36 thoughts on “When travel hacking goes wrong…”

  1. An informative write-up.

    When considering using a CC or loyalty program to accumulate travel rewards there are many factors to take into consideration as you’ve pointed out Bob, from justifying all expenditures to now having to spend more in a short period or over a year – to constantly switching CC’s.

    Bob do you know if there is a per-person ‘booking fee’ when redeeming reward points for any travel, merchandise , car rental, booking flights, a holiday package deal or even a hotel?

    These would be some of the other hidden costs that need to be factored in IMO, especially if it’s possible when using a web based travel site such as expedia, Trivago that it may be possible to get comparative all-in pricing.

    I have seen on the web that there are some restrictions, to black-out periods, even longer layovers when redeeming travel rewards – maybe you can address these few points I’ve mentioned

    Reply
    • With Marriott points and Aeroplan miles there’s no per-person booking fee. Both of these rewards points you book through the companies. The only hidden cost would be Aeroplan’s fuel surcharge if you book with airlines that cahrge fuel surcharge (i.e. Air Canada). But you pay for those when you pay for the plane ticket with cash too.

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  2. Ouch. Can’t say weve ever has that issue but usually I either pick a card with a spending amount within our normal bounds or I sign up to correspond with a known big spending event. For example I just grabbed the Marriott premier card and we have upcoming lawyer fees for a will redo.

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  3. I’m so sorry to hear about the incident. I know it doesn’t feel good when you put so much hard work and even money in something and don’t get the return you’ve been expecting. I do hope that the rep will be able to give you the rewards. No matter what will happen, I think you’ve drawn great lessons from the experience. I’m sure they will be helpful to a lot of the readers out there.

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  4. Dear Tawcan,

    So sorry about your situation. I know that my words won’t send you to Hawaii but I think that it is totally impressive that you found a doable way to get there for free. I’m not one for travel hacking, yet. When I do, I’ll definitely check for peoples referral links.

    Question, if I get the card and then cancel in the first year (so I don’t have to pay the annual fee), do I have to book a trip or else lose the points?

    Sarah.

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    • If you cancel the card in the first year you will lose the points if you don’t use them. This is unless you transfer the points to another frequent travel rewards program.

      For example say you have 20,000 Amex points by holding an Amex card. If you transfer the Amex points to Delta or Aeroplan before you cancel the card, you’re good to go. With Delta and Aeroplan, however, they may have their own points expiration rules.

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  5. On a re-read, I must have missed something or I’m having a senior moment, maybe my Arithmetic is not up to snuff.

    Bob, they way I read this points accumulation/redemption – in order to get 360,000 Marriot points to redeem flight+ 7 nights hotel say 12 months from today, one would need a spending combination (include bonus points from Marriot & Amex) somewhere between $75,000 to approx $100,000 when using the Amex card (fee free for 12 months)

    Is that right or did I miss something?

    If so, there is absolutely no-way the average family could spend minimum 6k/mth, if they do, then they have a huge net income

    Reply
    • Hi John,

      No that’s not correct.

      With Marriott you get 50,000 points for the card as soon as you do a transaction on the card. So if you spend a $1, you get the points.
      With Amex there are specific spending limits. With the business gold card, you need to spend $5,000 in the first 3 months to get 40k points. With the business platinum you need to spend $5,000 in the first 3 months to get 40k points.

      In our case for 2x Marriott cards, 2 Amex personal cards , and 1 Business platinum card we needed to spend slightly over $8,000. By applying these cards before big expenses we aren’t spending extra money.

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  6. Oh my god, this has totally happened to me, too! And it’s maddening as well. I signed up for 40k points from Capital One Venture, only to have NOT made the minimum spend amount because I wasn’t paying attention. Never again. From now on, whenever I *think* I’ve made the minimum spend I’ll send a secure message ASAP so the customer service rep can confirm. The card wasn’t for a specific trip like yours, so I was able to recover. Good luck getting the points, though. Maybe they’ll give them to you as a one-time courtesy?

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    • Yuck sorry to hear that. ๐Ÿ™

      I learned that I need to be more careful next time. I’m certainly they’ll give the points to me as a one-time courtesy. We’ll have to wait and see.

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  7. Damn, sorry to hear. Let’s hope you get some good news! We’ve just used some points for a weekend get away for the family. Love travel hacking.

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  8. We had a SOuthwest card that falls under the same rules. I happened to catch it. I also made sure to spend 5-10% over the required limit just to make sure that I gave myself a cushion.

    Hope it works out for you.

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  9. I had a somewhat similar situation. Just a few days back, I used a “refer a friend” promo code when I opened up a TFSA through Questrade and based on the amount I funded I was to be awarded $x amount in one week’s time. When I contacted Questrade and asked when I can expect the bonus cash earned, I was explained that I would not qualify for it since Questrade does not charge a commission for buying ETFs and I was supposed to make at least one commissionable trade.

    What upset me was that prior to opening the account, I specifically inquired about that specific term and condition and was told that I would still qualify even if I did not make a commissionable trade considering there is no fee to buy ETFs.

    So when I very politely, yet assertively, pointed this out to the agent online, they said they would escalate the issue with their leadership team. The agent was very empathetic, as I pointed out that I felt as if I was a victim of a “bait and switch”. I was very polite the entire time but made sure to explain that I was highly distressed based on an expectation that was set to me. Later that same day, I was told I would be award the bonus cash anyway. ๐Ÿ™‚

    So, I agree with you entirely, you always need to be polite and honest with customer service reps, they are there to help you and that is fundamental key that most people forget. I know this because that is my industry. I am a problem solver for customers and work with the biggest technology company in the world, and because of this you can imagine the sentiment of people I get who think if they yell and scream and make a scene that will somehow change their situation, but when people are polite, I go out of my way to see what I can do for them.

    So, fear not, hopefully Amex will take your situation into consideration, since its clear it was a simple oversight and only a few bucks short and not the whole the way. Good luck Bob!

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    • Great story, I find that being polite and nice to the customer preps is the best thing to do. They are just doing their jobs and typically they’ll try all they can to help you out if you are nice to them.

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  10. That’s a tough break Bob. My experience with Amex has been pretty good. They’ve gone out of their way to make things right when things have gone wrong. I’m hopeful they’ll do the right thing with you.

    Amex is my card of choice, even though other cards might grant more bonus miles or other swag. I would encourage anyone to sign up (and if you are a Canadian, through Bob’s link). I’ve found it worth the annual fee.

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  11. I hope the decision works out in your favor Tawcan!

    We’re in the process of travel hacking out way to Japan right now, and I noticed those annual fees don’t count towards the total too. It’s probably hidden in the fine print somewhere.

    Spending slightly more than the requirement seems like a good idea!

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  12. Any good news Bob?

    I gave up travel hacking at about 25 yo when I realized I could not keep track if it all! lol

    I decided to just focus my attention on making as much money as possible and travel hack that way.

    But now, no more travel for us with the baby.

    Sam

    Reply
    • Hi Sam,

      Got the good news. 75k points deposited in my account! Phew! When it comes to credit card rewards points, Canadians don’t have as much choices compared to US. Making as much money as possible is a great way to “travel hack.” ๐Ÿ™‚

      No travel with the baby? You can do it! We traveled to Denmark from Vancouver when Baby T1.0 was ~10 weeks old. I think it’s actually easier to travel with babies when they are young than travelling with a toddler.

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  13. I’m not too surprised they hooked you up with the points. I find the credit card companies to be pretty accommodating if you’re “pretty close” to meeting the terms. They want your business since Platinum/Premium/big spenders are usually rather profitable for them, even after the 75k points award. They figure most people will keep paying the $399/yr and keep spending $$ on the card (transaction fees!!) and many will pay interest (12-25% for cards in the US typically).

    As for that gut-wrenching feeling when you realize you messed up by a small amount? Horrible. Been there a couple of times and only once did I have to suffer the consequences. I almost let the $450 annual fee mistake happen on my Chase Sapphire Reserve – I added up the total amount I had paid for past months and added the outstanding balance. Then I remembered the annual fee doesn’t count toward spending. What I try to do now is make the required spending at least a week ahead of time then use the online secure message to confirm with a CSR that I’ve met the terms of the program to get the bonus pts. If not, they’ll tell me and I can tidy it up in the last few days before the 90 day window closes.

    My mistake was actually letting miles expire with United. 1 day late generating activity to keep the points from expiring but they wouldn’t budge. I had to pay $200 to reinstate the miles plus jump through a challenge hoop (fly somewhere on United or get a United Credit Card). I got a new credit card, another 30k miles for bonus, and reinstated 90k miles that had expired, all for $200. Not bad, and that was about half the miles I needed to fly the five of us to Europe for the summer ($2,400 cash price to buy the same tickets).

    Reply
    • Yeah I guess it makes sense for them to award the welcome bonus points and keep the customer happy instead of losing a customer.

      I wish here in Canada we have more choices when it comes to travel rewards cards. The welcome points we get aren’t nearly as good compared to what you see in the US.

      That’s good that you were able to get the points reinstated. The extra cost was well worth it then.

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  14. Wow, great job getting those points. We’re pretty bad at churning cards. It took us 2 years to accumulate 200k points and 4 nights at Hyatt. Should be a cheap vacation this year. ๐Ÿ™‚
    There are too many things to think about already and I don’t like having more on my plate.

    Reply
    • It’s nice to have a cheaper vacation by churning cards, that’s for sure. Travel hacking does take a bit of planning and researching. When you’re really busy you might not have time to do all that. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  15. I’m so glad I’m late to the party, because I got to read your update! Phew! Good thing everything worked out!

    Taking full advantage of travel points seems kinda stressful though. I haven’t attempted to do any travel hacking before, I just choose to fly with low cost airlines and book accommodation months in advance (when possible). So far, I can’t say I spent a heck of a lot of money on travel ๐Ÿ˜€

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  16. Happy to hear you go those points added! And hopefully you ended up going on your trip already! I can definitely attest, as someone who works in retail banking, that being nice to the reps never hurts. Also keep in mind, when you call in, or walk in to a branch with an issue. It may only be a few minute transaction for you, but for the people on the other side, it takes a considerable amount more time to submit reports, track down other departments and follow-up/push to make things happen.

    Reply

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