In ye olden days, when science and superstition were the same thing and leeches were considered the ultimate medical treatment, there was an art called alchemy.
The alchemists wanted to turn base metals, such as lead, into gold. Somehow, despite being unable to perform this for literally hundreds of years, alchemists remained employed in the courts of many major countries well into the 19th century. Go figure.
Well today, I will do these sorcerers of mad science one better and walk you through, step-by-step, how to convert your annual credit card credits from coupons into cash.
Before we continue, I want to warn you that the best ways to turn credits into cash often require a phone call to your credit card issuer’s internal travel agency. As always, you’ll catch more tendies with sweet-and-sour sauce than with acrid vinegar.
1. American Express Platinum Card
The American Express Platinum Card is one we’ve covered a lot, and with good reason. The insurance is hefty, the benefits and welcome bonus are simply superlative, and they are one of the “last cards standing” offering worldwide lounge access.
But that $699 annual fee – yikes. Fortunately, the $200 annual travel credit that comes with every Platinum Card can be as good as cash.
Start the liquidation process by booking a refundable hotel that will charge you in full now on Amex Travel’s website. Make sure you’re logged in and charging the cost of your room to your American Express Platinum Card. Also give yourself a little leeway on time – booking for tomorrow night is a bad idea.
Before checking out, there will be a checkbox that says “Use Travel Credit”. It will look something like this:
Ensure that it’s checked before completing your transaction – if it isn’t, you (or a customer service representative) will need to cancel the booking and start from square one. If you’ve done everything right, in a few days you’ll see the charge and the credit posted to your account.
But if you’re like me and your weekend staycation at a five-star hotel no longer seems worth it to you, grab the phone and call American Express. Upon deciding to cancel the room, your transaction amount will be refunded, but the $200 travel credit will remain on the account.
You’re done! If you feel more personable, you can also make the initial booking via telephone, but I prefer online.
2. CIBC Aventura Visa Infinite Privilege
The CIBC Aventura Visa Infinite Privilege is, for me, not a terrible value. Despite the $499 annual fee, it has a decent welcome bonus and earn rates. There are also many reports of customers being offered incentives to upgrade to it.
Either way, all cardholders new and old alike are eligible for the ongoing benefit of a $200 annual travel credit.
This credit is one of my favourites at the moment. This is because it offers a lot of flexibility, and can also be used to get free Marriott Bonvoy elite qualifying nights, making it a hidden gem.
There are two downsides. First, every method here requires you spending time on the phone; CIBC Rewards Travel is run entirely through their old-school travel agency.
Second, your ability to turn the credit straight to cash (instead of using it as-intended for travel) will require the hotel to charge you now instead of issue a preauthorization. Some hotels will offer this; some will not, in which case you can try again somewhere else.
Therefore, I like to book these credits at Marriott properties I would be comfortable with staying at if push comes to shove. I know our intent is to get cash (and it’s certainly possible), but be ready to have to use the credit as intended.
What you’ll want to do is boot up Expedia, which is the travel portal that CIBC Rewards uses for all their bookings. Find the prepaid (but refundable) rate for a hotel you’re interested in staying at.
Now go to the hotel’s website and see if you can find a rate lower than Expedia. If that’s the case, great – you can pick up the phone and dial Aventura at 1-888-317-7728.
The last step is where the magic happens, and is again dependent on the representative. Explain to the agent that you have found a rate lower than Expedia. They will then permit you to make the booking on your own and send them an invoice.
If you get lucky and the hotel has charged you now, then the representative will be able to see this on your credit card statement and will credit $200 directly to your card. Once the credit has posted, you can contact the hotel directly to cancel your stay.
If you aren’t lucky and don’t get billed now, you must provide the bill to CIBC Rewards after checkout to receive the travel credit. If you have no intention of staying, the alternative is to cancel the refundable booking and try again.
If, like me, you do choose to stay, you’ll still get the perks of any hotel statuses you have, including points and elite night credits! This is because you booked directly with the hotel, even if you’re using the bonus from a third party program.
This is how I got about 5,000 Bonvoy points and six elite qualifying nights as well as a mini staycation with Titanium breakfast for a net cost of $23. In my opinion, the opportunity to experience that makes Aventura one of the best Big 5 travel agencies there is.
Oh, and did I mention the $200 credit is per calendar year? Double dips ahoy!
If you’re feeling brave, this can also be executed via car rental. The procedure would be the same, as you’d need the cost to be lower than Expedia, and you’d need the rental company to charge you now rather than later (and provide proof of this to your travel agent). You could then either go on your road trip or, if your credit has posted, cancel it.
3. HSBC World Elite Mastercard
The HSBC World Elite Mastercard’s travel enhancement credit is my favourite of the bunch. Cashing this is a breeze – just don’t get lost in HSBC’s strange website layout.
Before we use our $100 travel enhancement credit, it’s time to return to one of my favourite budget travel sites: Hotels.com. You can also use Expedia or another third-party travel agency; as with the Aventura credit, it’s vital that this hotel charges you now but can be refunded later.
Book a hotel room costing more than $100 with dates far out enough to give yourself ample time to change your mind. Wait for the purchase to post. Then go to the HSBC website and login.
On desktop, you need to click the following link after logging in. Otherwise you can be sent on a wild goose chase of redirecting screens that all lead you back to this page. I spent an inordinate amount of time figuring this out.
Then navigate to the “Redeem Now” tab, and click “Travel Enhancement Credit”. So long as your third-party booking has posted to your Mastercard, it’ll show up here. You’ll have 60 days from the date of posting to apply the $100 travel credit.
With that, your annual fee miraculously lowers from $149 to $49. Not bad alchemy, eh?
4. BMO eclipse Visa Cards
Even if you’re not a fan of BMO Rewards, you’ll want to check these credits out because of how easy they are to use. Let’s look at the terms and conditions for the BMO eclipse Visa Infinite Privilege Card, which boasts an annual fee of $499:
“Customers will be eligible to receive a $200 statement credit each year (annual period starts on January 1st of every year). The primary cardholder’s account will be credited within two statement cycles after making a purchase that is equal to or greater than the total amount of the statement credit on the Account, provided the Account is open and in good standing at the time of payout. Only primary cardholders are eligible for the statement credit. This offer is subject to change.”
What this means is you need to make a single purchase over $200 in order to trigger the credit, but the purchase itself doesn’t need to be anything specific, and even better, the credit posts automatically.
So if you, say, apply for and receive this credit card in October, you can use your lifestyle credit to offset the annual fee to $299. Then you can use the credit again in January to reduce the fee even further!
This would make the effective first-year cost of the card only $99, which isn’t too shabby for a couple hundred dollars of BMO Rewards points!
You could use this credit to purchase a new TV or other items you desire, but one of the best ways to liquidate is by buying gift cards at grocery stores. Remember that the BMO eclipse cards earn 5x points on groceries, so it’s a good card for that purpose irrespective of the lifestyle credit.
There’s also the BMO eclipse Visa Infinite Card, which has a lifestyle credit that works in an identical manner, albeit at the reduced rate of $50 per calendar year.
Still, not a bad backup plan if your income level doesn’t qualify for the superior card, as the $50 lifestyle credits can be double-dipped to reduce the $120 annual fee to $20 in the first year.
I’d like to take a moment here to talk about a laundry list of other credit cards with annual credits that have proven harder than I’d like to figure out ways to use.
The National Bank World Elite Mastercard, while a good credit card, requires you to get your credits by submitting detailed and itemized receipts for audit by their team. When will said team get back to you? At some point prior to the next ice age! Can you check on their progress? Hell no!
Similarly, the American Express US Green Card and American Express US Gold Card from our neighbours down south have Uber Eats credits and free Eats Pass membership. Given present conditions of dining at home, these sound delectable.
Sadly, I have spent many an evening fighting with VPNs and billing address details to try and get subsidized 2am McDonald’s. I have proverbially wound up at the drive-thru only to be informed the McFlurry machine is dead.
Fortunately, there are still cards like the American Express US Bonvoy Brilliant. The US$300 Marriott credit on that one is easily redeemable and triggers automatically by purchasing a gift card at any Marriott hotel – Canadian or abroad – or even online during a gift card sale.
To wrap up, the annual credits on credit cards can be transmuted into cash with a little effort. All of us Miles & Points enthusiasts do have one thing in common with the alchemists of antiquity: we want to find the best and fastest ways to turn our perks into tangible benefits.
Sometimes these methods take a bit more work than one would like, but if you follow these techniques and keep them in mind, I’m sure you’ll be getting much better value out of your credits than you may have previously.
Until next time, have fun doing mad science on your travel credits.