Should you buy rewards points? Travel rewards programs sometimes provide opportunities for aspirational travel like business and first class flight and luxury hotel suites. So why wouldn’t it make sense to simply buy travel points instead of paying in cash for your travel.
After all, many brands not only sell points, but they frequently have sales where you can buy points at a discount.
So why not just buy all of the points you need?
Buying points is usually a bad deal
Buying points outright is perhaps the most expensive way to accumulate hotel and airline points. If you’re looking at buying the entire amount of points needed for a stay, you’re almost always going to spend more than you would if you just paid for the stay in cash.
And this makes sense. Hotels and airlines don’t want you buying their points to get discounts on travel; they want to use their points to incentivize you to use credit cards, engage with their partners and travel using their brands.
Sales sometimes help, but not much
Some rewards programs put their points on sale all the time. Hilton always seems to have a sale. Avianca LifeMiles feels like they put points on sale frequently. AirFrance/KLM Flying Blue seems to be generous in offering 100% bonuses when it puts its miles on sale. The list goes on.
But just because points are on sale, that doesn’t mean that it’s a good deal to buy them.
As an example, let’s take a look at IHG points. Earlier this year, I got an offer for “80% more points” when I purchased IHG points through Points.com. Because IHG normally sells points for 1.35 cents each, I could get 10,000 points for $135. That means I’d be buying points for 0.75 cents each. Given that IHG points will usually get you only about 0.60 cents in value each for redemptions, it’s probably a bad deal. I’d be losing value by buying something with less value AND I’d be losing value because having cash is more flexible than having IHG points.
Check valuations if you’re buying speculatively.
If you do decide that buying points speculatively might be the right call for you, be sure that you’re getting a good deal. Before you purchase, a quick stop over to our valuations page is your friend. If you’re paying a lot less than our valuations for points in a particular program, you might be getting a good deal.
When can it make sense to buy points?
Even though point sales are usually a bad deal, it can sometimes make sense to buy them. Here are two cases when it can make sense to buy points.
Topping off your account for a specific award
If you need just a few points to top off your account for a specific award, buying points might make sense. As an example, for an upcoming trip to Washington D.C., the Holiday Inn on the national mall is available to book with IHG points. The cash rate for this same hotel is $281/night.
If I pay with points, I get the fourth night free (a benefit of my IHG credit card) but I don’t have quite enough points to pay for my entire stay. If I buy 2,000 points (at a regular cost of $27.00) I will have enough points to pay for my entire stay and get my free night from my credit card. Sure, I’m buying IHG points at an insane 1.35 cents per point, but a small $27 purchase is enabling me to use all of my IHG points and take advantage of a fourth-night free benefit on my credit card.
Keeping points from expiring
Not all travel reward programs let you keep the points you’ve earned forever. Points in some travel award programs expire after a period of inactivity. If you have built up miles in a program that are going to expire soon, buying miles can be one way to keep your points from going poof.
Avianca LifeMiles is one of the programs that is most notorious for having its miles expire… and quickly. Avianca miles expire after just 12 months of account inactivity. But any account activity extends the life of your LifeMiles. So, purchasing just 1,000 miles can ensure that the pile of LifeMiles you are carrying won’t expire for another 12 months.
Be aware that not all programs let you extend the life of your miles by purchasing miles. ANA (All Nippon Airways) Mileage Club miles expire 36 months after they are earned.
Frequently asked questions
You can use cashback portals or 5% everywhere tactics when buying points to get more value for your purcase.
If you can purchase points with a credit card, you can use a Visa or Mastercard gift card to purchase points. Note that often point bonus offers often incentivize purchasing a large number of points. You won’t get these incentives if you split your purchase across multiple $500 gift cards.
Almost every program imposes a limit on the number of points you can buy. These limits are in the terms and conditions of the loyalty program that you are buying points in.