What are travel rewards programs and how they work

Gabriela Peratello

Travel rewards programs can help you earn special perks if you regularly travel across the US or further afield. From hotel discounts to miles, you can earn and redeem your points for great travel benefits.

Understand everything you need to know about travel rewards programs, including how they work and the top memberships for frequent travelers.


What are travel rewards programs and how do they work?

Travel rewards programs give frequent travelers extra perks, rewarding customer loyalty to certain brands. Typically, a travel rewards program allows you to earn points when you spend money with a company, which can then be redeemed for special bonuses.

These perks may include:
  • Hotel visits

  • Flights

  • Upgrades and airport perks

  • Car rentals

Travel rewards programs are valuable if you regularly spend money on travel expenses, as you can get a little something back from your purchases.

Who offers travel loyalty programs?

There are a few different types of travel rewards programs. Many airlines reward loyal customers by letting you earn points whenever you spend money on flights, or when you buy meals in partner restaurants or shops.

You can also join a hotel travel rewards program. Hyatt® hotels reward customers with points whenever they book a visit - and these points can be redeemed for hotel stays, spa visits, and other perks.

World of Hyatt members earn 5 base points for every 1 USD spent on eligible purchases. You can also access other benefits, such as free WiFi or discounted rates.¹

Opening a travel rewards credit card can also help you earn travel perks. For example, the Capital One® Venture Rewards Credit Card lets you access 300 USD in annual statement credit for travel purchases - and you can earn extra redeemable points when using this card.²

These programs aim to encourage loyalty to a specific brand or service provider, offering benefits and discounts for customers who love to travel.

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How to choose the best travel rewards programs for you

It’s important to choose the right travel rewards program for you - and this will depend from person to person.

If you regularly travel abroad, you may want to choose a credit card that offers credit for Clear or Global Entry, as these memberships can make your airport journey a little easier when you fly.

You may also want to check if your preferred airline company has a loyalty program. For example, if you regularly travel with United®, you may want to join the MileagePlus program to earn redeemable points when you fly. It’s important to stick with brands that you regularly use to earn as many points as possible.

Your spending behavior can also affect which travel rewards program is the best for you. If you spend a lot on travel every year, for example, the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card may offer the best deals, as you can earn 2 miles per 1 USD on purchases.³

If you use a travel credit card, you can also redeem your points on lots of different travel purchases - and this is the best option if you want to book hotels, airlines, and more.

Check out our full guide to the best travel rewards credit cards

Top travel rewards programs

There are a few different travel rewards programs to check out. We’ve put together some information about the top programs, including key features, pros, and cons.

American Airlines® AAdvantageAlaska Airlines® Mileage PlanWorld of HyattBank of America® Travel Rewards Credit CardCapital One Venture Rewards Card
Features- Earn and redeem miles when you fly with American Airlines or partners- Earn and redeem miles with Alaska Airlines and 20 partner airlines⁵

- Earn 5 points for every 1 USD spent at Hyatt

- Redeem points on a range of Hyatt hotels

- Access a statement credit to pay for travel¹

- Earn 1.5 points for every 1 USD⁷

- Get 300 USD in annual statement credit for travel

- Earn unlimited 2 miles per 1 USD


- Redeem miles for flights, hotel visits, and car rentals

- Access flight upgrades⁴

- Flexible options to redeem your miles

- Member of the Oneworld alliance¹

- Get a free stay for just 5000 points⁶

- Transfer points from Chase Ultimate Rewards²

- No annual fee

- No foreign transaction fees⁷

- Access Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credit³

- Earn unlimited rewards³

Cons- You need to reach high status to earn extra points and benefits- Your account will deactivate after two years of inactivity⁵- You may only be able to access off-peak hotel stays¹- Other credit cards offer better value for your points¹- Costs 95 USD per year³
Ideal usersFrequent travelersThose who fly from the West CoastAffluent travelersFrequent travelersThose who spend a lot on travel

Travel rewards FAQ

Can you transfer your travel rewards to someone else?

It’s typically not possible to transfer credit card points to another person. If you want to do this, you’ll need to redeem your points for airline miles or hotel stays and then transfer these points to someone else. That person needs to have an account with that airline or hotel rewards program too.⁸

Some airline travel loyalty programs let you transfer your points, but the rules will depend on which program you choose. For example, you’ll be charged 10 USD per 1000 miles and a 25 USD handling fee if you want to transfer your Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan points.¹

Can you combine points from different travel rewards programs?

You can combine points with some travel rewards programs. This is typically known as points pooling, as you and your family can contribute to the same pool when earning your points.

Loyalty programs that allow pooling include JetBlue TrueBlue, Frontier Airlines, Air Canada, and Hilton Honors.¹

Do travel rewards expire?

The expiry date of your travel rewards points depends on which program you choose. For example, your United MileagePlus miles won’t expire, but your Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan account will be deactivated if you’re inactive for two years.⁹

What is the best way to use travel rewards?

You can use your credit card points for many different travel rewards, including airline miles or hotel stays. Booking travel with your points is typically the best value, rather than in shops or restaurants.

When it comes to airlines, it’s best to use your travel rewards to pay for flights as this offers the best value for your money.¹

Travel rewards programs can make it easier and cheaper for you to book travel, giving you a chance to earn points whenever you go on vacation or spend money using your credit card. These programs promote brand loyalty - and there are lots of special perks for customers.

To start spending your money worldwide, check out Wise.


  1. Nerdwallet
  2. The Points Guy
  3. Capital One
  4. AAdvantage
  5. US Travel News
  6. Hyatt
  7. Bank of America
  8. Investopedia
  9. United

Sources checked 08.21.2023

*Please see terms of use and product availability for your region or visit Wise fees and pricing for the most up to date pricing and fee information.

This publication is provided for general information purposes and does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from Wise Payments Limited or its subsidiaries and its affiliates, and it is not intended as a substitute for obtaining advice from a financial advisor or any other professional.

We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether expressed or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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