I’ve spent years collecting rewards points from a variety of credit card rewards programs and I want to explain how I’ve finally put more than 1 million travel points to use. We have an epic trip to Scotland and Ireland planned for this summer and with the help of these travel points we’ve saved a ton of money and enhanced our trip with some luxury hotel stays.
Let me start off by saying this type of travel points hoarding is not for everyone. Between my wife and I we’ve collected points from a dozen credit cards, all in a well-thought out experiment to maximize our travel points for the specific purpose of booking and saving money on our big trip. We also paid – wait for it – more than $3,000 in annual fees! Crazy, right?
But I did the math and determined that paying $3,000+ in fees was a good investment to earn more than 1 million travel points. I valued those points at a little more than $18,000. How? Let me explain.
The main rewards program to drive all of this was the American Express Membership Rewards program. It’s the most lucrative in terms of number of cards available, the incredibly generous sign-up bonuses, and the ability to transfer Membership Rewards points to other programs such as Aeroplan and Marriott.
We knew we’d need 240,000 Aeroplan miles to get our family of four to and from the U.K. this summer. We also had plans to stay one night in Calgary, five nights in Edinburgh and five nights in Dublin, and so we could do that through the Marriott Rewards program for about 675,000 points.
Membership Rewards transfer to Aeroplan on a 1:1 basis. With the new Marriott Rewards program, Membership Rewards transfer at a rate of 5:6 (5,000 Membership Rewards points = 6,000 Marriott points).
Earning and Collecting the Rewards Points
I started with the American Express Business Platinum Card. Using a referral from my good friend Barry Choi at Money We Have I signed up for this card and earned 75,000 Membership Rewards points, plus another 8,750 once I hit the minimum spend threshold within the first three months.
Next, I referred my wife to the same card (my referral link here). I earned a 25,000 point referral bonus and she collected the 83,750 Membership Rewards points after hitting the minimum spend on her card.
For those counting at home that gave me a total of 108,750 points while my wife had 83,750 points.
Next we each signed up for the American Express Gold Rewards Card. This one is a staple at the top of many travel rewards credit card rankings for good reason. It frequently offers a first year free promotion and also pays a generous 25,000 Membership Rewards bonus when you reach $1,500 in spending within three months.
Add 26,500 Membership Rewards to each of our point balances and now the total is 135,250 for me and 110,250 for my wife. A great start, but not enough. Time to break out the big guns.
I grabbed a referral link for the American Express Platinum Card (personal, not business). The card comes with a whopping $699 annual fee but sprinkles in a $200 travel credit and a ton of perks, including Priority Pass airport lounge visits that we could use for the whole family while travelling. Brilliant! The card gave me 60,000 Membership Rewards points plus another 6,250 base points for hitting the minimum spend.
Then I referred my wife to the same Amex Platinum card (my referral link here) and earned a 15,000 point referral bonus while she picked up the 66,250 Membership Rewards from the bonus and base spending.
That brought our points balances up to 216,500 for me and 176,500 for my wife.
American Express refreshed its SPG cards last summer and came out with strong offers for both their personal and business cards. Both offered 50,000 bonus Marriott points, which turned into 56,000 once you hit the minimum spend. Annual fees were $120 for the personal card and $150 for the business card. Of course, we signed up for both. My wife used my referral link to apply for her SPG cards, so I could pick up an additional 20,000 Marriott points (10,000 each).
Finally, I used my American Express Business Platinum referral link to refer my wife to the American Express Business Gold Rewards Card and picked up 25,000 Membership Rewards points for doing so. My wife earned 40,000 points plus another 5,000 in base points when she met the minimum spend requirements. Then she used her Business Platinum Card to refer me to the American Express Business Gold Rewards Card so she could earn a 25,000 point referral bonus and I could earn 45,000 Membership Rewards from the Business Gold Rewards Card.
Wait, I still had one more existing card and that was the American Express Cobalt Card. I earned 2,500 points every month when I spent $500. Cobalt has an excellent 5x point multiplier for eats and drinks (groceries, dining, liquor stores, bars). I would make sure to hit the minimum spending in only those 5x points categories, which over the year earned me 90,000 Membership Rewards Select Tier points. These points can be transferred 5:6 to Marriott Rewards so I did that and ended up with 108,000 Marriott Rewards points.
Ok, that’s it. Whew!
The total points collected after all of this was 286,500 Membership Rewards points and 228,000 Marriott Rewards points. For my wife, she earned 246,500 Membership Rewards points and 100,000 Marriott Rewards points.
- Total Membership Rewards = 533,000
- Total Marriott Rewards = 328,000
Redeeming the Membership Rewards and Marriott Rewards points for travel
Remember, I needed 240,000 Aeroplan miles to redeem for four round trip flights to the U.K. So I transferred 240,000 Membership Rewards points to my Aeroplan program and booked those flight rewards. We valued our Aeroplan miles at 2.5 cents per mile, giving us a total value of $6,000 for these flights.
That’s not all. I used 110,000 existing Aeroplan miles built up from previous years on two trips last year. One was for our family to fly to Victoria for summer vacation. That cost us 60,000 Aeroplan miles. Then I took my wife to Vancouver for our anniversary and used 50,000 Aeroplan miles for two round-trip flights from Lethbridge. at that same 2.5 cent per mile valuation these points were worth $2,750 in free travel.
I then transferred the remaining 293,000 Membership Rewards points to the Marriott program – giving me 351,600 with the transfer. That added to my existing 228,000 hotel points. I was also able to transfer my wife’s 100,000 points to my own account (family sharing), to give me a total of 679,600 Marriott Rewards points.
With that I booked the Marriott Calgary Airport hotel for the night before we leave on our trip (35,000 points). I also booked five nights at the Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa in Edinburgh for 400,000 points (we needed two rooms, as this hotel does not allow more than 2 people to a room). Finally, I booked five nights at the Shelbourne in Dublin for 240,000 points.
The nice thing about Marriott Rewards is that when you stay five nights, the fifth night is free. These hotels easily cost $600 per night, and since we booked an equivalent of 16 nights we valued these points at just under $10,000 ($9,600).
Honestly, this was an exhausting process because we had to carefully orchestrate all of our typical household spending around these different cards to meet the minimum spending bonuses. But altogether it was only about $45,000 in spending, which was easily handled between our regular monthly expenses, plus some larger once a year spending such as car and house insurance.
If we ever got caught without enough regular expenses we would simply buy an Amazon gift card or a grocery store gift card or a gas gift card that month and treat it like a prepaid card for future expenses. No big deal. I can safely say we did not buy any unnecessary items in order to juice our spending just to earn more credit card points. But it took a lot of detailed planning to make that happen.
At the end of the day we were able to save enough points to fly to the U.K. and back for about $600 in fees and taxes, and stay 11 nights in luxury hotels for “free”. What we did spend on annual fees we made up and then some by saving huge amounts of money on our trip.
We spent $3,000 to earn more than $18,000 in travel, plus get perks like free hotel upgrades, early check-in, late check-out, and airport lounge passes. Because of this we’ll make a dream trip to Scotland and Ireland even more memorable and enjoyable.
Back in June I wrote about a great way to unlock up to $850 in travel rewards for free from CIBC. In summary, you had to apply for the CIBC Aventura Visa Infinite Card, the CIBC Aventura for Business Card, and the CIBC Aventura Gold Visa Card.
After meeting the minimum spending requirements you could earn 73,000 Aventura rewards points, plus a $120 travel credit. Best of all, each of the cards included a first year annual fee rebate which cancelled out any fees. The scheme sounded too good to pass up, so I applied for all three cards with my sights set on earning $850 in free travel.
But that’s not what happened.
Here’s my CIBC Aventura adventure:
I’ve never banked with CIBC nor owned one of its credit card products. When I applied for the Aventura Visa Infinite Card and Aventura for Business Card online in June I immediately knew something was wrong. I wasn’t approved instantly, instead a message stated that CIBC would get in touch with me within 10 days.
A few weeks later I received a letter in the mail stating that there was a problem with my applications when they did a credit check. The name on my application did not match the name on my credit report. This didn’t make sense to me. I have successfully applied for dozens and dozens of credit cards over the years and have never had this issue.
Credit bureau issues
I called CIBC and a representative said that I’d have to clear up the error with the credit bureau. I looked into doing that and it would involve a pile of paperwork and weeks of waiting for answers – plus the fact that I didn’t think anything was wrong with the credit file.
I set the issue aside until I received another letter from CIBC informing me that my application had once again been denied. Apparently they thought I would have cleared up the credit bureau issue and they went ahead and did another credit check. I called and asked them to cancel the application and that I would reapply if and when I got this issue sorted out.
Fast-forward to August and I decided to apply in-person at a CIBC branch. Everything was good and the advisor sent off my two applications to head office for approval. The advisor also confirmed that the bonuses from June were still available, which was great news.
Two weeks later and I still had not received any word from CIBC about the cards. I called the advisor and she said to be patient as they should have been sent out. When I did not receive anything the next week she ‘cancelled’ the original card applications and re-applied. Finally, 10 days later, I received an email from CIBC ‘welcoming me’ to the Aventura program. Still no cards though.
Added insurance without consent
Another week goes by and I get a letter from CIBC in the mail. But when I opened it I didn’t find a credit card package inside – no, instead it was from Canadian Premier Life Insurance Company explaining how the balance protection insurance on my card works(!).
I did not consent and have never consented to putting balance protection insurance on a credit card. It’s an expensive, borderline scam of a product that charges the cardholder monthly premiums on their statement balance, whether they pay it off in full or not.
So I call the insurance company and explain that I never signed up for this insurance and to kindly remove it from my credit card.
Earning and Redeeming Aventura Points
Finally, another week later (now the end of August), I receive two CIBC credit cards. I quickly reached the minimum spend thresholds on each card and on the first statement I see what I’ve been waiting for – those sweet Aventura points, plus two $120 travel credits (one on the personal Aventura side and the other on the Business side).
I decided to combine my Aventura points, thinking it would make more sense to have them in one account (they were split 22,000 on the personal card and 25,000 on the business card). CIBC allows you to combine the points into one account, so I moved the business card points over to the personal card side.
That was a mistake. Here’s why:
I called the CIBC rewards centre to make a hotel booking and use up my points and travel credit. I read somewhere that you could use your credit and points in the same transaction, but only if you call in and speak with an agent.
So I found out that’s only partly true. The agent told me she could only combine points with a travel credit on the business credit card…not the personal card. My hotel booking came to just over $500, so I could use 47,000 points but I’d still be short about $50 that I’d have to pay out of pocket.
Now that I’ve used up my Aventura points I’m left with two separate $120 travel credits that I cannot combine into one booking. Not the end of the world, but slightly inconvenient for booking future travel.
Obviously your mileage may vary when it comes to applying for CIBC credit cards and redeeming Aventura points and travel credits. This was a frustrating experience for me and enough of a hassle to probably stay away from CIBC cards in the future. I’m not going to bother with the Aventura Gold Visa Card.
That said, I did (eventually) get to redeem $470 in travel for free and still have another $240 in travel waiting to be redeemed for future trips. Still a pretty lucrative adventure in Aventura point collecting.