Disclaimer: This post contains referral links. The offers detailed within this post are the best publicly available offers. Your use of these links would, at no additional cost to you, render me eligible for certain referral bonuses. Thank you for your support!

In the introductory article on Credit Cards & Earning Points, I gave a brief overview of the credit cards with the highest signup bonuses in the Canadian market and explained how they offered the fastest route to more frequent, more luxurious travel. Today, let's add into the mix another powerful method of accumulating points, and see exactly what our returns would be if we put it all together.

Refer a Friend

Now that you've snagged a few signup bonuses and are carrying around a handful of credit cards in your wallet, what next? Well, get your friends in on the game! Another excellent way to quickly accumulate a mountain of points is by making full use of the referral program offered by American Express.

For example, if you have the American Express Business Platinum Card, you'll earn 25,000 Membership Rewards points (MR) for every person who uses your referral link to sign up for any card in the Membership Rewards family (i.e., it doesn't have to be the Business Platinum card!)

If you can get a few referrals lined up (think siblings, parents, close friends, coworkers, etc.), that renders the $399 annual fee on the Business Platinum quite a small price to pay for upwards of 100,000 Membership Rewards points (75,000 as the signup bonus, plus 25,000 for each referral). That's enough for a round-trip business class flight to Europe, of which the retail prices usually begin in the $2000s!

Holders of the Platinum, Business Gold, and Gold Rewards cards also earn 15,000, 10,000 and 5,000 referral points respectively for referring their friends. These amounts do add up quickly as well, but of course it's in this regard that the "referring power" of the Business Platinum card is on full display.

It's not just the Membership Rewards family either. Holders of the American Express Starwood Preferred Guest Card (both the personal and business version) can also refer their friends to either SPG card for 10,000 Starpoints each. Let's take stock for a second:

Card
Annual Fee
Best Signup Bonus
Spending Requirement
Referral Bonus
American Express Gold Rewards Card | Prince of Travel | Miles & Points Gold Rewards Card
$150
(waived for the first year)
30,000 MR
$1,500 in three months
5,000 MR
American Express Gold Rewards Card | Prince of Travel | Miles & Points Business Gold Card
$250
(waived for the first year)
40,000 MR
$5,000 in three months
10,000 MR
American Express Platinum Card | Prince of Travel | Miles & Points Platinum Card
$699
(effectively $299)
60,000 MR
$3,000 in three months
15,000 MR
American Express Business Platinum Card | Prince of Travel | Miles & Points Business Platinum Card
$399
75,000 MR
$5,000 in three months
25,000 MR
American Express Starwood Preferred Guest Card | Prince of Travel | Miles & Points SPG Personal
$120 20,000 Starpoints
$1,500 in three months
10,000 Starpoints
American Express Starwood Preferred Guest Business Card | Prince of Travel | Miles & Points SPG Business
$150 20,000 Starpoints
$1,500 in three months
10,000 Starpoints

Now, the official Amex policy is that you can only refer your friends and family, though anecdotally "self-referrals", wherein a person uses his or her own referral link to sign up for a new card and avails of both the referral bonus and the signup bonus, have always been successful. We'll see in the next section how to use this to its full advantage.

Racking Up the Points

We've seen that credit card signup and referral bonuses offer the fastest route to being a savvy wheeler-dealer in the miles and points game. Let's put it all together and see what an eager traveler might be able to achieve in the first year of card-crunching. To keep things simple, we'll restrict our attention to the Membership Rewards cards from American Express for now.


January

Start out with the Business Platinum card due to its referring power, and grab the signup bonus of 75,000 Membership Rewards points. Pay the annual fee of $399.

April

Self-refer from the Business Platinum to the Platinum Card. That's 25,000 Membership Rewards points for the referral, plus 60,000 for the signup bonus, for a total of 85,000 Membership Rewards points. You'll see the annual fee of $699 for the Platinum Card, but can immediately use the $200 travel credit for the current year to bring it down to $499 out-of-pocket. So far we've earned 160,000 MR for $898.

July

Self-refer from the Business Platinum (not the Platinum!) to the Business Gold card. Another 65,000 Membership Rewards points (40,000 for the signup bonus plus 25,000 for the referral). No first year annual fee on this one, so we're at 225,000 MR for $898.

October

Self-refer from the Business Platinum to the Gold Rewards Card. Grab 45,000 Membership Rewards points for your efforts (30,000 signup plus 25,000 referral). Also no first year fees to speak of, so our running total is 280,000 MR for $898 out-of-pocket.

November

The first year on the Business Platinum card that we got in January is almost up, so go ahead and cancel it if you don't want to pay the second year's fees. We can apply for it again next year anyway.

Early Next Year

Use the second year's $200 travel credit on the Platinum Card to bring its effective annual fee down to $299. Before too long, you can apply for the Business Platinum and start the cycle all over again. Remember to cancel each card before its first year is up to avoid getting dinged for another year of fees.


Our final total is 280,000 Membership Rewards points, enough for TWO round-trip tickets to Europe in first class or almost FOUR round-trip tickets to Asia in economy! That's an amazing return for an effective outlay of $698 ($399 for the Business Platinum and $299 effective annual fee for the Platinum Card).

Angkor Wat for the whole family!

Angkor Wat for the whole family!

Keep in mind that in this example, we restricted our attention to the four American Express Membership Rewards cards for ease of analysis. We could have thrown in the Marriott, SPG, TD and CIBC Aeroplan cards and many, many more (as much as your credit profile can handle) which would allow you to piece together even more trips and use points to pay for all your 5-star hotel stays!

Also, keep in mind that this example is for one person only. If you and your spouse or partner are both interested in playing the game, go ahead and DOUBLE those figures. The possibilities are truly endless.

Conclusion

I've thrown a lot of numbers at you – Membership Rewards this, SPG that. Are you just supposed to take my word for how much these points are worth? Of course not. In the upcoming installments, we'll shift our focus from earning to redeeming. The few examples I've given of what's possible with 280,000 Membership Rewards points barely scratch the surface, so we'll dive into the full range of possibilities. We'll also examine in detail the step-by-step procedure to booking flights with points and setting your dreams in motion.

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