I’ve spent years collecting rewards points from a variety of credit card rewards programs and I want to explain how I’ve finally put more than 1 million travel points to use. We have an epic trip to Scotland and Ireland planned for this summer and with the help of these travel points we’ve saved a ton of money and enhanced our trip with some luxury hotel stays.
Let me start off by saying this type of travel points hoarding is not for everyone. Between my wife and I we’ve collected points from a dozen credit cards, all in a well-thought out experiment to maximize our travel points for the specific purpose of booking and saving money on our big trip. We also paid – wait for it – more than $3,000 in annual fees! Crazy, right?
But I did the math and determined that paying $3,000+ in fees was a good investment to earn more than 1 million travel points. I valued those points at a little more than $18,000. How? Let me explain.
The main rewards program to drive all of this was the American Express Membership Rewards program. It’s the most lucrative in terms of number of cards available, the incredibly generous sign-up bonuses, and the ability to transfer Membership Rewards points to other programs such as Aeroplan and Marriott.
We knew we’d need 240,000 Aeroplan miles to get our family of four to and from the U.K. this summer. We also had plans to stay one night in Calgary, five nights in Edinburgh and five nights in Dublin, and so we could do that through the Marriott Rewards program for about 675,000 points.
Membership Rewards transfer to Aeroplan on a 1:1 basis. With the new Marriott Rewards program, Membership Rewards transfer at a rate of 5:6 (5,000 Membership Rewards points = 6,000 Marriott points).
Earning and Collecting the Rewards Points
I started with the American Express Business Platinum Card. Using a referral from my good friend Barry Choi at Money We Have I signed up for this card and earned 75,000 Membership Rewards points, plus another 8,750 once I hit the minimum spend threshold within the first three months.
Next, I referred my wife to the same card (my referral link here). I earned a 25,000 point referral bonus and she collected the 83,750 Membership Rewards points after hitting the minimum spend on her card.
For those counting at home that gave me a total of 108,750 points while my wife had 83,750 points.
Next we each signed up for the American Express Gold Rewards Card. This one is a staple at the top of many travel rewards credit card rankings for good reason. It frequently offers a first year free promotion and also pays a generous 25,000 Membership Rewards bonus when you reach $1,500 in spending within three months.
Add 26,500 Membership Rewards to each of our point balances and now the total is 135,250 for me and 110,250 for my wife. A great start, but not enough. Time to break out the big guns.
I grabbed a referral link for the American Express Platinum Card (personal, not business). The card comes with a whopping $699 annual fee but sprinkles in a $200 travel credit and a ton of perks, including Priority Pass airport lounge visits that we could use for the whole family while travelling. Brilliant! The card gave me 60,000 Membership Rewards points plus another 6,250 base points for hitting the minimum spend.
Then I referred my wife to the same Amex Platinum card (my referral link here) and earned a 15,000 point referral bonus while she picked up the 66,250 Membership Rewards from the bonus and base spending.
That brought our points balances up to 216,500 for me and 176,500 for my wife.
American Express refreshed its SPG cards last summer and came out with strong offers for both their personal and business cards. Both offered 50,000 bonus Marriott points, which turned into 56,000 once you hit the minimum spend. Annual fees were $120 for the personal card and $150 for the business card. Of course, we signed up for both. My wife used my referral link to apply for her SPG cards, so I could pick up an additional 20,000 Marriott points (10,000 each).
Finally, I used my American Express Business Platinum referral link to refer my wife to the American Express Business Gold Rewards Card and picked up 25,000 Membership Rewards points for doing so. My wife earned 40,000 points plus another 5,000 in base points when she met the minimum spend requirements. Then she used her Business Platinum Card to refer me to the American Express Business Gold Rewards Card so she could earn a 25,000 point referral bonus and I could earn 45,000 Membership Rewards from the Business Gold Rewards Card.
Wait, I still had one more existing card and that was the American Express Cobalt Card. I earned 2,500 points every month when I spent $500. Cobalt has an excellent 5x point multiplier for eats and drinks (groceries, dining, liquor stores, bars). I would make sure to hit the minimum spending in only those 5x points categories, which over the year earned me 90,000 Membership Rewards Select Tier points. These points can be transferred 5:6 to Marriott Rewards so I did that and ended up with 108,000 Marriott Rewards points.
Ok, that’s it. Whew!
The total points collected after all of this was 286,500 Membership Rewards points and 228,000 Marriott Rewards points. For my wife, she earned 246,500 Membership Rewards points and 100,000 Marriott Rewards points.
- Total Membership Rewards = 533,000
- Total Marriott Rewards = 328,000
Redeeming the Membership Rewards and Marriott Rewards points for travel
Remember, I needed 240,000 Aeroplan miles to redeem for four round trip flights to the U.K. So I transferred 240,000 Membership Rewards points to my Aeroplan program and booked those flight rewards. We valued our Aeroplan miles at 2.5 cents per mile, giving us a total value of $6,000 for these flights.
That’s not all. I used 110,000 existing Aeroplan miles built up from previous years on two trips last year. One was for our family to fly to Victoria for summer vacation. That cost us 60,000 Aeroplan miles. Then I took my wife to Vancouver for our anniversary and used 50,000 Aeroplan miles for two round-trip flights from Lethbridge. at that same 2.5 cent per mile valuation these points were worth $2,750 in free travel.
I then transferred the remaining 293,000 Membership Rewards points to the Marriott program – giving me 351,600 with the transfer. That added to my existing 228,000 hotel points. I was also able to transfer my wife’s 100,000 points to my own account (family sharing), to give me a total of 679,600 Marriott Rewards points.
With that I booked the Marriott Calgary Airport hotel for the night before we leave on our trip (35,000 points). I also booked five nights at the Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa in Edinburgh for 400,000 points (we needed two rooms, as this hotel does not allow more than 2 people to a room). Finally, I booked five nights at the Shelbourne in Dublin for 240,000 points.
The nice thing about Marriott Rewards is that when you stay five nights, the fifth night is free. These hotels easily cost $600 per night, and since we booked an equivalent of 16 nights we valued these points at just under $10,000 ($9,600).
Honestly, this was an exhausting process because we had to carefully orchestrate all of our typical household spending around these different cards to meet the minimum spending bonuses. But altogether it was only about $45,000 in spending, which was easily handled between our regular monthly expenses, plus some larger once a year spending such as car and house insurance.
If we ever got caught without enough regular expenses we would simply buy an Amazon gift card or a grocery store gift card or a gas gift card that month and treat it like a prepaid card for future expenses. No big deal. I can safely say we did not buy any unnecessary items in order to juice our spending just to earn more credit card points. But it took a lot of detailed planning to make that happen.
At the end of the day we were able to save enough points to fly to the U.K. and back for about $600 in fees and taxes, and stay 11 nights in luxury hotels for “free”. What we did spend on annual fees we made up and then some by saving huge amounts of money on our trip.
We spent $3,000 to earn more than $18,000 in travel, plus get perks like free hotel upgrades, early check-in, late check-out, and airport lounge passes. Because of this we’ll make a dream trip to Scotland and Ireland even more memorable and enjoyable.