I love to collect travel rewards points. It’s almost become an obsession. I’ve signed up for over a dozen credit cards in the last two years and I write about the topic here on my blog all the time. The reason I love travel rewards is that I get to go to some pretty amazing destinations and I get to stay in some epic hotels for next to nothing.
Although anyone can take up this “hobby” as I have, it’s pretty easy to make a mistake that could cost you big. From missing out on points to getting yourself into debt, these are the things you want to look out for if you plan on getting into churning credit cards or the travel rewards game.
Missing the welcome bonus
If you look at my list of the best travel credit cards in Canada, you’ll notice that they all have generous signup bonuses. However, to get these welcome offers, you need to spend a certain amount by a certain date. Generally speaking, you have three months to reach the minimum spend requirement, but you might be required to spend anywhere from $0-$7,000 to get it. If you miss meeting the minimum spend, you’re basically giving up $250+ in bonuses.
On the flip side of things, you can also spend too much. For example, you might charge $3,000 to your card thinking that’s what you need to do to get your bonus, but all you needed to spend was $1,500. This doesn’t hurt you, but you’ve spent $1,500 more than you had to which could have been used on a different card that could have earned you more points.
You get into debt
It doesn’t matter how valuable travel rewards points are, going into debt while chasing rewards is never worth it. Travel rewards points are usually worth anywhere from 1-2 cents each. Depending on the travel loyalty program, they could be worth even more. But if you’re not paying your bills in full and on time every month, then you’ll be paying around 19.99%-30% interest which is clearly not a good deal.
If you’re finding that you’re spending too much, then you may want to cancel some cards so you can reduce the amount of credit you have access to. If you’ve already built up some debt, consider doing a balance transfer to a low interest credit card in Canada so you can lower the amount of interest you’re paying every month.
You miss out on the easy offers
Sign up bonus + first year free = win. Seriously, if there’s a credit card offer where you get a generous signup bonus and the first year is free, then there’s no reason to sign up. For example, the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite card has a recent promo where the signup bonus was 35,000 Aeroplan points and the annual fee of $120 was waived. That’s a potential value of over $700 with very minimal requirements.
I totally understand that some people don’t like applying for multiple credit cards or that they’re worried about their credit score, but sometimes these offers are staring at you right in your face. Another example is the BMO World Elite Mastercard that gives you 35,000 BMO Rewards points ($250 value) as a signup bonus and the annual fee of $150 is usually waived. This card also gives you 4 free airport lounge passes so you’re getting more than $600 in the first year for free.
You let your credit score slip
Whenever you apply for a new credit card, your credit score will typically drop 10 points since the credit card provider will do a hard check on your credit history. This normally isn’t a big deal since your credit score will go back up after a few months of making your payments on time, but it could also be a potential flag.
Let’s say you’ve applied for 3-4 credit cards in the last two months and now you want to apply for car financing or a mortgage. There’s always the possibility that new lenders will look at your history and wonder why you’ve been seeking so much credit as of late. They could deny your application or they may offer you an interest rate that’s higher than what’s available to people who have a higher credit score and haven’t been seeking additional credit recently. It’s a good habit to check your credit score on a regular since it doesn’t cost you anything.
You don’t optimize your points
Most travel loyalty programs are easy to understand but depending on what you redeem your points for, it can make a huge difference in the return you’re actually getting. Let’s take a look at American Express Membership Rewards where your points are worth 1% since it takes 1,000 points to claim $10 in travel purchases. With Amex MR, you also have the option to transfer your points to Aeroplan or Marriott Bonvoy. Alternatively, you could use the fixed points option.
Let’s say you’re looking at a flight from Toronto to Los Angeles and it costs $600. You would need 60,000 Membership Rewards points to make that claim. However, if you transferred your points to Aeroplan at a 1:1 ratio, you would only need 25,000 points for that flight. You’d have to pay about $120 in taxes to complete the reservation, but that’s still a much better deal than had you booked at the standard ratio.
If you signed up for the American Express Platinum card or the American Express Platinum Business card, you’d get 60,000 or 75,000 points respectively as a welcome bonus. That’s enough for 2-3 round trip flights within the continental U.S. and Canada if you transferred your points to Aeroplan.
You let your points and benefits expire
If you’re an avid travel rewards collector and you have multiple credit cards, it can be really easy to let your points expire. Generally speaking, your loyalty program points will expire after 1-2 years of inactivity. To keep things active simply use or earn points in some way. That could be through your credit card or by shopping on the Aeroplan or Air Miles e-stores. Note that if you cancel a credit card while still maintaining a points balance, you’ll lose those points. Obviously, you don’t want that to happen so use them or transfer them if you can before you close your account.
Individual credit card benefits can also expire. For example, the WestJet RBC World Elite Mastercard comes with a free annual companion voucher but it’s only valid for one year. It’s understandable that you may not fly WestJet every year, but by not using that voucher, you’re giving up what could be $500+ in value. Another example is the Marriott Bonvoy American Express card that gives you a free annual night certificate that can be redeemed for a hotel night worth up to 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy points. That also has a potential value of $500+ so you want to make sure you use it before it expires.