest rates. As a result, you’ll want to make sure that you will be able to pay off your credit card bill on-time and in full when you use your card, given how credit cards work when it comes to interest.

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Differences Between Cash Back and Points and Miles Credit Cards

The main difference between a cash back credit card vs. miles and points card is how you redeem your rewards. With cash back cards, you received a percentage of your spending, sometimes limited to a maximum amount. You earn points and miles in a similar way. However, their value may change and you may be limited in where you can redeem them.

If you have a co-branded miles card for example, you may only be able to use your miles with that airline. Cards that aren’t co-branded may offer you the chance to redeem points and miles with a variety of companies, such as airlines and hotel brands.

Similarities Between Cash Back and Points and Miles Credit Cards Differences Between Cash Back and Points and Miles Credit Cards
Offer rewards based on spending. Cash back card rewards are redeemed for cash.
May offer greater rewards for spending in certain categories. Points and miles allow you to redeem rewards toward purchases.
Typically has a higher interest rate. Points and miles cards may limit where you can redeem your rewards.

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Is It Better to Get Cash Back or Miles?

Whether or not you choose a cash back card vs. a miles or points card will depend on how much you travel. Travel cards tend to offer better value when you redeem points and miles for travel-related rewards. So if you’re a big traveler, one of these cards may be right for you. However, if you’re more of a homebody, a cash back rewards program may be a better fit.

Other Credit Card Rewards

Cash back or travel rewards isn’t your only choice. There are a variety of other credit card rewards programs you may encounter.

Gas Rewards

Gas cards are typically co-branded with certain gas vendors. Users usually earn points and discounts only on gas purchases. In general, gas cards have relatively high rates of return and don’t charge an annual fee.

Retail Credit Cards

Credit cards that are co-branded with major retail outlets will often offer discounts at that outlet. Rewards might be applied at the point of sale or as regular statement credits.

Rewards Points Redemption Into Crypto

Some credit cards may allow you to redeem rewards for crypto. For instance, SoFi’s credit card lets users redeem reward points directly into cryptocurrency, in addition to redeeming points into a checking or savings account or an investment account.

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The Takeaway

Understanding how credit cards allow you to redeem rewards — and how useful those rewards are — is key to deciding which card is right for you. If you’re a world traveler, a miles card might fit the bill. And if you don’t fly frequently, you may be better served by earning cash back on purchases you make in your day-to-day life.

Shop around for the credit card that best suits your needs. A credit card from SoFi offers 2% unlimited cash back rewards and charges no foreign transaction fee. Cardholders earn 1% cash back rewards when redeemed for a statement credit.1 It’s also the first credit card to allow users to redeem rewards in cryptocurrency.

FAQ

What is the difference between cash back and miles?

Cash back cards allow you to earn back a percentage of the purchases you make. Miles cards allow you to earn miles based on the purchases you make, which you often must use toward airline travel.

Is cash back really worth it?

Cash back rewards can allow you to earn some money back from your everyday spending. However, you’ll want to make sure you can pay off your balance in full each month, as rewards cards that offer cash back tend to have higher interest rates than non-rewards credit cards.

Can you convert miles to cash?

Some cards allow you to convert miles to cash, but users will get the most value from redeeming miles for travel. You can find out whether your card allows you to convert miles to cash by calling your credit card issuer. Find their number on the back of your credit card.

Do cash back or credit card miles have higher interest rates?

Both cash back and travel rewards credit cards tend to have higher interest rates as they’re types of rewards credit cards. In general, rewards credit cards usually have higher interest rates than no-frills cards that don’t offer rewards.


Photo credit: iStock/franckreporter

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
The SoFi Credit Card is issued by The Bank of Missouri (TBOM) (“Issuer”) pursuant to license by Mastercard® International Incorporated and can be used everywhere Mastercard is accepted. Mastercard is a registered trademark, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated.
1See Rewards Details at SoFi.com/card/rewards.
Members earn 2 rewards points for every dollar spent on eligible purchases. If you elect to redeem points for cash deposited into your SoFi Checking or Savings account, SoFi Money® account, fractional shares or cryptocurrency in your SoFi Active Invest account, or as a payment to your SoFi Personal, Private Student, or Student Loan Refinance, your points will redeem at a rate of 1 cent per every point. If you elect to redeem points as a statement credit to your SoFi Credit Card account, your points will redeem at a rate of 0.5 cents per every point. For more details please visit the Rewards page. Brokerage and Active investing products offered through SoFi Securities LLC, member FINRA/SIPC. SoFi Securities LLC is an affiliate of SoFi Bank, N.A.
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