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Maximizing your credit card rewards with Barry Choi

Barry describes how Canadian freelancers can reflect on their purchase history and choose a credit card that will help them maximize every dollar.

Barry Choi is a personal finance and travel expert based in Toronto. His website, Money We Have, is one of Canada’s top resources for all things travel and money.

Barry combines his knowledge of finance with his passion for travel to encourage people to see the world without spending a fortune. Whether it’s trip planning, loyalty programs or trending destinations, Barry shares practical tips that everyone can use.

In this episode, Barry and Mohammed talk about how Canadian freelancers can reflect on their credit card purchases and choose a credit card that will help them maximize every dollar spent.

Short on time? Skip to the parts you're most interested in.

[01:32] Getting started as a freelancer

[06:34] Types of credit cards available

[08:05] How to pick a credit card

[09:32] Finding the reward systems for your needs

[12:39] What happens when you get multiple credit cards

[14:30] What to expect when you close a credit card

[17:43] Tips for managing your credit card debt

[19:29] What to look for when opening a credit card

[21:58] Maximizing your credit card rewards

[23:56] How many credit cards you should have

[24:41] Determining your credit limit needs

[26:58] Managing multiple credit cards

[28:14] Barry's best credit card deal

[31:15] How to travel to Australia for (almost) free

[33:10] Making the most of your travel rewards

If you enjoyed the conversation, check out more episodes of our podcast. You can subscribe to Freelance Canada on Apple Podcasts or listen to it wherever you get your podcast. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of the episode.

Mohammed: Maybe we can take [a moment to] get to the beginning a little bit and learn a bit about you. So you’ve been blogging now for God, how long has it been since...

Barry: Yeah, it's been about six years now, I think.

Mohammed: And how did that come about?

Barry: In my former job, I used to be a TV director in Toronto at a major telecommunications company. And what happened is they laid off a bunch of staff and normally when staff is laid off, that means more work for everyone else. But in my case, because I was a TV director, I had less work and people are like, “How did that happen?”

Well, what happened with me is they had eliminated one of the shows I was directing, but they still needed me to direct the other shows. So I basically had way more free time. And while some of my coworkers were just going to the mall or going for long walks, I just had a lot of downtime. 

Personal finance was always something I was interested in. I started reading about other bloggers who had — a lot of them have become good friends of mine now. And then I did a couple of guest posts and eventually, I'm like, “I'm going to launch my own blog.”

And what I did is I leveraged my media contacts to build my reputation. I was fortunate enough to make this a full-time career. I did that just because my wife and I had a daughter — she's three years old. And I decided that if I wanted to spend more time with my family, I had to make a career change and that's why I left television.

Mohammed: How long were you running Money We Have before you decided to leave television and work on it full time?

Barry: Four years I had it operating and then in 2018 is when I called it quits.

As far as content creation is concerned, I treated it like my old job. I just looked at what's currently trending, look at the news cycles, come up with a content calendar. I set deadlines for myself. That's one of the biggest problems for a lot of new bloggers.

Mohammed: Wow. And how was that progression? When you're first starting, there's so much to touch on when it comes to finances. What was your thought process in terms of the content [you were] going to create?

Barry: Yeah, it's a bit of a trial and error, right? So even though I'm a formally trained journalist, blogging is completely different. I was fortunate at the start that I was blogging on the side. It wasn't my full-time thing. It's not like I just quit my job and decided to become a blogger.

So I had enough freelance income by the time I quit where it wasn't a big deal, but as far as content creation is concerned, I treated it like my old job. I just looked at what's currently trending, look at the news cycles, come up with a content calendar. I set deadlines for myself. That's one of the biggest problems for a lot of new bloggers.

They start with like 10 or 20 great articles, but then they run out of steam. They don't know what to write about. They don't know which direction they're going in. And sometimes it's a bit of a trial and error process. I tried to cover a few topics and then decided, “These aren't topics I want to talk about.” To give you a specific example, I used to write a net worth update as a personal finance blogger. 

It was very popular. People were talking about it. “Hey, this is how much my investments are worth.” Or, “This is how much my mortgage has gone down every couple of months.” To me, I felt [that] although it was interesting for my ego, it didn't really benefit anyone because it does not matter how much I'm making, how much I paid eight or whatever because everyone's different. 

I didn't want someone to read my blog and be like, “Oh my God! Barry makes X amount of dollars.” Or, “He has a dual income. I'll never be able to do what he does. So I'm going to stop reading. I'll never be able to get out of debt.” So what I like to do [now] instead is to provide practical advice that anyone can take advantage of.

Kind of walks them through their journey. This way they're not comparing to someone because that's a problem with personal finance, it's too easy to compare to other people and then you get sidetracked.

Mohammed: I agree with that quite a lot. It's also great to learn how you [worked] on your platform for four years before you [transitioned] where most people [don’t realize how difficult it is to blog and create content.]

Barry: The amount of work too, right? When I was writing [for] the blog, it was almost another full-time job. The amount of effort [in] staying updated. It's insane how much work you've got to put into running a blog.

Mohammed: Right. So today's chat is to get a better understanding of how Canadian freelancers can get more value out of their credit cards. And a big part of it is that I talk to a lot of different people and when I ask them about their credit cards, typically they have one of the generic credit cards that the bank offers, not even free cash back or travel rewards.

And that's something that I never understand and is always something that frustrates me. Why [do] banks even have non reward purpose cards when they have free versions of other rewards cards? I suppose it will be good for us to dive into that.

I'm excited to just learn from you and see how we can ensure that Canadian freelancers have a better understanding of how they can go about securing a better credit card that provides them with more value. So for people who may not even know, what are the different types of credit cards available?

Barry: Oh, there [are] so many. Usually, it's defined by rewards. So travel and cashback obviously are the most popular. There [are] some co-branded ones like Scene, which is the Cineplex rewards loyalty program. There [are] a lot of store credit cards (Walmart HSBC), but it's also not always about rewards.

There [are] low-interest credit cards, which are great for people who are having issues with debt or who want to manage their cash flow better. There's almost a credit card for everything. And then you also need to factor in the additional benefits that come with each credit card. So there are a lot of things to look at when you're deciding what kind of credit card you're gonna get.

Mohammed: You mentioned some benefits. Could you dive into that a little bit?

Barry: So you were talking about how some banks offer some basic credit cards and why would people get it? But you know, if you look at the underlying benefits, some credit cards would have, say roadside assistance. Which may not appeal to everyone, but if it's a no-fee card or it's $50 [credit card], you're getting a free roadside assistance program, which normally is $150 a year. So you're coming out ahead.

That alone makes it worthwhile. And then we look at travel rewards. Well, some things are obvious, like lounge access, hotel status, travel insurance. But then there [are] other basic things that people would be interested in like price protection, extended warranty, mobile device insurance, car rental insurance.

There are so many different benefits available these days that you almost need an encyclopedia to find out what you're covered for.

Generally speaking, it comes down to cashback and travelling. So if we talk about travel first, “What kind of travel rewards are you looking for? Are you looking for airline rewards? Are you looking for hotel rewards? How often do you travel? Do you travel a lot?”

Mohammed: Fair enough. I suppose at the same time, that's why there are quite a few different websites that help you figure out [which] credit cards make the most sense for you. And maybe we can also talk a little bit about understanding, how can somebody go about understanding which credit card makes sense for them.

Maybe you have certain criteria or maybe you have a general recommendation that you feel applies to most people.

Barry: To me, there are so many different variables, right? Usually what I ask people first is, "What kind of rewards are you looking for?” Generally speaking, it comes down to cashback and travelling. So if we talk about travel first, “What kind of travel rewards are you looking for? Are you looking for airline rewards? Are you looking for hotel rewards? How often do you travel? Do you travel a lot?”

Obviously, not many people are [travelling right now], but if you're travelling frequently, how important is lounge access to you? How important is [the] flexibility of your points? You [have] to figure out what your goals are. Let's just say someone wants to take a business class five years from now on Air Canada. They should be collecting Aeroplan points now. To me, there [are] all these different variables.

If you're spending a lot of money [regularly] for expenses to run your business, you might have so many points. Sometimes you gotta look for other benefits that matter to you. Like just having a high credit limit.

Mohammed: It's funny you say that because I assume most people that would end up listening to this podcast would typically already have a credit card, if not more. And at that point, if I'm listening to this and [I’m] like, “Yeah, there is a trip I want to go on, but I don't have an Aeroplan credit card.” I have a — let's say some travel, British airlines or something of that sort, Avions card. I guess what would be my next steps then?

Barry: So if you're going to travel, it's like, “Where do you want to travel to?” Let's say for argument's sake, you want to go to Asia and you want to fly business class. So off the top of my head, I believe you need 155,000 Aeroplan points for a round trip business class ticket.

And assuming you're starting at zero points, [it] sounds like a daunting task. But not really. It depends on your spending. So normally the American Express Platinum Card with the referral gives you 60,000 points, but you [have] to spend $5,000. Right now they've cut that because of COVID, but that's 60,000 points right there.

So you're already one-third of the way there just for signing up for one credit card. Then you start thinking about the individual Aeroplan credit cards. So TD has one, CIBC has one and if you sign up for both of them, there [are] another 40,000 points. So you're already up to a hundred thousand points, right?

Then you think of the American Express Gold Rewards card [and] you sign up for that. There's another 30,000; that’s 130,000 points. And keep in mind, you need to meet the minimum spend for a lot of these credit cards. 

But the point is if you're spending a lot of money and you're constantly paying off your bills, there's no reason you shouldn't constantly be applying for credit cards and taking advantage of those signup bonuses because they have a high value for you later.

That said, in this industry, you are basically taking advantage of bonuses. It's not exactly something that the credit card companies are okay with, but at the same time, if you're not doing anything fraudulent, I think it's perfectly fine.

Mohammed: I'm excited — of course, you can't see me — because, for me, it's all about “How can I get the most value out of anything that I'm doing?” And just through your example, I think you technically opened up four credit cards there to get you to your trip to Asia using Aeroplan, right?

Barry: Yeah, that's right. And sometimes there's some really low hanging fruit that people don't realize that's like literally right in front of their faces. So a good example is right now the WestJet RBC World Elite MasterCard has a signup bonus of 350 WestJet dollars after your first purchase.

So you can buy a pack of gum and you've earned 350 WestJet dollars. Even though there's an annual fee of $119, you're still ahead by $230. You get free checked baggage, you get a companion voucher. So there's an automatic value right away of over $500 just in the first year alone.

There [are] also some credit cards that give you a signup bonus and there [are] no annual fee for the first year. So again, it's just really simple things that are easy for anyone to obtain.

The first thing is every single time you apply for a new credit card, your credit score takes a hit of 10 points. As long as you're paying your bills on time, it will go back up probably after three or four months to where it was.

Mohammed: So let take a look at this from [the] perspective of people who may not be as up to date on all things credit cards. You have people that might be listening to this and it's like, “Oh my God! Barry just opened up four credit cards. Isn’t his credit rating going to tank? And then how do I manage four credit cards? What's going to happen? Am I going to be able to get a credit card in the future? And when do I close the credit card?”

So clearly, even as I say this, I think I've come up with about three or four questions. Maybe we first take a stab at understanding what happens when you do decide to start getting multiple credit cards.

Barry: The first thing is every single time you apply for a new credit card, your credit score takes a hit of 10 points. As long as you're paying your bills on time, it will go back up probably after three or four months to where it was. 

Obviously, the other tricky thing is you're going to have a lot of access to credit. People who have a lot of access to credit may overspend. So I don't recommend people open credit cards if they've got a history of overspending. And then, [as] I said, to get the signup bonuses, quite often you need to meet the minimum spending requirement, which could be $1,000, $3,000, $5,000.

So it only makes sense if you've got major expenses coming up. So even though I talked about opening up four credit cards to take advantage of these benefits, I time it out. Basically, it’s like, “Hey, my insurance is coming up. That's about a $2,000 purchase. I might as well open another credit card and take advantage of it.”

Or in the past, whenever I was about to purchase airfare, a family of three airfare could easily cost me $2,500, $3,000. So again, I would just open up another credit card and be like, “Meh. I'll take advantage of the bonus points. Typically, what I would do in the past is I would just cancel the credit card before the next annual fee is up.

So I would keep the card for a year, see how it works for me, but I would make a note in a spreadsheet or an email and say, “Hey, it's time to cancel this credit card.”

Mohammed: And, for those who are equally as afraid of cancelling or closing a credit card as they are of opening one, what can they expect when they do cancel their credit card?

Barry: Unless it's your oldest credit card, nothing really happens. Usually what I tell people is keep one no-fee card. That means no annual fee on your credit history so this way you're constantly building a credit history, even though you're not using it. And for people who don't want to constantly open up credit cards, just look for a credit card that lines up [with] your spending.

So if you happen to spend a lot of money on groceries, maybe you [can] get Scotiabank Gold [American Express] Card or an American Express Cobalt Card, which gives you a higher earn rate for groceries. Or like I said if you're just a casual person who just travels a lot for business once or twice a month, normally, look at the American Express Platinum Card. It gives you unlimited lounge access so you don't have to open up credit cards non-stop. 

You want to find something that lines up with your spending. For freelancers who are constantly making purchases, maybe getting a formal business card which has a high credit limit is in your best interest because there [are] a lot of companies out there who are spending 10, 20, $30,000 a month and they're always paying their bills back on time, but they just need access to that credit to manage their cash flow.

There are some options out there for you too.

Mohammed: That's quite insightful. So. What, when you said there are some options out there, what would be some examples of that?

Barry: Yeah, mainly business cards. So, American Express business cards are charged cards, so [generally speaking], they don't really have a limit. Right. They're basing it on how much you're spending and if you're constantly paying your bills on time, they'll just constantly extend you more credit.

So, think about someone who's just. Purchasing a lot of supplies to run their business for whatever reason is they're [continually] charging money. So you're not focused on the signup bonus because you're spending so much, you're earning points anyways, that said, you have to look at all the different business cards.

So just about every single day has a business card option that gives you similar features, a high credit limit fraud protection from any employees if you have a joint card, but then what you want to look at is the point system. Does this point system benefit you in the long run? So I prefer American Express membership rewards points because they're highly flexible.

Every bank has a different rewards program. So even though you bank with someone traditionally, it might make more sense to open up an account with another bank or another credit card provided because you know that their points are better for you in the long run.

Mohammed: So if I'm somebody who is spending quite a bit and freelancing, one of the credit cards for me would be to look at Amex, but of course it's best to compare and see actually what my spending is like and what are my personal goals to then align accordingly. Cause Amex for you works great, but may not work for someone else.

Barry: That's exactly it. So let's just say, for example, someone who's spending a lot, but their vendors don't take American Express. Then obviously American Express is not a go. Then you just gotta look at any of the other cards available and their point system. RBC has a great rewards program.

So if you can get an RBC business credit card, it would benefit you also. But like I said, think about long term goals and how these partners work. You talked about British Airways and American Express [allowing] you to transfer your points. So does RBC. If you're the type of person who prefers fancy hotels, maybe you get the American Express Marriott Bonvoy business card because it'll allow you to earn status quicker.

If you have any credit card debt and you're able to get a line of credit or you already have a line of credit, you should be using that to pay [the credit card] off. 

Mohammed: This [is] good for people who have their finances in order. They have certain goals about travel or just being able to get their portion of their money back through a cashback. What happens to people who may just be getting started? Or have started, but have ended up carrying quite a bit of a balance month over month? Or just have other debt that they're trying to make sense of by bringing over some of their, let's say line of credit debt and paying that off with a credit card, what options could exist for those people?

Barry: They should be doing the opposite. Generally speaking, the line of credit will have the lowest interest rate. So if you have any credit card debt and you're able to get a line of credit or you already have a line of credit, you should be using that to pay [the credit card] off.  You know a good example is normal credit cards have an interest rate [of] about 20%. Whereas a line of credit might be anywhere from 3% to 7%. 

So you can immediately pay it off, but not everyone has access to a line of credit or may not qualify for one. So one thing that you could probably qualify for is a low-interest credit card or a balance transfer credit card. So the way these credit cards work is if you apply for one and you choose the optional balance transfer, you can get anywhere from 0% to 4% interest for your transfer for six to 10 months. 

So instead of paying 20% interest, you're not paying 0% to 4% interest for that period, which allows you to pay down your balance as quickly as you can. Then, technically speaking, and I don't necessarily recommend less unless you're really good with your money, you could constantly open up new balance transfer credit cards to keep taking advantage of the low-interest rates.

Mohammed: And just try and pay off at that lower rate over time as you're able to.

Barry: That's the ideal situation, but quite often it's difficult. Cause if you've got in debt for one issue or another, it's not easy to get out of it.

Mohammed: I think that's a good way of understanding when it makes sense to get new and different types of credit cards and how each could [have a] purpose for each individual's situation and what their goals are.

For those listening, it's like, “Okay, great. I'm going to go and open up a new credit card.” What do you recommend freelancers do or look for before they even go ahead and open up on your credit card?

Barry: We kind of discussed it already. What your goals are more than anything else. Come up with a list of your priorities and then know the value of each benefit. So, people get obsessed [with] annual fees. I don't care about them as long as you're getting enough benefits out of them.

And quite often, [as] I said, the travel insurance alone will cover those annual fees. Then, what you want to do is just start researching individual cards. You started the podcast [by] talking about credit card comparison sites, but it's important to know that you [have] to check more than one.

Cause a lot of these comparison sites, quite often, they favour the ones where they're getting commissioned. And admittedly, even on my website, I write about every single credit card out there. But I admit, I favour certain credit cards that benefit me personally. So it's definitely on the user to do a little bit of extra due diligence and do their own comparison because quite often these sites are compromised to a certain extent.

Mohammed: And what has been your experience? I guess this is a bit leading in the sense that I'm biased towards waiting for a credit card until there [are] a promotion and bonus points and then I'll go and apply for it. So I can take advantage of that. Why would I apply for a credit card when there aren't any bonuses, right?

Barry: Yeah, that makes perfect sense. There [are] always bonuses. And the funny thing about credit card providers is you don't get a surprise bonus, right? Generally speaking, the same signup bonus all the time. But, like once a year or twice a year, they'll have a special promotion where you get [a few] extra points.

So if you don't have a huge expense coming up or you can afford to wait, you might as well just wait until that promotion comes along. TD, their Aeroplan credit cards, they constantly changed their promotions, but at the same time, there's always a really good one every single year.

And you'll know it when you see it. Because even the average consumer will be like, “Oh, that's a good promotion.” We were talking about the WestJet RBC World Elite MasterCard. The normal signup bonus is $250. And right now it's $350. So you're getting a hundred dollars more.

Well, anyone can tell that's a huge difference. And it's like a 40% difference. So yeah, if you're waiting around for something better specifically with the WestJet card, that's a mistake. You should just sign up for it now.

Using WestJet as an example, if you're a family, you've got two kids. There's no reason both parents shouldn't apply for a credit card. They both get the signup bonus. They get two companion vouchers. So you can use it on your two kids. You [get] free luggage.

Mohammed: I guess maybe if you have any hacks of how people can maximize just the idea of applying [for] the credit card.

Barry: It's not a hack, but you should just combine points whenever you can. So again, using WestJet as an example, if you're a family, you've got two kids. There's no reason both parents shouldn't apply for a credit card. They both get the signup bonus. They get two companion vouchers. So you can use it on your two kids.

You [get] free luggage. So let's just say you live in Vancouver and you want to fly to Orlando with WestJet, you get those credit cards, you could easily save a thousand dollars, right? Just for applying to those two cards and that's factoring in the two annual fees that you're going to pay.

Do other hacks, I wouldn't necessarily call them hacks, but [as] we said, you're going to take advantage of the signup bonus point. With American Express, you can transfer your points to Aeroplan. So if you collect various points, they can end up in the same loyalty program. It's not really a hack, but it's just being smart with your points.

Mohammed: I like that. I suppose when I've been looking for some credit cards, I'll see if there are any websites where I can get a gift card back in exchange for applying for that credit card through [their] site. So just maximize my value even more.

Barry: That's just smart because a lot of these credit card sites, they get a hundred dollar commission for every credit card you get. But these cashback sites, they're basically splitting the commission with you. So if you're getting $50 back and there's a $120 annual fee, you only pay $70 for the annual fee.

So like you said, you might as well take advantage of anything that you can get back. Cause it works to your benefit.

Mohammed: I suppose for anyone wondering what these sites are, I think Rate Supermarket is one website.

Barry: Yeah, there [are] various ones. Great Canadian Rebates does one. Ratehub does it. My website Money We Have — give myself a plug right there. You should always just always do your research because there are so many different credit cards. I don't think there [are] any bad credit cards.

[For] every credit card, there's a specific demographic that it would appeal to. So you just got to find out which demographic you belong to.

Mohammed: This makes absolute sense. I'm curious to know if there is a specific number of credit cards you typically recommend. Most people, in general, I would say are very afraid of that black box that is called a credit score.

Barry: Yeah, I get that. Personally, I recommend three credit cards. One of all the major brands: American Express, Visa, MasterCard. Your primary card should be wherever you shop the most to take advantage of the most points or whatever your goals happen to be. 

I always carry one backup because some merchants don’t take American Express; that [doesn’t] take Visa. So you just want to have both available to you just in case. And keep in mind, not all of them should have an annual fee. You should keep some [that are] no fee. So you have it as a backup.

Mohammed: And is there a specific credit limit that you encourage people for? Cause I understand the credit limit can be very much a topic that varies from person to person. Some people [can] manage their credit and other people will go above their credit limit.

Barry: Well, the general idea is the credit limits are assigned to you anyways. So as long as you keep your spending under control, I don't think it matters. But if you're having any debt issues or you tend to overspend, I would keep your credit limit low. But at the same time, if you do that, and you're constantly maxing out your low limit, that gives you a high credit utilization ratio.

So for example, let's just say you have a $1,000 credit limit and you're always keeping a balance of around $900. Even though you're constantly paying it off, you have a utilization ratio of 90%. And a lot of credit card providers will look at that like, “Hey, why is this person using so much credit? This is possibly a flag.” 

Which is kind of insane because when you think about it. Let's just say you increase your limit to $3,000 and you're still spending the same amount, your credit utilization ratio drops down to 30% and all of a sudden the credit bureaus are like, “Oh, that's not so bad.” But the joke is like, you've just given yourself more access to credit.

I get why they do it, but my point is: you walk into a bank, the ATM, probably email marketing [and] you've probably been asked, “do you wanna increase your credit limit?” in the last 24 hours. It's not necessarily a bad thing to say, “Yes.” You just got to know why you're doing it.

Mohammed: Right. So which credit cards do you have?

Barry: Where do you want me to start? I [have] a dozen. I've got the American Express Platinum Card when I travel. American Express Marriott Bonvoy — I typically stay at Marriott properties a lot so I use that. I've got the WestJet RBC World Elite MasterCard. What else is in my wallet right now?

RBC Avion card. I got a PC Financial World Elite Mastercard. I had the CapitalOne Aspire; I just cancelled that. I just cancelled the TD Aeroplan credit card. I just cancelled the Home Trust. I've also got Koho and I've got Stack. I've got a bunch of credit cards. Those are the ones that are just the top of my head right now.

Generally speaking, I'll keep any credit card with no annual fee because it doesn't cost me anything. Some of these credit cards though, charge you an inactivity fee.

Mohammed: A few of those you mentioned have an annual fee. Any tips around how you're a) managing all of those credit cards and keeping tabs on those and then b) making sure you're paying as little as possible when it comes to annual fees?

Barry: I have a spreadsheet to be perfectly honest with you. That tells me exactly when I signed up for a credit card when the annual fee is due. Generally speaking, I'll keep any credit card with no annual fee because it doesn't cost me anything. Some of these credit cards though, charge you an inactivity fee.

So that should be a reason to cancel if you're not using a credit card and they're gonna charge you a fee; get rid of it. But most of these credit cards that I have, are there for a specific reason or a specific merchant. And I still believe I'm getting more value out of the benefits than I do the annual fee, which is why I keep them.

Mohammed: You mentioned [the] inactivity fee. When does that typically kick in?

Barry: Depends on the credit card. Not every credit card charges them, but, if there's a 12 month period of no charges, then an inactivity fee would apply.

Mohammed: I should probably check my own...

Barry: It’s becoming more common, but they weren't before. And I think a lot of people are just hanging onto credit cards and not using them. So the credit card providers are rightfully disappointed and it costs them something. They keep you as a member, even if you're not charging anything. So they want to just clean [the] house.

Mohammed: Fair enough. Speaking of all these credit cards that you have and all the different ways you can maximize essentially different goals that each one of us has, what has been your best deal so far when it comes to credit cards?

Barry: Oh, [the] best deal. For a little while, the American Express Business Platinum card had some insane promo where it's like 75,000 points. You had to charge $7,000 to your card, but 75,000 points [are] three round trip tickets within North America on Aeroplan. I think that has a value of $2,000. That's the easiest value I would say. 

[And] I keep talking about the WestJet RBC World Elite MasterCard. It's one of the easiest deals. One of the best deals right now because you get the companion voucher — I've used that with my wife and my daughter and we've travelled with that. Again, the free checked baggage — and that applies to everyone on the same itinerary. People don't realize that you [get] to check your baggage each way.

So if [I’m checking] three checked bags, that's $180 potentially each way [that] it's going to cost me. So there's the potential for a lot of savings just by holding onto that credit card.

Mohammed: It seems you're more on the side of travel points than cashback. So what has been your best trip so far that you had to pay little to nothing for?

Barry: I just flew to Dubai for nothing. I flew business class down via Egypt Air; cost me a hundred bucks. I flew first class back on Emirates — anyone listening who has probably seen images, this is on the A380. We have our own little suite. I flew [on] back [and] it cost me nothing.

I'm obviously on the travel side, so we should touchback on cashback. Some of the best offers quite often, there's 10% cashback up to the first $2,000. So you can get $200 no problem. So just a lot of good cash back cards. I just personally think there [are] better rewards with travel cards. That said, if you don't travel, there's no purpose in getting a travel credit card.

Sometimes, don't even think about airlines; think about hotel status. There's the Best Western Rewards Mastercard. I believe it gives you like 20,000 points. That's [a] free night. I know the Best Western is exactly the sexiest hotel, but it's a free night.

Mohammed: I think the one thing that I've always noticed is how a lot of the times people feel that for them to maximize their credit card, especially a travel credit card, they have to have it for like five years before they can go on a trip. But as even in the beginning of this podcast, you mentioned that a person can very easily just sign up for a bunch of different credit cards [and] get the same types of points such as Aeroplan and then be able to go on a trip a lot sooner than what most people believe — so long as their spending reflects the minimum spend needed.

Barry: Exactly. Sometimes, don't even think about airlines; think about hotel status. There's the Best Western Rewards Mastercard. I believe it gives you like 20,000 points. That's [a] free night. I know the Best Western is exactly the sexiest hotel, but it's a free night. The American Express Marriott Bonvoy card gives you 50,000 points when you meet the minimum spend. 

50,000 points could get you a hotel room. That's easily worth $600, right? So you're paying [a] $120 annual fee, but you're getting enough points to get you a $600 room that anyone who knows basic math could see that's a good deal.

Mohammed: I think something fun that could be interesting to do is that, I mean, who knows how long COVID is going to be around for but let's say I'm somebody who's about to get myself a credit card. I want to go on a trip — maybe not next year, but early the year after; early 2022.

And let's say, where do we want to go? Let's go to New Zealand. What would you suggest to somebody who's like, “Okay, I would like to go to New Zealand in early 2022.”

Barry: So that's a little bit tricky because it comes down to airline partners. Getting flight availability to New Zealand [is] pretty difficult. [It] would not be easy; you need [to] select partners so that's the trickiest part. So I might personally focus on hotel stays, but a better easy example might be something like Australia.

Recently, Aeroplan onboarded another airline, Abu Dhabi's main carrier. You could take a stopover in Abu Dhabi and they continue to Australia. And they are [an] Aeroplan partner so it's the same thing. It would only cost you whatever amount of points. Again, it's simply just working backwards and then applying for the credit cards.

If you're going as far as New Zealand, Australia, that's the max. That's the furthest destination possible. So you need to accumulate points at a much quicker pace and you need a lot more. So when you think about things more like say within North America, think about the easy things: flight to Los Angeles currently with the current system is only 25,000 Aeroplan points to get a round trip ticket. 

You sign up for one credit card [and] you could have it. So it's just really easy to get there. But of course, the next thing is, finding the seat availability is always the issue.

Mohammed: And the airline that you're speaking of, is that Etihad?

Barry: That's it. There you go.

Mohammed: It’s like, “Abu Dhabi? Who's stopping there?” Okay, got it. So I think another thing that I’m curious to learn from you is that we talked a lot about how we can utilize points to get airlines and flights. At the same time, I'm also the person that has three different subscriptions to flight alerts.

So whenever there is a deal on a flight, my points don't make sense there. What has been your experience there and what have you usually done for those scenarios?

Barry: So if you're flexible, definitely signing up for those flight deals is to your benefit. Having access to those points [is] better when you have set dates in mind. Say your cousin's getting married in India, in Hong Kong or London two years from now or a year and a half. You're like, “Okay, I know my cousins getting married there. I have to be here [on] this date. I cannot change my dates.”

So then you need to decide, it's like, “Okay, can I use my points? Or am I short a certain amount of points to get there? How do I earn those points? Or do I use my points for hotels? What's the easiest way to get a free hotel stay while I'm at this wedding or this special gathering for whatever reason?” And you just work your way backwards.

Mohammed: Got it. I suppose a lot of times when I think of travel, I think of airlines, but you’re clearly pointing out [not to] forget that accommodation will be needed when you get to wherever it is that you're trying to go. And maybe put those points towards that rather than just thinking about flights specifically.

Barry: Yeah. A lot of people think about flights. Cause thinking about the really luxurious flights: business class, first class. But like you said, you're going to need accommodations most of the time. And there's a lot of nice hotels. I find a problem with a lot of people who collect points is they're stuck [in] their old ways.

In a sense, I'm guilty of this too. Let's say for argument, use an example of saying it's like 50,000 points get you a $650 reward or whenever, right? In your head, you're like, “There is no way I would ever pay $650 of my own money for this route. I can just get a hotel for like, $200 or whatever.”

So it's not a good value, but you can't pick up on it that way when you're using points. When you're collecting points, you have to think from a point value. Is this redemption a good value for your points? Regardless of your personal feelings. If the answer is yes, then it's worth doing it.

Because in the end, [as] you said, yeah, you could get those cheap flight deals. Yeah, I could book the cheapest hotel possible. But then what's the point of collecting points, right?

If you're constantly running into debt problems, maybe you don't want to have a credit card or maybe you just want to switch to a prepaid credit card so you can only spend money that you have as opposed to a traditional credit card where you can spend money, which you don't have.

Mohammed: Right. I like that. Okay, so I think there's quite a lot we've covered here from figuring out what your goals are, how much you're spending, then determining which credit card makes sense for you to apply to and looking for options of getting bonus points or getting rebates on your application and then also how you can maximize by essentially getting multiple different credit cards to get to that trip sooner or whatever it is that your goals are.

Earlier [you] mentioned how people can, if they typically have a credit card debt, should look at transferring their funds over to a line of credit or moving over to a no-fee credit card. Are there any other tips or ideas that people can learn from in terms of better managing their credit card debt?

Barry: Yeah, it's just debt management at that point. If you have a whole lot of debt, it comes down to budgeting. You may have to cut your expenses. Maybe you [have] to work more so you can earn more money to pay off your debt. Maybe you need a debt repayment strategy — focus on your highest interest debt first. Some people prefer to focus on the lowest balance first and pay that off to give them a motivational boost.

So there [are] a lot of different ways. And if you're constantly running into debt problems, maybe you don't want to have a credit card or maybe you just want to switch to a prepaid credit card so you can only spend money that you have as opposed to a traditional credit card where you can spend money, which you don't have.

Mohammed: You can't see me, [but] I'm excited because I can talk about finances forever. I'd also be curious to know, [throughout] your work, what have been some recurring themes that you've noticed where you figured it'd be good to have these general rules or tips that might apply to all freelancers?

Barry: We've talked about a lot of the things already that I think apply to freelancers. But for a lot of freelancers or people who are just starting their business, they’re focused on what they already know when it comes to credit cards — and I understand that. And some people don't even realize [that] just because you don't bank with, say Scotiabank, that doesn't mean you can't apply for a credit card from them.

And then the next obvious question, they’d be like, “But how do I pay the bill if I don't bank with them?” You just go to bill payments, and you type in Scotiabank, and you type in your account number. And we laugh, but a lot of people just don't realize that. And honestly, even for the longest time, I didn't know that you could apply for credit cards with different financial institutions.

So again, we talked about how it doesn't hurt to have multiple credit cards if you're managing your money properly. So I personally happen to shop a lot at No Frills, Loblaws and Shoppers Drug Mart because they're close to me. So I have the PC Financial World Elite Mastercard, which gives me extra points. So that's an obvious credit card to have. Sometimes people will be extreme. What they'll do is they'll colour code their credit cards.

They'll put like sticky notes on it and say, “Use this for gas. Use this for groceries.” And I get it. So those are a few things that I recommend to freelancers. But at the same time, whenever you’re freelancing, you gotta be smarter with your money. Income will come and go. You gotta factor in what you have to pay for taxes later. You just gotta be careful. You gotta come up with an accounting system that will help you manage your books.

Mohammed: I like that. Well, I appreciate all of this time you have spent and educating me and providing us with tips and hacks. I'd love to know where people can find out more about you and your work online.

Barry: My personal website is moneywehave.com and I'm also on Twitter @barrychoi.

Mohammed: Perfect. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me!

Barry: Thanks! Talk to you later.

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