How to Travel More and Pay Less: When You're Lazy

Do you meet most of the prerequisites in my previous post to sign up for travel rewards credit cards?

Are you intimidated by the sheer choice of travel rewards credit cards out there and don't know which ones to start with?

Are you kind of lazy and don't want to track payments on more than 2 credit cards, but still want the travel rewards?

Then this post is for you!

I've recommended credit cards to countless friends and coworkers to assist with travel budgeting, but the complaint I get every time is that they don't want to juggle too many cards. While it's true that the amount of travel rewards you can get increases with the number of cards you have, not everyone has the patience or organization to track a bunch of credit card payments.

Luckily, it's still perfectly possible to save money on your next trip even if you only want to dip your toes into this world. If you're to start with up to two (just two) credit cards, keep reading to see my suggestions on which ones to get, and what kinds of rewards you can get with them.

Last Updated: May 10, 2020

Disclaimer: Some of the links below are referral links, which means I earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. This post is not sponsored by any of the companies mentioned. All opinions are my own.

For a really exotic vacation: Marriott Bonvoy Amex + MBNA Alaska


Application Links: Marriott Bonvoy American Express Credit CardMBNA Alaska Air World Elite MasterCard
Minimum Welcome Bonus: 48,667* Alaska miles
Total Minimum Spend: $2,500 in the first 3 months = $1,500 for Marriott Amex + $1,000 for MBNA Alaska
First Year Annual Fees: $149 total = $100 Annual Fee for Marriott Amex (after $20 GCR) + $39 Annual Fee for MBNA Alaska (after $50 GCR Cash Back)
Find Your Flight:

HOW FAR CAN YOU GO? Alaska Air Mileage Plan is probably my favourite airline program of all time, due to its higher availability of rewards flights compared to Aeroplan. If you're interested in reading more, I highly recommend this post by Prince of Travel detailing the best Alaska redemptions. In the meantime, my suggestions after signing up for the two cards above are:

OPTION 1: 40,000 Alaska miles + $200 CAD. Fly economy one-way from Australia or New Zealand to Los Angeles or San Francisco, with a free stopover in Nadi, Fiji on Fiji Airways. This is a great way to subsidize your flights back from Oceania, as well as check out a beautiful country you otherwise wouldn't visit!

Example routes:
  1. Auckland (AKL) - Nadi (NAN) - Los Angeles (LAX)/San Francisco (SFO)
  2. Sydney (SYD) - Nadi (NAN) - Los Angeles (LAX)
  3. Melbourne (MEL) - Nadi (NAN) - Los Angeles (LAX)
OPTION 2: 50,000 Alaska miles + $400 CAD. Fly business class one-way from Southeast/East Asia (think Bangkok, Phuket) to Toronto or Calgary, with a free stopover in Beijing on Hainan Airlines. This is the lowest amount of miles I've ever seen for a business class flight to/from Asia, not to mention A LOT more availability compared to the more popular Aeroplan program (75,000 miles required one-way in business class). Credit to PointsNerd for summarizing the best Hainan rewards.

Example routes:
  1. Phuket (HKT) - Beijing (PEK) - Toronto (YYZ)
  2. Bangkok (BKK) - Beijing (PEK) - Toronto (YYZ)
OPTION 3: 65,000 Alaska miles + $300 CAD. If you can allocate an extra $4,000 of spend on the SPG Amex, you'll have over 66,000 Alaska miles, which means you can do this route: fly business class one-way from Vancouver to Southeast/East Asia, with a free stopover in Tokyo on Japan Airlines. Like Hainan Airlines, this is fantastic value for business class to/from Asia, the only downside being that JAL only flies from Vancouver in Canada. By all accounts, JAL is a fantastic airline and there are multiple awesome trips you can structure.

Example routes:
  1. Vancouver (YVR) - Tokyo (HND) - Bangkok (BKK)
  2. Vancouver (YVR) - Tokyo (HND) - Hong Kong (HKG)
  3. Vancouver (YVR) - Tokyo (HND) - Singapore (SIN)

For Business Class to Asia: One of the American Express Platinum Cards


Application Links: Get referred by a friend (Personal or Business)
Minimum Welcome Bonus: 75,000 points via referral for Personal, 83,750 points via referral for Business
Total Minimum Spend: $5,000 for Personal, $7,000 for Business, both in the first 3 months
First Year Annual Fees: $699 for Personal, $499 for Business
Find Your Flight:

HOW FAR CAN YOU GO? EVA Air J class (business class) is legendary among those who churn. We all collect Aeroplan miles in hopes of experiencing their famous Toronto to Taipei flight for their mouthwatering meals and luxurious amenities.

OPTION 1: 75,000 Aeroplan miles + $54. Fly business class one-way from Toronto to Taipei with EVA Air, whose long-haul business class product is consistently rated as one of the best in the world.

OPTION 2: 77,500 Aeroplan miles + $53. Fly business class one-way from Bangkok to Taipei to San Francisco. Like Alaska Air, Aeroplan allows a free stopover as long as it's a valid route already flown by EVA Air.

To be clear, the American Express Platinum Card is for Small Business Owners. Here's another great post by Prince of Travel of how you would qualify for this card. While the annual fee and minimum spend seem extremely high, you can't really complain about paying $550 for a one-way business class flight that is worth upwards of $2,500+!

For free hotels in expensive cities: Marriott Bonvoy Amex + Amex Cobalt


Application Links: Marriott Bonvoy American Express Credit Card / American Express Cobalt Card
Minimum Welcome Bonus: 96,200** Marriott points (likely more**)
Total Minimum Spend: $1,500 in the first 3 months for Marriott Amex + $6,000 in the first 12 months for Amex Cobalt
First Year Annual Fees: $180 total = $100 Annual Fee for Marriott Amex (after $20 GCR) + $20 Annual Fee for Amex Cobalt (after $100 GCR Cash Back)
Find Your Hotel:

HOW FREE CAN YOU GO? You could argue that the hotels you redeem with these cards is not technically free since you have to pay annual fees for both cards. However, the value of the hotels that you get far exceeds the annual fees you pay. Personally, I am a fan of staying at nicer hotels, so this is typically my favourite redemption.

A bonus is that if you redeem points for 4 nights, you automatically get the 5th night free. Yet ANOTHER bonus is that if you decide to renew the Marriott Bonvoy Amex, you will automatically receive a Free Night Certificate from Marriott that you can redeem on a hotel worth up to 35,000 points/night.

OPTION 1: 70,000 Marriott points for 5 nights at a Category 3 hotel. Category 3 hotels are 17,500 points per night. You can find a lot of amazing hotels in Asia at this price, as well as 3-star and 4-star U.S./European hotels here and there, which can really help the trip budget when the foreign currency exchange rate even make AirBnBs a little pricey.

Example hotels:
  • Courtyard Orlando Downtown (4-star hotel in Orlando, FL)
  • Courtyard Munich City East (4-star hotel in Munich, Germany)
  • Aloft Seoul Gangnam (4-star hotel in Seoul, South Korea)
OPTION 2: 75,000 Marriott points for 3 nights / 100,000 Marriott points for 5 nights at a Category 4 hotel. Category 4 hotels are 25,000 points per night. There are so many hotels in expensive U.S. cities that can make this redemption super worth it.

Example hotels:
  • JW Marriott Hotel Hanoi (5-star hotel in Hanoi, Vietnam)
  • Aloft London Excel (4-star hotel in London, UK)
  • AC Hotel Paris Porte Maillot (4-star hotel in Paris, France)
  • Milan Marriott Hotel (4-star hotel in Milan, Italy)
OPTION 3: 70,000 Marriott points for 2 nights / 105,000 Marriott points for 3 nights at a Category 5 hotel. Category 5 hotels are 35,000 points per night. I would stick to the 25,000 per night hotels if possible and hoard all the points, but there are some tempting redemptions here in expensive cities.

Example hotels:
  • Residence Inn London Kensington (3-star hotel in London, UK)
  • Le Meridien Etoile (4-star hotel in Paris, France)
  • Courtyard New York Manhattan/Times Square West (3-star hotel in New York, NY)
That doesn't sound too bad right? The only downfall of this particular option is that the fee and welcome bonus for the Cobalt card is spread out over 12 months, so you will likely need to plan in advance.

Short-haul to NYC on a long weekend: Amex Cobalt, Amex Gold or RBC Avion


Application Links: American Express Cobalt Card / American Express Gold Rewards Card / RBC Visa Infinite Avion

Minimum Welcome Bonus: 
  • 36,000 MR-Select (Cobalt), at least 60,000 MR-Select if you stick to food/beverage category
  • 26,500 Membership Rewards points (Gold)
  • 20,000 RBC Rewards points (Avion)
Total Minimum Spend: 
  • $6,000 in the first 12 months for Amex Cobalt
  • $1,500 in the first 3 months for Amex Gold
  • $1,000 in the first 3 months for RBC Avion
First Year Annual Fees: 
  • $70 Annual Fee for Amex Cobalt (after $50 GCR Cash Back)
  • First year free for Amex Gold (after $50 GCR Cash Back OR first year free with Perkopolis (if you are a member)
  • First year free for RBC Avion
Find Your Hotel:

HOW FAR CAN YOU GO? Toronto/Montreal to New York City, along with Calgary-Vancouver, Toronto-Montreal, and Toronto-Ottawa, is called out specifically on American Express Fixed Points Travel as costing 15,000 Membership Rewards points. You can get an event better deal with RBC Rewards Fixed Points Travel, as the maximum ticket price goes up to $350.

This is a very specific redemption that tends to be the most valuable on popular long weekends, when these short 1.5h flights soar to $500+. Instead of paying astronomical flight prices, you can essentially pay 15,000 points + $130-160 in taxes. If you really want to save money, use Marriott points on the hotels to stay in Manhattan for not very much at all.

Hope the recommendations above were helpful and a gentle introduction to the world of credit card travel rewards! There are way more combinations and credit cards you can choose from, but I felt that these were the best ones to start with. Let me know if I should add to this list!

*Welcome bonus breakdown is as follows:
          SPG Amex: 50,000 points welcome bonus + $1,500 * 2 points from minimum spend = 53,000 Marriott points = 17,667 Alaska miles.
          MBNA Alaska: 30,000 miles welcome bonus + $1,000 * 1 miles from minimum spend = 31,000 Alaska miles.
          Total = 17,667 + 31,000 = 48,667 Alaska miles.

**Welcome bonus breakdown is as follows:
       SPG Amex: 50,000 points welcome bonus + $1,500 * 2 points from minimum spend = 53,000 Marriott points.
        Amex Cobalt: (2,500 points * 12 months + $500 * 12 months * 1 point) * 1.2 = 43,200 Marriott points. This is the BARE minimum you can earn, aka doesn't take into account food/beverage/travel spend.
       Total = 53,000 + 43,200 = 96,200 Marriott points.


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