What Are Credit Card Points and How Do They Work?

By Jennifer Calonia · July 25, 2022 · 7 minute read

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What Are Credit Card Points and How Do They Work?

Credit card points are a common incentive for cardholders to actively make purchases on a rewards credit card. Once earned, cardholders can use credit card points toward a redemption option they find worthwhile. This can include travel or a purchase credit toward a good or service.

Read on to learn more about how credit card points work, including how to get and how to use credit card points.

What Are Credit Card Points?

Credit card points are one of many different credit card rewards that card issuers offer to consumers through a rewards program. For instance, a program might offer you two points for every dollar you spend on the card, which you could then redeem for use once you’ve accumulated a certain amount of points.

Points act as a form of currency within a credit card rewards program, designed to entice cardholders into maintaining spending activity on the card. Some reward programs for credit cards are also co-branded to encourage loyalty to a particular brand.

How Do Credit Card Points Work?

Understanding how credit card points work ultimately comes down to knowing how to earn points on credit cards — and then how to redeem them.

Earning Points on Credit Cards

Wondering how to get credit card points? There are a number of ways to earn points on your rewards credit card account:

•   Everyday purchases: Using a card as your primary payment method for your routine expenses is one way to earn points. Depending on your preferences and the features of other rewards cards in your wallet, you might choose to put purchases, like your morning coffee, groceries, rideshare expenses, and more on the card.

You might also choose to dedicate certain spending categories to a rewards card that offers bonus points toward that purchase. For example, if your rewards card offers 5X points when using your card at the supermarket, you might decide to use the card exclusively for groceries.

•   Shopping with credit card partners: Part of finding the right card for you is researching whether the credit card partners with brands and services that you already shop with. For example, some cards partner with ride-sharing services, like Lyft, and offer bonus points for every Lyft purchase put on the card.

Note that some card issuers require you to pre-register for this type of bonus point incentive. You might have to link your rewards card to your Lyft account in order to receive bonus point credit for ride costs, for instance.

•   Sign-up bonuses: If you’re expecting a costly upcoming expense, like a medical bill or home repair, a common strategy to earn credit card points quickly is finding a competitive credit card bonus offer. Sign-up bonuses typically offer a promotional bulk quantity of points after you spend a minimum amount on the card within the first few months of opening the account.

Putting your large purchase on a new card accelerates your point earnings, but make sure you can pay your monthly statements in full to avoid interest charges — one of the important credit card rules to abide by in general. If you allow your balance to roll over into the next month, it can cut into the value of a sign-up points bonus.

•   Referral points: When you refer a friend to your rewards credit card program, some card issuers offer a referral bonus. Typically, you’ll receive a referral bonus reward, and your friend also receives bonus points if they meet certain spending requirements on their new card. Referral points vary by credit card, but it’s another option for cardholders who want to earn points on credit cards while giving friends a bonus perk, too.

Redeeming Points on Credit Cards

You can redeem credit card points in various ways. Common options to redeem credit card rewards points, depending on your card’s redemption choices, include:

•   Flights

•   Hotel stays

•   Car rentals

•   Statement credits

•   Cash back

•   Gift cards

•   Merchandise

•   Online retailers

•   Special experiences

•   Charitable donations

Redemption typically takes place through the card issuer’s app or website, or through the issuer’s dedicated rewards program website.

Types of Credit Card Rewards

Credit cards offer different types of rewards options. The common “currencies” are points, miles, and credit card.

Reward Points

You can earn credit card points by making purchases on your rewards card. Some credit card products offer a flat rate per dollar spent on your card, while others offer bonus points toward a spending category.

For example, a card might offer tiered bonus points at a rate of 5 points per dollar at restaurants, 3 points per dollar toward every gasoline purchase, and 1 point per dollar on everything else.


Miles are a common reward unit that’s typically used among travel credit cards and airline-branded rewards cards. Depending on the mileage rewards program, you’ll typically earn bonus miles when charging travel-related expenses on your rewards credit card. Some credit cards also let you earn miles on non-travel purchases at a lower mile-per-dollar rate.

This type of credit card reward is ideal for regular travelers who often fly to their destination and are interested in using credit card rewards to travel for less. If you prefer flying on a specific airline, a branded rewards credit card can help you earn miles toward a future flight, in addition to other redemption options, like hotel stays or goods. General rewards mileage cards can be redeemed in a similar way, but it’s not restricted to a particular carrier.

Cash Back

Credit cards that offer cash-back rewards let you earn a percentage of cash back based on the amount you spend. This can typically be redeemed as statement credit to reduce how much you owe on your monthly credit card bill, or as cash sent directly to you. Some cash back credit cards let you redeem cash back rewards as credit toward a purchase through one of the issuer’s partners.

If you’re not an avid traveler, a cash-back card can be a straightforward option to earn and redeem rewards. Many card issuers offer a flat-rate rewards model that offers an easy-to-remember cash-back percentage on all card purchases.

How Much Are Credit Card Points Worth?

The value of each credit card point is generally worth 1 cent. However, reward valuations vary between credit card reward programs and can also differ based on how you choose to redeem them.

For example, your credit card points could be worth 1 cent when you redeem them for cash or gift cards, but worth 1.25 cents when you redeem them for travel-related options, such as flights or dining. Keep in mind that these amounts can vary widely, so it’s important to understand the terms and conditions of your credit card.

Recommended: Tips for Using a Credit Card Responsibly

Getting the Most of Your Credit Card Points

Below are a few helpful ways to maximize your credit card points:

•   Stay on top of bonus categories. Some rewards credit cards offer rotating bonus spending categories that temporarily increase the points you can earn per dollar spent on the card. These types of cards often require you to “enroll” in the bonus category, so familiarize yourself with your card’s bonus calendar.

•   Be aware of bonus limits. Read the rules of your rewards program, including thresholds on the maximum dollar amount that’s eligible for bonus rewards.

•   Calculate if the annual fee is worth it. Before signing up for a rewards credit card, review your spending habits over the last year. Note the spending categories and amounts you’ve spent. Based on this information, calculate whether the card’s rewards program and benefits — like TSA PreCheck credit and other perks — exceed the annual fee you’d spend each year.

The Takeaway

Accruing credit card points, miles, or cash back can be worthwhile as long as you use your card responsibly and select a rewards card that fits your lifestyle. Before putting your earned rewards toward a high-dollar purchase, or applying earned cash rewards to your monthly statement, keep your objective in mind.

Whether you're looking to build credit, apply for a new credit card, or save money with the cards you have, it's important to understand the options that are best for you. Learn more about credit cards by exploring this credit card guide.


Do credit card points expire?

Typically, credit card points don’t expire. However, your points might expire if your credit card account is closed, falls into bad standing, or after a period of inactivity. Different cards have varying rewards program terms and conditions, so check with your card issuer to see if your credit card points have an expiration timeline.

Do credit cards with rewards have higher interest rates?

Rewards credit cards, like retail credit cards, tend to have higher interest rates compared to regular credit cards. Cardholders with a positive credit history and strong credit score generally qualify for lower interest rates compared to those with a low credit score.

What is the use of earning reward points on my credit card?

Earning rewards points on your credit card allows you to get something in exchange for the spending you do with your credit card. For example, depending on your rewards program, you can redeem credit card points as a cash back reward, or put them toward future travel or other purchases.

Photo credit: iStock/stefanamer

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.


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