Dipping a First Toe into Travel Hacking (updated for 2018)

Which are the first cards you should get as you start your journey into Canadian credit card travel hacking?  With such a cornucopia of options choosing the right card may seem overwhelming. And it can be… or you can apply the KISS principle: Keep It Simple and Stupid.

Assuming that Canadian credit card hacking is for you, the first thing you need to do is decide where you want to go (and therefore which reward program is right for you); then determine how many points/miles you will need;  finally churn as many credit cards with sign up bonus as you need to meet your travel goals.

Boomer Traveller KISS tips

  • Start slowly.
  • Limit the types of reward programs (e.g., hotel points, airline points, convertible points) you collect, to make it easier to collect enough in one program to be useful.
  • Choose a reward program or two that are not tied to any airline or hotel; offer flexible points currencies, and, have a large network of transfer partners.
  • Start with one or two cards for your first churn.
  • When choosing your cards, consider what is the sign up bonus and what are the short-term churn costs (fees, minimum spend).
  • To meet your minimum spend, pay for everything with your card (even a cup of java). Each time you don’t use your card, it is throwing away points and therefore money.
  • Go through a complete churn cycle with just one or two cards to test if you are comfortable doing this – increase the number within your comfort level (e.g., make sure the minimum spend is within your normal spending habits).

Currently there are ~80 personal credit cards (more if you include specialty cards like the BMO cards in support of particular organizations) that offer Canadians travel rewards as a sign up bonus. Within these there are ~30 different travel reward programs. Boomer Traveller has compared them all.

Out of all the rewards programs, Boomer Traveller prefers American Express Membership Rewards because they are not tied to any airline or hotel, they are the most flexible points currency available in Canada, and they have a large network of transfer partners, including Aeroplan (Canada’s most popular program). See here for a detailed review.

For purposes of a first time credit card travel hacking adventure, Boomer Traveller recommends getting one or two of the following cards (one air travel and one hotel card).

BoomerTraveller’s Personal Credit Card Recommendation

Best Airline Credit Cards

Recommended cards:

American Express The Platinum Card

  • Annual Fee: $699 ($299 if you use the $200 Annual Travel Credit correctly)
  • Minimum Spend: $3000 first three months
  • Welcome Bonus: 60,000 Membership Rewards points if you use this link (which is enough points to get you from Canada to anywhere in the US, Bermuda, Caribbean, Central America, Mexico or Europe);
  • See BoomerTraveller’s detailed card review here

AND / OR

American Express Business Gold Rewards Card

  • Annual Fee: $150
  • Minimum Spend: $1500 first three months
  • Welcome Bonus: 25,000 Membership Rewards points (enough points for a flight from Canada to anywhere in a Canadian Province/Territory/U.S state except Alaska)

Best Canadian Hotel Cards

Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card From American Express

  • Annual Fee:$120
  • Minimum Spend:$1500 first three months
  • Welcome Bonus:20,000 Starpoints (enough for up to five free nights in a Category 2 property; can be converted to 25,000 Aeroplan points – that’s enough for a round trip flight from anywhere in Canada to anywhere in Canada/Continental USA)

See BoomerTraveller’s detailed card review here

AND / OR

MBNA Best Western MasterCard

  • Annual fee: $0
  • Welcome Bonus: 20,000 Best Western Rewards Points (enough for one free night) with your first eligible purchase.
  • Minimum Spend: The account must be used for at least one eligible transaction that is not subsequently rescinded, the subject of a charge back request or otherwise disputed.

See BoomerTraveller’s detailed card review here.

Boomer Traveller KISS tips

  • Book your vacation with as much lead time as possible and not during peak travel periods.
  • If you find searching for and booking points travel painful, use a reward points booking service like Awarding Canada who for a reasonable fee will not only find you what you are looking for (if it is available) but will help you deal with the annoying booking process.

If you find you don’t want to churn cards the recommended cards are good choices as long term keepers – but make sure you read the information about the cards before you decide to keep them. Also call and ask if they will waive the annual fee for keeping you as a client.

Once you get the hang of it, credit card churning will magically take you places you never thought you would be able to go!

via GIPHY

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