How we travel hacked our way to Maui and saved over $10,000 along the way

When Mrs. T and I got married, we talked about how cool it would be to celebrate our 5 year wedding anniversary in Hawaii. As luck would have it, Baby T2.0 was born shortly before our 5 year wedding anniversary. At that time, we were too busy with taking care of 2 little kids, so we didn’t end up going to Hawaii. It didn’t mean we stopped talking about taking a trip to Hawaii though. Mrs. T and I still wanted to take a family vacation and visit one of the Hawaiian islands.

After redeeming my Marriott points for a 5-night stay in Osaka Marriott Miyako Hotel two and half years ago and saved over $2,000 Canadian, I thought it would be super cool to use points for our Hawaii trip.

Being a personal finance blogger, I always want to find ways to maximize my money and my travel rewards points.

After some research on Hawaii Islands, flight options, and Marriott properties, we decided to go to Maui. Many travel websites suggested the Wailea Beach Resort on Maui is a fabulous place to stay and offers the most bang for the buck for redeeming Marriott points for stays.

When I first looked at how much the Wailea Beach Resort rooms cost per night, I was shocked.

A garden view room was going for $560 USD (~$700 CAD) a night!!! Some rooms cost over $800 USD!!!

Holy moly!

I have stayed in San Jose hotels for over $500 USD per night before, but that was for business. I can never imagine forking out that much money per night for a personal trip. Wow!

The Basic Travel Details

Since Wailea Beach Resort is a category 8 Marriott hotel, each night would cost 40,000 Marriott points. We thought it would be great to stay for 7 nights, so we would need 240,000 Marriott points (you get 1 free night when redeeming for 4 nights). That means we would be able to save $3920 USD/$4,900 CAD, giving us a rate of approximately ~1.63¢ USD per Marriott point. This is a much higher value than the typical estimated value of 0.9¢ per Marriott point.

To get to Maui, we found out flying direct with Air Canada would cost $680 per person. This would mean over $2,000 for the whole family (only 3 seats since Baby T2.0 is less than 2, and will be sitting on our laps). Using Aeroplan miles, it would cost 45,000 miles per person plus taxes and fees for the Fixed Mileage Flight Rewards (we can only book non-direct flights). It would require more miles if we were to go with the Market Fare Flight Rewards (can book direct flights).

Considering we are travelling with two little kids, we would prefer to fly direct, rather than having to connect via Seattle or LA.

Thanks to work, I have been accumulating Marriott rewards points and Aeroplan miles whenever I travel for work. I happened to spend a lot of time on the road in 2017, so I accumulated a good amount of points. Years ago I used to be able to use my personal Marriott Rewards Visa to pay for my business trips to accumulate Marriott points. But in late 2016, my company issued company credit cards for a company-wide cost-saving measure. This meant I no longer could “double dip” Marriott points whenever I stay at a Marriott property. It became harder to accumulate over 240,000 Marriott points on business travels alone. I had to find another way to “earn” points.

So I started looking into travel hacking.

I started reading more about travel hacking and learning what rewards points can do. For example, you can transfer American Express points to many different frequent travel programs, like Aeroplan, Delta, and SPG.

Unfortunately for us Canadians, there are only a limited amount of travel rewards credit cards available. We don’t get as many reward credit card choices compared to our American friends.

Marriott Hotel & Air Packages

Upon further research, I found a way to maximize my Marriott points. With the Marriott points, you typically redeem them for hotel stays, but Marriott also offers Marriott hotel & air packages to allow you to use points for hotel stays and airline miles.

Air Canada (Aeroplan) happens to be one of the transfer options. Usually, Marriott points are transferred to Aeroplan miles at a 5:1 rate, so redeeming 360,000 Marriott points for 7 nights of stay at a category 8 hotel and 120,000 Aeroplan miles is an excellent deal (it would have cost 840,000 Marriott points otherwise).

Aeroplan Transfer Bonus

A few months into my planning of our Maui vacation, Aeroplan had a 35% transfer bonus promotion when points were transferred from various hotel partners including Starwood, Marriott, and IHG.

With the 35% bonus, that meant transferring 120,000 points from Marriott would give us a total of 162,000 Aeroplan points.

A very good deal!

At an estimated value of 1.5¢ per Aeroplan miles, 162,000 Aeroplan miles would equate to $2,430 CAD. The 35% bonus meant we would get an extra $630.

I knew I had to get 360,000 Marriott points fast before the promotional deadline so we can get the 7-night hotel & air package.

How To Get Marriott Points Via Credit Card Bonus Points

Here in Canada, below are some of the credit cards that offer good welcome bonus points that can be converted to Marriott points.

  • Marriott Rewards Visa – 50,000 Marriott welcome bonus points after the first transaction. No fee the first year, $120 after (This card is no longer available).
  • American Express Personal Gold – 25,000 Amex welcome bonus points after spending $1,500 in the first 3 months. No fee the first year, $150 after.
  • American Express Personal Platinum – 60,000 Amex welcome bonus points after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months. $699 annual fee with $200 annual travel credit.
  • American Express Business Platinum – 75,000 Amex welcome bonus points after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months. $399 annual fee. (Note: American Express has updated the annual fee to $499)
  • American Express SPG Personal – 20,000 SPG welcome bonus points after spending $1,500 in the first 3 months. $120 annual fee.
  • American Express SPG Business – 20,000 SPG welcome bonus points after spending $1,500 in the first 3 months. $150 annual fee.

With Amex points, we can transfer them to SPG at a 2:1 rate. We can then transfer SPG points to Marriott points at a 1:3 rate.

So, if we have 20,000 Amex points, we end up with 30,000 Marriott points (20k Amex -> 10k SPG -> 30k Marriott). If we have 25,000 SPG points, we end up with 75,000 Marriot points (25k SPG -> 75k Marriott).

In addition to the welcome bonus points, American Express offers referral points. Unfortunately, Amex no longer gives you referral points if you self-referral, but the referrals work if you refer your spouse or friends.

Image Source: Redflag Deals

The Plan

Between Mrs. T and I, we applied for the following credit cards. We also referred each other whenever possible.

Me:

  • Marriott Rewards Visa
  • American Express Personal Gold
  • American Express Business Platinum
  • American Express SPG Personal
  • American Express SPG Business

Mrs. T:

  • American Express Personal Gold
  • American Express SPG Business

In total, we spent $789 in annual fees by applying for these credit cards.

We also received a total of 463,000 Marriott points. This is more than enough for the 360,000 Marriott points we need for the 7-night hotel + air package.

At an estimated value of 0.9¢ per Marriott point, 463,000 Marriott points would equate to $4,167 USD or about $5200 CAD.

Change Of Travel Plan

In addition to the bonus points from credit cards, I also had some Marriott and Aeroplan points from all my business & personal travels. As it turned out, I had enough points to book 4 extra nights of stay at Wailea Beach Resort (160,000 Marriott points needed). This would give us 1 free night.

So rather than going to Maui for 7 nights, we decided to stay for 12 nights instead.

Who wouldn’t want to stay in paradise for extra 5 nights right?

Transaction Summary

For the 7-night hotel + air package, we needed 360,000 Marriott points.

For the 5 additional nights, we needed 160,000 Marriott points.

For flights, we ended up booking Aeroplan Market Fare for direct flights. Thanks to my Aeroplan Silver status, I got 20% off the number of miles required to redeem for Market Fare Flight Rewards. So, the Market Fare ended up costing less total Aeroplan miles than Fixed Fare.

In the end, we redeemed 520,000 Marriott points and 188,406 Aeroplan miles.

By redeeming points, we saved $10,440 CAD or $8,352.42 USD.

The dollar per point value would be approximately 1.68¢ USD per Marriott points and 1.08¢ CAD per Aeroplan miles.

According to the Points Guy, Marriott points is worth 0.9¢ per point and Aeroplan miles is 1.5¢ per mile. So we got a great value with our Marriott points, but perhaps not as good for Aeroplan miles.

Credit Card Minimum Spending Strategies

Of all the credit cards that we applied, every card except for the Marriott Rewards Visa had minimum spending requirements. Without crossing the minimum spending requirements, we wouldn’t be able to get the sign-up welcome bonus points. A thing to note is that the associated annual fees do not count toward the minimum spending requirements.

In other words, we had to spend

  • 2x American Express Personal Gold -> $3,000
  • American Express Business Platinum -> $5,000
  • 2x American Express SPG Personal -> $3,000
  • American Express SPG Business -> $1,500

Or a total of $12,500 in a span of a year and a half.

That’s a lot of money, considering we only spent $51,144.77 in 2017 (excluding business expenses).

Planned big expenses

How to meet these requirements? For that, we carried out our credit card minimum spending strategies. Basically, we timed the application of each credit card just before a planned big expense. Some big expenses included:

  • House insurance renewal
  • Car insurance renewal
  • Car maintenance
  • FinCon17 expenses
  • Airplane tickets
  • Hotel reservations
  • Car rentals

Extended health benefits

In addition to the planned big expenses, we also utilized my work’s extended health insurance. The extended health insurance covers a certain amount of health benefits per year (i.e. $500 annually for massage per person). So Mrs. T and I would each book massage sessions and use the new credit card to pay for these sessions, then get reimbursed. In 2017 my work’s extended health insurance changed coverage provider mid-year, so it allowed us to have double up on the annual extended health benefits (i.e. getting $1,000 worth of massage per person).

New purchases on the new card

Whenever we have a new card, this card becomes our default spender. This should be pretty obvious. In other words, all purchases will go on the new card until the minimum spending requirements are met.

When Travel Hacking Goes Wrong

For the most part, it was straightforward to keep track of all the expenses to make sure we meet each card’s minimum spending requirement. But I somehow mess up my tracking for my American Express Business Platinum card.

I ended up calling American Express a couple of times and begged for forgiveness. Fortunately, I was awarded the 75,000 Amex points. Phew!

Lesson learned? Track the spending carefully so you don’t lose out on the welcome sign-up bonus points.

Start Traveling Hacking Today

It is pretty cool to know that we saved over $10,000 for our Maui vacation. This is why travel hacking is so attractive. If you want to start travel hacking, you can use my referral links to get significantly more Amex welcome bonus points.

This way you get more Amex points and I get referral points. A win-win for the both of us!

Dear readers, have you travel hacked before? Any success stories? What are your favourite credit card minimum spending strategies?

Written by Tawcan
Hi I’m Bob from Vancouver Canada, I am working toward joyful life and financial independence through frugal living, dividend investing, passive income generation, life balance, and self-improvement. This blog is my way to chronicle my journey and share my stories and thoughts along the way. Stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter. Or sign up via Newsletter