Basics of Points and Miles


“I used miles to fly in Business class to India.” I was explaining to a friend, just one of the numerous ways to reap the rewards of earning points and miles. Many people think this is overly complicated, and end up missing out on earning points or miles on a flight or hotel stay or credit card purchase.

The simplest way to understand points and miles is to think of them as currencies. You create an account in a specific program (like a country), and bank your points or miles in that account until you are ready to redeem (or withdraw) some or all for cash or travel. Each program has its own rules, values, and ways to earn or redeem.

There are three primary types of rewards or loyalty programs that allow you to earn or redeem points:

  1. Airlines programs
  2. Hotels programs
  3. Transferable points program


Airline loyalty programs
Each major airline has its own loyalty program. You can earn and redeem points directly on that airline, or on its alliance partners. Major airlines programs include:

  • Delta Airlines: Skymiles
  • United Airlines: MileagePlus
  • American Airlines: AAdvantage
  • Southwest Airlines: Rapid Rewards
  • British Airways: Executive Club
  • Emirates Airways: Skyward
  • Air France / KLM: Flying Blue

At the simplest level, for Delta Airlines, you will earn Skymiles based on the distance (in miles) of the flight.


Hotel loyalty programs
The major hotel brands also have their own loyalty programs. You earn and redeem points by staying or spending at hotels within each brand. Major hotel programs include:

  • Starwood Preferred Guest (Westin, W, St Regis, Sheraton, Aloft, Element, etc.)
  • Marriott Rewards (Marriott, JW Marriott, Courtyard, Fairfield Inn, etc.)
  • Hilton HHonors (Hilton, Hilton Garden Inn, Embassy Suites, Doubletree, Conrad, etc.)
  • IHG Rewards Club (Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, Candlewood Suites, InterContinenta, etc.)
  • World of Hyatt (Hyatt, Park Hyatt, Hyatt Regency, Hyatt Place, Andaz, etc.)
  • Choice Hotels (Clarion, Comfort, Econo Lodge, Quality Inn, etc.)

At the simplest level, for Marriott Hotels, you will earn 10 points for every dollar spent on room base rates


Transferable points programs
Major credit card brands allow you to earn points within the brand’s rewards program, typically by using the brand’s credit cards to pay for purchases. The accrued points can be transferred to partner airline or hotel programs.  Major programs include:

  • Chase Ultimate Rewards.
  • American Express Membership Rewards
  • Capital One Rewards
  • Citibank ThankYou Rewards

At the simplest level, for Chase credit cards, you will earn one Ultimate Rewards point for every dollar spent on a participating Chase credit card

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