Many Americans could be able to benefit from travel points/miles, which could make their next trip more affordable or even free. NerdWallet’s new survey shows that 84 percent of Americans have or plan to travel in 2023. They will spend on average $3,916 on these travel expenses. NerdWallet analysis shows that nearly 218 million Americans […]

Many Americans could be able to benefit from travel points/miles, which could make their next trip more affordable or even free. NerdWallet’s new survey shows that 84 percent of Americans have or plan to travel in 2023. They will spend on average $3,916 on these travel expenses. NerdWallet analysis shows that nearly 218 million Americans will spend close to $853 billion this year on travel expenses.

The Harris Poll conducted a survey online of over 2,000 Americans, asking them about their travel plans for 2023. We also asked Americans how they use their points/miles and about their travel rewards cards.

Key findings

  • Younger Americans are more likely to have travel rewards credit cards than older Americans (52% of millennials (ages 27-42), and 48% of Generation Z (ages 18-26), compared to 39% for Generation X (ages 43-58) and 34% for baby boomers (ages 59-77). This is 52% for millennials (age 27-42), 48% for Generation Z (age 18-26), 39% for Generation X (43-58), and 34% for baby boomers (age 59-77 span>

  • Many cardholders who have travel rewards cards are earning miles and points. The average balance of points/miles among travel rewards credit cardholders is 55,300. Nearly one in four travel rewards cardholders (22%) currently has 50,000 points/miles.

  • Travel rewards cardholders may prefer convenience over value when redeeming points/miles. 35% of travel rewards credit cardholders say they seek the highest value for their earned points/miles when they redeem them for travel. 14% however, redeem their points/miles to pay for any travel they are interested in, regardless of best value.

“Especially as people get back to travel, it’s important that you consider the power and affordability of travel credit cards to make vacations more affordable,” states Sally French, NerdWallet travel expert. These credit cards offer more than just miles and points for spending. They also have lesser-known benefits such as free checked bags, automatic elite status, and priority span upgrades.

Approximately one-fifth Americans have a travel rewards credit card

You can earn miles and points with travel rewards credit cards. The survey found that nearly 2 out 5 Americans (41%) have a travel rewards card. These cards may be new for some: Nearly one in five Americans (19%) claim that they have a travel reward credit card they received in 2022 or in 2023.

Men are more likely to use travel rewards credit cards than women and the younger generation is more popular than those who are older. A survey revealed that 48% of men have a travel rewards card while 38% of women do not. Millennials (ages 27-42) and Generation Z (18-26) are more likely than Generation X (ages 43-58) and baby boomers (ages 59 to 77), which is 52% and 48% respectively.

See if a travel rewards card is right for you

Annual fees are often associated with travel rewards credit cards, but they don’t usually have cash-back counterparts. A travel credit card may be the best option depending on your travel habits and spending habits.

Many credit cards that offer travel rewards credit cards come with attractive sign-up bonuses. These are usually worth the cost of the card for the first year provided you meet the spending requirements to get the bonus. What about the second year? Consider a $100 annual fee for a travel rewards credit. You earn 1.5 cents per point and 2 points per dollar. You can also get a cash-back credit card without an annual fee. This card earns 2 points for every dollar spent. Each point is worth 1 cent.

Use the breakeven calculation below to figure out how much you will need to spend in order to pay the annual fee. AS stands for Annual Spending.

Card for travel rewards (left side): [Points earned per dollar spent x Valuation of each point) + Annual fee

Cash-back card (right): [Points earned per dollar spent x Value of each point] – Annual Fee

[2 x $0.015, x AS] = $100 = [2 x $0.01, x AS]

(0.03 x AS). – $100 = $0.02x AS

(0.03 x AS). – ($0.02 AS) = 100

$0.01x AS = 100

AS = 10,000

In this instance, the annual fee for the travel rewards credit cards would be worth it if you spend more than $10,000 annually. You can opt for the card with no annual fee if your annual spending is lower. A travel card can still be a good option, even if the rewards calculations don’t work out.

French states that points-earning is not the only reason to have a travel credit card. French says that there are potential benefits to travel cards such as automatic free-night certificates which could be worth more than the annual fee. While trip insurance is not as easy to quantify, it can help if trip plans go wrong .”

Approximately 1 in 7 cardholders who have travel rewards cards have more than 100,000 points

Many Americans who have travel rewards credit cards are keeping their miles and points. 22% of travel rewards cardholders have more than 50,000 points/miles while 15% have more than 100,000 points/miles. Travel rewards cardholders average 55,300 miles per year — which is far less than the median of 2,000. The average reward is being increased by those who have the most rewards.

Reward balances can vary from one generation to the next. On average, Gen Z cardholders earn 9,700 points/miles while baby boomer cardholders average 108,300 points/miles

There are many opportunities to get free or inexpensive travel, especially when airline fares have increased by 25.6% annually as of January 2023 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Travel rewards card holders who have accumulated too many points might want to reconsider their strategy.

Get your rewards sooner than you think

It’s tempting to save your points/miles for a dream trip, but it can be risky to keep your rewards longer than necessary. Devaluations and inflation could cause points/miles to lose value over time.

French states that inflation has been a topic of heated debate lately, and that travel points inflation is also looming. “Points lose value over time so it is smart to spend them down, even if you have no plans to save them for a specific redemption span>

How to redeem travel rewards cards

The value of a mile or point can vary depending on how it is used. 35 percent of cardholders with travel rewards say they seek the highest value for their earned miles/points. Others (14%) simply redeem their miles/points for any travel they are interested in, but not considering best value. 23 percent of cardholders with travel rewards go for a mix of both. Some try to redeem points/miles for travel, while others just use them to book what is convenient. As long as you can redeem your travel rewards in a way that works for you, each of these options is possible.

The less popular redemption method is to redeem for travel rewards. 22% of travel rewards cardholders usually redeem their points/miles in exchange for cash back or gift certificates. Travel rewards have a higher redemption value than cash back. This is especially true if points/miles are transferred to hotels or partner airlines.

Increase your redemption value if you are interested in

It’s fine to use points/miles to pay for your next travel plans. If you are a frequent traveler, this is the best way to go. It doesn’t have be difficult if you travel frequently and want to increase your points value.

French says that it can be difficult to understand the value of points. A mile in one program may not always be worth the same as another. NerdWallet offers calculators that help you understand the value .”

This beginner’s guide to flying on miles and points provides information on how to use your points/miles to book cheaper (or free) travel. It also explains the best way to use them. It is also possible to learn about the different rewards programs available and their potential value. Although it may take more effort to use your travel points/miles in a high-value way, you can still jet-set more for less.

Consider a cash-back card if you are a frequent travel reward holder who redeems your rewards for gift cards or cash back. Many travel rewards credit cards have annual fees. They also offer lower redemption rates for non-travel.

French says that travel credit cards can be more difficult to manage because of the effort required to transfer points to different loyalty programs and airlines. They are also more likely have annual fees than cash back cards. Although the upfront cost and work involved might seem daunting, many travel credit cards offer greater rewards in terms of earning maximum points and other benefits span>


The Harris Poll conducted this survey online in the United States for NerdWallet between February 9th and 9, 2023 among 2,080 U.S. adults 18 years old or older. 899 of these people have a travel rewards credit cards. A Bayesian credible interval is used to measure the sampling precision of Harris online surveys. The sample data for this study is within +/-2.8 percentage points using a 95% confidence limit. Lauren Nash, [email protected] can provide more information about the survey methodology including weighting variables, subgroup sample sizes and other details.


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