Travel Hacking Walkthrough and Tips

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Despite the fact that many of my friends know I travel hack, and I’ve explained to them how to do it, they’re still hesitant to get onboard. I get it, some people think it’s not worth their time while others don’t like the idea of paying annual fees for rewards. That said, I’ve explained to a few friends how this game works and now they’re into it as much as I am.

I suspect a lot of people don’t travel hack because it sounds too complicated to get into. I agree it does take some work, but if you’ve made it through this e-book, then you pretty much know all the basics. There’s no reason why you can’t start travel hacking yourself right now. But, if you need a little bit of extra hand holding, here’s a walkthrough and tips to get you started.

Travel hacking step-by-step guide

Okay, I’m going to give you a very simplified step-by-step guide on how to travel hack. The assumption is you’ve read the entire e-book, so you know all the basic concepts. This guide is to give you specific credit card examples. Remember, you have to have a goal in mind. In this case, I’m going to assume you want to accumulate as many Aeroplan points as possible. The following is a very simple strategy:

  1. Get a primary credit card such as the American Express Platinum Card or the American Express Cobalt Card.
  2. Apply for a secondary Card such as the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Card
  3. Cancel the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Card after 11 months or switch it to a different TD credit card.
  4. Apply for another card that earns you Aeroplan points such as the American Express Aeroplan Reserve Card or the CIBC Aeroplan Visa Infinite Card.
  5. Cancel that card after 11 months.
  6. By now you would have earned the welcome bonus from at least three cards. When you apply for another card, get one that fits your current strategy. That would be another card that earns your Aeroplan points, or whatever other points you’re trying to earn such as Marriott Bonvoy.

So why this order? It’s a bit subjective. You need a primary credit card as that’s what you’ll be using for your purchases when you’re not trying to earn a welcome bonus. The American Express Platinum Card usually has an incredibly generous sign up offer when you use a referral link. That’s often worth between 85,000 – 105,000 points. If you were to convert those points to Aeroplan, you’d have enough for multiple round-trip flights within Canada.

American Express Platinum Card

  • $699 annual fee
  • Up to 105,000 Membership Rewards points welcome bonus when using a referral link
  • Earn 3 points per $1 spent on dining, 2 points on travel, and 1 point on all other purchases
  • $200 annual travel credit
  • Unlimited airport lounge access
  • Hotel status upgrades

The American Express Cobalt Card is another good option because of the high earn rate. You’ll earn 5 points per $1 spent on food and drinks, 3 points per $1 on transportation, 2 points $1 on streaming services, and 1 point per $1 on all other purchases. The welcome bonus is worth at least 30,000 American Express Membership Rewards points. I recently started using this as my everyday card since the earn rate is so high.

American Express Cobalt Card

  • $12.99 Monthly fee ($155.88 yearly)
  • 2,500 monthly Membership Rewards points after charging $500 in purchases each month for a year (30,000 points total)
  • 20,000 additional points when you spend $3,000 in the first three months
  • Earn 5 points per $1 spent on eats and drinks
  • Earn 3 points per $1 spent on streaming services
  • Earn 2 points per $1 spent on travel
  • Earn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases

As mentioned, you’ll cancel your secondary card every year before the annual fee posts unless you want to hold it long term. You would then apply for a new credit card every year. Since welcome bonuses change frequently, refer to my list of the best travel credit cards in Canada and the best credit cards in Canada. When you apply for one new card each year, it won’t take long for you to reach your goal. 

Don’t forget, you’ll want to log your credit card applications so you can keep track of your progress. Based on the above strategy, it would look something like this:

Credit cardAppliedCancelledWelcome bonus
Amex PlatinumJan. 1, 2022105,000 points
TD Aeroplan Visa InfiniteFeb. 1, 2022Jan. 1, 202350,000 points
Amex CobaltFeb. 1, 2023Jan. 1, 202430,000 points
Amex Aeroplan ReserveFeb. 1, 2024Jan. 1, 2025120,000 points

In this example, I assume you’re keeping just the American Express Platinum Card and you’re cancelling the other cards you apply for. That said, and as mentioned, The American Express Cobalt Card is also worth keeping. 

Overall, you’ve applied for four credit cards in a two-year span. That’s not very aggressive and is a pretty reasonable pace. More importantly, from your welcome bonuses alone, you would have earned 305,000 Aeroplan points (assuming you transfer your American points to Aeroplan). When you factor in the natural spending you’ve done on each card, you could actually have closer to 350,000 Aeroplan points. That’s enough points for a round-trip flight in business class to Asia.

Travel hacking tips

Travel hacking is one of those things where once you get into it, it can be addictive. I created this guide as a simple way to get lazy people to travel for less. That said, I have no doubt that once many people get started, they’ll want to dive deeper into the points game. That said, many people will be satisfied with just getting one credit card a year. Regardless of what route you take, there are some tips you should follow.

Always have a goal in mind

I dedicated an entire post to having a travel strategy since it’s a vital part of travel hacking. You don’t need to have a defined goal, but you need to have a general one at least so you can start working towards it. In the example above, the goal is to collect as many Aeroplan points as possible. Having a lot of airline points isn’t a bad thing since it gives you flexibility. What you want to avoid is collecting points from different programs as you’ll end up spreading out your rewards. That makes it harder to make a redemption since presumably, you’ll have fewer points in each program.

Be on the lookout for good welcome bonuses

Even though travel hacking for lazy people focuses on one credit sign up a year, it’s always worth paying attention to what offers are currently available. Generally speaking, sign up offers last 3-4 months. Once they expire, a new offer becomes available. As you can imagine, some offers are better than others. If you look further below, I have detailed reviews and best-of lists so you can see what the latest offers are. When a good offer becomes available, it can be worth signing up for even if you’re not due up for a new card any time soon.

Don’t overextend yourself 

Despite the fact that welcome offers can be quite generous, you should never sign up for more cards than you can handle. Remember, you take a hit to your credit score every time you apply for a new card. Additionally, the really good sign up bonuses will have a minimum spend requirement. If you can’t meet that minimum spend, you get nothing. Also, resist the urge of spending, just for the sake of meeting your minimum spend requirement. Too many people will buy things they don’t need just to get bonus points. 

Think about value

It’s essential to understand the value of your points. The biggest mistake new travel hackers make is to use their points just because it’s free. Generally speaking, you want your redemption to have a higher value than the baseline value. Refer to my chapter on calculating the value of your rewards points for that baseline. If your redemption is worth more than the baseline, then you’re getting good value. If it falls below that threshold, you may want to pay cash instead.

Spread the word

I’ve got a whole chapter dedicated to earning rewards points as a family, but it can also be beneficial to tell your friends about your hobby. Remember, American Express cards offer a referral bonus. That’s extra points for you and your friends. Tell them about this e-book or simply inform them about low hanging fruit such as credit cards that have a good welcome bonus and no annual fee for the first year. 

Additionally, if your extended family needs to book a hotel room or plane ticket, see if they’ll let you do it for them and have them pay you back. By doing this, you can earn extra points on your credit card or status qualifying nights. Just be upfront with your intentions. If they prefer to book themselves so they get the points, there’s nothing wrong with that. My parents don’t care, so I book all their travel for them.

Get ready to start travelling

You have all the knowledge you need to get you started on your travel hacking journey. Applying for a new credit card is your first step. Once you get your card and have met the minimum spend requirement for your welcome bonus, you’ll want to start learning the ins and outs of each loyalty program.

Every rewards program has sweet spots, so it’s not hard to figure out what’s beneficial to you. Plus, I have detailed guides for every program. That’ll make your life easier since there will be fewer things to research.

Think about where you want to go and start earning points that will get you there. With this game, you’ll sometimes earn points faster than you can spend them. That’s a good problem.

Enjoy the ride and reach out to me if you have any questions. Below are some additional resources that you may find useful.

Credit card referrals and reviews

Since welcome bonuses can change and every credit card comes with different features, it’s a good idea to thoroughly research them before you apply. Fortunately, I’ve personally used and reviewed just about every credit card that’s ideal for travel hacking. I’ve also included my referral links where applicable if you’re just getting into the game.

Best credit cards list

The odds are you won’t have time to research every card, but I have multiple best of lists to help you narrow down your choices. To be honest, my lists are purely subjective, but most of them were made with my travel hacker mentality so a lot of the featured cards are appealing for one reason or another.

Loyalty program guides

Travel Hacking for Lazy People

Travel Hacking Walkthrough and Tips

About Barry Choi

Barry Choi is a Toronto-based personal finance and travel expert who frequently makes media appearances. His blog Money We Have is one of Canada’s most trusted sources when it comes to money and travel. You can find him on Twitter:@barrychoi

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