How to Travel More in 2024 – 2023 Travel Hacking
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How to Travel More in 2024 – 2023 Travel Hacking

2023 was a great travel-filled year for us, and we are happy to report on all the ways we saved as travelling through points and travel cards throughout the year to help you travel more in 2024. When anyone asks our secret on how we travel more every year, we try to share these travel hacking tips with them. We will not only share our savings, but explain which credit card gave us this travel benefit and how you too can take advantage. And no, it's more than the airline points!

Keep reading to see the total dollar amount we saved in 2023.

Coron, Palawan, Philippines. Coron Island. Complete Guide to visiting with best things to do, what to see in Coron, and all the best tours in Palawan. Twin Lagoon viewpoint is the most famous in Coron.

Travel Hacking Cheap Flights

We did a three month trip to Costa Rica and Dominican Republic to start the year. During the summer, we went to Newfoundland and Europe. To end the year, we flew to Asia. We did all of this on points, and only paid some airline taxes. Note that we're based in Canada, however Brad has access to US credit cards as well, and we fly out of YYZ. Our redemptions:

  • YYZ > SJO (San Jose, Costa Rica). 64,000 Aeroplan points for 2 business class seats, plus $80 pp in taxes. Retail: $1,500-$2,000 pp. Savings: $3,400.
  • SJO > SDQ (Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic). 40,000 Aeroplan for 2 business class seats, plus $100 pp in taxes. Retail: $750. Savings: $1,300.
  • SDQ > SJO. 40,000 Aeroplan for 2 business class seats, plus $50 pp in taxes. Retail: $750. Savings: $1,400.
  • SJO > YYZ. 76,600 Aeroplan for 2 business class seats, plus $3.60 pp in taxes. Retail: $1,500-$2,000. Savings: $3,500.
  • YYZ > YQX [round-trip] (Gander, Newfoundland). 34,000 Aeroplan for 1 business class seat, plus $100. Retail: $1,200. Savings: $1,100.
  • YYZ > LHR (London, UK). 30,000 British Airways Avios for 1 economy seat, plus $5. Retail: $800. Savings: $800.
  • LHR > ZAG (Zagreb, Croatia). 23,500 British Airways Avios for 1 economy seat, plus $5. Retail: $300. Savings: $300.
  • VIE > YYZ (Vienna, Austria). 19,500 British Airways Avios for 1 economy seat, plus $5. Retail: $1,000. Savings: $1,000.
  • YYZ > ICN (Seoul, Korea). 180,000 Aeroplan for 4 economy seats, plus $130 pp. Retail: $1,200. Savings: $4,000.
  • Total savings: $16,800.
how to use Aeroplan points to travel more, travel hacking to travel more, how to use points to save on flights

Being Canada-based, Aeroplan is the program we target. TD, CIBC and AMEX all frequently have strong offers for Aeroplan cards, and we usually hold at least one card from each bank at all times. Many offers throughout the year were upwards of 50,000 points, sometimes with the first annual fee waived, so it was easy to wrack up points. When combining ourselves and our family members in our Family Sharing account, we started the year with over 600,000 Aeroplan to spend.

Secondly, we like British Airways for our Atlantic and European travels. Avios is quite easy to collect through RBC cards in Canada, and transferring during the frequent 30% bonus events. The very low taxes and fees for a points redemption is a huge plus as well.

If there's one category to target when starting your travel hacking journey, it should absolutely be flights. It's certainly the lowest-hanging fruit.

Travel Hacking Free Lounges

One of our favorite parts of travelling is relaxing at the airport lounge before our flight. We have access to two lounge programs with a large global presence. It's rare for us to arrive at an airport without free access to a lounge, unless it's a very small local airport.

We estimate that we've each visited 20 lounges throughout the year. At a $40 value each, this is a total savings of $1,600.

AMEX Centurion lounge with free food travel hacking.

The lounge networks easily accessible for Canadians are:

  • DragonPass (Visa Airport Companion, MasterCard Travel Pass): likely the most accessible lounge network to get free access to, as it's a perk of several Visa Infinite or Mastercard World Elite cards such as the TD and CIBC Aeroplan VI cards, RBC Avion VI, Scotiabank Passport VI, CIBC Aventura VI, and the BMO Ascend WE Mastercard. Each card mentioned will provide you membership, as well as a number of free entries for yourself or guests each year.
  • AMEX Global Lounge Collection: includes access to Priority Pass, Plaza Premium and Centurion Lounges. Brad has access through his AMEX Platinum card. The American Express Business Platinum card also provides access.
man with planes in the background relaxing at an airport lounge in the Dominican Republic

Travel Hacking Perks

Some perks of premium travel cards are easier to quantify than others.

As we fly via Air Canada mostly, we ensure we are always holding a premium Aeroplan Credit card for the free baggage. This is a perk of any Visa Infinite and above cards, as well as the AMEX Aeroplan card. We each got a free checked bag on our 14 Aeroplan redemptions throughout the year, which would have cost us $75 each. Total savings: $1,050.

Travel hacking free stays with Mariott Hotels.

Other notable perks:

  • Priority security lanes through AMEX Platinum
  • Free foreign exchange fees - Brad has this perk on a couple of his US-based cards, and Joy has the only free FX card in Canada without an annual fee: the Brim Mastercard. The HSBC World Elite and the Scotiabank Gold AMEX card are two other premium travel cards with free FX.
  • Gold Elite status at both Marriott and Hilton hotels. We'd got Silver Elite from our Marriott Bonvoy and Hilton Aspire AMEX cards, however we were upgraded to Gold Status through AMEX Platinum. Elite status gets us late check-outs and occasional room upgrades, among other perks.
  • Brad finally got his free NEXUS membership, a $60 value - this is a common perk of premium credit cards, such as the TD Aeroplan VI, CIBC Aventura VI, and the AMEX Gold card.
  • Free Boingo Wifi - most Mastercards offer this benefit. On their official website you can enter your card number and see if you qualify.

Insurance

An underrated perk of premium travel credit cards are the many insurance benefits they offer. I notice that many people who aren't into travel hacking will gawk at a $120 annual fee (which is very possible to bypass), but will rack up hundreds of dollars in medical and car insurance for their annual vacation.

Many no annual fee travel cards will offer some basic insurance, but the sweet-spot seems to be the Visa Infinite and World Elite MasterCard tier. These cards typically come with a $120-$150 annual fee, and often with a welcome bonus that waives the first annual fee. This mid-range tier of card will often provide around 50,000 points in a given program, which enough for most international flights.

  • Trip Cancellation Insurance
  • Travel Medical Insurance
  • Car Rental Insurance
  • Purchase Protection, Cellphone Insurance and Extended Warranties

Without going into detail, I would estimate that we saved between $500 - $1000 on insurance costs.

Rental car on beach with free travel insurance.

Travel Hacking Free Hotel Stays

Hotel points are unfortunately not as easy to collect in mass quantities compared to airline points. For example, you may only need 50,000 airline points for your airfare, but every night at your 7-day resort will run you 50,000 points. Additionally, there may only be a single credit card in Canada that earns Marriott points, compared to a dozen credit cards that earn Aeroplan.

The best travel hacking strategy for reducing your hotel spending is through flexible travel points, which is typically in a bank's own currency such as TD Rewards or CIBC Aventura. These programs are the simplest way to spending on any travel purchase - you're not limited to only using Marriott's website, for example. You usually can buy anything travel related, then apply the points to reduce your credit card bill. We did this with a few cards:

  • three CIBC Aventura cards, each giving us a statement credit of ~$570. First annual fee waived for each card. Total savings: $1,710.
  • two TD First Class Travel Visa Infinite cards, giving us a half a cent per point when used on Expedia. We used this for hotel stays, and saved over $1,000.
Staying in an all inclusive hotel for free, Hilton hotel credit

We actually did get two free hotel stays during the year, but we didn't use points. A couple premium hotel-branded cards offer one free stay per year, to offset the annual fee. We stayed at:

  • A Marriott in Muskoka, Canada. Retail: $400. Annual fee: $120. Savings: $280. This is the key benefit of the Marriott Bonvoy AMEX card, and is well worth the fee.
  • An all-inclusive Hilton resort in La Romana, Dominican Republic. Retail: $750. Annual fee: $150 USD. Savings: $550. Annual free night benefits with the AMEX Surpass and Aspire cards are incredibly generous, but are only available in the US.
Staying in an all inclusive hotel for free, Hilton hotel credit

AMEX Offers

Our American Express cards routinely provide personalized offers which help offset their annual fee. Here's a few offers we took advantage of throughout the year:

  • free Disney+ membership, $120
  • $100 Lululemon credit on $100 purchase
  • $40 grocery credit on $100 purchase
  • $25 gas credit on $250 purchase
  • $25 Amazon credit on $75 purchase (x2)
  • $50 Small Shop credits
  • Total savings: $385.
AMEX dining credit at Hexagon restaurant.

Other Travel Savings

There's a number of other miscellaneous perks and offers we took advantage of that further enhanced our travels or saved on our spending throughout the year:

  • free 12 months of DashPass and UberOne membership, offered on a few of our Visa Infinite cards; $250.
  • one of our flights was delayed, and we knew our rights and how to contact the airline to file a claim. We each got $200 cash, and got to relax in the airport lounge for an extra few hours.
  • $200 annual travel credit, on our AMEX Platinum
  • $200 annual dining credit, on our AMEX Platinum
  • Visa Infinite Winery benefits; typically offering 2 for 1 tastings and tours in select wineries in Ontario and BC. We got to splurge when we visited and likely saved $100. Check out our entire post highlighting the wineries you can visit.
Thirty Bench Winery, a travel hacking perk from Visa Infinite.

Total Savings

It's actually quite surprising to see that all the above values total to just above $25,000. We may not feel like we quite have an additional $25,000 in our bank as we certainly got some benefits that we wouldn't have paid for otherwise. We'd opt for economy flights, pack a lunch for our airports, and we'd likely never get to experience a Michelin star restaurant that AMEX pays for each year.

We truly appreciate not only the savings that this hobby provides, but the elevated travel experiences that we're able to have. Saving thousands of dollars on our flights allows us to free up our budget for tours, food and anything else we want to do while visiting a new country.

Credit Card & Point Metrics

As we were out of Canada for the majority of the year, our credit card sign-ups has actually been lower than usual. We had a surplus of points that were collected during Covid, and now get to enjoy using them. Some stats:

  • During 2023, Brad got 6 new cards, Joy got 4. In the few months before our January 2023 trip we got 12+ cards!
  • Total spent on annual fees; Brad: $1,509. Joy: $282.
  • We have ~25 credit card accounts open currently. ~5 are keeper cards that provides more value than their annual fee. ~7 are sock drawer cards without an annual fee that are kept open and in good standing to improve our credit score.

For 2024 we still have a lot of points to burn!

  • 200,000 Aeroplan
  • 270,000 Avion
  • 300,000 AMEX
  • 150,000 Alaska
  • 100,000 Marriott
  • 170,000 Hilton
Travel hacking 2023 for free and cheap flights.

We're looking forward to see what 2024 brings, and hope we can continue to provide travel hacking tips and share our experiences with you for many years to come.

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