25 Travel Rewards Terms You Should Know

An Essential Glossary for Anyone Who Plays the Points and Miles Game

With so much slang and terminology, understanding the ins and outs of travel rewards can sometimes feel like reading a foreign language. I’ve compiled a list of all the important terms you should know so that you can navigate your points and miles programs like a pro — or at least sound like one!

Airline alliance: An arrangement between two or more airlines that cooperate through codeshare flights and, sometimes, shared branding. Star Alliance, SkyTeam, and oneworld are the top three airline alliances.

Travel Rewards Glossary

Annual fee: On premium credit cards, a charge ranging anywhere from $15 to $500+ automatically applied once a year. Credit cards with annual fees usually have better perks or enticing sign-up bonuses.

Award chart: A guide created by airline rewards programs detailing the set amount of points required to redeem for flights, based on your point of origin and destination.

Blackout dates: Set dates when travel rewards can’t be redeemed, usually around peak periods like major holidays. Airlines, hotels and car rental agencies usually set blackout dates.

Burn: Slang for spending/redeeming your points or miles.

Cash & miles: Using a combination of points/miles and money to book an award flight or hotel room.

Category bonus: Bonus points or rewards for credit card charges in a specific commercial sector such as dining, groceries, gas or hotels, compared to general spending. Some credit cards may have rotating category bonuses.

Codeshare: An agreement between partnering airlines to share the same flight. Codeshare flights may be marketed or branded by one carrier and operated by another.

Double dip: Presenting a hotel or airline loyalty card along with your points-earning rewards credit card when making travel purchases in order to earn twice the points.

Earn: The act of acquiring reward miles or points for a flight, hotel stay or credit card expenditure.

Earn mall: An online shopping directory, usually comprised of major and recognizable retailers, that offer you a certain amount of points or miles for every dollar you spend.  

Elite status: A top-tier designation attained by an airline or rewards program’s higher-spending, loyal customers.

Hub: The airport where an airline is based and frequently operates transfers and connections. The top hubs in the United States are ATL, LAX, and ORD.

Layover: When a passenger books a non-direct airplane ticket, the layover is the city or airport where they change planes. Also known as a connection or transfer, layovers are typically only a few hours long, compared to stopovers which are longer and considered one of the passenger’s destinations.

Mattress run: Booking a hotel stay with the sole purpose of accumulating enough points in order to reach Elite Status or the next redemption level within a set period. A mattress run is the hotel equivalent of a mileage run (see below).

Mileage run: Booking a flight with the sole purpose of accumulating enough points in order to reach Elite Status or the next redemption level within a set period.

Minimum spend: The minimum amount you must charge to your credit card, usually within a set period of a few months, in order to receive a sign-up bonus such as reward points/miles or cash back.

Off-peak: Quieter, less-busy travel seasons that also tend to be cheaper for booking hotel rooms and flights.

Open-jaw: A round-trip airline ticket with a return flight from a different airport than the outbound flight. Open-jaw tickets require travelers to book separate flights or transportation between the two airports.

Redeem: Trading in points or miles for a reward such as a free flight, hotel night, cash or merchandise.

Shoulder season: The travel season between peak and off-peak periods. April through mid-June and September to October are considered shoulder seasons.

Sign-up bonus: A points, miles or cash-back incentive offered when new customers sign up for a credit card.

A minimum spend is typically required in order to qualify for the sign-up bonus.

Status match: A promotional period where Elite members of an airline, hotel or rewards program can obtain equivalent Elite status in another loyalty program.

Transfer points/miles: Moving points/miles earned in one loyalty program into another.

YMMV: Disclaimer used often in the loyalty blogging community that stands for “your mileage may vary” – an informal expression to indicate an opinion based on personal experience.