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The other day, my sister texted me, thinking she stumbled upon a major revelation: She could use points to order sushi on Seamless. Free sushi! What could be better than that?
No! Abort mission! Do not pass go! Why? Because it is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad use of your points. Let me explain.
Like we’ve said time and time again, your points have a monetary value — and the trick for getting good value out of points and miles is to never pay more than the value of what they’re worth. I’ll say that again a little louder: Never pay more in points than what they’re worth.
Let’s do a little real-world example. Say I’m ordering sushi for dinner tonight because I can’t be bothered to cook. My total comes out to about $30 (What? Naruto rolls are expensive, ok?). When I go to checkout on Seamless, I’m prompted to use some of my Amex points, also known as Membership Rewards points.
It gives me a prompt to pay with points — and for $30, the equivalent of 4,286 points in their book, my spicy tuna roll will be on its way.
According to us, 4,286 Amex points are worth almost $86. While determining the value of points and miles isn’t an exact science and varies from company to company (and depends on how you personally value each currency), that’s still far off from $30. And if I’m going to be eating $86 of sushi, you better believe I’ll be at Nobu or Sushi of Gari instead of ordering in from a casual sushi place near my apartment. When you also factor in what you can do with nearly 4,000 points, it really starts to sink in that you’re getting the short end of the stick.
4,000 Amex points on their own won’t get you very far — literally. Delta, though, is an Amex transfer partner and points transfer at a 1:1 ratio. In English, you can transfer your Amex points to Delta, and for every Amex point you transfer, you’ll get 1 Delta mile. This can be really valuable when you consider that Delta regularly has “flash sales” on domestic flights for as little as 6,000 SkyMiles. So, to put it this way: For only 2,000 more points, you could be flying from Boston to Austin (or other combinations of domestic cities that aren’t as rhyme-friendly). I love my sushi as much as the next girl from Long Island, but not enough to hand over the majority of the cost of a one-way flight.
If you’d rather stock up your miles and do something really big, you could use 70,000 Amex points to book a round-trip business-class ticket to Tokyo (NRT) on ANA when Amex is running a 30% Virgin Atlantic transfer bonus — and that’s just one example. My point here — pun intended — is that your points are valuable. They add up over time, and wouldn’t you rather save them and put them to use for an amazing vacation than use them for mediocre takeout that you’re going to forget you ate the next day? I don’t know about you guys, but I’d take sushi in Tokyo over sushi from a generic neighborhood spot any day.
Same thing goes with Amazon. You could pay with points to order a waffle maker/Amazon Alexa/what have you, or you could save them and get more value out of them by going on the vacation of your dreams. Take your pick.
There is one thing we should note as far as Amazon goes, though. In rare cases, it does make sense to use your points — namely, when there is an insane promotion to get $30 off a $60 purchase using 1 Amex point or $15 off a $60 purchase using 1 Chase point. Why? Because you’re using just 1 point, and getting a lot in return for it. In the cases I just mentioned, one Amex point is worth a whopping $30 (as opposed to the usual 2 cents), and one Chase point becomes equivalent to $15 — whereas it’s usually also 2 cents based on our valuations. Paying the equivalent of 2 cents to get $30 or $15 worth of stuff? Yes, please.
When you’re making purchases on Amazon, be sure to use a card that earns you bonus points on purchases, such as the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature (5% cash back) and the Chase Freedom Unlimited (1.5% cash back). As far as dining, your best options include the American Express® Gold Card (4x at US restaurants) and the Chase Sapphire Reserve (3x).
Got another burning beginner question? Feel free to follow me on Instagram or comment below and let me know what’s up.
Featured image courtesy Getty Images
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With great travel benefits, 2x points on travel & dining and a 50,000 point sign up bonus, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great card for those looking to get into the points and miles game. Here are the top 5 reasons it should be in your wallet, or read our definitive review for more details.
- Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- Chase Sapphire Preferred named "Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption" - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, June 2018
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- No foreign transaction fees
- 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
- No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards