How To Travel For Free Using Your Rewards Card

3 Reasons the American Express Gold Rewards Card Rocks

by: Erica Ehm

How To Travel For Free Using Your Rewards Card

travel for free with amex

Have you noticed there are more and more credit cards with offers of big sign-up bonuses trying to get your business? I don't like missing out on an opportunity to save money, so I decided it was time to look through my wallet and make sure the cards I carry are still right for me. As the years go by, my spending habits change and it's important to choose the right rewards card that works for my needs, not the other way around.

So I cleaned out my wallet and I am now literally down to three cards.  My American Express Gold Rewards card. My Gold AirMiles Collector Card. My green bank card. That's it.

Why? I'm picky. I stick with what works. I like to feel like I'm getting a bargain. Customer service is essential for me.

After 3 years, the American Express Gold Rewards Card continues to be my go-to-card. Here's why. Maybe it will be a good fit for you too.


Double Points

I am not a gal who is easily parted from her money. So, the idea of earning double points for everyday purchases like groceries, gas, and stuff I buy at the pharmacy makes me happy. (* Pro tip: I also double dip with my AirMiles Gold Collector Card when I'm shopping for groceries at Metro, gas at Shell, or products at Rexall.) Also, whenever I travel, everything I pay for with my Amex also scores me double points. Flights, hotels, and car rentals are expensive, so those points can really start adding up quickly. 

Flexibility in Redeeming Points

One of the reasons I put my other credit card on hiatus was because it is next to impossible to book a rewards flight using my accumulated points with it. Blackouts and sellouts are what I usually come up against when trying to redeem for travel with the other card.

The way the American Express Gold Rewards Card redemption works is genius in its simplicity. First, you pay for any type of travel using your card (score your double points). You can use a travel agent, a discount online travel site, or go direct to the airline, hotel, etc. To redeem, you simply take the points you've accumulated in your Gold Rewards account and redeem them to cover the exact charge. You can even pay for the tax using your points. There are no blackouts or restrictions because you purchase your travel like a regular consumer and then Amex basically puts the desired dollars into your account to pay for it. You can even pay with points retroactively up to a year following the trip!  

There is also the option of transferring your points to frequent flyer or other loyalty programs including Aeroplan, but to me that defeats the purpose.

Great Customer Service

Amex continues to exceed my expectations when it comes to customer service. When there was concern that my card had been hacked, rather than shut my account down, I was contacted immediately and given the opportunity to assess if any of the charges were made fraudulently (they weren't). Some companies automatically deactivate your card, which is scary if you're travelling and you suddenly can't use your card.

Also, if I ever have questions about my account or the other perks offered to American Express members, it's white glove service all the time. I was especially impressed when the company waived my late fees when there was a mixup on my bill. Who does that? It reinforced to me that this company values its customers.

A few things to note about the card:

First, this is not a credit card. It's a charge card. This means you can't rack up a big bill, defer payment, and expect to just pay your interest each month. This card is for individuals or businesses who like the convenience of a credit card, who love getting all the perks and rewards that come with the card, but have the means to pay off their monthly balance in full.

There is an annual fee of $150 but the fee is waived for the first year so you can try it out. You can score 25,000 points as a welcome bonus (which is enough for a short-haul flight). Also, if you end up enjoying the Amex experience, you can earn more points by referring a friend. For each approved referral there's a 10,000 points bonus for you. I wish I knew that when I encouraged Gav Martell, who loves to travel, to sign up. All I got from him was a hug and a high five. 

I have researched, tested, and took the time to really understand what I'm getting with my American Express Gold Rewards Card. You need to do the same, so you can find the right rewards card to help you travel for free. 

Here are 5 Easy Ways to Save Money Before Your Next Family Vacation.


Why I Did The Ugly Cry At The Supermarket

You Never Know Who Will Change Your Life

by: Erica Ehm

Why I Did The Ugly Cry At The Supermarket

For better or worse, Norman Rockwell had a big effect on my life. His paintings of America in the '50s etched in my mind a time where things seemed simpler and happier. Because of images like his, pine for a whimsical time when life was face-to-face, when we knew our neighbours, when your local pharmacist smiled with recognition when you walked in his store and your butcher knew the cut of meat you ordered on Thursday. 

Fourteen years ago I started a new chapter in my life. I married, bought a new home, and found out I was pregnant in the span of six months. My life swerved away from the fast pace of my former career-woman self to more of a domesticated day-to-day life of wife and mother. That's when I started to make the drive to the large Metro supermarket about ten minutes away.

Twice a week I would peruse the aisles, first with a big pregnant belly, and then with my screaming baby. Years passed. Baby turned into toddler, my belly swelled again, eventually racing through the store with my screaming baby girl and mischievous three-year-old son. Along the way, I started to get to know the cashiers, parking lot guy, and the manager of the supermarket. What was once a lonely scramble to pick up the week's meals became a social affair for me. 

And through the years it has continued. The man who cleans up the shopping carts in the parking lot always calls out to me when I drive in and makes sure to help me load my bags into my trunk. The long-time cashiers notice how my kids have grown. I joke with the guy who works in the dairy section while he unloads the cream cheese. Even the butcher comes over and says hi whenever he spots me. This supermarket has become the closest to my Norman Rockwell ideal. It happened because of Tom Sanders, the store manager. 

Tom is an anomaly in this day and age of mediocre customer service. While retail stores see high turnover and little loyalty, Tom has been managing this store for twenty four years! He took the time to get to know his customers. Most days you could find Tom standing near the busy checkout area, asking shoppers if he could be of any assistance. He had no problem finding that elusive Shake and Bake package for me or making note of a product a customer wanted the store to carry. He was quick with a joke and ready to sneak discount coupons to regulars like me while we waited in line to check out. 

He loved his job. His positive vibe created a trickle down effect amongst the staff, making the store come alive with personality. My weekly shops became me-time. I chose to drive the extra distance to shop at Tom's store rather than the big box shop that opened closer to my home. 

Two weeks ago, after work, Tom had a massive heart attack and died. I found out when I walked in for my regular shop and saw a framed photo and a note from the staff. I lost it. The ugly cry. Weeping for the store manager who has kept me company for over a decade while I crossed off my mundane shopping list. I cried and cried for my supermarket friend, always there in his polyester dark blue suit and tie. 

Tom Sanders Metro Supermarket

Yesterday I stood in the pasta aisle chatting with a new junior manager about Tom's passing, the whirl of the store's major renovation around us. We both welled up. He wants to ask an artist friend of his to paint a portrait of Tom to hang in the newly renovated store; the renovation Tom initiated but will never see.

Tom was one-of-kind, a gentleman who worked hard, lead by example, treated everyone with respect. Tom was the kind of guy Norman Rockwell would have painted. I'm lucky to have known him.

Want more from me? Here are 5 summer travel traditions to bring your family closer and find out if Air Canada's Dreamliner experience is worth it.


Best Quotes To Inspire Leadership In You

Highlights of The Art of Leadership for Women Conference

by: Erica Ehm

Best Quotes To Inspire Leadership In You

inspirational quotes from art of leadership conference

The audience for the Art of Leadership for Women in Toronto was filled with people like me looking for those little nuggets to inspire change and growth. Luckily, this conference featured a roster of entertaining, relevant speakers who shared useful tidbits to help us shift perspective and strategies for business and in life.

Martha Stewart was candid and brash, sharing tales of her rise to one of the most successful self-made female entrepreneurs. Hockey Olympic Medalist Haley Wickenheiser regaled us with tales of life of an elite athlete. My favourite speaker was BBC Anchorwoman Katty Kay who focused on why women continue to lack confidence. I left the conference with her book The Confidence Code, and have been recommending it to everyone.

Because YMC was one of the sponsors of the event, I was able to invite a group of influential women in the social space to sit with me. At the end of the day, I asked each to share their favourite learnings to share with you. Here's what they took away from the conference:

Tammy Mitchell, InRDreams.com, on the 3 to 1 rule
Katty Kay spoke about women's pursuit of perfectionism, which is holding back our confidence. Conversely, men tend to let things roll of their shoulders. I liked Katty's "3 to 1 rule"when a negative thought holds you back, replace it with 3 positive ones. We need to remind ourselves of our successes, not our failures. Act More. Think Less. Be Authentic.

Julie Cole, Baby Machine blogger and Mabels Labels, on Martha Stewart's leadership style
When Martha Stewart was asked if being a woman made her a different kind of leader, she responded with, “Well, no, being Martha makes me a different kind of leader.” We need to embrace our own unique leadership styles, and not be defined by our gender.

Laura Berg, My Smart Hands, on Confidence vs Competence
My favourite moment was when Katty Kay talked about confidence and competence being different. I've always been confident to jump into things and I've learned how to be competent on the wayflying by the seat of my pants sometimes. Confident people fake it 'til they make it.  ;)

Paula Shuck, Thrifty Mom Media, learned we need to be surrounded by the smartest people
Twice during the day at The Art of Leadership for Women I heard variations of this themesurround yourself with smart people in order to succeed, and if you are the smartest person in the room, find a different room. The actual quote from Michael Dell is,"Try never to be the smartest person in the room. And if you are, I suggest you invite smarter people … or find a different room." I have been struggling with outsourcing and building my team of contracted employees and writers for the last year. I know I need to surround myself with smart people and make my team stronger. 

Maija Craig, Canned Soup Mom, was inspired to be "leaderful"
"Rest is a Weapon"words that Hailey Wickenheiser's hockey coach told her resonated with me as a woman and a mom. I need to remember to take better care of myself. I also loved her term "leaderful team," which she described as a team with many people capable of leading, not just one or two. 

Alanna McGuinn, Good Night Sleep Site, is giving up Perfectionism
Katty Kay explained how perfectionism is killing our confidence and why it's okay to fail. This spoke to me on so many levels. I think we connect failure with defeat, when really we should be learning why we failed, pinpoint mistakes, and apply these lessons to our business to grow rather than give up. We don't have to be perfect. The Hewlett Packard internal study showed that women will only apply to a position if they have 100% of the qualifications, whereas men apply with only 60%. I think we as women need more of the mentality of "fake it till you make it." Grab every opportunity that comes at you and don't be scared if you don't know it all at that moment. With hard work and determination, you will learn and master it.

I will focus on not overthinking and do a little more risk-taking
There were several ideas that connected with my world view. Katty Kay spoke about women ruminating to a fault. We tend to overthink a situation and become frozen. We are so conditioned to be perfect, but when you strive for perfection, it's a standard you'll never reach. This inhibits risk-taking and limits one's rise in the business world. My favourite line from her was, "Confidence is taking action on things you don't know if you can do." Boom!

I walked out the Art of Leadership for Women reinvigorated, determined to take on challenges I've been putting off. If I fail, I'll chalk it up to a learning experience. Amazing how a tidbit of insight can inspire action.

What about you? Does any of this connect with you? If so, what are you going to do about it?

Looking for some more inspiration? Check out these amazing Mompreneurs!