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Within the world of elite credit cards, the most popular category for redeeming hard-earned credit card points is travel.  And there are three main ways to go about these travel redemptions.

First, with premium cards by American Express, Chase Sapphire, and CitiCard, it’s possible to transfer credit card points to a variety of frequent flyer programs.

Second—and our recommended method depending on which elite credit card you carry—is cashing out points for unrestricted air travel. It’s as easy as finding your desired flight, on your desired airline and date, and paying for the airline ticket using credit card points with redemption values as high as 2% (for holders of Mastercard®Gold Card™, Mastercard®Black Card™, and Mastercard®Titanium Card™).

And, finally, all credit cards offer the option of redeeming points for travel-related gift cards. Gift cards can be ordered directly through each card’s respective online Rewards Center.

Despite redemption values of 1% or lower and often meager choices among travel brands, this gift card option remains surprisingly popular. (Note: It used to be the case that the higher amount of the gift card purchased with points, the better the redemption value. Not anymore.)

Below, you’ll see how our cards stack up (in alphabetical order). There’s no real best in class here—a 1% redemption value is standard—but there’s a clear worst in class (spoiler: it’s the full suite of American Express elite cards.)

*WORST* The Platinum Card®and Gold Cards from American Express


Points earned on all of the top American Express cards—Gold Card from American Express, Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express, and The Platinum Card from American Express—can be redeemed for travel gift cards. However, the redemption value is almost always below 1%.

Gift cards are available for the following brands at a redemption value of a meager 0.70% (It requires 14,286 points for a $100 gift card): Delta Airlines, Four Seasons, Hotels.com, Marriott, and Ritz-Carlton.

Gift cards are available for the following brands at a redemption value of 0.85% (It requires 11,765 points for a $100 gift card): Best Western, Hilton, and Mandarin Oriental.

Finally, gift cards are available on Carnival Cruise lines at a redemption value of 1%. So, a $100 gift card costs 10,000 points.

Chase Sapphire Preferred®and Chase Sapphire Reserve®


Points earned on the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card and the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card can be redeemed at 1% for travel gift cards  (10,000 points can be redeemed for a $100 gift card.)

Gift cards are available for the following brands: Air BnB, Best Western, Carnival Cruise lines, Fairmont Resorts, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, and Uber.

Citi Prestige® Card


Points earned Citi Prestige can be redeemed at 1% for travel gift cards but only among three brands (10,000 points can be redeemed for a $100 gift card.)

Gift cards are available for the following brands: Carnival Cruise lines, Hotels.com and Mandarin Oriental.

Luxury Cards


Points earned on all three Luxury Cards—Mastercard Gold Card, Mastercard Black Card, and Mastercard Titanium Card—can be redeemed at 1% for travel gift cards (10,000 points can be redeemed for a $100 gift card.)

Gift cards are available for the following brands: Avis, Best Western, Carnival Cruise lines, Fairmont Resorts and Mandarin Oriental.

U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite® Card


Points earned the U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite Card can be redeemed at 1% for travel gift cards (10,000 points can be redeemed for a $100 gift card).

Gift cards are available for the following brands: Avis, Best Western, Carnival Cruise lines, Fairmont Resorts, Hotels.com, National Car Rental, Royal Caribbean, and Uber. In addition, you can redeem 50,000 points for a $500 gift card at Sandals Resorts.

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Award-winning travel writer and economist Paul Rubio is a credit card enthusiast, whose sophisticated use of points and rewards has helped him travel to 125 countries for free. Paul is a Harvard graduate with a master’s degree in public administration and a master’s degree in economics. He also holds a bachelor’s degree from Boston University with a double major in economics and environmental policy and a minor in conservation biology. He attended both undergraduate and graduate schools on full scholarships. Paul worked in the field of wildlife conservation before embracing his writing talents full-time in 2008. Since then, he has won more than two dozen national awards for his exemplary work in travel journalism. The prolific writer contributes to a number of top-tier international, national, and regional publications including Condé Nast Traveler, Fodors.com, Palm Beach Illustrated, Private Clubs, and Robb Report.