As travel hackers, oftentimes earning points is the easier part of the hobby. Burning points and finding the best or most desirable redemptions can often be exhausting and frankly, everyone has different goals and needs when it comes to using their points. Furthermore, sometimes an individual may prefer cash in their bank account to rewards points if they don’t intend to travel in the near future.
If you follow any of the popular Canadian deals forums, you may have noticed that many people talk about the refundable hotel trick in relation to liquidating your credit card points into cash.
Let’s dive into everything there is to know about the refundable hotel trick.
What is the Refundable Hotel Trick?
As you start to accrue credit card welcome bonuses, you may find yourself sitting on a few piles of bank reward points. While these can be useful, they may sometimes be difficult to redeem especially if you would rather book directly with a hotel or if you hold an elite status such as Marriott Platinum Elite. Many programs require you to book with their in-house travel agency which sometimes simply won’t work for your needs.
For many bank reward programs, the solution is simple: use the refundable hotel trick. This trick involves booking a refundable hotel, redeeming your points towards the booking to generate a statement credit, and then canceling the refundable hotel reservation. This results in you receiving the full amount of the booking back, in addition to a statement credit for the points you redeemed.
The refundable hotel trick has two main uses: cashing out travel credits and cashing out points. We will cover both below and speak to what rewards programs allow you to utilize the refundable hotel trick.
Let’s look at how the refundable hotel trick works.
How to Perform the Refundable Hotel Trick
To start, pick the hotel booking site of your choosing. I tend to gravitate towards using Expedia, but not for any reason. Hotels.com or even a booking with a hotel directly can also work as long as it is fully refundable. In the case of Expedia, it works as follows.
Once you are on the Expedia homepage, search for a hotel in a random destination with the dates set as a month or two in the future. Once you are on the available hotel results page, scroll down and click the “Fully Refundable” option on the left-hand sidebar. This is important since we do not mistakenly want to book a hotel reservation that is not refundable and this button will only show hotel reservations that are refundable.
From there, simply choose a hotel that relatively aligns with the value of the points you are looking to cash out (e.g. a $600 hotel booking when cashing out $500). Before you finish making the booking, I recommend double checking the cancellation policy to ensure that the hotel stay has free cancellation and is fully refundable. Then, complete the reservation by charging the stay to the credit card you are wanting to cash out points.
From there, go into your chosen bank loyalty program and follow the process to redeem your points against the hotel booking. Note that some programs, such as TD Rewards, vary in the way that you perform the refundable hotel trick. For these details, check out those sections later in this article.
Once you have redeemed your points towards the hotel booking, simply cancel the refundable hotel reservation. The payment for the hotel reservation will be refunded to your card within a few business days, and you will be left with a credit amount on your credit card account. Thus, you have just turned reward points into cash with a roundabout method.
Is Using the Refundable Hotel Trick Always the Best Value?
No, this trick is not always the best option when it comes to cashing out your points. It is simply an option to be aware of when it comes to the various bank rewards programs we have in Canada.
We recommend looking into all of the options for redeeming your points to ensure you are getting the most value out of your points. A great place to start would be to review our loyalty program guides for the program you are looking to liquidate points from. Those pages cover all possible redemption options and the cents per point for each redemption option.
Refundable Hotel Trick: Cashing Out Travel Credits
There are two credit cards in Canada that offer travel credits that can be cashed out via the refundable hotel trick: the American Express Platinum card and the HSBC World Elite card.
American Express Platinum & Gold Card
The American Express Platinum card offers cardholders a $200 travel credit per card member year.
The American Express Platinum card earns Membership Rewards and offers cardholders a variety of benefits including an annual $200 travel credit, complimentary airport lounge access, an annual $200 dining credit, and instant elite status with many hotel loyalty programs.
100,000 Membership Rewards
This $200 travel credit can be applied to any booking made on the Amex Travel portal. To apply the credit towards a new booking, simply select “Apply Annual Travel Credit” on the booking payment page and complete the hotel reservation booking.
On the other hand, the American Express Gold card offers a $100 travel credit per card member year. The process for cashing out the travel credit is the same as the Platinum card.
The American Express Gold card earns Membership Rewards points and offers cardholders a variety of benefits including an annual $100 travel credit, $50 NEXUS credit, and four complimentary Plaza Premium airport lounge passes per year.
60,000 Membership Rewards
If you are looking to cash this credit out via the refundable hotel trick, simply book a hotel on Amex Travel that is refundable/able to be canceled in advance of the stay. Once the travel statement credit is listed on your account statement, you are free to cancel the booking to receive the full amount of your initial payment back.
Not to mention, these travel credits can be considered an effective way to ultimately lower your annual fee on both of these cards. Something to consider if you are planning on applying for either one of them in the future.
HSBC World Elite Card
The HSBC World Elite Mastercard offers cardholders a $100 travel enhancement credit per cardmember year.
The HSBC World Elite Mastercard earns HSBC Rewards points and offers cardholders benefits including an annual $100 travel enhancement credit* and free Boingo Wifi membership.
For 2023, we selected this card as the Best Foreign Transaction Credit Card.
Check out our HSBC World Elite Mastercard review for more details.
This card has been discontinued and is unable to be applied for (11/2023).
20,000 HSBC Rewards
If you are looking to cash out this credit via the refundable hotel trick, simply book a refundable hotel on the booking platform of your choice and charge it to your HSBC World Elite credit card. From there, log into your HSBC credit card account, select the card that the booking was charged to, and click “Rewards Points”.
This will take you to the HSBC Rewards points hub. From there, click “Redeem Now” on the heading bar and then click “Travel Enhancement Credit” in the dropdown. You will then be presented with a list of eligible expenses that have been charged to your card; your hotel booking should show up here. Simply select it and complete the process of using your credit. From there, cancel the hotel booking to receive the full amount of the hotel reservation refunded back to your card.
While using the refundable hotel trick is always a possibility for this card, many travel expenses including the full cost of flights and more, are valid expenses when it comes to redeeming this travel credit. This is one of the more flexible statement credits in the Canadian credit card market, so I doubt you will have a hard time utilizing it normally.
The HSBC World Elite Mastercard is actually a very well-rounded credit card (see our review).
Refundable Hotel Trick: Cashing Out Points
There are quite a few bank rewards programs that you are able to cash out using the refundable hotel trick, including TD Rewards, Scene+ Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, and CIBC Aventura.
The TD Rewards program has an unconventional way to take advantage of the refundable hotel trick. While most refundable hotel trick workflows are pretty straightforward, TD Rewards’ refundable hotel trick involves an additional layer: TD product switching.
Simply put, if you make a hotel booking on Expedia for TD to redeem rewards points and then cancel that booking, the rewards points will be returned to your TD Rewards account. In that sense, this rewards program has a different IT setup compared to some of the more refundable hotel trick loyalty programs that we will cover below.
However, there is a way around this automatic point refund. If you redeem your TD Rewards points for a refundable hotel stay, product switch your TD credit card to one that doesn’t accrue TD Rewards such as an Aeroplan or cash back card and then cancel the hotel booking, you will receive a statement credit in lieu of the automatic points refund (since you no longer have a TD Rewards account that the points can be deposited to).
This is an efficient way to cash out TD Rewards at a rate of 0.5 cents per point (the best rate possible) through Expedia for TD.
The Scene+ Rewards program is one of the most flexible programs when it comes to the refundable hotel trick.
To utilize the refundable hotel trick with Scene+, you will first need to charge a refundable hotel room to your Scotiabank credit card. One you have the hotel stay booked, you will need to log into your Scotiabank credit card account and select the “Apply Points to Travel” redemption option.
Once selected, you will be presented with a list of valid travel transactions that were made within the last 90 days.
Simply click the “Redeem” checkbox on the transaction of your choice and submit the redemption. The statement credit will appear on your account within the next few business days.
With this program, the refundable hotel trick gives you an easy and quick opportunity to cash out Scene+ Rewards points at the best rate possible, 1 cent per point. The process is straightforward, and this is always the go-to method for many people as cash is king when it comes to bank loyalty programs.
If you are interested in collecting Scene+ Rewards points, our go-to card is the Scotiabank Gold American Express card with its outstanding earning rate of 6x Scene+ on grocery purchases at Empire chain stores.
American Express Membership Rewards
American Express Membership Rewards points can also be cashed out through the refundable hotel trick.
The process is the same as cashing out the travel credit for the Platinum & Gold cards mentioned above. Instead of selecting the “Use Travel Credit” button, you want to select “Use Only Points” or “Use Points + Card” on the booking payment page.
This is far from the best use for Membership Rewards points, and we would instead recommend looking into transferring your points into an airline loyalty program, such as Aeroplan. With transferring to the airline partner programs, the value you can expect to get out of your points is much higher than a measly 1 cent per point.
The CIBC Aventura program is one where there is a specific time and place to redeem Aventura rewards through the refundable hotel trick.
Earlier this year, we saw a stellar offer on multiple Aventura credit cards in which you could earn a bonus that could be cashed out for $562 per card. This was a result of a promotion they were offering an elevated redemption rate if you redeemed through “Shopping with Points”.
Through the promotion mentioned above, cardholders were able to cash out Aventura points at a rate of 1.25 cents per point by using the refundable hotel trick. This is above the 1 cent per point value that you can expect when redeeming through other methods. This made the refundable hotel trick the undisputed best option thanks to the promotion, and as a result, the Frugal Flyer team and many others were able to take advantage of it.
Typically, if there is not a promotion running, I would not recommend redeeming your Aventura through this method. If anything, keep this knowledge in your back pocket for when we see another promotion in the future.
As of August 2022, BMO Rewards points can now be redeemed towards travel that you book directly with airlines, hotels, and other travel providers. This means that you no longer need to book directly through BMO’s travel agency, and as a result, can now cash out BMO Rewards points using the refundable hotel trick.
With the refundable hotel trick, you are able to cash out BMO Rewards points at the optimal 0.67 cents per point rate.
In order to redeem BMO Rewards towards your travel transactions, simply charge the transaction to your BMO Rewards earning credit card.
Then, within the next 30 days, log into the BMO Rewards site and click the “Pay with Points” option. Select the eligible travel transaction and choose the number of points that you want to apply toward your transaction.
Once redeemed, the redemption will appear on your credit card statement as a statement credit within 3-5 business days.
Is the Refundable Hotel Trick the Only Way to Cash Out Points?
While the refundable hotel trick is the most publicized and common method to liquidate points, it is not the only option.
In a previous article, Reed covered how to cash out points using refundable rental cars, activities, and flights. It is definitely worth referencing if you want to understand how to utilize a few other options when it comes to liquidating your points. You may also note that while the refundable hotel trick may not work for certain rewards programs, other refundable tricks may work instead.
Will my Financial Institution Issue a Cheque for the Credit Balance?
Possibly. This depends solely on the processes for the individual financial institution in which you have a statement credit.
Your best option would be to start putting your normal daily expenses through the card which has the statement credit; this avoids needing to contact the bank and get a cheque cut.
Alternatively, if you are in the know about manufactured spending techniques, you can spend away the credit balance that way 😉
Like many processes in the travel hacking and credit card rewards space, the refundable hotel trick is simply another tool in our belts when it comes to getting the most value out of our points. Whether you are taking advantage as a method to save money or simply cash in for the best value possible, understanding when and how it can be used to cash out travel credits and points is part and parcel of having a plan in squeezing out as much value as possible from our credit cards.
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