Travel Hacking 3.0

As some of you know, over the years our family has been able to take some pretty amazing trips with our kids through maximizing Aeroplan points. Not a week goes by that I don’t receive an e-mail or DM about how our family manages to travel internationally on a budget so I’ve asked Brad (the master travel planner in our family!) to explain things in more detail. He did write up a post a couple of years ago that I know was helpful for so many of you (I love e-mails from strangers telling me they’ve made it to Madrid/Hong-Kong/Reykjavik/etc thanks to our points tricks!) but since the points program with Aeroplan has changed somewhat, here’s the updated version. Take it away, Brad :)

Hi everyone! Alright here we go. As Em mentioned, the Aeroplan points program has undergone some significant changes over the past few years, but on the whole it's still pretty awesome. If you know how to use it right, it still offers the opportunity for heavily discounted travel, which makes all the difference when you’re buying five plane tickets for every family trip!

In a nutshell, the trick is to sign up for certain credit cards which offer disproportionally huge amounts of Aeroplan points as a sign-up bonus, which we then redeem for flights. All we end up paying is the credit card annual fee and the flight taxes. When done properly, it’s saved us tons of money on our flights.

For example, let’s say you wanted two return tickets to Europe, say from Toronto to Rome this September. Google Flights says it would cost $2,376.  

Yet with the Aeroplan points that you would get from just three credit cards (Amex Gold, Amex Business Gold, and the CIBC Aeroplan Visa), it would bring that cost down to only $639.92 ($350 in fees for the two cards + $289.92 in flight taxes).

Not a bad way to save $1,700!

Incredibly, you would actually have enough points leftover for a roundtrip flight to Bermuda (if you live in Eastern Canada) or San Francisco (if you live out West).

Ok so what's the catch? (Because there’s always a catch!)

The catch is, you need to be able to spend a good chunk of change on these credit cards in the first 3-4 months. These cards require you to spend anywhere between $1,000 and $5,000 in purchases on the cards in order to qualify for the bonus points.

For most of us, these are very large amounts of money. But with some strategic planning, we’ve been able to do it many times over the years without increasing our household budget (I'll share some suggestions for this below).

The only other catch is that it helps to be organized. I use a simple Google Sheet to help me track how many points I need and when each card is due. Because the last thing you want is to waste the money you're saving on credit card missed payment fees :(

So if travel hacking sounds like something you’re up for, I’ve put together a handy step-by-step guide that simplifies the process.


The first thing to do is to check your credit score. Every credit card application you make lowers your score by about 5-7 points. Now, that’s out of a total of 900 possible points, so it’s not a huge number, but it’s still something to keep in mind.

Some other quick thoughts on credit for those interested:
  • A score represents a moment in time and can change based on your behaviour.
  • Missed or late payments or lots of maxed out credit accounts will lower your score.
  • The best way to increase your score is to pay back debts on time and consistently.
  • Scores typically range from 400 to 900, and 'good' scores are usually 660 and higher; anything over 750 is considered 'excellent'. So whether it’s 750 or 850 doesn’t really make a difference. For an institution like a bank or credit union looking at your credit, anything over 725 is a no-brainer.

If it might help allay your fears, Em and I have had DOZENS of cards over the years (I've seriously lost count, I have five on my desk in front of me right now lol) and her credit score is 861. Mine is 811. 

So in my experience, the fears that opening many cards will trash your credit score are pretty overblown.

Here's two great ways to get your credit score for free:


Also, if you don't already have an Aeroplan membership, you can sign up here (it's free).

Ok, let's get started!


In order to rack up the necessary points for your dream trip, you have to follow these steps:

  1. Apply for a given card(s)
  2. Meet the minimum spending requirements for the card
  3. Wait for the points to appear in your account (they say it can take up to 8 weeks but I usually see them within a few days)
  4. Cancel the card when the second year begins so you don’t pay the annual fee twice
These steps will lead you through applying for various credit cards, some which provide Aeroplan points directly, or American Express cards which earn 'Membership Rewards' points, which are transferable 1:1 to Aeroplan. (So when I use the term 'points', I'm referring to both Aeroplan points and Amex points, since they have the same value.)

Links to Credit Cards to Apply For:

Ok, start dreaming: where do you want to go? Figure out how many points you'll need, and then apply for the cards to make it happen.

Aeroplan uses a distance-based flight reward chart, meaning the more miles you want to travel, the more points required. Here's some examples, all for round-trip flights:

Toronto/Montreal to New Orleans/Miami/Bermuda/Havana: 20,000 pts
Toronto/Montreal to Costa Rica/Mexico/Panama City/Barbados/Punta Cana: 25,000 pts
Toronto/Montreal to Western Europe: 70,000 pts
Toronto/Montreal to Eastern Europe: 80,000 pts

Vancouver/Calgary to San Francisco/Los Angeles/Las Vegas: 20,000 pts
Vancouver to Hawaii: 25,000 pts
Vancouver/Calgary to Tokyo: 70,000 pts
Vancouver/Calgary to most of Europe: 80,000 pts

If you want to see exactly how many points would be required for your desired destination, you can do that here (note that points shown there are for one-way flights).

Now let's take the first step: applying for cards!

[A quick preamble as of June 14, 2024: banks in Canada seem to be preparing themselves for an economic downtown and rising mortgage defaults. As such, banks at the moment are more cautious than usual about giving out credit, and so there's not a ton of amazing credit card offers right now. The CIBC one below is ok, and the Amex Business one below is actually still amazing, but the other two I crossed out because they are no longer available and the current offers that replaced them are pretty terrible.

I'll keep checking regularly and I'll update this section when better offers become available!]

  • Annual fee waived for the first year
  • 10,000 pts awarded after your first purchase
  • 20,000 pts awarded after spending $6,000 in the first four months
  • 1.5x points on grocery and gas

AMERICAN EXPRESS BUSINESS GOLD REWARDS CARD – 70,000 points (75,000 if you use this link!)
  • Annual fee is $199
  • 75,000 pts awarded after spending $5,000 in the first three months
  • This is a 'business' card, meaning you need to provide a business name - but it doesn't need to be an officially registered business. It can be anything that might allow someone to make money - even if it's not currently doing so.
  • For example, I sell stuff all the time on Kijiji and Marketplace. So I used "Brad's Deals" for my business name and they're perfectly ok with that. Or if I had Instagram, I could use that for my business. It's really flexible (and still ethical, which is important to us!)
  • When it asks for 'Number of employees', or ‘Annual business revenue’, I just tell the truth: 1 employee, and for revenue, $200, $100, or even $0! They don’t seem to mind that my business isn’t very profitable :)


  • Annual fee waived for the first year
  • 10,000 pts awarded after your first purchase
  • 25,000 pts awarded after spending $5,000 in the first 6 months
  • 1.5x points on grocery and gas

AMERICAN EXPRESS GOLD REWARDS – 40,000 points (45,000 if you use this link!)
  • Annual fee is $250, but the card provides a $100 annual travel credit that you can use for any travel purchase, essentially bringing the fee down to $150
  • 45,000 pts awarded after spending $3,000 
  • 2x points on travel, gas, grocery and drugstore
  • 4 passes for Plaza Premium airport lounges

Don't forget that in addition to the big lump sum points given, these cards also award one point per dollar spent (and sometimes with bonuses for gas/grocery/etc). So for the Amex Business Gold card, after meeting the spending requirement, you'd actually end up with 80,000 points: 75,000 from the bonus, and 5,000 from having spent $5,000.


As I mentioned, these cards require some significant spending before they'll dish out the points: anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000, all within the first 3-4 months of having the card.

These are huge amounts for us, but you'd be surprised how far you can get just by putting all your regular spending on the card. Here's some other tricks we’ve used to help accelerate the process without actually increasing our household spending:
  • The easiest solution, if possible, is to time your credit card application with an upcoming major expense: a home renovation, tuition costs, or new appliances.
  • Some small businesses won't take Amex, but almost every online retailer will. Between Old Navy, Gap, Paypal, Airbnb, and Amazon, we can put a lot of money on our Amex cards just through regular spending.
  • Any big recurring annual payments are perfect for this, like life/car/house insurance. And best of all, you often get a small discount for paying the year upfront 😅
  • This one will sound weird, but you can overpay your internet and cell phone bills and essentially pay for a year of service in advance. So a $720 cell phone payment will result in an account credit that will be used to pay your $60/month bill for a year.
  • Donations: if you give monthly to an organization, an option is to cancel the donations for a year and simply make a one-time donation. So you cancel your $100/month donation for six months and make a $600 donation. (But don’t forget to restart the monthly donations after!)
  • You can offer to put big purchases for a group on your card. A friend of ours put some big costs for his brother's wedding on his card, his brother paid him back, and he was able to hit his minimum spend in one shot.
  • Some other great sources for our Amex spending: all gas stations, Home Depot, Walmart and Shoppers Drug Mart/Pharmaprix. 


First, you convert your points:

Since you’re working towards an Aeroplan flight reward, you need to convert your American Express 'Membership Rewards' points to Aeroplan points (they transfer 1:1). Thankfully, this is super easy. Go to the Rewards section after you log in to Amex, and find the link for "Rewards", and then “Transfer my points.”

The conversion from Amex points to Aeroplan is instantaneous – however, you must first register your Aeroplan account, and that can take a few days. So plan accordingly!

Then, the fun part: booking your flight!

One thing to keep in mind, is you want to BOOK EARLY. Like all flight reward programs these days, Aeroplan uses dynamic pricing for their flights, meaning the more people book a particular flight, the more Aeroplan points become required for subsequent bookings. So if you book last minute, a flight that should cost 25,000 points could easily cost double. So for our summer trips, I usually try to get the flights booked by November.

Other than that, the process of booking your flights is pretty intuitive. You do it online through your Aeroplan account. You can also call in and have an Aeroplan agent help make the booking for you - in the past, they charged $35 for this. I'm not sure if they still do, I just do it online...

As mentioned, you will still be on the hook for the flight and airport taxes, but if you choose the right flights they're not too bad: around $150-$200 per person for a round-trip flight to Europe. But considering the actual price of these flights, especially these days, I usually pay these taxes with a smile on my face :)


Two final tips for extracting even more value from what is already a pretty lucrative technique:


Aeroplan has a generous stopover policy, which for only 5000 points allows you to add a destination to your itinerary: a completely different city in a completely different country! So to continue the example I gave at the beginning for Toronto to Rome, maybe you want to spend a week in Paris on the way to Rome. That would bump the Google Flights price up to $2,760, but with Aeroplan it would only set you back 5000 points and an extra $80 in flight taxes. Definitely something to consider! You can play around with different routings by selecting the 'multi-city' option when choosing flights.


If you have a significant other, this unlocks a fantastic means of earning points faster. Amex offers a stack of bonus points for ‘referrals’: that is, having your partner (or anyone!) sign up for one of their credit cards through you. For example, if you have the Business Gold card, you would get 15,000 bonus points for referring your partner to a Business Gold card. And if they then referred YOU to a Gold Rewards card, they would get 15,000 bonus points. 

Again, this is all predicated upon being able to meet the spending requirements for these cards. But assuming that’s possible for you, this is the way to rack up points fast (yes I am indeed counting the days until my kids are old enough to have a credit card lol)


So that's pretty much it!

It might sound complex, but you get the hang of it real quick. If you have any questions I’d be happy to help, so just ask them below in the comments and I’ll reply there.


  1. Hi! I have a couple of questions. So are you saying that you can apply for these cards (in yours and Em's names) and then after you cancel them you can re-apply for the same card and still get the bonus points again? Is there a limit to how many times you can do this?
    Also how do you guys decide where to go?! I know the budget aspect is pretty important to you so how do you get a realistic sense of how much you will be spending when you are abroad? Do you just google the approximate cost of living?
    Thanks for taking the time to share these secrets! Our families' dream is taking the 5 of us to Mauritius but the cost is the biggest barrier in that so maybe this will allow us to do that one day!

    1. Hey Carmen!

      So to answer your first question, yes that’s exactly what we’ve done, many, many times over the years. But if they get the impression you’re abusing the system, they do have the right to decline awarding you the bonus points subsequent times. So I tend to wait two years between applications: apply July 2023, cancel July 2024, reapply July 2025. That is a pretty conservative approach, but I’ve never had any problems. And there’s enough cards out there to cycle through (I’ll keep adding more to the list!) that I always have a steady trickle of points coming in.

      That being said, I’ve heard stories of people with much more aggressive approaches: I have a buddy who currently holds THREE of the Cibc Visa Infinite card, all in his name, and he got the points every time! So it’s up to you what pace you go at, but the more aggressive one is, the more one runs the risk of not getting the points for repeat applications.

      For your second question, we’ve found that it’s possible to do pretty much any trip on the cheap. If our destination is an expensive one (eg. Scandanavia or Iceland), we will cook pretty much all of our meals in our Airbnb, stick to free or low-cost activities, and use public transit instead of a rental car. I realize that’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it has allowed us to go to places that would otherwise be out of our budget. The only truly unavoidable expense is lodgings, but if you book enough in advance, you’ll always find some very affordable rentals on Airbnb or Vrbo. So we basically go wherever we want to go, providing we have enough points :)

      Let me know if you have any other questions!

  2. Thank you so much for this beautiful detailed explanation! We are going to start this month! We've had some amazing flight benefits due to a parent working for an airline but they are retiring and now we need to find a new way to keep travelling as a family of 5! I just have one question: When you refer the credit card to your spouse, do you mean they have a whole new card of their own and so they also get those points and need to spend the minimum? Or is it just an added card for the same account? We've always shared a credit card account so trying to wrap my head around each having our own account, but i'm guessing that way you maximize your points so you can share them. thanks again!

    1. Hey Mari!

      Haha I love that this can help you guys continue to scratch the itch!

      Yup, when you refer your spouse, they do indeed get a whole new card of their own, with all the points that come with it (and also the need to spend the minimum amount), and their own online portal to check their balance and pay their card.

      This does mean that each person will be amassing points separately. But Aeroplan has a great new feature called a ‘Family Plan’ which lets your family pool their points together as a group to be able to make bookings using your combined points. Which is a lifesaver (it used to be much harder in the old days ;-)

      Hope that helps!

  3. Hi from Australia! I've tried to follow Brad's travel advice in Australia before, but we have different plans, and loyalty programs and are a big island, physically further from many of the destinations you've visited. I'm wondering what stands out about Aeroplan so I can find the local equivalent. I'm not sure our Qantas frequent flyer program is quite the same!

    1. Hey Amanda!

      Wow I have no idea what the Australian equivalent would be. But to answer your question, it’s not so much what makes Aeroplan unique, as it is the credit card companies that offer outrageously high signup bonuses. So I would more so research if there are Australian credit cards that award you lots of points (on Qantas or similar) that could be used for free flights.

      Does that make sense? Sorry I can’t be of more help!