Friday 22 August 2014


Updated June 25, 2018

So you want to travel the world but not sure if you can afford it? Trust me, you can. It will take some work, but believe me, it is not at all difficult. And a little bit of work in exchange for very-nearly free travel is so completely worth it.

The process is actually pretty simple. It involves applying for certain credit cards which offer disproportionately high amounts of Aeroplan miles as a sign-up bonus, redeeming the miles for free flights, and cancelling the cards.

(If you don't already have an Aeroplan membership you can get one here (it's free).


The first thing to do is to check your credit score. Every credit card application you make lowers your score by about 5-7 points. Now, that’s out of a total of 900 possible points, so it’s not a huge number, but it’s still something to keep in mind. 

Some other quick thoughts on credit for those interested:
  • A score represents a moment in time and can change based on your behaviour.
  • Missed or late payments or lots of maxed out credit accounts will lower your score.
  • The best way to increase your score is to pay back debts on time and consistently.
  • Scores typically range from 400 to 900, and good scores are usually 660 and higher; anything over 750 is considered excellent. So whether it’s 750 or 850 doesn’t really make a difference. For an institution like a bank or credit union looking at your credit, anything over 725 is a no-brainer.
    • If it might help allay your fears, I don't know how many credit cards I've applied for in the past few years, and Equifax tells me my score is 759.

The credit bureaus don’t make it easy to find, but here's a great way to find out your credit score for free:


When you get your report, make sure all the information is accurate. If your report shows loans or credit cards that you didn’t apply for, someone may have used your identity to apply for credit or the credit bureau may have incorrect information about your credit use. Either way, you’ll want to tell the credit bureau about the discrepancy immediately.

Ok, let's get started!


In order to rack up the necessary points for your dream trip, you have to follow these steps:
  • Apply for a given card
  • Meet the minimum spending requirements for the card
  • Wait for the points to appear in your account (can be up to 6 weeks)
  • Cancel the card before the annual fee kicks in
These steps will lead you through applying for various American Express credit cards, whose points are transferable 1:1 to Aeroplan.

So when I refer to 'points' throughout this blog, I'm referring to either Aeroplan points or Amex points, since they are essentially the same with the same value

Links to Credit Cards to Apply For:

Ok, start dreaming: where do you want to go? Figure out how many points you'll need, and then apply for the cards to make it happen. 

Anywhere in North America: 25,000 points 
Mexico: 40,000 points 
Hawaii: 45,000 points 
Europe: 60,000 points 

All for round-trip flights! 

(You can see the whole award chart here.) 

Now let's take the first step: applying for cards!

If this info is helpful to you, and you decide to sign up for some cards, consider supporting this blog by signing up using the links below. (Plus you get extra points for doing so!) Thank you in advance!

AMERICAN EXPRESS BUSINESS GOLD REWARDS CARD – 30,000 Amex points (40,000 if you use this link!)

    • Annual fee waived for the first year!
    • This is a great offer - the highest I've ever seen for a free card
    • Here's what you need to know:
      • You need to include a business name - but it doesn't need to be an officially registered business. It can be anything that allows you to make money - even if it's not currently doing so.
      • For example, I have sold the odd used book on Amazon. So I used my Amazon selling name as my "business" name and it worked perfectly. An eBay seller account would work as well. Have a blog? You can use that. It's really flexible.
      • You also get 1 point per dollar spent on the card, so after meeting the minimum spending requirement (more on that below), you'll have 45,000 points, enough for a round-trip ticket to Hawaii!

Tip #1 – Take a shortcut

If you’re in a hurry, this card offers 60,000 points, which is a huge amount – enough for a round-trip flight to anywhere in Western Europe:

AMERICAN EXPRESS PLATINUM CARD - 50,000 points (60,000 if you use this link!)

The $699 annual fee is obviously insane, but the card includes a yearly $200 travel credit, usable any way you like. So if you use the credit twice (once upon receiving the card, and once a year later just before cancelling), you are effectively reducing the annual fee to $299.

Which is admittedly still a good chunk of change.

But for 60,000 points (a roundtrip flight to Europe) it’s actually not bad at all. This card also has the advantage of having a much lower minimum spending requirement (only $3,000).

Tip #2 – Rinse, repeat

Here’s another lucrative secret: after cancelling the card, believe it or not, six to eight months later you can reapply for the exact same card and still receive the bonus points. (I’ve heard of people successfully reapplying after as little as two months, but that’s a little hardcore even for me.)

I’m on my 4th or 5th time through some of these cards and much to my amazement, it just keeps working!


You'll notice that these cards require that you use them to spend a certain amount of money before they'll dish out the points: $3000 to $5000 in three months.

Which is definitely no small amount. If you're wondering how to hit this minimum spending requirement, here are some ideas:

  • This is obvious, but put everything you can on your credit cards. Sometimes people seem reluctant to do this, but as long as you pay your bills promptly, it’s a no-brainer.
  • Some businesses won't take Amex, but almost everything online will: Paypal, Airbnb, Amazon, etc.
  • Donations: if you give monthly to an organization, an option is to cancel the donations for a few months and simply make a one-time donation. So you cancel your $100/month donation for 6 months and make a $600 donation. (But don’t forget to restart the donation after!)
  • You can pay your cell phone or internet bills up front. Simply overpay the amount owing and then don't worry about paying again for awhile!
  • A brand new and very interesting option is using PayTM: they enable you to use an Amex card to pay your bills - even your property tax bills! They charge a 2% fee, which is perfectly balanced out by the points you get for using the card. I've been doing this for a few months and it works great!
    • Use promo code PTM9935132 to get a $10 bonus after paying your first bill of $50 or more!

Converting Your Points

Since you’re working towards an Aeroplan flight reward, you need to convert your American Express points to Aeroplan miles (they transfer 1:1). Thankfully, this is super easy. Go to the Rewards section after you log in to Amex, and find the link for "Rewards", and then “Transfer my points.”

The conversion from Amex points (called Membership Rewards points) to Aeroplan is instantaneous – however, you must first register your Aeroplan account, and that can take a few days. So plan accordingly!


Now here’s the fun part: booking your flight!

But wait. You’ve probably heard about the dreaded taxes that accompany a reward flight booking. It’s true. And really, it’s ridiculous that a “free” flight isn’t actually free. In particular, there is often a “fuel surcharge” levied which can be $500-$600 alone. So the fees and taxes can amount to almost the full price of the actual flight! Which would mean this was all a colossal waste of time.

But I learned of an ingenious workaround: different airlines charge different levels of fees and taxes.

And some airlines charge very little! Want to know which ones? Here is a list of some of the airlines that you can book with your Aeroplan points in order to avoid the most obscene of the reward flight surcharges:

Brussels Airlines
Croatia Airlines
Aegean Air (for Greece!)
Egypt Air
Air China
Scandinavian Airlines
Air New Zealand
Turkish Airlines
Ethiopian Airlines
LOT Polish Airlines

We paid about $150 in taxes for each of our round trip flights to Copenhagen and Amsterdam. Considering those flights were supposed to cost over $1200 each, I’ve never paid $150 with a bigger smile on my face.

There are two ways to redeem your Aeroplan points for a flight:

1) online through your Aeroplan account page
2) over the phone with an Aeroplan agent

The thing is, Aeroplan (for obvious reasons) tends to mostly display Air Canada flight options on the Aeroplan website – and Air Canada happens to be one of the worst-offending carriers for fuel surcharges on reward flights. For simpler trips (say Montreal to Paris) you might luck out and find a flight with Swiss or United (for example) on their site. But for more complex itineraries, you may need to call Aeroplan to book it. (Note that they charge $35 for this. Which is why it’s always preferable to find it on Aeroplan’s website if you can. But if you’re doing a complex routing, it’s well worth the charge.)

Most of the time, you can explain your preferred flight details to the agent, and they can find what you’re looking for and book it for you.

To avoid calling a hundred times, however, a good tip is to search for the flight using United Airlines award search. They are in the Star Alliance network, meaning everything you see on their website is bookable with Aeroplan points. But unlike the Aeroplan website, they don't intentionally hide the flights without the insane fuel surcharges. 

So I usually search United's site until I find the ideal flights (their 'saver award' are the ones you're looking for), and then either book on Aeroplan's site (if I luck out and the flight is listed there) or I call an Aeroplan agent to book it for me.

If you hate the idea of searching every day, there are handy 3rd-party tools that can help with that, like

Overall, it takes some sleuthing but shouldn't be too hard to find your ideal flights. If you get really bogged down, email me and I’d be glad to lend a hand.

Once you find availability for your itinerary, call Aeroplan and ask them to book it for you. You may have to spoon-feed them the info. The United site sometimes finds flight options that even the agents can’t see right away. If the agent gives you a hard time, thank them politely, and call again until you get a more cooperative agent.


That's it! A few more tricks to mention:

Adding a stopover

You know how when you’re flying you often have a stopover in some random airport for a bunch of hours? Wouldn't it be cool if instead of a random airport it could be a place you actually wanted to visit? And instead of 4 hours, you had a week? Well, a little known fact is that you can intentionally add a stopover your trip.

Different airlines have different policies, but generally, you can add a stopover on both your outbound and inbound flights. So essentially, you are getting completely FREE flights to new destinations.

We were limited by vacation time constraints, so we only added one, but here’s how we did it:

Outgoing flight: YUL-IAD-CPH
Return flight: CPH-AMS-ORD-YUL

So on our return flight, technically we are flying Copenhagen to Montreal. But we forced a stopover in Amsterdam...which lasted 8 days. After 8 days, our return voyage resumed, and we flew to Chicago (mandatory stopover because there’s no AMS to YUL direct) en route to Montreal.

This is probably one of the coolest tricks out there. If you have the time, and if your destinations are considered ‘valid’ (in other words, you can’t fly Toronto to Belfast with a Shanghai stopover, it exceeds the 'Maximum Permitted Mileage') you can almost literally fly around the world for no additional cost. 

Know Your Perks

On top of everything else, these credit cards come with some really cool perks. Things like lounge access, free travel health insurance, trip cancellation insurance, and, my personal favorite: delayed baggage insurance ($1000 spending spree if your bag is delayed for more than 6 hours! This happened to Em and I once and we got to spend $1000 each in Casablanca!)

So check what the cards include!


One last helpful bit of info would probably be: how much time does this all take? How far out do I need to start?

Amazingly, finding flight availability was not a problem at all. If you’ve ever heard that flight rewards need to be booked insanely far in advance, that’s totally bogus. Airlines constantly release new availability depending on sales and route popularity, so if your desired routing is not available, just check back the next day.

Here’s what I did on a previous trip:

Jan 2015: applied for the cards 
Early Feb 2015: started putting money on the cards to hit the minimum spend requirements
Early Apr 2015: hit the minimum spends 
Early May 2015: all points received – began searching for flights 
May 17 2015: booked the flights (Aug 10 departure)

So really, it wasn’t a painfully long process. If you’re the cautious type, you can always just give yourself more time and start earlier.

Note: Amex says it can take up to 8 weeks to credit your account with your points. So plan accordingly. But if you get into a tight spot (like I did) you can ask them to please pretty please expedite the process. They did for me.

So that’s pretty much it. If I’ve left anything out, please feel free to drop me a line and I will try and help as best as I can. 

Happy exploring!




  1. Honey you are such a babe. Now let's go to Turkey!

  2. Does Costco take any Amex or just "their" amex? (I thought it was just theirs)

  3. What do you have to do for free accommodation and food? That's the greatest travelling expense for our family.

    1. Ya, I hear you. What we do is rent an apartment instead of staying in a hotel, which enables us to cook all our own meals. So we don't spend any more on food than we would at home.

      So pretty much your only significant expense is the apartment rental. But depending on where you're going, and what you're comfortable with, you don't have to break the bank on that either.

      Airbnb has become the go-to apartment rental website, and we use it regularly. If you'd like, you can use this link to save $27!

      Depending on the country you're traveling to, there's free options as well. But Airbnb certainly does provide the most protection.

      I hope that helps! Let me know if you have any other questions.

  4. We LOVE our Capital One Venture VISA. Are you familiar with it? Would love to get your thoughts.

    1. Hi Peter,

      A great looking card indeed! But as Tim mentioned below, unfortunately for us Canadians, it is a US only offer. Sadly, American credit card offers far surpass ours. But all the better for you if you live in the US!

  5. I left a comment, but I'm not sure it made it.

    It looks like the Chase deal above is US-only, and the Canadian version is much less exciting — looks like you won't get more than 6,000 miles out of it. It looks like the Starwood Preferred Guest Amex might be a good alternative.

    1. I didn't mean only the one in the comment, but even the one in your article is US-only. The Canadian version is very weak compared to the American.

  6. And, literally, within a minute of publishing that comment Air Canada emailed to say that the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite (15,000 miles + 10,000 bonus miles if you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days) has a deal with no annual fee for the first year.

    1. Wow, are you sure about the first year free, Tim? I saw the same offer for 15,000 + 10,000 bonus but not the fyf part. Please do share if that's the case! Thanks!

    2. Yeah, it just came in an email from Air Canada. I'm not sure if the "Apply Now" link they gave me is personalized or not. Email me and I'll send it to you if you like. You've got my email, right? It's tim @ the name of my blog. :)

  7. Hey Brad, thanks for the info! Do you know if you have to redeem your points (ie take a trip) prior to cancelling the card? Thanks!

    1. Hey Julia!

      With Amex, if you have multiple Amex cards, when you cancel one you can ask that the points be transferred onto the card you are still keeping. If you are cancelling your only Amex card, then before cancelling, you will need to transfer the points to a frequent flier program (Eg. Aeroplan) so you can eventually redeem them for a flight. Aeroplan points don't expire (as long as you make one transaction a year), so you can safely keep them there and cancel your Amex card.

      But don't forget you have a full year before the Annual Fee kicks in, so you don't really have to cancel before then. But if some some reason you absolutely must, as long as you keep the above in mind you'll keep your points.

  8. Yes, I'll be calling you personally for help with that app! So enjoy this vacation because I'm booking you as my agent the second you land. Or second day. I might show some grace! ☺️ This is so helpful!! We have loads and loads of points and the TD travel card AND loads of European friends to visit but we never knew how to book the tickets without it still costing an arm and a leg in fees! Thank you for all the work you put into this!!

  9. Lol! Anytime! You'll be pleasantly surprised at how simple it is.