When travel hacking goes wrong…

When we went to Japan 2 years ago, we redeemed Marriott points to stay 5 nights in Osaka Marriott Miyako Hotel. At 37,420 Japanese Yen per night (~$411 Canadian), we saved over $2,000 Canadian by redeeming points. It was one of the nicest hotels I have stayed at and it was quite unique to stay on the 46th floor with great view of Osaka.

I have been accumulating rewards points whenever I travel for work. But accumulating points for the occasional business travels can only take you so far. Staying at Marriott properties for a few nights here and there and flying to USA and Asia here and there don’t really accumulate that many points.

Therefore, I started applying for rewards credit cards.

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

For a few years, Mrs. T and I talked about going to Hawaii for our 5th wedding anniversary. That never happened. But we still talk about going to Hawaii one of these days.

How cool would it be if we could go to Hawaii and stay at a place by redeeming rewards points?

How many miles & points do we need?

With Aeroplan, we need 135,000 miles for 3 people (you can’t book seat infant on Aeroplan website, need to call in later) on fixed mileage rewards to book connecting flights. With two little kids, direct flights are ideal so we don’t lose our minds (ha!). For direct flights, we need to book flights under market fare flight rewards. This means with 3 people, we need 179,400 Aeroplan miles.

After some research on Marriott website and other travel sites, we determined that the Wailea Beach Resort on Maui would be a great place to stay. Wailea Beach Resort is a category 8 Marriott hotel, so we would need 40,000 Marriott points per night. Staying for 7 nights at the resort would require 240,000 Marriott points (you get 1 free night when redeeming for 4 nights). At $3,913 for 7 nights, this means we would get ~1.63¢ per Marriott point, much higher than the usual estimated value of 0.9¢ per Marriott point.

That is a lot of Aeroplan miles and Marriott points needed! Can we do better? Further research showed that Marriott offers hotel + air packages. Since Marriott points are usually transferred to Aeroplan miles at a 5:1 rate, this is an excellent deal (essentially you are transferring the points at 1:1 rate).

Thus, we need 360,000 Marriott points to 7 nights of hotel stay and enough Aeroplan miles to get 3 return tickets for free (I have ~60k in my Aeroplan account).

How to get 360,000 Marriott points?

To hit the 360k mark, we have been applying for rewards credit cards the last few months.

  • Marriott Visa – 50,000 Marriott welcome bonus points after first transaction. No fee the first year, $120 after.
  • 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 Business Platinum – 75,000 Amex welcome bonus points after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months. $399 annual fee.

The American Express Business Platinum card is the only card that has an annual fee for the first year. We plan to cancel all the credit cards before end of the 1st year to avoid paying annual fees.

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. For example, if we have 20,000 Amex points, we end up with 30,000 Marriott points (20k Amex -> 10k SPG -> 30k Marriott).

Based on my calculation, when we get all the welcome bonus points (2x 50k Marriott, 2x 25k Amex personal, 1x 75k Business platinum), we would have enough Marriott points to redeem for the hotel + flight package.

How to meet the spending limits?

How do we ensure that we meet the spending limits for the Amex cards?

  • Time the card applications prior to big expenses like car insurance renewal, house insurance renewal, and plane ticket purchases
  • Using one card at the time for all expenses until we hit the spending limit
  • Donate money to charities

When travel hacking goes wrong!?!?

Things are chugging along nicely. We got a bunch welcome bonus points already and are working on the spending requirement for the Amex Business Platinum card. Based on the Excel sheet that I have for tracking credit card spending, we have spent over $5,000 in about 2.5 months. Since we have crossed the spending limit, I have stopped using the card and put expenses on other travel rewards cards.

I waited for the points to show up but they never did. This led me to phone American Express the other day.

Then the customer representative gave me the bad news.

Sir, looks like you are short by $110. You have only spent $4,890 on the card and it’s already past the 3 months period.

Wait…what? WTF?

I was as confused as a cat trying to catch a laser dot. Based on the Excel sheet, I was 110% certain that we spent ~$5,300 in the first 3 months.

After getting off the phone, I checked the sheet again and cross referenced with the monthly statements.

CRAP! I messed up on an entry. I have mistakenly included the $399 annual fee in my calculation! Annual fee does not count toward the spending limit.

!#[email protected]$%^%#^%#[email protected]!!!!

I was so upset at myself. I couldn’t believe that I messed up!

This meant we have spent $399 for no welcome bonus points. What a giant waste of money!!! Arrrrr!!!

(Mrs. T later told me that she has never seen me that upset…)

When I calmed down a little bit I called American Express again and explained my situation. Before calling, I decided to donate $250 to Canadian Red Cross for the BC Wild Fire relief. This would put the total spending to over $5,000.

When I reached the customer representative, I explained how I messed up on my $5,000 spending requirement and asked for forgiveness. I also mentioned that I had just spent over $5,000 and I was only about 4 or 5 days outside the 3 months time frame. I then asked to talk to the supervisor. I tried to be very nice & reasonable and explained everything to the supervisor again. I kept telling both the representative and the supervisor that I was very appreciative of them hearing out my case.

The supervisor said he would do what he can to get the welcome bonus points for me. During the phone call he mentioned a few times that he honestly hadn’t seen a case where American Express provided the welcome bonus points when customer failed to meet the spending requirement.

I knew it was a tough battle but I asked him to see what he could do. Deep inside I thought this was it. We had spent $399 for nothing.

Say goodbye to my plan of going and staying Hawaii entirely on rewards points.

Mrs. T kept comforting me by telling me to treat this as a learning lesson. We could always pay for the plane ticket, or pay for part of the accommodation.

So now I must wait for a few days to find out American Express’ decision. Would I luck out? I have no clue.

Deep down I am a bit disappointed that I let myself down. Using points to go and stay in Hawaii was an ambitious goal I set for myself. I was doing all I could to accomplish this goal.

I have failed myself….

How you could maybe help me

I know this is asking a lot but I’m getting desperate… 🙁

If you’re a fellow Canadian, one way you can help me out is to apply for an American Express card through my referral link. This way I would earn referral points and you would get more welcome bonus points than if you were to apply directly with American Express. These are the cards you can apply.

The American Express Business Gold is good if you don’t want to pay for the annual fee. The American Express Personal Platinum is good if you travel a lot and value access to airport lounges. The hotel gold status is a good benefit too. With the $200 annual travel credit, you can get $400 taken off for holding the card for a year. This means the annual fee is only $299 (i.e. apply now, get $200 credit in 2017, then in 2018 you get another $200 credit, cancel the card before the year is up).

I applied for the American Business Platinum so I could get more points when referring Mrs. T to the personal gold card (sadly American Express recently removed the American Express Personal Gold card from the referral list).

If you end up applying for a card to help us out, thank you and merci beaucoup! I truly appreciate that.

Lessons Learned

What did I learn from this travel hacking gone wrong experience? Well, I need to be more careful and track dollar amount properly! Also, don’t just spend to the required spending limit, spend a little bit extra to make sure we are good to go. I also realized that it important to always talk nicely to the customer representatives. They are there to help you out. Be appreciative of what they do and do not yell or scream at them. They are just doing their jobs. By being nice to them, perhaps they will be willing to help you out.

So now we wait for the decision…

*fingers crossed that I will get good news in a few days.*

Update: American Express phoned and told me that they have deposited 75,000 Amex points in my account. Yea! So happy everything worked out. I really appreciate American Express (especially the supervisor that I talked to), for helping me out and keeping me as a happy customer. 🙂

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