Americans love their credit cards and they especially love their credit card airline miles and rewards points.

Data from TSYS, a financial payments provider, shows that 79% of credit card owners says miles/rewards programs are “the most attractive feature” of owning a credit card. That’s up from 68% in 2017 and 59% in 2016, the survey stated.

Why are credit card mile rewards programs so popular? It’s a matter of value – cardholders love to be rewarded for using their plastic and travel miles, and points rewards are particularly attractive to financial consumers.

Here’s a closer look at credit card airline miles, with a special focus on defining them and showing how card users can maximize their credit card experience by leveraging the best features of credit card miles.

What Are Credit Card Miles and How Do They Work?

Basically, credit card miles, just like credit card points, are financial currency consumers can use to travel domestically or internationally on their credit card provider’s dime.

The credit card miles process goes something like this . . .

  • You sign up for a credit card that offers airline miles rewards for every purchase you make.
  • You accumulate a pre-determined amount of miles points every time you make those purchase using your credit card.
  • If your card uses “bonus” levels, you can earn extra miles points by spending over a certain limit, as laid out in your credit card agreement.
  • When you have accumulated enough credit card miles points, you can cash them in for free or deeply-discounted airline flights in the U.S. or abroad. Thus, instead of paying $800 roundtrip to fly from Miami to Chicago, you can take the trip free, if you’ve accumulated enough credit card miles from your card provider.

You can also redeem credit card miles for other travel-related costs, like hotel stays, rental cars, and local tours and entertainment expenses, at participating businesses.

A Note on Credit Card Miles and Card Points

Some credit card users may well wonder if there’s a difference between credit card miles and credit card points. After all, why use different terms to define a single credit card rewards program?

The fact is, credit card miles and credit card points are the same thing and cover the same card rewards ground – with some caveats.

  • Credit card miles programs usually stick to airline ticket costs and other travel-related expenses. These cards are offered by airlines directly or through major card providers who have deals with airlines and travel-related companies.
  • Credit card points may cover travel expenses, but also offer discounts, freebies, and cash-back rewards on everyday consumer goods, like groceries, gasoline, and other retail items.

Some air and travel reward-related credit cards may even use points instead of miles to track your activity. Check with your card provider first to see if your rewards come in the form of points or miles.

Common Types of Credit Card Miles Programs

There are multitudes of credit card miles programs for consumers to choose from. These programs are among the most widely used by credit card customers.

Frequent Flier Miles Programs

Any brand name airline offers a travel credit card - it really depends on what you want when you look for a card. Those airlines will also enter into co-branding agreements with credit card companies and other airline, to widen the options for card consumers.

For instance, the Capital One Venture Rewards Card offer unlimited two-times miles earned with all purchases, and allows you to transfer those miles among 15 different airline programs.

Or, the Delta Sky Miles Blue American Express Card, which offers 15,000 bonus miles (always a great option for new miles card users) along with one mile for each credit card purchase, and two miles for every dollar spent across the globe, and two times miles spent on Delta-specific purchases.

With the Delta  (DAL) - Get Report card, miles users can also rack up points they can use for Delta VIP treatment, upgrades, and free flights.

The name of the game with frequent flier programs is to do your homework first, know what miles benefits matter to you and match those goals up with the right credit card.

Hotel Rewards Programs

While hotel credit card programs may be more prone to using points over miles, the idea for credit card travelers is the same – you’ll get multiple benefits from redeeming hospitality-branded credit cards.

Take the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card, where users earn a whopping 75,000 bonus point for spending $3,000 on the card over the first three months as a user.

Or, if you prefer to spend a lower amount with a new card, you might opt for the American Express  (AXP) - Get Report Green Card, which offers 30,000 bonus points when you spend $2,000 using the card in your first three months as an owner.

With hotel and hospitality credit cards, you’re often limited to what the card provider wants you to do, such as spending at a specific hotel or resort, and redeeming your points extra nights in the card provider’s preferred hotel or spending rewards point son the property (i.e., for a round of golf, dinner, or at an entertainment venue.)

Basic Miles and Points Travel Credit Cards

Credit card providers also offer plenty of general travel miles and points credit cards, which essentially rewards higher-end card users with offers of free trips and “dollars-for-points” card reward programs.

Take the Wells Fargo Propel American Express Card, which offers 20,000 bonus points on the front end along with up-to-three points earned on every dollar spent using the card.

With no annual fee and an excellent points against dollars rate, you can’t go wrong with the Wells Fargo  (WFC) - Get Report card, especially if you’re looking for a general travel rewards credit card.

Generating More Miles and Points With Your Rewards Credit Card

The best way to accumulate miles or points with a credit card is to get a new one.

That’s because so many credit card providers offer bonus points of up to 60,000 or so just for signing up to use the card.

For example, the Southwest Airlines  (LUV) - Get Report Rapid Rewards Credit Card offers new card users 40,000 bonus introductory points, while the Chase  (JPM) - Get Report Sapphire Card offers 60,000 bonus points just for signing up.

Other credit cards will offer you a cash bonus for using the card. Bank of America’s  (BAC) - Get Report Cash Rewards Credit Card offers new cardholders $200, plus 3% cash back in specific spending categories.

Signing up for a bonus rewards card is far and away the best way to accumulate “no pain” card miles and points.

The other way? Keep using your credit card for all major purchases, which will help accumulate more travel miles and points on your card, but you’ll also be racking up potentially major credit card debt in the process.

The Takeaway on Credit Card Miles and Points Rewards

If you’re an active credit card user who travels frequently (especially with your employer footing the bill) and doesn’t mind higher credit card bills, card miles programs are for you.

The key to maxing out on your card rewards experience is knowing what you want out of a miles or points card, and then kicking enough tires until you find the exact rewards credit cards that works best for you.