American Express Membership Rewards vs. Avion Rewards

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Since I started covering personal finance, credit card reward programs have grown to become a significant aspect of the financial landscape. That’s because they offer valuable opportunities to earn and redeem points, which means reduced costs on travel. Without a doubt, the two best programs in Canada are Amex Membership Rewards and RBC Avion Rewards.

Both programs offer incredible value and have similarities. That said, there are also enough differences that may influence you to choose one over the other. In this article, I’ll compare the two in detail so you can understand what sets them apart and see which one aligns better with your lifestyle and preferences.

American Express MRRBC Avion Rewards
Credit cards availableAmerican Express Platinum
American Express Cobalt
American Express Gold
American Express Green
RBC Avion Visa Infinite
RBC Ion+ Visa
RBC Ion Visa
Earn rate on cardsAmerican Express Cobalt Card
5X on eats and drinks
3X on streaming and recurring bills
2X on travel and transit
1X on everything else
RBC Avion Visa Infinite Card
1.25X on travel
1X on everything else
Fixed points travel valueUp to 2 cents per pointUp to 2.33 cents per point
Base value of points1 cent per point for travel and statement credits1 cent per point for travel, .71 cents for gift cards
Transfer partnersAir Canada Aeroplan
British Airways Avios
Delta Skymiles
Alitalia MilleMiglia
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
Etihad Guest miles
Marriott Bonvoy
Hilton Honors
British Airways Avios
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
American Airlines AAdvantage
Westjet Rewards

Credit cards available

As weird as it sounds, when comparing American Express Membership Rewards to RBC Avion Rewards, you must first examine the available credit cards. That’s because the points programs are only valuable if it’s easy to earn points.

American Express credit cards

American Express has seven cards earning Membership Rewards: four personal cards and three business cards. Two of their personal cards – the Platinum and Cobalt – rank in my list of the top travel credit cards in Canada.

American Express Platinum Card

  • $799 annual fee
  • Earn 70,000 Membership Rewards points when spending $10,000 in the first 3 months
  • 30,000 additional points when making any purchase in months 14 – 17
  • Earn 2 points per $1 spent on dining and travel, and 1 point on all other purchases
  • $200 annual travel credit
  • $200 annual dining credit (per calendar year)
  • Unlimited airport lounge access

The American Express Platinum Card is often called the best travel rewards credit card. You get a generous welcome bonus and travel perks, such as free airport lounge access and hotel status upgrades.

American Express Cobalt Card

  • $12.99 Monthly fee ($155.88 yearly)
  • 1,250 monthly points when charging $750 each month for a year (15,000 points total)
  • Earn 5 points per $1 spent on eats and drinks
  • Earn 3 points per $1 spent on streaming services
  • Earn 2 points per $1 spent on travel
  • Earn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases

What makes the American Express Cobalt Card so good is that it has a high earning rate of 5 points per $1 spent on eats and drinks, which includes grocery stores and restaurants. Generally speaking, the Cobalt Card is a must-have card for all points and miles enthusiasts in Canada.

RBC Avion Rewards credit cards

RBC Avion Rewards also offer an extensive line-up of cards earning Avion Rewards. In total, there are six cards that earn you Avion points, but some are weaker than others. Here’s a quick look at the two most popular options.

RBC Avion Visa Infinite Card

  • $120 annual fee
  • 35,000 Avion points on approval
  • Earn 1.25 Avion points for every $1 spent on travel purchases
  • Earn 1 Avion point per $1 on all other purchases
  • Comprehensive travel insurance
  • Mobile device insurance up to $1,500

Being the flagship card of the biggest bank in Canada, the RBC Avion Visa Infinite might be the most popular travel card in the country. Although the card has a reasonable annual fee, the earn rate isn’t the best, and it doesn’t come with any great travel perks besides travel insurance.

RBC ION+ Visa Card

  • $48 annual fee ($4 charged monthly)
  • 12,000 Avion points on approval
  • Earn 3 Avion points for every $1 spent on groceries, dining, food delivery, rideshares, gas, daily public transit, EV charging, streaming, digital gaming and subscriptions
  • Earn 1 Avion point per $1 on all other purchases
  • Save 3¢/L on fuel at Petro Canada and earn 20% more points when you pay with a linked RBC card
  • Free 3-month DashPass subscription
  • Mobile device insurance

RBC launched the Ion+ Card when rebranding the RBC Rewards program to Avion Rewards and created an exciting card for students or people with low income and spending. The card has an annual fee of just $4 per month and has an earning rate of 3 points per $1 spent on select categories. That said, the Ion+ lacks travel insurance, and cardholders can’t transfer points to airline partners or book Avion flight fixed points program unless you have an Avion Visa.

Verdict: American Express is the clear winner when it comes to credit cards. The Amex Platinum and Cobalt are fantastic cards that offer a higher earning rate than anything RBC has available. On the other hand, if you value wider card acceptance and prefer options with lower fees, RBC Avion cards could be the more suitable option for you.

Redeeming points – booking travel

Generally speaking, using your points for travel rewards will always yield you the best value. Both programs allow you to redeem 1,000 points for $10 in travel. However, American Express also allows you to redeem for a statement credit at the same value. That means all American Express cards that earn you Membership Rewards Cards are essentially hybrid travel/cash back cards.

While American Express has the upper hand regarding statement credit redemptions, both programs offer a fixed points travel rewards program, which can increase the value of your points for travel.

American Express Membership Rewards fixed points travel

You can book flights using the American Express fixed points flight program and get a value of up to 2 cents per point (CPP). For example, for Canada/U.S. short haul flights, you can redeem 15,000 points for up to $300 off the base fare. However, other routes only give you a CPP of 1.55 to 1.7. Remember, the discount only applies to the base fare. It does not count towards taxes, fees, or additional transportation charges.

American Express Membership Rewards vs. RBC Avion Rewards

Beyond the fixed points schedule, you can book any type of travel on the Amex travel portal, including flights, hotels, car rentals, and cruises. You can then redeem your points as one of the payment options. In addition, you can also book any travel on your own and apply points to offset expenses charged to the card. Booking directly is usually better since it’s often cheaper and allows you to take advantage of any status benefits you may have.

RBC Avion Rewards fixed points travel

RBC also has a fixed points travel chart that’s more generous than American Express. With RBC, the maximum value varies between 2 and 2.33 CPP. The lowest tier, Quick Getaways, allows you to travel to adjacent provinces/states. This actually gives you more options than American Express. In addition, RBC allows you to book one-way tickets at half the points price.

American Express Membership Rewards vs. Avion Rewards

You can also book any travel on the RBC Travel portal and apply your points as needed. This only gives you a value of 1 CPP. Finally, RBC doesn’t allow you to book travel on your own through different sites and then apply your points after.

Verdict: RBC Avion Rewards wins for the fixed points flight booking since it’s more generous and flexible. However, American Express wins for non-flight travel redemptions since you can book independently. This means you can also use points for travel related spending not offered on the travel portal, like Airbnb or camping fees.

Transfer partners

Having the ability to transfer your points to different loyalty programs gives you more flexibility and value. This is where American Express Membership Rewards and RBC Avion Rewards shine and why they’re consistently ranked as Canada’s best credit card travel programs.

American Express Membership Rewards transfer partners

The following are the current available American Express Membership Rewards transfer partners and the ratio of the points transfer:

  • Aeroplan – 1:1
  • British Airways Avios – 1:1
  • Delta Skymiles – 1:.75
  • Alitalia MilleMiglia – 1:.75
  • Cathay Pacific Asia Miles – 1:.75
  • Etihad Guest Miles – 1:.75
  • Marriott Bonvoy – 1:.75
  • Hilton Honors – 1:.75

There is a minimum transfer amount of 1,000 points. As you can see, Membership Rewards has many different travel loyalty transfer partners that can benefit you.

The most common transfer partner is Aeroplan, Air Canada’s loyalty program. With Aeroplan, you can book any available seat on Air Canada with no blackout dates. In addition, Aeroplan has 45+ airline partners, so you can get just about anywhere in the world on points.

Marriott is another excellent partner option since they’re the largest hotel chain in the world and can offer good value in many cases. British Airways is more niche in Canada than Air Canada, but it does allow you to book on 12+ One World alliance airlines.

RBC Avion transfer partners

RBC Avion rewards don’t have as many transfer partners as American Express, but they have a few exclusive partners. You can transfer your points at the following ratio:

  • British Airways Avios – 1:1
  • Cathay Pacific Asia Miles – 1:1
  • American Airlines AAdvantage – 1:1
  • WestJet Dollars: 1,000 Avion points = 10 WestJet Dollars

You’ll quickly notice that Avion Rewards has a better transfer value than American Express for Cathay Pacific Asia Miles. While getting a better return is good, Asia Miles is a niche loyalty currency that most Canadians won’t use.

Many would argue that having WestJet as a transfer partner is valuable. RBC already has two WestJet credit cards, but the ability to transfer your Avion points to WestJet dollars means you can travel for less.

RBC has no hotel transfer partners.

While the RBC Avion Rewards partner list is not as exhaustive as American Express, it still adds flexibility and potential value to its program. Having flexible choices adds much more options and value when looking at travel options.

Verdict: American Express clearly wins for transfer partners. That said, it depends on your wants and needs. Someone who flies Air Canada a lot will favour American Express, but if you prefer WestJet, you may want to focus on RBC Avion. That said, both Aeroplan and WestJet have their own co-branded credit cards already, so you may not need a bank program that allows you to transfer your points.

Redeeming points – non-travel

American Express Membership Rewards can be redeemed to offset any purchase on your credit card at a value of 1 CPP. This is the only rewards program that gives you equal value for your points when redeeming for travel or a statement credit. You can also use your points for merchandise or gift cards, but you’ll get a value of less than 1 CPP, making these options useless.

RBC Avion also lets you use points for credit statements, but it’s at a low rate of 0.58 CPP, so I don’t recommend anyone use it. Using them for financial products, such as paying down your mortgage or investing in your TFSA, is a great option for your points. With this option, you get a value of 0.83 CPP, which may seem low. However, since your investments could grow, or you’d be paying down your mortgage, the value could be much higher in the long run.

Verdict: American Express easily wins the non-travel redemption category since you can use American Express Membership Rewards points to offset any purchase charged to your credit card.

What your points are worth

Throughout this article, I’ve been talking about CPP. Knowing the value of your points is essential since it gives you an accurate value of any redemption. To calculate your CPP, you would use the following formula:

(Cash value of redemption – taxes or fees) X 100 / Number of points for redemption

Since American Express and RBC have a set value for travel redemptions, knowing this formula may not matter. However, if you ever want to transfer your points to an airline or hotel loyalty program partner, you’ll want to refer to above, as your CPP could change drastically.

American Express Membership Rewards points value

As you’ve already learned, the minimum value of American Express Membership Rewards points is 1 CPP. You also know that you can get a value of up to 2 CPP when using the fixed points program. While this is a great value, getting top value can be tricky since you must max out the base fare. However, when you start looking at the value of transfer partners, things become much more interesting.

Valuing the points of transfer partners is trickier as the value within a program can vary a lot. In my Aeroplan Rewards Guide, I compared different redemptions, and the value range was between 1.4 CPP and 2.3 CPP in economy. You could get an even higher CPP if you save your points for business class flights.

Generally, I consider 1 Aeroplan point to be worth 2 cents. Since you can transfer your American Express Membership Rewards points to Aeroplan at a 1:1 ratio, your points can easily have a value of 2 CPP.

Now think about the earning rate on some cards. Remember, the American Express Cobalt card gives you 5 points per dollar spent on food and drinks. That essentially gives you a 10% return on those purchases. You won’t find any other card yielding that much value or any other card giving 5 Aeroplan points per dollar spent.

One other transfer partner worth looking at is Marriott Bonvoy. Although I value Marriott points at 1 CPP, the transfer ratio from American Express is 1:1.2. There can be value here, but it depends on the property. Sometimes it’s cheaper to pay cash than to use your points.

RBC Avion Rewards points value

You also get a minimum value of 1 CPP when using your Avion Rewards points for travel. However, gift card redemptions only give you 0.7 CPP. Don’t bother with any other redemption since the value is much lower. Of course, the RBC Avion fixed points program can give you a value of up to 2.33 CPP.

When it comes to transfer partners, there can be some value. British Airways can have some great value when using your points. The problem is you can’t redeem your points on any seat available, like Aeroplan. Cathay Pacific is also a good transfer partner, but those points are hard to use when flying from Canada due to limited seats. With WestJet, you get the same value as keeping your points in Avion Rewards, so there’s no difference.

Despite its limitations, RBC Avion points are more valuable than any other non-American Express credit card program in Canada. For example, the maximum value you can get from Scene+ points is 1 CPP. When comparing credit card programs and points earnings ratios, this is something to consider. Not all points are worth the same.

Verdict: Both programs can yield over $0.02 per point. I give the advantage to American Express because having a higher floor value and Aeroplan as a transfer partner makes it easier to get great value out of points.

Additional benefits and perks

Beyond earning and redeeming points, many loyalty programs come with additional offers and benefits that are worth considering. Some of these benefits are available from the loyalty program themselves, but some are offered through the credit cards available.

American Express Membership Rewards benefits

Amex cardholders may enjoy American Express offers. These targeted offers can give you big discounts on retail, dining, travel, and more. Interestingly, some of these offers can be very generous, and they’ll often offset your annual fee. For example, in the last year, The American Express Platinum card had offers such as, spend $50 at Lululemon and get $50 off up to two times, or spend $119 at Disney+ and get $119 off.

American Express also has a refer-a-friend program that can be invaluable. For many of their cards, when you a refer a friend, you and your friend signing up cam earn additional points.

Finally, some of the best benefits of American Express credit cards include unlimited airport lounge access, hotel status upgrades, and priority services at Pearson International Airport.

RBC Avion Rewards benefits

Like American Express, RBC Avion Rewards has targeted offers you can use. In the past, we’ve seen offers such as 10% off at RONA or extra points when shopping at Apple. Some more recent offers include three free months of Apple Music, Apple TV+, Apple Arcade and Apple News Plus, a free DashPass from DoorDash for 12 months.

Also, note that an ongoing perk of being an RBC Avion cardholder is getting 3 cents per litre off at Petro-Canada.

Lastly, if you hold a VIP Bank account with RBC, they will waive up to $120 of annual fees for a RBC credit card, making the RBC Visa infinite free.

Verdict: The two programs have by far the best offers in Canada. It’s impossible to pick a definitive winner since offers are always changing.

Final thoughts

Amex comes out on top when looking at American Express Membership Rewards vs. RBC Avion Rewards. They have better credit cards, higher earn rates, more benefits, and better transfer partners. The downside is that American Express isn’t accepted everywhere.

As for RBC Avion Rewards, it’s a close second. The lineup of cards and earn rates aren’t as impressive, but since they use Visa, you won’t come across many merchants that won’t accept your card.

Overall, think about what you want to do with your points. If you want to travel for less or have the flexibility to use your points as cash back, switching to an American Express card could be worth it. That said, there’s nothing wrong with collecting both types of points, as they have different values.

About Barry Choi

Barry Choi is a Toronto-based personal finance and travel expert who frequently makes media appearances. His blog Money We Have is one of Canada’s most trusted sources when it comes to money and travel. You can find him on Twitter:@barrychoi

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