The Importance of Being a Miles & Points Opportunist

the importance of being a miles and points opportunist featured image

I think everyone gets a little tingle of joy when they’re able to get a great deal or access something that’s considered exclusive.

Some of the best opportunities for stellar deals are in the hobby of miles & points. This is one of the few pastimes where it’s possible to attain that little rush of catharsis by booking an exclusive hotel stay or flight – for which few would ever be able to afford the price tag – at the push of a button and at minimal personal expense.

While the stunning deals I want to look at today are all in the past, it’s the type of opportunities that they presented, what they looked like, and the principle of when to act on acquiring them that will equip you to travel more and pay less – in style.

The Importance of Acting Now, Thinking Later in This Hobby

Every so often, travel opportunities come along that are neither simply good, nor great, nor marvelous, but truly once-in-a-lifetime. Oftentimes, these are the result of an error.

Sometimes the error is an IT glitch that prices a potential booking incorrectly. Sometimes the error is only too human, and a bank or airline’s marketing team has created a promotion so good one’s grandmother would be interested in it.

In both cases, the clock is not on your side: sooner or later, the glitch will be patched, or the uproarious enthusiasm for the promotion will cause its issuer to invoke their “offer can be changed or modified at any time” clause.

Therefore, if you see an offer that is amazing and in a similar category to the ones below, it’s usually in your best interest to act on the offer now and form a plan later. Don’t forget – you’re not the only one on the internet. The moment one of these offers goes viral online or hits a frenzied internet forum, its termination becomes a matter of when rather than if.

This of course only applies if you wish to participate in that activity – there’s no point booking a ludicrously cheap cruise fare if you have a deadly fear of water.

“Too Good to Be True” Historical Opportunities

Since I’ve been involved in the world of miles and points, I’ve seen many offers come and go, but a few stand out as far as being “too good to be true” opportunities. Reviewing these opportunities is a good way to learn what makes an offer exceptional and what has historically occurred prior.

An Extremely Premium Credit Card For an Entry-Level Annual Fee

The first scandalously scintillating deal I want to go over was a promotional deal so good that it may have been an IT glitch.

The card in question was the American Express Hilton Honors Aspire card (US). This product is well known to many people in the miles & points space, but for a quick refresher, know that it comes with automatic Hilton Honors Diamond status, an annual Hilton free night certificate, a mean earning rate, a biannual $200 USD resort credit, a quarterly $50 USD airline credit, all at the cost of $550 USD a year.

American Express Hilton Honors Aspire Card (US)

The American Express Hilton Honors Aspire card (US) earns Hilton Honors points and offers cardholders an annual $400 Hilton Resort credit, a $200 airline fee credit, instant Hilton Diamond Elite status, an annual free night, and more.

Check out our American Express Hilton Honors Aspire card (US) review for more details.

BONUS
175,000 Hilton Honors
MINSPEND
$6,000
NET VALUE
$500+
ANNUAL FEE
$550
FOREX FEES
No
EXPIRY
Jul 31, 2024

With signup bonuses historically ranging in the 150,000+ Hilton Honors points range for a few thousand dollars in spending, the Aspire is not a card to be slept upon lightly in any situation.

Well in Fall 2020, Christmas came early. A promotional upgrade link that almost certainly wasn’t meant to be shared publicly offered the entire package for a discounted $95 USD a year. This meant that eligible cardholders of any of the personal Hilton Honors credit cards could upgrade to this offer for a record-low annual fee.

Let that sink in: cardholders who upgraded would receive the highest status in the Hilton Honors program, plus resort credits, airline credits, and an annual free night for $95 USD. You’d have to be crazy not to upgrade as many Hilton cards as possible.

So that is exactly what existing cardholders did. There was so much demand that the offer was yanked mere days into its run. This is a good example of why it’s best to upgrade for products such as this when the opportunity presents itself because there has never been a card in the Hilton Honors family with such a competitive benefits package and fee. 

This $95 USD annual fee actually lasted into 2024, meaning those lucky cardholders profited heavily over that 3 year period.

Of course, as a Canadian you’ll need to be set up to get US cards, so follow our getting started with US credit cards guide so you’re not caught sleeping on the next offer like this.

Cathay Pacific’s Happy First Class New Year

There are few aviation products more valued among travelers than the legendary experience of First Class. This aspirational class of travel is the greatest any person not flying private can aspire to; and among the hallowed halls of this product category are those cabins offered by Asian airlines.

Cathay Pacific, in particular, is famous as much for its comfort and luxury as it is for its prohibitive price tag, with tickets often costing upwards of $15,000 USD.

which frequent flyer programs allow award ticket holds first class seat featured image

Imagine, if you will, how merry some peoples’ holiday seasons got on New Year’s Eve of 2018 when they noticed that flights from JFK in New York to Vietnam normally priced at over $30,000 USD round trip were being priced at only $675 per direction.

This was a deal that couldn’t be overlooked, and so many people, even the normally elitist globetrotters at Flyertalk, decided to get all in on the action. By 2019, the loophole had been closed.

Wondering how the story ended end? Well, Cathay Pacific decided to honor the fares, which possibly cost them in the millions, if not tens of millions of dollars.

The moral of this story is actually two-fold. First of all, the routing was particularly complex and required you to go to and from Vietnam – which whilst a lovely destination does require some logistical planning to enjoy. 

The second thing I’d like to convey is that this mistake cost the airline big. It’s fun to get a win against “the man,” but this mistake seriously cost Cathay Pacific, and that had trickle-down effects. On the one hand, Cathay stopped releasing as much award space at all to not further devalue a premium product that it felt had taken on too many mistake fare hitchhikers.

Related: Booking Cathay Pacific Awards

On the other, airlines have clamped down on these egregiously low fares for their more premium cabins of travel. While booking these tickets will lose you nothing, the probability seems to indicate a likelier chance of them being canceled than being honored, as happened to lots of enthusiastic would-be fliers on All-Nippon Airways out of (once again) Vietnam in Spring 2023.

An All-Inclusive Safari Adventure for Less Than Staying at Your Local Marriott

My favorite movie as a kid was The Lion King, I watched it so many times that I memorized a bunch of the lines. I’m sure I’m not the only child of the early 90s generation to have always dreamt of taking an African safari, and it seems like the ultra-chic JW Marriott Masai Mara in scenic Kenya (of Lion King fame) was made just for us.

The $4,000+ USD per night price tag on this Marriott Bonvoy property was decidedly not made for most of us, even if it does come bundled with an all-inclusive safari experience complete with wildlife sightings and panoramic views of the African savannah.

For a brief window in February 2023, the dream became possible for many when the Masai Mara accidentally released award space for the public to book at a mere 20,000 or so Marriott Bonvoy points per night. This was absolutely ridiculous because under the “Pay for Four, Stay for Five” rule, a 5-night stay valued at almost $20,000 became available for between 80,000 and 100,000 Bonvoy points.

This opportunity was one of the strongest examples of a hotel booking to take advantage of now and figure out later. Because the reservations were for months, if not up to a year in advance, they could have been canceled without penalty. Therefore, it was smart to book the redemption at this low valuation and figure out how to get tickets to Kenya at another time (hint: Qatar Airways had plenty of availability from Montreal to Nairobi via Doha on Q-Suites.)

One Purchase on a Mastercard is Worth $700

This next opportunity may be the shortest-lived on the entire list, with a shelf life of about 48 hours. Of course, the fastest-burning flames are usually the brightest. This offer was probably the single largest welcome bonus ever available on a Canadian credit card with a first-year annual fee waiver.

atb financial world elite mastercard

ATB Financial, Alberta’s provincially-owned crown corporation bank, decided to try its hand at winning more customers by providing a ridiculous offer to Albertan residents who qualified for their World Elite Mastercard. 

Starting June 4, 2024, this credit card was offered with no annual fee in the first year in addition to a tantalizing first-purchase bonus of $200 in points (applied within 60 days) and $500 in statement credit (provided within 90 days). There was no catch to this.

Needless to say, the offer went viral with would-be cardholders applying (despite not meeting Alberta residency requirements) from as far afield as the Atlantic provinces. This caused the entire application process to slow down because ATB always manually approves applications, and this gave them a bevy to go through, many of which weren’t eligible to begin with.
Worse yet, the offer was yanked fully by noon on June 6, 2024.

This provides a useful lesson for amazing credit card offers: apply ASAP because it can and will be yanked in short order if it’s far too lucrative.

Generous West Coast Bank Offers A Great Promotion for Zero Effort

In October 2019, a BC-based credit union decided to attempt to expand its operations by enticing new clients with the highest bank account offer ever seen.

credit union sign on building

The promotion? $500 in cool cash for completing two preauthorized debit payments exceeding $50 and one direct deposit into the account within 90 days of opening a new chequing account.

While the credit union in question is incorporated in BC, they did not originally exclude any Canadian from applying. They also didn’t realize how many people would apply.

What happened next was the stuff of legends: a several hundred-page thread on a popular deals forum, thousands if not tens of thousands of applications, and one of the slowest chequing count approval processes in Canadian history. People from the time complained as well of hours-long waiting lines to speak with representatives on the phone – to the point where it even sometimes affected the credit union’s regular customers. 

Soon, the offer was restricted to British Columbia only and the waiting queue cleared. No chequing account offer has ever been as generous since, but many with similar requirements, albeit for lesser amounts, have been forthcoming.

The lesson to take from this is that bank account deals can be very lucrative. Banks will often offer decent cash bonuses to entice new account holders in the hopes that they will open more products with the same financial institution. 

While traditional banks that charge account fees aggressively push this, so too do the no-fee spinoffs of larger conglomerates such as CIBC’s junior cousin Simplii and Scotiabank’s cadet branch of Tangerine.

Therefore, if you see a sweet chequing or savings account deal with promotional language that you know you can meet (such as setting up basic direct deposits or making Interac e-transfers to receive the bonus), feel free to sign up confident that you’ll be making bank.

How Can I Find Opportunities Like These?

So, how does the casual layperson keep up with all these hot credit card offers or mistake fares? The best way you can do this is by following various Miles & Points blogs, as well as various enthusiast boards like RedFlagDeals.ca or FlyerTalk.com. There are also sites dedicated to tracking mistake fares such as Secret Flying or Mighty Travels.

If that requires a bit too much effort, Frugal Flyer provides a one-stop shop for all these opportunities. Not only do we write about Miles & Points every week of the year, but we also host in-person events across Western Canada where enthusiasts can come together and meet one another. Plus you can hear from the Frugal Flyer team personally on the Miles Ahead podcast if you want even more tips and tricks.

We also create an informative semi-monthly newsletter with all the best tips and tricks on how to use your points, as well as the best promotions on credit cards, which we also often offer with cash rebates. Subscribe today!

Conclusion

At Frugal Flyer, our motto is “travel more, pay less.” If you want to travel as much as possible and pay as little for it as you can, then you need to be on the lookout for the best offers and take advantage of them before they’re gone for good.

Until next time, don’t forget to lock in a great deal as soon as you see it.

Kirin Tsang

Kirin Tsang

Contributor at Frugal Flyer
Kirin is a man of twists and turns, who enjoys learning every detail of a points program or credit card product and then using its own rules to his advantage. An avid student of the miles and points community since 2019, he loves meeting other enthusiasts because he views the hobby as a real way to enhance and better his life as much as a hobby in and of itself.
Kirin Tsang

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