Easy ways to rack up more travel rewards

Saving up for that dream vacation could take years. Here are tips to speed up the process

Whether you have an epic dream vacation in mind or just want to see more of the world without breaking the bank, travel rewards can be an excellent way to turn your spending into a windfall of freebies.

In theory, at least. For most Canadians, collecting enough points to fulfill that daydream may take a while. While rewards cards can make you feel like you’re getting an extra something for your everyday spending, to really rack up a points balance you need a more… pointed approach.

Here are a few useful ways you can collect travel rewards faster and redeem earlier:

Automate your bills

Fund your next vacation by paying your hydro bill! Wait…what? The easiest thing you can do to build up your points collection is to funnel the bills you’d be paying anyway through your travel rewards card. For example, If you get two points per dollar spent, your monthly $400 in bills will leave you with 800 points. That adds up to 9,600 points a year just for keeping the household running

Shop online

Shopping online offers more than just convenience for customers. Many retailers shower you with points galore from their affiliate loyalty programs upon checkout with promo codes.

And when you make your purchase with your travel rewards card, that’s called double-dipping and is probably the only situation in which that term is encouraged.

It’s possible to get even more bang for your buck by shopping via an online portal. Some travel loyalty programs offer big point bonuses if you click through from their websites or e-stores to certain brands and retailers’ online shops. Taking that extra step can earn you rewards on not-so-obvious purchases like books, skin products and luggage that you’d otherwise be missing out on.

Use partner airlines

When trying to lock down major rewards during a business trip or vacation, it pays to do your airline research. Carriers affiliated with loyalty programs often have partner airlines that also allow you to collect points for flying with them. So, instead of racking up points or miles with just one airline, your options for a rewards-earning flight could be on up to 30 carriers.

Gift card gold mine

Many loyalty and credit card rewards programs offer extra bonus points from certain grocery stores, says Patrick Sojka of RewardsCanada.ca. If you know you need to buy something from a specific store anyway, purchase a gift card for that retailer with your travel rewards credit card to receive those extra bonus points. Pay off the credit card balance and use the gift card to buy whatever you need. It’s like tapping a gold mine of points that you would have missed otherwise.

The big-purchase strategy

What if your car purchase could help you get a free vacation? This rewards-collecting strategy might help you do just that. Sign up for a travel rewards credit card and put part of your large purchase on the card, meet the minimum spend requirement and collect the sign-up bonus. But wait, there’s more! Some credit card providers offer referral bonuses, so if you’re purchasing the card with a spouse, get them to sign-up too. Then, have them pay their share of the purchase on the card and also hit the minimum spend requirement, meaning even more bonus points. It should go without saying: pay off the entire amount you put on these cards in full, immediately, otherwise you’ll be swimming — nay, drowning — in more interest payments than points.

What can you use your travel points for?

Maybe your points won’t whisk you away to Hawaii, but there are many other ways you can use them to enhance your next vacation:

Plenty of travel rewards programs will let you book hotels and car rentals with points. You may also be able to negotiate a seat upgrade too, but most rewards programs only offer that capability if you’re already paying for a higher fare class than economy. So, you may be able to go from economy to business class, just don’t expect to jump up to first class. You may also be able to use your points for perks such as complimentary access to airport lounges, no foreign exchange markup, or for travel insurance benefits.

Of course, you don’t have to use your rewards for travel purposes at all, but just know that most travel points are worth much less when redeemed for merchandise versus flights or hotels.

“Any redemption provides you value,” says Sojka. “If you’re someone who doesn’t earn a lot of [points]…it’s better to use them for a toaster than use them for nothing.”