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As much as Canadians love their reward programs there are two universal truths: a.) It takes too long to accumulate meaningful points and b.) There are never enough flights available when you want to travel.
While I’ve written and conducted numerous media interviews on the topic, the best advice I can offer is to understand your options.
At their core, true frequent flyer programs such as Aeroplan are all about rewarding your travel behavior. Sure you can earn miles through your credit card spend but the bulk of your earning power is still associated with travel.
Rewards Canada's Patrick Sojka discussing Aeroplan booking difficulties
The AIR MILES Reward Program funny enough is less about frequent travel and more of frequent shopping. You earn a bulk of your miles by shopping at partner retailers, taking advantage of bonus offers and double or triple dripping by using your associated credit card.
So are you a frequent flyer or a frequent shopper? Knowing this is the first step to understanding how you can earn more points faster.
Problem is it still doesn’t solve the reward redemption part of the equation. Sadly, flight inventory continues to plague both programs and unless you’re either super flexible on where you want to go or can plan months and months in advance, there are limited options.
Or are there???
A word on Proprietary Credit Card reward programs?
Proprietary credit card reward programs are loyalty programs run by credit card issuers themselves. They issue the points or miles and you redeem directly through them. They are not tied into other programs directly although some let you convert those points into another program (what we call Hybrid credit cards - our favourite since you get the best of both worlds) Some examples of proprietary credit card reward programs are American Express Membership Rewards, BMO Rewards, RBC Rewards and more.
An example of where a proprietary credit card reward program works better than a traditional reward program
Lets look at an example of how these programs can be better suited for you. You are a family of 5 and want to reward yourself with flights to Disneyworld in Florida in a year. A program like Aeroplan requires at least 125,000 miles for that sort of redemption. AIR MILES requires between 15,000 and 20,000 miles. If you only spend $1,000 a month with a credit card like the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Card it will take you at least 5 years to earn enough miles for your family of 5. This takes into account a sign up bonus of 20,000 miles and spending that $1,000 a month at merchants where an Aeroplan card earns 1.5 miles. Seeing that you are hoping to be rewarded in a year, it isn't feasible that you can get all five tickets however in that year you could have earned as much 50,000 miles (20,000 sign up bonus + 1.5 miles for the $12,000 spent if only spent at bonus merchants). So you could technically get two of the five tickets through Aeroplan and purchase the other three. But now you have a dilemma, its taken you a year to get those miles and there is no availability as you want to travel within a month as you have had to wait for all those miles to post and you have to pay cash for all five flights and its a lot a cash since you've missed all the seat sales. Let's say it is $600 per person, so $3,000 in total.
5 Reasons why proprietary credit card reward programs are better for the majority of Canadians
Above is just one example, overall here are 5 Reasons why proprietary credit card reward programs are better for the majority of Canadians
Major Proprietary Credit Card Reward Programs in Canada:
Many Canadian banks, credit unions and trust companies have proprietary programs for the credit cards they issue. The big 8 are as follows:
Final thoughts on proprietary credit card reward programs:
What is Rewards Canada's favourite? Easy, it's American Express Membership rewards as we collect points from two cards The Platinum Card and the Gold Rewards Card. The reason why we like this one the most is that it is a hybrid program meaning you redeem points via Membership Reward for Travel (their TripFlex feature) which is their proprietary program but they also give you the option of converting those points to Aeroplan, British Airways Executive Club, Hilton HHonors and more! It provides the best of both worlds!
If you don't need the option to convert to programs like seen from American Express then your best overall bets are cards like the mbna Rewards World Elite Mastercard and Scotiabank Gold American Express Card. The BMO World Elite is also highly recommended however note that you have to book travel via their rewards center as you can't book travel through any provider.With airline, hotel and other programs likes AIR MILES continually changing their redemption rates for the worse, those of you who don't travel frequently and/or can't spend a lot on your credit cards should really consider making a proprietary credit card program as your program of choice. You get the flexibility of any travel booking, you get the option of using your miles/points when you like and you can still collect miles and points in other programs! Ultimately everyone should have a proprietary credit card program like those listed above in their portfolio, even if you are frequent traveller or high spender as you can use those points for any travel purchase. If you Aeroplan is your major program, you still have to pay for the taxes and fees on an award ticket. Guess what? You can use many of the programs above to pay for those taxes and fees as long they are charged to that particular card. This is the only true way to get an Aeroplan (or any other Frequent Flyer Program) award ticket for free.
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