Although shopping isn’t always the best way to get value out of your credit card or other loyalty rewards — international flights and upgrades typically get more punch for the point — there are lots of good reasons to consider spending some points on holiday gifts.
If you’re short on cash, tapping your miles and points is an easy way to come through for loved ones without racking up debt. It’s a sneaky way to treat a spouse who shares your checking and credit accounts without having a bill for the “gift” arrive in January. Shopping can also be an expedient way to use up small caches of points that might otherwise expire, which should be part of your year-end financial cleanup anyway.
Check out some of these easy ways to turn points into presents under the tree. (See also: 25+ Ways to Save Money But Still Get What You Want During Holiday Shoppin)
1. Shop Amazon With Points
This is so easy that even I, usually a die hard “save points for travel” girl, bought my kids some toys using this method this year. Some credit cards allow you to link your Amazon account directly to easily use points for purchases. Amazon is also a popular vendor in shopping portals. Check your credit card issuer to see if they have a members-only shopping portal that allows you to use points (or earn bonus ones) when you shop with their partners.
2. Buy Gift Cards With Points
Many rewards programs offer gift cards as a redemption option. You can usually exchange your points at a $0.01 rate, so if you have 500 points, you can usually get a $5 gift card to a popular store, like Starbucks, Home Depot, or Banana Republic. Make sure to check whether your gift cards will arrive by mail or email, and if by mail, when they will be shipped.
3. Give the Gift of Travel
If you have a lot of points, you can always use them where you get the best value: airline flights. This is a great gift idea for a loved one you’d like to visit you. Simply use your points to book a ticket in his name. Southwest is a good candidate for this kind of gift, since your recipient can change the flight itinerary at no charge if your proposed travel dates don’t work. (See also: Why Southweest Is the Best Domestic Airline for Families)
4. Give Subscriptions
If you have a few points close to expiration, you may have received an offer in the mail to trade points for magazine and newspaper subscriptions. This is a good way to squeeze some value out of miles for an airline you’re unlikely to fly, or points from any program where you don’t expect to accumulate enough to redeem anything big.
For instance, while 3,200 miles is not enough for even a short flight on American Airlines, it can get you a yearlong subscription to The Wall Street Journal, a $278 value. Through Mags for Miles, you can redeem United, Spirit, and a number of other types of miles for People, Sports Illustrated, or many other titles. This is a particularly good idea for Spirit miles, since they expire quickly.
5. Redeem Points for Merchandise
This usually ends up giving you the worst value for your points, but if it prevents you from actually spending your cash, it can still be worthwhile. Look at your options for points redemption, and you’ll usually find a “merchandise” option, which lists gadgets and gifts you can get with your points. If the gift you really want to get is there, or you really wouldn’t be able to use the points in a better way, why not?
6. Give Exclusive Experiences
Sometimes Broadway shows, sporting events, and other experience vendors offer exclusive opportunities to cardholders. Members might get offered pre-sale tickets for popular shows or access a VIP experience at a special event. (See also: Once-In-A-Lifetime Experiences I’ve Earned with Credit Card Rewards)
7. Redeem Points for Cash
Even if your credit card isn’t labeled a “cash back” credit card, you may still be able to redeem your points for cash or a statement credit. Sometimes they don’t advertise this option, so dig a little into their rewards center to see whether it’s an option.
8. Make a Donation
If your giftee is the type of person who would appreciate a charitable donation in their name, many issuers will allow you to donate your points to charities. Check your rewards center for options and availability.