When it comes to Miles & Points, I’ve always championed one central tenet that separates those who profit immensely from it (think 5-10 luxury trips a year) from those who only dabble with it casually: the importance of taking action.
The idea is that while most people first get interested in this stuff through stumbling across blogs and chat forums, ultimately nothing helps you maximize your points quite as much as the experience you get from constantly taking action and trying things out for yourself.
One of the major indicators along your path from a beginner to an advanced practitioner, then, is the transition from learning by reading to learning by doing.
The Miles & Points Action Plan
Around this time last year, I wrote the 2018 Miles & Points Action Plan. The intention was to list out all the different facets of this game in which you ought to put in the work, so that you could check back periodically to ensure you’re making good progress. If you were around back then, go ahead and look back on that article – how’d you do?
Whether you’re happy with how far you’ve come, or you’re convinced you could’ve done better, the story for 2019 remains the same: develop and maintain a focused strategy for earning and burning, take action and put in the work on multiple fronts, and go take the trips you’ve always dreamed of.
(And as I like to emphasize, most of the “work” can hardly be called work at all – it’s mostly a matter of clicking and typing on your computer while sitting in your pajamas. It’s pretty incredible that something so simple can culminate in the luxuries of international First Class and five-star hotels, isn’t it?)
So without further ado, let’s have a look at the exact areas you should be focusing on raising your game in 2019, and how exactly you should do it. Check back throughout the year to keep yourself on track.
1. The Credit Card Merry-Go-Round
Let’s start from first principles: credit card signup bonuses represent one of the easiest and fastest ways to rack up the points. Maximizing these signup bonuses – including cancelling and reapplying to obtain repeat bonuses – is the cornerstone of the game we play.
Last week, I published the American Express Credit Card Flowchart, which outlines the best strategies for the seven major American Express charge cards and credit cards. I won’t rehash the exact details of each card here; instead, you can read that article to get caught up.
Follow the flowchart and you’ll be getting the “basics” of the optimal Canadian points-collecting strategy down to a tee, thus building a good foundation to optimize the rest of your game.
On top of the Amex products, there are a few more credit cards that have been mainstays in my credit card strategy for many years now.
There’s the MBNA Alaska, whose signup bonus of up to 30,000 Alaska miles can unlock spectacular First Class travel to Asia by way of the Alaska’s award chart sweet spots with Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines (although sadly you shouldn’t expect much Cathay Pacific availability throughout 2019).
Then there’s the RBC Avion. This card had been pretty mediocre for as long as I can remember, but sometime in 2017, it was as though RBC suddenly hired a brand-new marketing department – the promotions began coming left and right.
Nowadays, you can routinely pick up 20,000 Avion points with a first-year fee waiver, and it seems that every few months there’s a special offer of 25,000 to 30,000 Avion points with the fee waiver as well.
RBC is also quite friendly to the practice of product switching, so you could grab this card and then switch to, say, the WestJet RBC World Elite MasterCard for no additional credit inquiry. Overall, RBC’s neck of the woods is one you’ll definitely want to be involved in.
Then there’s CIBC, whose Aerogold for Business offer of 35,000 Aeroplan miles and First Year Free is the best Aeroplan-branded deal I’ve ever seen. There may be some hoops to jump through to get this card, but with 35,000 Aeroplan miles up for grabs, I’d imagine a trip to your local branch would be worthwhile. Especially with the future of the lucrative Aeroplan Mini-RTW up in the air, now’s the time to supercharge your Aeroplan balance and take advantage of that incredibly generous sweet spot.
2. Diversifying into US Credit Cards
Once you’ve gained some steady footing with the Canadian credit cards, the US side of the game should be next on your radar.
While the amount of legwork to get your US address, US bank account, and ITIN set up can seem daunting at first, it’s all about playing the long game: a little bit of upfront work right now is a small price to pay in exchange for all the lucrative US credit card deals that’ll be available to you once your credit file has been established.
Read my guide to Getting US Credit Cards for Canadians for the basic principles, as well as the 2018 update I wrote recently. It’s come to my attention that the process for getting an ITIN has gotten a little murky lately, so I hope to provide a more current update on ITIN procedures sometime this year.
But with Amex Global Transfer available to any Canadian who has an Amex account open and in good standing for at least three months, you don’t even need an ITIN to get started. You can Global Transfer to your first US-issued Amex card, leverage that card to build up your relationship with Amex US, and then get an ITIN sometime down the road.
The US landscape differs from our own in quite a few ways, meaning that the US credit card strategies will sometimes differ as well. Most significantly, card issuers in the States are much stricter about enforcing their eligibility rules, so it’s important to understand these rules and how to maximize your gains while working within them.
For example, the signup bonuses on US-issued Amex cards are strictly once-in-a-lifetime. So while you might cancel the Canadian Amex SPG Card before the first year is up in order to reapply and get the bonus again, there’s no such option with the US-issued version; you’re best off holding onto the card forever in order to build your US credit file and earn the annual free night certificate (redeemable at hotels of up to 35,000 Marriott points a night).
Then there’s the Chase 5/24 rule, meaning that Chase won’t approve you for a credit card that’s subject to this rule if you’ve opened five or more new credit cards in the past 24 months. Since it’s tough to get approved for Chase when you’re just getting started, you’ll want to make sure you don’t open too many accounts with Amex, TD Bank, or other issuers, lest you become ineligible for some of Chase’s best products when your credit file matures a little.
3. Spreading the Love
The most successful points collectors I know have long moved past operating as individuals. Instead, they’ve become really good at getting everyone in their life involved in Miles & Points, thereby earning plenty of referrals while also spreading the joys of travelling on points far and wide.
People are naturally skeptical when they learn about this, so start them off with something easy. I find that hotel points are often more intuitive for the general populace than frequent flyer miles, since there are no availability challenges to contend with, and you usually don’t have to pay any taxes and fees.
Instead of pressuring your friends to get the premium credit cards with high annual fees, start by showing them how a simple Amex SPG Card signup bonus can pay for their accommodations on a long weekend getaway for only $120.
After they’ve realized the benefit on that trip, they’re much more likely to listen when you sell them the benefits of the 75,000 MR points they’ll earn from the Business Platinum (and of course the juicy referral bonus of 25,000 MR points that’ll accrue to you 😉).
Going one step further than hustling for referrals, another significant way to scale up your operations is by offering to manage other people’s points for them. The classic example of this, of course, is playing the game in two-player mode if you have a significant other.
But I know many individuals who have successfully convinced their parents, siblings, and in-laws to let them manage their cards and points as well, in exchange for getting to enjoy the benefits when they’d like to take a trip. And since most of these individuals are far more enthusiastic about travel than their relatives, they end up profiting from the extra points that their relatives earn but don’t use.
Obviously, the feasibility of this will vary from person to person, since there’s a large degree of trust involved. But even if you can start playing in, say, three-player mode, the benefits begin to scale up extremely quickly. The RBC signup bonus of 20,000 Avion points? That’s 60,000 Avion points right there. The CIBC Aerogold for Business offer of 35,000 miles becomes 105,000 miles. And so on and so forth…
4. Manufactured Spending + Networking
The above points are all what I’d call “low-hanging fruit”: stuff that’s well-documented in all the resources out there, and all that’s left to do is for you to take action and make it happen.
Manufactured spending, however, is a whole new order of magnitude. If you want to one day achieve eight-figure annual points earnings and take First Class trips without even having to think about it, then you’ll definitely have to master this particular art.
“But Ricky,” you might say, “How am I supposed to take action if I don’t know any MS methods?”
Fair enough, no one ever picked this stuff up without some gruelling trial-and-error or a little bit of guidance here and there, so that’s what you should be seeking to emulate. You can either look to figure out MS methods for yourself – go out there and dabble with every prepaid debit card or newfangled fin-tech app you find – or to learn from others via networking.
I’ve outlined the benefits of building your network many times before, and also emphasized that in-person meetups tend to be the best occasions to do so. Last year alone we had the second Toronto Miles & Points Meetup, the fourth PointsU Conference, and the inaugural Vancouver Miles & Points Meetup, and hopefully there will be many similar events this year as well.
These events usually see a good mix of newbies and experienced folks, and I generally find that the attendees who get the most out of these events are those who seek out and build relationships with people who are close to their level.
So, find people who are slightly more experienced than yourself, as well as people to whom you are slightly more experienced, and stay in touch with them.
In other words, seek out a few mentors to help you along, and pay it forward by also mentoring others and helping them along as well. After all, you haven’t truly mastered something until you’re able to teach it to someone else!
Even if you aren’t able to make it to these meetups, there are still ways to build trust and rapport with fellow practitioners. One easy example is by participating actively and building a reputation on the various forums out there, like the /r/churningcanada Reddit forum, and reaching out to your fellow members through private messages. There are also informal meetups in various Canadian cities that get advertised on these platforms every now and then as well.
5. Staying On Top of Great Deals
Incredible travel deals are constantly coming and going, and it’s down to you to stay on top of things and take advantage when you stand to benefit.
There’s several different types of deals that are worth your attention. The first, and most exciting, is the “instantaneous” type – these are things like mistake fares and surprise award availability.
And of course, be sure to join my Prince of Travel Insiders email list for regular updates from myself – you can sign up using the form below, and then join Insiders via the first email that lands in your inbox.
2019 isn’t even two weeks old, and yet it’s already been a boon for mistake fares – there was the well-documented Cathay Pacific First Class deal over New Year’s Eve, where you could fly round-trip in one of the world’s most luxurious First Class cabins for under US$1,000.
But a few days later, there was also an Air New Zealand mistake fare that allowed you to fly from Chicago to Sydney for US$1,500 in business class. Considering that an Aeroplan redemption from North America to Australia would cost 160,000 miles, anyone who was planning to redeem miles to visit Australia sometime this year would’ve stood to benefit by booking the mistake fare instead!
Then there’s the type of ongoing deals that are pretty amazing in their own right, and that you should seek to maximize whenever you’re getting a chance. The simplest example is of course the ever-lucrative Aeroplan Mini-RTW, which anyone who’s interested in visiting multiple places around the world in one trip should be looking to maximize.
But then you also have deals like WestJet’s Member Exclusive fares, which allow you to book trans-continental flights for 125 WestJet Dollars one-way. And if you’ve already picked up the WestJet RBC MasterCard for its singup bonus of 250 WSD, you can also buy more WestJet Dollars through Points.com at a rate that’s close to par. Anyone who regularly flies domestically within Canada should therefore check if Member Exclusive fares present a good opportunity for them!
And lastly, there’s deals that we haven’t even heard of yet! For example, I’m confident that we’ll be getting more information this year on the new Air Canada-led Aeroplan program that will take effect in June 2020. We’ve also been hearing about WestJet’s intentions to revamp their loyalty program as they make the step up to a full-service global airline as well.
What will these new programs look like? What will be the sweet spots? We’ll all have to keep a watchful eye out and take advantage when the time comes!
Cycling through credit card offers. Diversifying into the US market. Hustling for referrals. Scaling up your operations among family members. Raising your MS game. Building a strong network. And staying on top of everything.
In Miles & Points, there’s always more work to do. But as long as you’re taking action and putting in the work, you’ll be certain to reap rewards that pay off your effort many times over.
Only one question remains. Are you up to the task?