Travel loyalty rewards program key features

Do you know what to look for in a travel rewards program? Money.ca stresses the importance of three main features:

  • the average value of a reward point
  • how easily you can earn points with the program and its products
  • how easily/quickly you can redeem the points

Compare travel loyalty rewards programs

Travel Loyalty Program Average Point Value Strengths Weaknesses Best For
Aeroplan $0.0109 general average (value varies depending on flight) Can pool points, no blackout dates or surcharges, can combine points with cash to get a flight Lots of uncertainty about how many points you will need for a flight as chart provides wide range of points needed per flight category, charge of $39 to book partner airlines Flexible travellers who are OK with not having a fixed point chart and is also ideal for those who have friends/family willing to pool points.
Avion (RBC Rewards) $0.021, if redeeming through RBC Air Travel Redemption Schedule No blackout dates or seat restrictionsStraightforward rewards valueBook early or last minute with any airline Comparatively few credit cards available RBC customers looking to earn travel points.
Air Miles $0.105 High average value for MilesMany merchandise rewards optionsPay with Air Miles directly at some partner retailers Taxes and fees aren’t coveredFuel surcharges covered only within North AmericaTakes a long time to earn rewardsFewer partners and bonus offers than Aeroplan Infrequent travellers. Points are slow to earn, so an Air Miles card may not be ideal if you travel multiple times a year.

I. Average point value

Winner: Air Miles

The average point value for these three programs can be broken down as follows:

Aeroplan: $0.014

Air Miles: $0.105

Avion (RBC Rewards): $0.0114, if redeeming through RBC Rewards’ Air Travel Redemption Schedule, or $0.01 if redeeming for all other rewards you can redeem for.

Keep in mind that the actual point values for all three programs vary based on a variety of factors and use cases, including the distance travelled, the class of ticket, whether you will be using your points to pay airline fees and when you are booking.

For Aeroplan, per the Money.ca Loyalty Bible:

  • Short-Haul Economy: $0.0062 per Mile
  • International Economy: $0.0184 per Mile
  • International Business Class: $0.0452 per Mile
  • International Upgrade Flight: $0.0936 per Mile
  • Merchandise: $0.0069 per Mile
  • Gift Cards: $0.0074 per Mile

Air Miles takes into account the same factors as Aeroplan, but then further assigns value to the category of the reward:

  • Hotels – $0.194
  • Flights – $0.168
  • Car Rentals – $0.157
  • Events – $0.144
  • Attractions – $0.132
  • Merchandise – $0.12

An important note about an Air Mile’s value is that the program has been split into two different streams—Air Miles Cash and Air Miles Dream. Air Miles Dream has cardholders saving up their points to redeem for trips and other rewards, while Air Miles cash allows you to cash in your points instantly when you buy goods and services directly from select merchants. These two pools of Miles do not mix. Air Miles Cash have a specific value of $0.105, while the values for Air Miles Dream are reflected above.

As for Avion (RBC Rewards), these points also have varying values, but its value system is the least convoluted and the most straightforward of the three. If you’re an Avion cardholder you can get the best value for your points by redeeming them via the RBC Air Travel Redemption Schedule, which divides the world into six regions:

Comparing bonds and stocks
Points Needed Region Max Ticket Price Max Value Per Point
15,000 Within or to an adjacent province, territory, or U.S. state $350 $0.0233
35,000 From/to anywhere in Canada or U.S. except Hawaii and Alaska $750 $0.0214
45,000 Western Canada or U.S. to Mexico, Hawaii, Alaska /Eastern Canada to Bermuda, Central America, Caribbean $900 $0.02
55,000 Eastern Canada or U.S. to Mexico, Hawaii, Alaska /Western Canada to Bermuda, Central America, Caribbean $1,100 $0.02
65,000 Canada or U.S. to Europe $1,300 $0.02
100,000 Canada or U.S. to Asia, Australia, New Zealand, South Pacific, Middle East, Africa, South America $2,000 $0.02

II. How easily can you earn points?

Winner: Aeroplan

When comparing Aeroplan vs. Air Miles vs. Avion (RBC Rewards), Aeroplan is the travel rewards program that allows you to earn the most miles the fastest. With over 150 partner brands and over 100 online retailers, it’s very hard not to earn Aeroplan miles when you shop. Plus, their partner credit card portfolio is vast and not just limited to a single bank. Aeroplan credit cards are available through CIBC, TD and, thanks to its 1:1 conversion rate of Aeroplan to Amex Membership Rewards points, American Express. Diner’s Club Rewards can also be converted to Aeroplan miles at a 1:1 ratio.

Opportunities to earn bonus Aeroplan miles are also quite extensive and not just limited to credit card sign-up bonuses. (However, these bonuses are hefty and varied in their own right, ranging from 2,500 to 50,000 points), Aeroplan gives special offers on its website and through various retail partners in addition to bonuses through eStore purchases.

Finally, Aeroplan allows its cardholders to double dip, earning miles for the credit card spend and the eligible purchase in question at the same time.

Air Miles’ retail partner list is dwarfed by Aeroplan, but like Aeroplan, you can earn Miles by making purchases through the reward program website—AirMilesShops.ca. Product and coupon bonuses, especially at Safeway grocery stores, are probably the most common way to earn Air Miles outside of some credit cards and banking products.

Bonus Air Miles offers can be hidden in partner emails, websites, flyers and even credit card statements. On rare occasions there are program-wide, global promotions that involve shopping or doing specific actions at a select group of partners over a certain period of time for a lump sum of Miles (often 100).

What about Avion (RBC Rewards)? RBC Rewards is limited to a single bank and credit card processor partnership—RBC and Visa. Avion credit cards max out at earning 1.25 points per dollar you spend, with some earning at that rate only in specific accelerated categories (like travel purchases), while others earn at that rate on all spending.

III. How easily can you redeem points?

Winner: Avion (RBC Rewards)

Despite giving business class travellers a 7.5% return on their points, Aeroplan members often find a lack of seats available for the dates they want to travel. This is because just 8-10% of Air Canada seats are allocated to Aeroplan and the program’s 5 million members outpace the amount of seats available. Therefore customers will likely need to book more than a year out for business class seats. Aeroplan also isn’t recommended for families: seasons when families are most likely available to travel together, like Spring Break and Christmas, cost the most miles and have limited availability.

In 2014, Aeroplan introduced Market Fare Rewards, for which seats are always available. But these tickets cost more miles and must be booked on Air Canada, so carrier fees apply. These fees, taxes and surcharges can make a seemingly “free” flight rather expensive. Note that not every airline in Star Alliance charges these fees. EVA and United Swiss Airlines don’t charge fuel surcharges, so look for loopholes like that.

With Air Miles, while you can book flights outside the Star Alliance portfolio, this program suffers from some of the same issues as Aeroplan, like blackouts and seat restrictions. Air Miles only covers fuel surcharges on flights within North America and doesn’t cover any other taxes or fees. These extra costs will have to be paid in cash and can’t be covered with points. Both Air Miles and Aeroplan have tried to make up for their blackout dates and fees by offering more merchandise and experience options, but these cost a high number of points, disproportionate to their “real-world” value.

When it comes to ease of redemption, Avion (RBC Rewards) trumps them all. There are no blackout dates or seat restrictions and you have access to over 130 airlines at any time, so there’s no fear of not being able to book during peak travel season or last minute. Plus, you can use points to pay for fuel surcharges, taxes and fees at a rate of 100 points per dollar.

So it looks like we have a winner in each key category. Keep reading to learn more about the programs and find out which one is the best fit for you.

Aeroplan loyalty program

Strengths: Easy to earn; good ROI on business class and international flights

Weaknesses: Inconsistent redemption values; limited flight availability

Though Aeroplan is much loved in Canada, its sketchy redemption raises concerns about the program’s present and future value. However, there are great Aeroplan cards that can earn a ton of points on everyday spending, so even with the varying redemption values it might still be a lucrative program for you.

You can learn more about Aeroplan by reading our complete guide to the Aeroplan program.

Air Miles loyalty program

Strengths: high average value for Miles; plentiful merchandise rewards options; pay with Air Miles directly at some partner retailers

Weaknesses: taxes and fees aren’t covered; fuel surcharges covered only within North America; takes a long time to earn rewards; fewer partners and bonus offers than Aeroplan.

It’s important here as well, to do your research and find out which Air Miles credit card works with your spending as well as offers worth-it perks.

You can learn more about AIR MILES by reading our complete guide to the AIR MILES program.

Avion (RBC Rewards) program

Strengths: no blackout dates or seat restrictions; straightforward rewards value; book with any airline, early or last-minute

Weaknesses: comparatively few credit cards available

You can learn more about RBC Rewards/Avion by reading our complete guide to the RBC Rewards program.

Which program is right for you?

For now it’s difficult to declare an overall winner of this three-way match between these titans of Canadian travel loyalty, as each program has its relative strengths and weaknesses.

Aeroplan offers the largest number of opportunities to earn points, but it has an inconsistent point value. Though Air Miles have a lot of inherent value and there are a wide variety of ways to redeem them, they can be slow to accrue and it can take some digging to find special program bonuses.

Despite few bonus point opportunities, Avion (RBC Rewards) offers a lot of redemption flexibility—no blackout dates or restrictions and fees or surcharges can be paid for with points.

Think about which of these virtues is most valuable for you and choose the right credit card accordingly. Loyalty programs and their credit cards evolve with time, so we’ll be sure to update this article to declare an overall winner should one emerge.

More: World Mastercard or World Elite Mastercard - which is better?

Aaron Broverman is a freelance writer based in Toronto. When he’s not writing about money for publications like Yahoo Canada and Money.ca, you’re likely to find his nose in a comic book. He likes comics so much, he hosts a podcast called Speech Bubble where he interviews those involved in the comic industry. You can follow him on Twitter: @broverman.

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