The short haul smart travel hacking plan is made for people who just want to dip their toes into travel hacking. It’s not going to get you in a luxury flight overseas, but I can certainly save you hundreds of dollars on transcontinental flights (e.g. traveling within North America).
This plan is for you if you’re just starting out and aren’t ready to fully commit. By following this plan, you will:
- Better understand your credit score
- Earn enough points for a round-trip flight anywhere in North America
- Have a plan for booking your flights
Estimated time commitment: 1 hour
Reward: 1 return flight anywhere in North America
Step 1: Check your credit score and report
Estimated time: 15 minutes
First, a bit of housekeeping. You’ll want to pull your credit score and your credit report to ensure that nothing is amiss. Notice how I said and.
While related, your credit score and your credit report are not the same things! Your credit score is a number that summarizes how good your credit is at a given point in time. Your credit report lists all the accounts that you’ve ever opened. It’s a way for companies to look at your history of maintaining credit.
If you’re already subscribed to Transunion’s and Equifax’s services, then you can skip ahead to step 2.
Otherwise, I recommend signing up for an account on both of these sites:
There are two credit agencies in Canada which track your information. It’s important to look at both because certain information may only be available on one.
You’ll want your scores to be at least 660. Review your reports to make sure that you recognize every account. If you see something you don’t recognize, be sure to investigate it further. You definitely want your credit report to be in order before proceeding.
Step 2: Sign up for the major loyalty programs
Estimated time: 25 minutes
Credit cards have different points that they collect and what a lot of people don’t know is that you can combine them! For example, TD, CIBC
and Amex all offer Aeroplan cards. The points you earn on each individual card can go to a single Aeroplan account.
I recommend that you set up your own accounts if you don’t already have them because it’ll save you a ton of time later. Let’s get you set up for the major accounts that you’ll likely use. Again, if you have the accounts already, don’t sign up again!
Be sure to store your login and password somewhere safe. I recommend one of the following programs:
Step 3: Sign up for credit cards
Estimated time: 30 minutes
American Express Personal Gold
The first card that you’ll apply for the is the American Express Gold card. There are several versions of this card floating around with different offers. I’m linking you to the Perkopolis offer which is the current richest offer:
- 25,000 points as a signup bonus
- Low minimum spend requirements of $500 in three months
- First year free (not available on most other offers)
Click here for a link to the application. You’ll need code AMEXPERK14 as an RSVP code.
If you want to stop here for a breather, do so here. The points you’ll earn from this single signup will cover your trip anywhere in North America as long as you plan carefully.
The next suggestion provides you with more flexibility and points earnings power.
American Express Cobalt
The Amex Cobalt card is in my opinion the best single credit card on the market today. It offers the richest points earning for bonus categories at 5 points/$1. This is the card you’ll be using to make most restaurant and grocery purchases moving forward.
The card is very unique because you don’t get your sign-up bonus right off the bat. Instead, you receive 2,500 points for each month that you spend $500 on the card. The other thing is that you’ll be paying a $10 fee per month.
The benefits far outweigh the costs of this card. Most cards will give you anywhere from 1-2 points/$ of bonus spend. If you spend the bare minimum $500 a month, you’ll receive 1,000 points at best on other cards. With this card, you’ll receive 2,500 points. The difference of 1,500 is worth at minimum $15.
There are currently two offers on the market that I’d recommend. Pick one depending on what you’d prefer.
- GreatCanadianRebates offers $50 for successful Cobalt sign-ups.
- If you have a big Ticketmaster purchase coming up, you can earn a $100 statement credit instead.
Step 4: Make your spend
Note the date that your gold card was approved. You have 3 months to spend $500 from that date.
With the Cobalt, make it your primary card whenever possible. Some things people don’t know:
- Some places take Apple Pay, but not Amex. Link your Amex to your Apple Pay account to bypass that restriction. T&T Supermarket is an example of such a retailer.
- Grocery stores sell tons of different gift cards. I usually buy Amazon gift cards through my grocery store for 5x points through my Cobalt. I’ll then stack the discounts with Ebates or GreatCanadianRebates.
Step 5: Plan your flights!
With this one two-combo, I’ve provided you with several ways to book the flights you want.
Remember that Aeroplan account I had you sign up for? Well, the American Express Gold transfers instantly to Aeroplan at a 1:1 ratio!
If you have flexibility on your dates, my recommendation is to book far in advance. This gives you the most access to Classic fares which cost 25,000 aeroplan points to any destination in North America (except for Hawaii).
The best part about Membership Rewards points is the instant transfer. This means you can search for the flight you want on Aeroplan first to make sure that it’s available and then transfer the points to redeem them.
American Express Fixed Rewards
Travel hacking is all about options and sometimes using Aeroplan points is a pain. That’s why you have the Cobalt card.
With the points you earn from the Cobalt card and the personal Gold card, you’ll quickly earn 40,000 points in total. This is enough for you to book a flight anywhere in North America using American Express’ Fixed rewards program.
This can be done through American Express’ online Travel portal.
This plan was designed to provide you with the maximum benefit for minimum effort. The goals were as follows:
- You needed to be able to get a flight from this plan
- It had to be simple (2 or fewer credit card sign-ups)
- Annual fees had to be minimized
- Low income requirements (i.e. almost anyone can get approved)
I considered the following cards when developing this plan.
CIBC Aventura Cards: These cards can offer decent value. The challenge is that you can’t get enough points from a single sign-up in order to get a flight in North America. While it is possible with a personal and business card combination, that’s two signups versus one. Additionally, the earn rates on both cards pale in comparison.
CIBC Aeroplan Cards: Comparatively low bonuses and easy annual fee waiver. It’s possible to negotiate over the phone or in branch, but that’s an additional step. Also doesn’t offer the flexibility of Amex MR points.
TD Aeroplan Cards: Bonuses are currently lower than their historical highs. The TD Infinite Visa card is an attractive offer when it’s a 25,000 points sign-up bonus and first year free. It unfortunately has high income requirements.
TD USA Aeroplan card: Great signup bonus, but $1,000 USD minimum spend with US mailing address required. Can also be difficult to pay off for those without USD bank accounts.
RBC Avion: Signup bonus isn’t enough for a flight.
RBC BA Card: Avios is of limited use within North America. There are also other cards to consider before this one.
Other Amex cards: High annual fees or high minimum spends.
Scotiabank Amex cards: Signup bonus not enough for a flight.
BMO World Elite Travel card: Signup bonus not enough for a flight.
After reading and following this plan, you should have a much better understanding of how travel hackers take advantage of sign-up bonuses to get flights.
Where are you going to go?