Airmiles? Aeroplan? Avion? Star Alliance? One World? What’s the deal with travel points? Whenever I need them to work for me, there’s usually some hitch. I sat down with Matt Bailey, a Calgary-based travel entrepreneur and founder of Canadian Free Flyers, a man who has travel hacked his way to over two million points. I wanted to learn how to make our travel points count.
RE: What makes you a travel points expert?
MB: After doing some research, I realized there was no dedicated travel hacking site for Canadians. Everything was American-based. I started looking at guides and ebooks and quickly earned more than 100,000 travel points. There’s some amazing deals out there. As soon as my mindset shifted as a travel hacker, I began to see more opportunities and was eager to capitalize on them. After helping friends and family, I decided to start Canadian Free Flyers, a membership site dedicated to helping Canadian travel more for less. This year I’ve racked up 450,000 points alone.
RE: What’s the biggest mistake people make when it comes to collecting points?
MB: The biggest mistake is in not taking it seriously. I see many people carrying around an Air Miles card and simply using it every now and then when they think about it. They earn the lowest possible rewards at 1 point per $20 spent. It takes ages to add up. Even with Aeroplan, which is far superior to Air Miles, no one seems to sit down and really strategize methods to earn points more rapidly. There are so many avenues to take: various promotions, credit cards, shopping at the Aeroplan store and so forth.
RE: What’s the biggest mistake people make when it comes to actually using their points?
MB: Not using them. Points do expire and there is no point in collecting points if you’re not going to use them. People seem to either not use their points at all or they waste them on products rather than flights. Let me strongly advise the readers not to waste points on material products. Last I checked, an iPod was roughly 50,000 points. With 50,000 points, you could go to South America! The best value for points is always with flights. Even with flights, the best value comes from long-haul and business class tickets.
RE: Can you give us bucket listers some tips to make travel points actually work for us?
– Make a plan for a dream trip. This might sound cliché but it’s a great way to stay on track and keep motivated towards earning points. If the dream is a business-class ticket to Europe, figure out how many points you will need and which airline you’d like to use. Then you can strategize where to earn points and you’ll know exactly how your going to use them when you get them.
– Utilize high-bonus credit cards. Every day I am getting more amazed at the incredible offers Canadians are getting with all types of credit cards. Many of them waive the fees for the first year and give enough bonus points for a long-haul flight!
– Make promotions work for you. Most Canadians know about the Air Mile deals at Safeway. This is a great time to buy groceries and earn a lot of points very fast. Of course, this is just one of the many promotions that happen throughout the year. A couple years ago, Aeroplan had a promotion to encourage people to shop at Sobey’s. If I remember correctly, customers had to make 30 transactions over a period of three months to get 15,000 points. This sounds like a lot but the fine print didn’t state a minimum purchase. If one was so inclined, you could purchase 30 chocolate bars, one at a time. You can then use those 15,000 points for a short-haul flight to a neighbouring province or state.
– Try and purchase big ticket items from an airline shopping mall. For example, Aeroplan has an online shopping mall. Most of the stores are the same ones you’d see in any mall including Apple, Gap and Safeway. The online shopping portal simply links you to the companies website but gives you bonus points for going through their link. If you were to go into Apple and buy a $1500 computer, the maximum points you could get is 1500. However, Aeroplans mall often has promotions for bonus points and have been as high as 10x. If you were to simply click their link and buy the computer through Apple, you would pay the same price but would have received 15,000 points! That is a big difference and one worth capitalizing on.
– Double dip: It’s quite easy to earn double Aeroplan points at most stores. Simply look for stores that accept the Aeroplan card and use your travel reward credit card at the same time. For example, Rexall accepts Aeroplan. If you were making a purchase of $100, you could pay cash and your show them your Aeroplan card to get 100 points. Or you could pay with your Aeroplan-affiliated credit card and show them your Aeroplan card and you would get 200 points; 100 points per card. Do this at certain gas stations (like Esso) and it could be as high as 400 points for a $100 transaction. This is a great way to double dip and rack up the points fast!
RE: Is there a particular season or time of year to get better deals?
MB: I haven’t really noticed a particular season for promotions. They seem to come and go sporadically. However, Christmas can be a good time rack up the points, simply because people are spending more and because retailers will often offer bonus points to bring customers into their stores.
RE: What’s your biggest points coup?
MB: In one shot, the most points I have gotten is 30,000, thanks to certain reward credit cards. Though, this year, I made a quest to earn one million points but fell short, only earning 450,000. I say that with a smirk of course because that’s still enough for four trips anywhere in the world AND a bonus trip to South America.
RE: Why do you think points have become so popular?
MB: Points are easier to earn now than ever before. I see most of the popularity coming from the long-term travellers and bloggers. More and more people are seeing the opportunities in travel points. There were two reasons I became so passionate about travel points. The first reason is because I started making them a priority and finding deals and promotions all over the place. This made is quite easy to earn enough points for multiple flights every year. The second is because of the free stopovers. I really became addicted to the thought of two trips for the points for one. It’s really quite amazing how creative you can be when redeeming points. Next year, I’ll be flying to South America with a two-month stopover in Mexico!
Just recently Airmiles was in the news as millions of points were expiring, there was a mad rush to redeem them, and not much to redeem them for. Someone is making a fast buck, and it’s not always the bucket lister. Thanks to Matt, maybe we can change that. For more info and tips, check out his Canadian Free Flyers website.