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Testimony: a beginner shares her experience with points & miles

This post is also available in: FR

Regularly, I receive testimonials from members of the facebook group “Travel for free (or almost…!) with your points & miles – milesopedia” about THEIR journey in this points & miles world. Today it is Sandra’s.

Points & miles: from dream to reality

Let’s not hide it. Articles like the one recently published in the Journal Métro make you dream:

With the same plane ticket that costs 75,000 miles in economy class, I did Montreal-Zurich, Zurich-Nice, and then stayed a week with my family. Then I flew from Nice to Istanbul, with a 24-hour stopover in Istanbul. Then, Istanbul-Hong Kong, and I stopped there. I did all of Vietnam and came back through San Francisco. All this cost me 150,000 miles, in business class. And I did it with my whole family. For $500.

These statements are true.

As always, my number one rule is to set a goal and give yourself the means to achieve it:

Sandra came to our June 2018 event in Montreal and had the pleasure of chatting with her. Very active in the facebook group, she sent me this testimony.

Sandra and her reality before starting

My adventure began with the purchase of discounted flights. Being always on the lookout for the best deals on the market, different travel blogs started to catch my attention.

One day in January, milesopedia came into my life and nothing was ever going to be the same. (I promise, I’m not sponsored!)

The reflection period

I devoured the articles day and night (literally), going through all the topics, trying to familiarize myself with this brand new continent. It all seemed too good to be true, so I hesitated for a long time before taking the first step: ordering my first credit card for points accumulation.

The most common question asked in the group: which credit card to take out when you start? For that, there is of course… an article!

Historically, credit was not an ally in my life. Too often associated with situations of last resort and certainly not a common payment method. I had just regained full control of my finances and felt I was finally on the right track. I last applied for a card several years ago and was turned down. I was therefore not very confident and convinced that these miraculous stories could never be mine.

We repeat: this world of points & miles is only open to you if you have full control of your finances. You’ll need a good credit report to get the best deals. See our article about building, repairing or improving your credit report.

The choice of the first cards

As I scrolled through all the comments in the Facebook group, the name of one card came up again and again: COBALT. Supposedly aimed at millennials, accessible, I had no choice but to dive in…and hope. Following the advice of the bundled applications, I applied for the Scotiabank Gold American Express® Card as well.

To my surprise, my requests were accepted. I automatically became a pain in the ass with my friends. Several months later, I have to make a colossal effort to avoid talking about points continually to anyone who will (or won’t) listen! The door was now wide open, for better or for worse.

I launched myself headlong, not suspecting that several walls would meet my path: mon story about Scotia ends here. I never got to hold the card in my hands, my file was closed for some reason I still don’t know and as a bonus two hard hits from their institution mark my credit report.

A few months ago, Scotia had problems with credit card applications that usually required customers to come into the branch to bring in proof of identity. Moreover, the Bank often tends to refuse a request a priori… and then accept it by giving more details over the phone! See this article on this subject.

The hunt for points begins

With the American Express Cobalt Card in my pocket, I convinced several friends and family of its benefits. I quickly earn several referral points. I take pleasure in paying for groceries for my friends, it quickly becomes out of the question to pay otherwise than with this magic card. I limit my purchases at businesses that offer gift cards to the Couche-tard. Soon, the desire to move up a gear is felt.

I apply for the American Express Small Business Gold Rewards Card after a long hesitation in February. Its yield on Plastiq (2 points / dollar) and the – then – free subscription for the first year seduce me. Verdict: Accepted.

Plastiq is a service that allows you to pay bills/expenses that you would have paid by check/transfer without getting points (municipal, school, taxes…).

With the wind in my sails, I quickly move on:

All accepted.

Sandra was well on her way to accumulating points & miles via this tip which should take 9-12 months.

Too many cards in a short time

I receive the American Express Platinum Card in its beautiful wrapping and begin my spending to unlock my bonus. Suddenly, it is impossible to pay. A message appears: contact American Express customer service. After an interminable wait, I was transferred from one department to another to be told that all my American Express cards were blocked for verification purposes.

I had neglected the golden rules: space out the requests and alternate.

We always recommend spacing out applications, alternating card issuers: too many applications in a few months raises “red flags”. The game plan is IN-DIS-PEN-SABLE. In this case, Sandra triggered a“Financial Review” from American Express: the issuer then questions Sandra’s sudden eagerness for all these cards.

As a victim of my ambition, I could only blame myself and collaborate. American Express asked me to provide proof of my business, bank statements of all my accounts for the last three months, and my employment records. The verification process took over two weeks.

I was furious, convinced I had ruined everything. After an interminable wait, countless calls, the decision was made: all my cards were unblocked, the payment cards restricted to $1500 for a period of 6 months to a year.

In retrospect and from an outside perspective, it was clearly a suicide waiting to happen. I want to share my story for those like me who are just starting out and are thirsty for points. An advice: patience.

Start with one or two cards from 2 different institutions (American Express + BMO / American Express + Scotia). And 3-6 months later, go in with two new cards. And so on. You can quickly go down to 3 months between 2 requests, always from two different institutions.

Results since January 2018

Here, in spite of everything, is what my frantic quest has yielded since January 2018

Via the American Express Cobalt card: a grand total of over 160,000 points to date. I was able to use some of these points as a credit on travel expenses to pay off:

  • a low-cost plane ticket for a trip to Cuba with friends
  • a hotel package for an improvised weekend
  • a low-cost ticket to Italy

The American Express Cobalt card allows you to apply your points to travel expenses. See how here.

Via the 3 American Express Membership Rewards cards, Amazon promotions and various survey platforms giving aeroplan miles: about 175,000 aeroplan miles!

Via RBC: Approximately 30,000 points converted into a $300 hotels.com gift card.

Bottom Line

I can only wish I had learned my lesson. My journey is littered with mistakes, I am living proof that the path to points can be fraught with pitfalls, but I am also proof that anyone can succeed!

Are you a beginner? A few articles to get you started:

This post is also available in: FR

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Audrey
Mother of two young children, pharmacist, travel hacker's wife and frequent traveller, Audrey shares her advices and destinations recommendations on milesopedia.

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