Points Travel

How we saw 20 countries in 5 years on points

“I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list”

In the world of any travel aficionado, points talk is like the weather talk in the lives of most people.  So I am writing this article for you, non points people, to show you how you can get to all the places we have travelled to as well. 
I will start off by saying we are a normal family, who do not own a business nor does our employer send us travelling, a process which accrues points for many business travellers.  We do it all on our own, and you can too.  So where have we travelled to in the past 5 years on points? Here is a list of all the countries we have seen solely by using Aeroplan points: Chile, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Germany, Turkey, South Africa, Mauritius, Japan, China, Thailand, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Hong Kong, Taiwan, France, New Zealand and Tahiti. Yes, all on points, so here are a few hints on how to earn the most and make the most out of your Aeroplan points.   
When I found out that I could explore three different countries with the same set amount of points I would need to get to one country, I was sold.  We love to see as much as possible, so if we’re already on a continent, we want to see more than one country and better understand the different cultures that surround us.  That’s right, so 75000 Aeroplan points will not only get you from Toronto to Tokyo, it can get you from Toronto to Tokyo, Tokyo to Bangkok, Bangkok to Beijing and Beijing to Toronto. A lot of flights for approximately $300 in airport taxes, depending on which airlines you fly, and I will get to that shortly.  In addition, a less than 24 hour layover in any place does not count as a stopover, so you could easily visit a 4th city for the day.  Feel like there’s a catch somewhere? There is a catch; you must be flexible with your dates and destinations.  There have been many failed attempts at my trying to redeem points for places, such as trying to redeem points for the Caribbean and ending up in Asia since that was the only area available at Christmas time.
For years, I had been trying to get to Tahiti on points, and if you know the points system, you know that is the most impossible flight to obtain on points, as only one of the Star Alliance members flies there, Air New Zealand.  I had almost given up, as availability for a whole year at a time with maximum flexibility just did not exist.  Recently, I was able to get this flight for my family and I.  This flight is so rare that when I managed to book it, the Aeroplan agent who had been working there for 16 years, told me she is going home to open a bottle of champagne, as she had never been able to book this flight.  If you are interested on how I did that, I will write another article specifically for that.   
In order to redeem points for flights, you must accumulate points.  Most people in the “points game” know all the hacks of how to do this, and in fact, if you google it, you will find numerous interesting articles on how to become points rich in no time. There are people in this “industry” that know much more than we do, so if you would like more information, read The Points Guy blog, Travel is Free, Greedy Rates, Rewards Canada and many more that appear when you search this topic.  We mostly accumulate points through credit card sign up bonuses.  There are currently a number of credit cards associated with the Aeroplan program, and they are AMEX Aeroplan, AMEX Gold, AMEX Platinum, CIBC Aeroplan as well as TD Aeroplan.  There are a few more Business credit cards, however, I am stating solely the personal ones without an annual fee at this time.  The 4 cards I have mentioned typically have an annual fee of approximately $120, however, if you sign up at promotional times when the fee is waived, which we always do, you are at an advantage. At present time, the AMEX cards both come with approximately 20000 to 25000 points right up there with the TD Aeroplan card, and on request, you can still obtain the CIBC card which comes with approximately 15000 bonus sign up points. You do the math. You sign up for 4 credit cards without annual fees, and you pretty much have 80000-100000 bonus points right off the bat. 

Some sample points itineraries I have booked.

Where can you go with that amount of points? ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD!

It’s amazing, isn’t it? Between day to day spending and resigning up for some of the cards, you are laughing your way around the world.  To maximize points, I also use credit cards for every single dollar I spend, as every dollar is one extra point. So where is the catch? There is no catch, except the headaches that come with having so many credit cards and remembering when you applied for them and when you need to cancel them so you do not pay the annual fee. There are a few other great credit cards for travel, such as RBC Avion and BMO World Elite to name a few, but I find that choosing a program and sticking to it makes life easier. BMO offered us free access to lounges around the world and $300 dollars to use for any sort of travel… not bad for a card that was free to obtain.  We chose Aeroplan simply because of its multi destination redemption which works best for us. Everyone has a favourite, and that’s ok, as long as you are happy with it.  
I would like to mention that points do not work best for every part of the world.  You will find that if you try to redeem points for Europe, it does not make any sense as the airport taxes are sometimes higher than paying for a regular ticket.  As a rule of thumb, I do not redeem points for the United States or Europe because of this reason.  I have redeemed points for pretty much everywhere else in the world and the airport taxes have never been higher than $370 dollars, with Chile being as low as $120 and New Zealand, Fiji and Australia a mere $210. You can avoid paying high airport taxes by avoiding flying the airlines which charge the highest fees, such as Air Canada.  Although I love Air Canada, I try to avoid flying it on points redemption as their surcharges are much higher than other Star Alliance members.   
Asia has the most availability as most of the Star Alliance members are Asia based.  South America is great if you are flying to the large cities, but rather difficult to book in some of the less travelled to areas as Avianca and Copa operate mainly out of their hubs, and most journeys would require you to return to their hubs, which is not allowed numerous times on points.   
Another way to accumulate points is by flying whatever alliance is your choice for points accumulation, in our case Star Alliance.  As we have family in Europe, whenever we do need to fly and pay full fare, we always try to fly Star Alliance in order to receive points for the flight.  And we do pay full fare many times.  A couple of years ago, I found out of another “travel hack” called ERROR fares, which are basically fares released to the public at a lower price than the company intended to release.  We recently booked an error fare from New York City to Nairobi, Kenya for approximately $320 dollars. Last year we flew to Asia on Delta for $400 dollars, so it pays off to be an active member of those groups such as YYZ deals, Next Departure and Secret Flying.  Those fares usually come and go pretty fast, so you must be ready to book them when they are posted.   
Airline fares aren’t the only “tricks” in the travel world. There are hotel “tricks” avid travellers practice as well as numerous other deals around and the world I likely do not even know of.  For the longest time, we relied on Hotwire and Priceline for great 5 star hotels at 3 star prices around the world, but as of lately, those sites do not seem as great as they used to be.  In the past, we stayed at places such as the Intercontinental Athens and Intercontinental Istanbul for approximately $100 dollars a night, as a result of those sites which offer you a “secret hotel” until you pay and the hotel is revealed.  Sites such as Hotels.com have “stay 10 nights get 1 free” which is great, but again, not as good as some other offers out there.  I love Booking.com for their flexibility with changes of plans and Airbnb.com for the way it has revolutionized travel. A friend told us about the IHG hotels offering stay 4 nights at any IHG hotel and get 2 free nights at any hotel in the world, which we used in Bora Bora at the Intercontinental with overwater bungalows, making it a GREAT promotion.  Every hotel chain has promotions and again, if you search this topic and read the blogs, you will find many great pointers. After years of using Expedia, I have switched to Kayak a decade ago and I could not be happier with their price grid.
I hope that what I have shared with you will be put to use and you too will be able to travel wherever your dreams take you.  Before our daughter was 2 years old, she had travelled to about 18 countries, solely because infants travel free. She is now 9 years old and we have taken her to 52 countries, many of which she will likely not remember, but we will, and we know that one day, her travel experiences will give her a different outlook of the world.  Though travel on points comes with its fair share of headaches, I still believe it’s worth it, and only a small sacrifice for seeing the world on a fraction of regular price.  Most important still, whether you are in this game or not, whether you enjoy the all inclusive relax vacations or the crazy adventures around the world, remember, wherever you go, go with all your heart.   


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