Turning Credit Card Points and Frequent Flyer Miles into Cash: The Good, the Bad, and the Black Market

by | Published Nov 29, 2021 | Edited Nov 24, 2022


Churning isn’t just about earning free travel. It’s a mindset toward finding loopholes and opportunities within financial systems. We’ve witnessed unprecedented times with the COVID-19 pandemic, such as travel being nullified for 2020 and much of 2021. So what can we do with all our hard-earned points, sitting around collecting dust, and losing value as airlines like WestJet and Air Canada continue to devalue their own programs in a desperate attempt to cull lost revenue?

Traditionally redeeming points from programs like Aeroplan or Avion for merchandise, gift cards, or other tangible products is a rather poor value when compared with travel redemptions. But in fact, there exist several methods to pull your points out of your accounts at much higher values, sometimes even at the full travel redemption rate.

These methods range from slightly gray areas (refundable credit tricks) to literal black markets (for selling miles). I believe they are all worth discussing nonetheless. Let’s get to it.

Converting Points to Cash through Loopholes

Refundable Hotel Trick

The number one loophole to convert your points into cash is something that’s well-known within the miles and points community: the refundable hotel trick.

So what is the refundable hotel trick? Exactly what it sounds like: you book a hotel reservation that has a generous refund policy (such as free cancellation any time before the stay). After the initial purchase is used to redeem points or credits towards the booking, you cancel and refund the hotel reservation. The hotel stay never actually occurs with this trick.

This relies on the financial institution or points program being unable to automatically claw back or recognize the refund (and this is the case with a lot of the programs, as you’ll soon see).

Importantly, for this to work you need to look for hotel reservations that satisfy the following criteria:

  • Prepaid and charged at the time of booking
  • Fully refundable at any time before check-in (or up to 24 hours before is common)

Other Refundable Tricks: Rental Cars, Activities, Plane Tickets

Refundable Rental Car Trick 

Refundable tricks are most popular with hotels because it’s coded as a travel purchase and hotel rooms are easy to cancel compared to airline tickets. However, this trick can work the same way with other travel-related purchases such as rental car bookings.

Rental car lineup including Hertz, Avis, Budget, Enterprise

With the rental car trick, you may need to book via a travel agent or portal (eg. BMO Travel, TD4Expedia), and then cancel directly with the rental car company. As with hotel reservations, you have to be careful with the terms and conditions to ensure that there aren’t any cancellation fees. Most companies have prepaid options available, but the refund/cancellation terms can be different in this case. 

Below we’ve included a table outlining the cancellation policies of each rental car company.

Canadian Rental Car Company Prepay and Refund Policies
Rental Car CompanyPrepay AvailableRefund PolicyGood For Refundable Trick
AlamoIf a Pay Now reservation is canceled more than 24 hours before the pick-up time, a $50 cancellation fee will be assessed. 
AvisIf your reservation is canceled 48 hours in advance, no cancellation fee will be assessed. 
BudgetIf you cancel your reservation at least 24 hours before the scheduled pickup time, a fee of up to $50 will be charged.
DollarIf you made a pre-paid reservation and cancel no later than midnight 2 days before the date of your scheduled pick-up we will refund your reservation in full.
EnterpriseIf you cancel your booking more than 24 hours before your specified pick-up time, you will receive a full refund minus a cancellation fee of CAD $65.
HertzIf a prepaid reservation is canceled more than 24 hours before the pickup time, a $100 cancellation fee will be assessed. 
NationalNational charges $50 if you prepay and cancel more than 24 hours before the scheduled pickup time. 

Based on our data points and research, the refundable car rental trick works best with Avis (confirmed with data points) and Dollar (based on policy research). 

Refundable Activities

Aside from hotel and rental cars, some travel portals have bookable activities. For example ‘Expedia 4 TD’ has activities bookable under the heading ‘Things to do’.

TD4Expedia activities and 'things to do'

These activities present one additional avenue for redeeming points and refunding the booking for credit. However, the usefulness is not yet determined. We do have some scattered data points that this method may work with TD Rewards, but only with certain activities. On the other hand, CIBC Aventura has worked, but only with activities that actually aren’t available through the online travel portal.

As always, pay close attention to the terms to make sure the booking is fully refundable.

Refundable Ticketing 

Airline tickets are less ideal for refundable tricks as their refund policies are generally less straightforward. However, we can reveal that there are at least two banks where you can redeem your points at the travel redemption rate by using some crafty ticketing tricks, where you otherwise couldn’t get the travel rate. Unfortunately, we’re going to be a tease and leave this only as a hint, due to the sensitive nature of the method.

Redeeming Miles/Points for Gift Cards

If refundable tricks don’t work (or maybe you’re just lazy, which happens to the best of us churners from time to time), then it’s time to consider redeeming points for gift cards. Usually, the value for this is quite terrible, but there can be promotions that offer as much as 1 cent per point.

Sometimes you can also redeem points for gift cards that offer additional conversion avenues. Example: You could buy Save-on-foods gift cards and then use those at Save-on-foods to buy Visa/MasterCard one-time prepaid cards, or even reload your PayPower prepaid card. 

Which Methods Work With Whom?

Rewards ProgramMaximum Cents Per Point (CPP)Refundable HotelRefundable Rental CarRefundable ActivitiesRefundable Ticketing
Amex MR1.00Yes
BMO Rewards0.67YesYes
CIBC Aventura1.00NoNoYMMVYMMV
HSBC Points0.50Yes
MBNA Rewards1.00?Yes
RBC Avion2.33YMMV
Scene+ Rewards1.00Yes
TD Rewards0.50*NoNoYMMVYMMV
YMMV = “Your Mileage May Vary”

Convert Amex Membership Rewards to Cash

Best method: statement credit via refundable hotel at $0.01 CAD per Membership Reward, or sell on the black market for $0.01 USD per Membership Reward point.

Amex Membership Rewards can be turned into statement credit easily when you hold the Business Platinum Card. This method will give you a statement credit of $0.01 CAD per Membership Reward point. With any other MR cards, you will want to use the refundable hotel reservation trick described above. 

Another approach is to convert the Membership Rewards to another program and redeem it via that program. For example, if you convert Membership Rewards to Aeroplan at 1:1, you could then sell those Aeroplan points to a miles agency (see below) for $0.01 USD / MR. Alternatively, you could sell them directly and book travel through Aeroplan or Avios for family and friends at a discount. This is mutually beneficial as you will get a higher redemption value and they get a discount on their flights!

Convert BMO Rewards to Cash

Best method: Refundable hotel trick at 0.67 cents per point.

As of August 2022, the refundable hotel trick now works properly with BMO Rewards since you can redeem points against travel that you have booked directly with a hotel.

Convert CIBC Aventura Points to Cash

Best method: Save-on-foods gift cards at 1 cent per point (sometimes higher during promos).

Unfortunately, refundable tricks don’t play very nicely with Aventura. We have heard some DPs of people being able to book standalone activities through the travel agency call center, but these are scattered and YMMV.

On the other hand, refundable tricks have been known to work with liquidating travel credit. You would go about this by booking a venue not listed on the portal, and then requesting it be manually credited (then you can try canceling with the venue directly). This is known to work with Marriott bookings, for example.

Related: CIBC Aventura – How I Made $2250 in 15 Minutes

However, my go-to for liquidating Aventura points is Save-on-Foods gift cards. These are consistently redeemable for $0.01 CAD per point and are very flexible since you can use Save-on gift cards to purchase any other gift cards at Save-on-Foods (and they have nearly everything you can think of). We have a datapoint where you can even reload your PayPower card using gift cards! 

CIBC Aventura can be redeemed for Save-on-Foods gift cards

From time to time, there are special promotions that give you even higher discounts on gift card redemptions. For example, recently Aventura had a Chevron gift card promo where you could get more than $0.01 CAD per point. You can bet we hit that up for the free gas!

Stack of $100 Chevron gift cards for gas

One last option: there are sometimes good deals on electronics on Black Friday / Boxing Day. You could buy electronics and then sell them on Kijiji or FB marketplace. 

Convert HSBC and Scene+ Rewards to Cash

Best method: Refundable hotel trick works for both programs at $0.005 CAD and $0.01 CAD per point, respectively.

Both HSBC and Scene+ Rewards (formerly Scotiabank Rewards) have very flexible award programs. Thus for these reward programs, you can use the refundable hotel trick. Simply book a refundable hotel reservation on Expedia, apply the HSBC or Scene+ points to your purchase, and cancel the reservation with Expedia once the statement credit has been posted to your account. You get cash with this method right away!

Convert MBNA Rewards to Cash

Best method: Refundable rental car trick at $0.01 CAD per point.

The refundable rental car trick is reported to work with MBNA Rewards. Go to the MBNA Travel Rewards portal and book a rental car, which will say “Pay at counter”. Closer to the rental car pickup time (72 hours) you will get a statement credit from MBNA for the amount redeemed. Once you see the statement credit you can cancel the rental car, either by calling or looking up the reference number on the rental car company’s website.

If anyone has had success (or failure) with the refundable hotel trick with MBNA, let us know in the comments!

Convert RBC Avion Points to Cash

Best method: $0.02 CAD per point with Fixed Award chart refund tricks, or ~$0.01 CAD per point with gift cards (either promotions or Amazon gift cards redeemed using R+ card). 

As we hinted at, there is a way to extract Avion points at travel rates. I’ll leave this here as a subtle hint:

RBC Air Travel Redemption Schedule

Aside from that, the RBC Rewards program has a massive collection of gift cards, and every month they rotate promotions that give very close to $0.01 CAD per point. Additionally, if you have an R+ card, transfer your points to that and you can redeem for Amazon gift cards at $0.01 CAD per point. Not bad!

Pages and pages of amazon gift cards
I solemnly swear that these some 4,000 ‘Bezos bucks’ were earned through legitimate means 😉

Convert TD Rewards Points to Cash

Best method: $0.004 CAD per point using refundable hotel trick with TD’s ‘Travel Anyway’

TD is a tad bit trickier. With TD, you can use TD Rewards points to book hotels on your own (‘Travel Anyway’) at 250pts = $1.00. This works out to $0.004 CAD per point You lose value vs using them at Expedia directly through TD (200pts = $1.00, or $0.005 CAD per point) but it’s much more flexible. We have heard of a data point that you can book and refund a low-cost airline ticket via TD4Expedia and the points will stick, but YMMV.

Frugal Flyer’s TD Rewards guide covers everything you need to know about getting the most out of your TD Rewards points.

Convert Air Miles to Cash

Best method: $0.105 CAD per mile using Cash miles, or $0.10 CAD per mile using Onyx personal shopper with Dream miles. With Air Miles Cash, you essentially already have cash! You can redeem your cash miles for $0.105 CAD on groceries, gas, or booze purchases directly at Sobeys and Safeway (and in the past, Rona, which I miss very much).

On the other hand, if you’re lucky enough to have Air Miles Onyx status, you can also redeem Air Miles Dream miles for virtually anything purchasable online at a rate of $0.10 CAD per mile.

We just wrote an article on stacking Air Miles by taking advantage of the BMO Air Miles Mastercards if you’d like to know how to acquire these points quickly.

Selling Points on the Black Market

One final and slightly sketchier option for offloading your excess points is to sell them. This is possible only for select programs and does carry some risks. So proceed with caution.

At Frugal Flyer, we primarily have experience selling Air Canada Aeroplan points. We will take you through the general process:

  1. You negotiate a price with the dealer
  2. You provide the dealer with your Aeroplan account login credentials
  3. The dealer provides you with a contract to sign
  4. The dealer pays you the agreed-upon purchase price in USD via PayPal
  5. The dealer uses the points (which takes a few weeks to a month)

For selling Membership Rewards, you used to be able to transfer the MR directly to the points account of the dealer. However American Express has cracked down on this in recent times, and there are data points of these types of transfers being blocked when the recipient has a different name from the sender. Thus it’s best to transfer the MR you wish to sell to your own Aeroplan account first and then follow the above process.

We have a brief table below outlining a few of the dealers available and quotes received.

Aeroplan Miles Selling Quotes for 2021

DealerQuoteQuantity
THEMILESMARKET.COM2,000 USD200,000 Aeroplan Points
THEMILESBROKER.COM900 USD100,000 Aeroplan Points
BUYINGMILES.CA900 USD100,000 Aeroplan Points
MILESBUYER.COM1,500 USD150,000 Aeroplan Points
SELLMYMILES.COM1,700 USD200,000 Aeroplan Points

It’s important to note that there are counterparty risks at play here. I recommend reading all of the contract terms before you move forward with your first sale. The dealers themselves are a business that relies upon their reputation, and this should hold them accountable.

However, you are still ultimately at risk because PayPal will always side with the customer (which is what they are in the PayPal transaction) should a dispute ever arise. Furthermore, if Aeroplan ever investigates and shuts down the account due to suspicious activity, the dealer specifies in the contract that they won’t cover the cost of the lost points.

Nonetheless, members of our team tend to sell points quite often and it has always been a smooth and painless process. MilesBuyer is our most frequently used dealer and the one we personally recommend. Their rates are always competitive for Aeroplan. 

Conclusion

Converting your hard-earned miles and points to cash can seem counterintuitive, especially when you do so at a valuation below the travel rate. However as your points game becomes more advanced, you may find yourself sitting on more points than you can possibly use. This is when it becomes a valuable strategy.

Always remember the time value of money. Having points sitting around doing nothing is like having cash sitting in a checking account earning no interest. In fact, it’s worse because the inflation rate caused by the devaluation of points programs is higher than the fiat currency inflation rate!

We’ve compiled a summary table below of the best rates and methods discussed in the article for liquidating points. If you’re still undecided which of your points to get rid of, one thing to consider is the approximate cents per mile value for travel.

For example, Aeroplan miles give you more than double the travel value of what you can sell them for, whereas Scotia gives you exactly the same. Therefore it makes no sense to hold on to Scotia points for any significant period of time.

Summary Table: Best Methods to Convert Canadian Miles and Points to Cash

ProgramCPP Value for TravelBest Cash Redemption CPP RateBest Cash Redemption Method
Amex MR2.21 (USD)Sell on the black market
BMO Rewards0.670.67Refundable rental car trick
CIBC Aventura1.21Gift cards
HSBC Points0.70.5Refundable hotel trick
RBC Avion1.92.33 / 1Refundable ticketing trick or gift cards
Scotia Rewards11Refundable hotel trick
TD Rewards0.50.4Refundable hotel trick
Matt Astro

Matt Astro

Contributor at Frugal Flyer
Matt is a technophile and math nerd who discovered travel hacking in 2015. His favorite points-powered trip to date was visiting Estonia. Matt takes no shame in being far too frugal. In fact, he would probably go as far as calling himself cheap =P Seriously, if there is a way to get something for free, Matt will find it and take advantage of it (and then maybe write about it here).

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9 comments on “Turning Credit Card Points and Frequent Flyer Miles into Cash: The Good, the Bad, and the Black Market

  1. Also since BMO Travel portal is no longer a thing the best way to cash out BMO Rewards is the standard book your way refundable hotel like with HSBC and Scene+

    Reply
  2. CIBC is still only 1cpp max with refundable ticketing?

    Also I can confirm MBNA Refundable Rental Car trick works very well. You don’t even have to wait for the credit to post but it doesn’t hurt to wait.

    Reply
    • Yes thanks for pointing out the gap. Rental car trick works with MBNA. We’ve added some instructions to the article.

      Reply