Redeeming rewards is simplest with cash-back cards, but may get more complicated with airline programs.
For cash-back cards, you might get automatic statement credits, or an ability to redeem for cash or gift cards whenever you want, or when you reach specific thresholds (such as every $25 earned). Other redemption options might include requesting a paper check, giving money to a charity, or paying with points at Amazon.com.
With general travel cards, some allow you to redeem points by buying your travel through their booking portal. Others let you book travel however you want and then use points for a statement credit on those charges.
You might also have the option of transferring points to travel partner programs, which can be the most lucrative option. For instance, The Balance values American Airlines points at nearly 1.5 cents each. That’s somewhat more than you get from cash-back cards.
Points don’t always transfer 1:1 between programs. For example, you may have to transfer 20,000 credit card points to get only 10,000 airline miles. Look for a card’s transfer partners and transfer ratios to get the best value.
With hotel and airline cards, you usually can book your free hotel room or free flight just like you normally would, but look for a box to check that says “Pay with points” or something similar. Depending on the airline and your travel needs, you can score great deals on free flights. But you can also at times be frustrated by a lack of available award flights.