We’ve all heard stories of how folks have gone on these amazing traveling experiences, maybe swam with dolphins, did some insane yoga moves on the edge of a cliff, or enjoyed a pastry at a Parisian cafe with views of that famous monument. But the craziest, most incredible part of their story: either their flight or their hotel was free, or even both!
And whenever you ask them how they did it, they would usually something like “my points, of course!”
I’ve always been a cash-back-credit-card kinda guy as I felt I can do more with straight up, cold hard cash then I could do with points. And, I always booked my trip three weeks to two months before my departure date using search engines like Hipmunk, which always showed me lower prices than the credit card travel portals. So, why would I trade in $1 for a mile or a point, which was sometimes worth $0.01?
But as I kept on hearing more stories, and even signing up for Bryce Conway’s American-focused points blog 10x Travel, my curiosity now reached a point of no return: I needed to try this!
So being who I am, I decided to try a 1-year experiment where I would ditch my cash back credit card for a points-based one. This post will detail how I ended up in Bali for free(ish).
A little warning…
Before we continue, you must promise me you’ll only try what I’ve done if and only if you meet the following conditions:
- You’ve got a Very Good credit score right now: 725 or higher. Here are some places you can check out your score for free in Canada: CreditKarma, Borrowell.
- You are not in debt.
- You will NOT spend more than you currently
- You know I’m not a financial expert/guru, and I’m not accountable for your actions
Okay, now that we’re done with the legalish stuff, let’s jump in!
How Points Work
Most travel reward credit card points will give you 1 point/mile for every $1 you spend. You can then redeem these points for a flight, hotel night or something else. Simple, right?
Well here’s where it gets interesting:1 point does not equal $1 in redemption, it’s usually between $0.01-$0.05 depending on the rewards program and what you redeem it for. Let’s look at that in an equation:
$1 you spend = 1 point = $0.01 – $0.05 travel “credit”
To travel last minute to Bali for 27 days, I would need either 90,000 points based on Aeroplan’s rewards chart or pay $2500 for the flight. If I booked in advance, I would get a similar trip for approx. $1000.
Based on what we said above, I would need to spend $90,000 to get 90,000 points! I’m not sure about you, but I don’t make enough (yet!) to spend $90,000 in less than a year.
I’m in Bali right now writing this article, so I must have gotten 90,000 points, right? Well, I did! And here’s how I did it:
And here’s how I did it:
- I chose the Rewards program I wanted to focus on. In my case, since I’m in Canada, I went with Aeroplan.
- Since it would take me a couple of years to spend $90,000 (more like a decade), I knew I had to find credit cards that had large signup bonuses that I could transfer to my Aeroplan account (the only way you can accumulate a lot of points). After a quick search on Google, I found three credit cards that would give me 50,000 points if I met the minimum spends! If you do apply for these cards, look for the offers where the annual fee is waived. Here are the cards I applied for:
- AMEX Gold Travel Rewards Credit Card, which gave me 25,000 points which I could transfer to Aeroplan 1:1 if I spent $1,500 on the card within the first three months.
- TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Card, which gave me 15,000 Aeroplan points on my first purchase
- Marriott Rewards Premier Visa, which gave me 30,000 points that would transfer to Aeroplan 3:1, resulting in 10,000 Aeroplan points
- Got 10,000 Aeroplan miles for my summer trips to New York and India since I booked using Air Canada, which works with Aeroplan
- And finally, I got the remaining 30,000 points by doing the following:
- Booking those flights to New York and India using my AMEX card which gave me 2x the points since these were travel purchases
- Moving all my regular spending to my AMEX card, especially gas, transportation, and groceries giving me another 2x the points for those purchases
As you can see, I had to do a lot of planning to get the 90,000 points in 10 months! But I’m here in Bali…here’s my view while I’m writing the draft of this article:
And some other amazing things I got to see and eat so far:
So what did I end up paying to get to Bali? A little less than $600, which was to cover the taxes, as I didn’t have the additional ~60,000 points necessary to get the entire flight for free. Fine by me!
So what did I learn from this process?
Aeroplane stinks, primarily because of their blackout dates! Originally, I wanted to fly out right before Christmas, but that coincided with their blackout dates, so I was “forced” to go on a 27-day trip, rather than the 14-day trip I intended.
Redeeming your points make sense when you are flying out last minute or traveling during high season like Christmas time. When faced with the same dilemma last year, I couldn’t spend the $2500 to go to Argentina, and instead had to go to Honduras and Nicaragua as it was more affordable.
Reaching 90,000 points to go South East Asia was very hard, and I probably wouldn’t have been able to reach that 90,000 points if it were not for the fact that I had to spend $50/week on gas, had my summer trips to India and New York, and had 2000 points from flights in previous years.
I’m not super convinced that this is a reusable strategy, especially as my next trip to this part of the world would require another 90,000 points, and without leveraging any sign-up offers, I’ll have to spend $90,000! By planning my trips ahead of time, especially the ones during Xmas, not only will I be less stressed about accumulating points, but I’ll also have better flight options.
But wait, didn’t I say something about a free hotel night?
YES! By signing up for the Marriott Visa card, you get a free night at one of their category 1-5 hotels! Originally I was going to use this in Dubai, but the location of the eligible Dubai Marriott hotel sucked. So instead, I used it for my first night in Bali, and it was amazing! The hotel staff “upgraded” my room and gave me a free breakfast, which was an amazing buffet! As a backpacker, I knew I was not going to get such a fantastic meal again, so I ended up staying at the buffet for 3 hours! “Money” and time well spent!