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For many of you, it’s the time of year for back to school shopping, which means preparing for a major dent in the monthly budget.

While I generally recommend using credit card points and frequent flyer miles for travel,  I also encourage each client to use their points for what means the most to them.

In this economy, many people are looking for ways to decrease their monthly expenses- whether it means switching to cash back cards or using their points for gift cards, and this is certainly is true around “back to school” season.

Whether your child is going to elementary school or college- there are a litany of costs, from clothing to electronics, that can add up quickly. For many families, a trip this year is out of the question, so I’ve had a lot of inquiries lately requesting ideas for non-travel ways to use miles.  Below are a some of the biggest travel point programs that allow you to redeem for merchandise and gift cards.

American Express Membership Rewards Points-
The value in American Express Membership Rewards points is in their flexibility. You can transfer them to a number of airlines and hotels, or you can use them for merchandise and gift cards. The gift card redemption is fairly straight forward: 1 point = 1 cent, so a $50 gift card costs 5,000 points. Gift cards can be redeemed at this rate for popular retailers like Old Navy, Gap, Barnes & Noble, Banana Republic, Kohls, Home Depot, Lands End, Pottery Barn, West Elm, Brooks Brothers, Cole Haan, Zappos
As well as high end retailers like Saks, Bergford, Neiman Marcus, Coach
And even for electronics at Dell

If your favorite retailer isn’t listed, you can turn Amex points into generic Amex gift cards that can be used anywhere- however they cost twice as many points as the gift cards listed above. For ex. $50 amex gift card = 10,000 points
Be aware that some of them ship as physical gift cards and some are available as E-gift cards, so they get emailed to you right away.

Delta Skymiles
The worlds largest frequent flyer program, also has a marketplace where you can use your SkyMiles for merchandise.
You can buy merchandise directly, however the rate is much less desirable. For example a boy’s North Face jacket which retails for $54.99 costs 17,500 Skymiles= a value of 1/3 a cent per mile.
If you have elite status on Delta, it gives you access to the Medallion Marketplace, which includes gift cards, which are offered at a better value.
As a Platinum medallion I can get a $50 gift card for 6,000 Skymiles (.83 cents a point).

However, if you have a Delta American Express card and have Medallion status, the rate is 5,000 Skymiles for a $50 gift certificate- the same as Amex.
And here is a little secret- American Express routinely has transfer bonuses to Delta- anywhere from 10-40%. Currently, they have a 15% bonus until 7/31/10, so 10,000 Amex would be 11,500 Delta miles, which would be $115.00 in gift certs vs $100 going through Amex AND Delta has more card options- Including most of American Express’ partners and also Macys and Bloomingdales. So it may actually benefit you to transfer the miles to Delta and go through their marketplace if you a Delta Amex or Elite status. However, before you transfer, make sure you do the math to make sure you will be able to get more than 1 cent per point value.

United also has a mall, but does not offer gift cards. Their merchandise is at slightly better ratios than Delta, though they don’t offer much clothing.
You can get a Apple® iMac 21.5″ Desktop with 500GB Hard Drive which retails for $1200, for 187,100 miles- or .6 cent per point value- double Delta’s.

Beware when ordering merchandise directly- all sales are normally final, so you definitely give up some flexibility. However, if you get a gift card and purchase, then you are subject to the retailers normal rules.

Continental also has Miles for Merchandise program, which features some deals that can be redeemed at discounted prices for 100 mile co-pays. It is a very random site, with generally only high end merchandise (Ferragamo and Burberry handbags) and frankly many of the items can be purchased for cheaper at discount retailers. However with some research, diamonds in the rough can be found.

However, if you want gift cards, Continental miles can be converted 1:1 to Amtrak points starting at 5,000 points. You have to call Continental, but the transfer goes through in a couple days. Once there you can redeem for gift cards,  such as Bath and Body Works, Barnes and Noble, CVS, Lowes, Macys, Pottery Barn, Staples, TJ Maxx- 6,000 for $50 and 10,000 for $100 gift cards.

For advice using your frequent flyer miles, feel free to email me at

Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express

With some great bonus categories and an annual fee that’s waived for the first year, the American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card has a lot going for it. If you don’t have PRG, now’s as good a time as any to add it to your wallet, as Amex added some great new benefits several months back.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Receive 25,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $2,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership.
  • 3X points for flights booked directly with airlines. 2X points at US restaurants, US gas stations, and US supermarkets. 1X points on other purchases. Terms and limitations apply.
  • No matter where you're traveling, when you use your Premier Rewards Gold Card there are no foreign transaction fees from American Express.
  • $100 Airline Fee Credit. Up to $100 a year in baggage fees and more at one airline.
  • Get a $75 hotel credit on qualifying charges, plus a room upgrade upon arrival, if available with The Hotel Collection at Terms apply.
  • There is a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $195.
  • Terms and limitations apply. See Rates & Fees
Intro APR on Purchases
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Introductory annual fee of $0 for the first year, then $195.
Balance Transfer Fee
See Terms
Recommended Credit
Excellent Credit

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