Here at Prince of Travel, we can all agree that travelling on points is a truly wonderful thing. Time and time again, I’ve extolled the virtues of flying around the world, especially in business and first class, for pennies on the dollar, and I don’t need to repeat myself. But as I sat aboard my various cushy airplane seats during my amazing trip to Bali, I couldn’t help but wonder: why don’t more people do this?
Sure, there’s healthy skepticism across the board when someone is first introduced to the concept of Miles & Points, but even among those who witness first-hand what I and others have managed to accomplish, few end up taking the plunge.
After mulling it over, I think it all boils down to the fact that travelling on points requires taking action to make your dreams a reality, and that’s not a way of thinking that many travellers are used to.
If you want to travel, you’re told to save up a nest egg, scour online booking engines, and look for cheap flights departing on Tuesdays.
If you want to use your points, you’re supposed to spend years accumulating enough points by flying regularly, using shopping portals, and swiping your card at Esso, before somehow – as if by magic – finding the exact award flights you need to the exact destinations you have in mind. So goes the conventional thinking.
People simply aren’t used to taking the required amount of action to travel on points the proper way. And you can’t really blame them – it’s quite a body of work to keep track of the points you’re earning, the credit cards you’re opening, and the redemption methods you’re monitoring.
But as any seasoned practitioner will tell you, nothing in Miles & Points is a gimme – you have to put in the work, and then the rewards will come. Yes, the rewards are disproportionately outsized in your favour, but if you don’t put in that initial bit of work, you won’t be attaining any of them. (And bear in mind, most of the “work” – signing up for cards, redeeming points, etc. – is a just matter of tinkering about on your computer while sitting in your pajamas.)
So in that spirit, let’s nail down a comprehensive action plan for the new year to help you achieve the best travel year possible. The points game is a multifaceted one, meaning that you need to be firing on all cylinders to win big. Check back on this list throughout the year to make sure you’re on top of your game.
1. Keep On Churning
It goes without saying that the credit card merry-go-round must continue.
“Churning” refers to the practice of signing up for the same card over and over again and obtaining the bonus each time, and it’s the best way to quickly accumulate a scary amount of points.
The American Express Membership Rewards cards remain the best place to look, although the game has changed a lot in 2017. Nowadays, only the Business Gold Card, the Platinum Card, and the Business Platinum Card remain in their own “family” of cards, and you can self-refer (or refer a friend) between any of these cards to obtain a referral bonus.
REFERRAL FAMILY 1: BIZ GOLD, PLATINUM, BIZ PLATINUM
The best referral bonus remains the 25,000 MR points on the Business Platinum, so make sure that you’re equipped with it, and make sure to grab the bonuses on the Platinum (remember to use the annual travel credit trick to lower your net annual fee to $299) and Business Gold throughout the year.
The American Express Gold Rewards Card is unfortunately old news now, since it no longer offers a first-year fee waiver. Referral-wise, it’s now lumped in with the Cobalt Card in terms of being able to refer from one to another, and you get 5,000 MR points (if referring from the Gold) or 5,000 MR Select points (if referring from the Cobalt) for doing so.
REFERRAL FAMILY 2: GOLD & COBALT
Speaking of the Cobalt Card, it remains one of the fantastic ways to earn points on regular spending, given the 5x multiplier on eats and drinks; it’s not really a good “churning” card, since the annual fee is spread out over 12 months. Now’s a great time to get the card if you haven’t already, since you can get an extra 10,000 MR Select points if you apply before January 31.
Then of course you have the trusty SPG Card and Business SPG Card, whose bonuses of 20,000 Starpoints are highly churn-worthy. The latest data points indicate that people are still able to obtain repeat signup bonuses on all the Amex cards successfully, despite various terms and conditions indicating otherwise (and having done so for years).
Looking beyond Amex, the following cards remain excellent propositions, both for nabbing the bonus if you haven’t already, and giving it another go if you have:
MBNA Alaska Airlines MasterCard: 25,000 Alaska Airlines miles after spending $1,000 within the first three months; $15 net annual fee if you apply via GCR
RBC Visa Infinite Avion: 25,000 Avion points upon first purchase; annual fee of $120 can be waived by letting RBC know that you hold a competing Visa Infinite product
CIBC Aventura Visa Card for Business: 30,000 Aventura points upon spending $1,000 within the first three months; $120 annual travel credit; first year free
As always, keep your eyes peeled for excellent seasonal offers that may come around in the upcoming months as well. These include the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite, which is due for an increased offer, and the MBNA Best Western Rewards MasterCard, whose summer offer of 60,000 BWR points has been a regular occurrence for a few years now.
Make sure to brush up on how credit scores are calculated to ensure that you’re keeping your credit in tip-top shape, and also leverage the many tricks available to make light work of minimum spending requirements.
If you haven’t gotten started with US credit cards yet, that’ll be sure to keep you occupied as well!
2. Hustle for Referrals
Referrals are some of the best ways to supercharge your points balances, and at 25,000 MR points a pop on the Business Platinum, you can’t afford to miss out on the earning potential here.
Keep in mind that if you’re trying to sell your friends and family on the idea of getting into Miles & Points, you don’t want to come off like a snake oil salesman. There’s already something about opening 10 credit cards “just for the points” that induces a natural skepticism in people; you want to alleviate that skepticism rather than add to it.
If you’re travelling quite a bit, chances are your own travels might come up naturally in conversation. You can mention off-the-cuff how you’re able to fund a large portion of your travels with points, and offer to show them how.
Let the skeptical questions come (“doesn’t that ruin your credit?”) and provide reassuring but truthful answers. Do warn them of the potential perils of credit if they aren’t the financially responsible type. Offer to direct them to the various blogs and forums to help them educate themselves. But most importantly, communicate to them the central idea behind this post – simply learning and asking questions is not enough; in this game, learning from experience is key, and one must take action in order to reap the rewards.
Alternatively, if your family and friends have mentioned a desire to take a cool vacation some time this year, you can always pitch them some ideas on how to accomplish their travel goals with points. Perhaps your best friend’s wedding anniversary is coming up, or a parent would like to celebrate a milestone birthday. In any case, you can conjure up a sample “dream trip”, illustrate to them how it’s possible to book with points, and see if they’re game!
3. Manufactured Spending
Manufactured spending is one of those ever-lucrative ways to earn points. I’ve written a few things on MS in the past, and it’s a topic on which bloggers don’t tend to publish too much, but it can absolutely make the difference between two luxury trips a year and five or more luxury trips a year.
There’s really only two ways to learn MS: either figure it out yourself, or learn from those in the know. The first option is really not as hard as it sounds – it all comes back to the central tenet of taking action.
Look for MS opportunities in the world around you, from the prepaid cards that are available on the market, to all those new money sending or money transfer apps that keep popping up. Take the initiative to try out these services and see if there’s an MS angle to it. Even if nothing works, over time you’ll develop a very keen eye for spotting loopholes, which will make your future MS endeavors a lot smoother.
After all, for each awesome MS method there ever was, somebody was the first to try it out. Why can’t you be that person for, say, the next AC Conversion?
Of course, not everyone has all the time in the world to research dozens upon dozens of potential MS opportunities. Fair enough, that’s why most people prefer to learn from others. That brings me to my next point…
4. Network, Network, Network
When it comes to travelling the world on points, networking makes your life infinitely easier. From harnessing the power of collective knowledge, to helping you research alternative routes when you’re stranded in a snowstorm in the middle of your award ticket, your friends have got you covered.
In addition to the blogs and forums, I’ve constantly talked up the benefit of attending in-person meet ups, since these are the best places for people to feel comfortable sharing knowledge with fellow travellers. I hosted a Toronto Miles & Points Meetup in December, which I intend to organize again sometime this year. There’s also regular meetups in Vancouver, Calgary, and Ottawa, and of course the annual PointsU Conference.
If there hasn’t been an event in your city yet, chances are you’re not the only avid points collector in your area, so see if you can put one together yourself! It can be as simple as a groupthink session over coffee, or after-work drinks at a bar. I can assure you that the benefit from teaming up with like-minded individuals in your local area will absolutely make the effort worthwhile.
Once you’re in regular contact with a few people, you won’t have to stay on top of everything all by yourself. You share stuff with your friends, and they share stuff with you in return; everyone helps each other raise their game. It also makes my last point a lot easier…
5. Watch Out for Great Deals
While not strictly related to Miles & Points, it’s no secret that amazing travel deals come and go all the time, and often times it’s “blink and you’ll miss it”. So keep a watchful eye on sites like Secret Flying or FlyerTalk’s Mileage Run Deals, because some of these deals can be truly mind-blowing!
Last summer, we saw ANA offer $865 round-trip business class fares from Vancouver to Sydney, via Tokyo. These were confirmed as mistake fares, but ANA went ahead and honoured them as valid for travel. Unfortunately I blinked, and I missed this deal.
Then, Air France had filed what was clearly a mistake fare, from the US West Coast to London in La Première First Class, for just US$615 one-way. This was later cancelled as well.
Virtually the next day, we saw $3,743 round-trip fares in Emirates First Class from Toronto to Milan via Dubai. Now, make no mistake about it – that’s a lot of money! But the cool thing about this fare was that you’d earn lots of Alaska miles by crediting your Emirates flights to Alaska Mileage Plan. In fact, you could earn more than 70,000 Alaska miles, meaning that you’re really getting four flights in Emirates’s amazing First Class, plus a one-way ticket to Hong Kong in Cathay Pacific First Class as well, with the option of extending that to South Africa in business class. Not bad for $3,743, no matter how you slice it!
It’s just my luck that both of the “great deals” that I did manage to book (the Swiss First Class awards and the Air France mistake fare) ended up getting cancelled. But that’s exactly the thing: if you manage to book the deal, there’s always a chance the airline will honour it (like ANA did). On the other hand, if you miss the window of opportunity, it’s gone forever. So do your best to be ready when the deal drops, and don’t blink!
In Miles & Points, as in life, you never rest on your laurels. There’s always more ingenious ways out there to earn points and fancy redemption opportunities to learn about. By developing a strong credit card plan, spreading the joy of travel and harnessing the power of referrals, and sharpening your MS skills, you’re certain to secure an epic year of travel for yourself and your loved ones.
If you feel overawed by the occasion or daunted by what lies ahead, don’t be. Chip away at everything at your own pace. Knock a few items off your to-do list every Saturday morning over a cup of coffee. As long as you’re taking action, you can’t go wrong.
And never lose sight of the end goal. Cheaper travel. More travel. Better travel. That is all.