Travel Loyalty Programs in Canada

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One critical mistake that people make when travel hacking is choosing the wrong travel loyalty programs. Understandably, most people who get into this game usually already collect some kind of travel rewards or points. There’s even a good chance they’ve racked up tons of points and are hesitant to switch to something else. While that’s certainly understandable, it’s not the best solution. 

Ideally, you want to start joining programs and earning points that will actually benefit you in the future.

What is a good loyalty program in Canada?

Every travel loyalty program in Canada is different. Each one has its pros and cons. There’s not a single program that will provide everything you need, so you’ll likely have to collect points and miles from a few different ones. Admittedly, that may sound annoying to some people, but it actually makes a lot of sense since the points you earn can have different purposes and some can even be combined.

Think of the points you earn as a currency. Some travel loyalty programs are more valuable than others. Any program that earns you points towards a redemption you can use would be considered valuable. Honestly, there’s nothing worse than collecting points or miles with a program that doesn’t benefit you that much. 

For example, my dad collected Air Miles for more than 30 years and all he ever redeemed was car wash tickets and a toaster oven. Had he collected Aeroplan points instead, he would have easily earned enough points to fund multiple family vacations over the years. He chose Air Miles because he banked with BMO and did not realize he could get a credit card from another financial institution. 

The key takeaway here is that your points are useless if you can’t redeem anything of value from them. That’s why you want to join loyalty programs (and get the co-branded credit card) that will help you reach your travel goals. While not everyone will have the exact same goals, here are some of the best loyalty programs for travel hacking.

American Express Membership Rewards

American Express Membership Rewards points are easily the best travel rewards program since you have multiple ways to redeem your points. What sets them apart from all the other programs is their travel partners. You can transfer your points to Aeroplan at a 1:1 ratio or to Marriott Bonvoy at a 1:1.2 ratio. Aeroplan and Marriott are two of the most popular programs for travel hackers which is why you’ll see them further down this list.

Remember, most lazy travel hackers will only be using two credit cards a year. You could get an American Express credit card that earns you Membership Rewards as your main card, and then an Aeroplan or Marriott card as your secondary card. Since you can transfer your Amex points to either program, you’ll constantly be able to merge your points. This is an ideal situation since you’ll need a lot of points to get those dream redemptions.

Even though American Express Membership Rewards have a base value of 1 cent per point, when you transfer them to Aeroplan, you should be able to get a value of around 2 cents per point. Read my American Express Membership Rewards guide for more details including how you can maximize your points. 

Aeroplan

Since Aeroplan is the loyalty program of Air Canada, and Air Canada is Canada’s #1 airline, this is one program you need to become familiar with quickly. Aeroplan went through massive changes in late 2020. While you can now book any available seat on Air Canada with your Aeroplan points, they now use dynamic pricing. That means the number of points it takes for a free flight is now based on the route, time of year, and even time of day.

Many people get hung up on the fact that many flights now cost more points, but there’s nothing you can really do about that. You’re better off studying the rewards map (they use zones now) and seeing what routes are beneficial to you. You could also take advantage of their generous routing and stopover options to maximize the value of your trip.

Many people aspire for business class flights, but lazy people would be content with a free economy class ticket. That’s easily obtainable with the two credit card travel hacking method. For example, there are many co-branded Aeroplan credit cards that have a welcome bonus of around 50,000 Aeroplan points. I recently booked two round-trip tickets from Toronto to Vancouver for 23,000 Aeroplan points each. As you can see, applying for one new card covered both flights. I just had to pay the taxes which were $74 each.

With Aeroplan, you also have access to seats on partner carriers, which currently sit at 40+. In other words, you won’t have any problems flying anywhere in the world with Aeroplan. Read my Aeroplan Rewards guide for more details about the program. 

Marriott Bonvoy 

With more than 7,000 properties in 130+ countries, Marriott is the largest hotel chain in the world. For that reason alone, you should join Marriott Bonvoy. More importantly, it’s incredibly easy to collect Marriott Bonvoy points as a Canadian since there’s a co-branded credit card and you can transfer points from American Express Membership Rewards.

Marriott Rewards is a decent loyalty program, but it has its pros and cons. The most annoying thing about it is that each hotel is assigned a category between 1 – 8. The higher the category, the more points it costs for a free night. In addition, they have peak and off-peak pricing. That means during busier times, it’ll cost you more points. Every hotel can set that peak pricing whenever they want which has frustrated many people. **Note that as of March 2022, Marriott will be eliminating the rewards chart. That means pricing will be fully dynamic (this is not a good thing).

On a positive note, there can be some good value. Whenever you book four nights on points, you get the fifth night free. Also, once you get Gold status (free with the American Express Platinum Card), you really start to see the benefits such as free room upgrades. If you’re able to get Platinum status, you get free breakfast and suite upgrades. 

I personally value one Marriott Bonvoy point at .9 cents. When making a redemption, if the cash value is near that or above, I’ll use my points. If it falls below that number, I’ll pay cash. You can read my Marriott Bonvoy guide for more details. 

WestJet Rewards

Many travel hackers think WestJet Rewards is a waste of time, but I think it’s the perfect solution for many lazy people. With WestJet Rewards, you earn WestJet dollars, so it’s basically a cash back program. There’s no rewards chard or blackout dates to worry about. The WestJet dollars you earn can be applied to the base fare of WestJet flights or vacation packages.

Admittedly, you won’t get a ton of value here when compared to business class flights on other airlines, but it’s the credit card that makes this a good value. When you sign up for the WestJet RBC World Elite Mastercard, you get a welcome bonus of at least $250 WestJet dollars, free checked bags, and an annual WestJet companion voucher. This is a huge benefit for families where there are two children. If each parent got the card, they’d have two companion vouchers every year to use. That can be a big savings depending on where you want to travel to.

I wouldn’t prioritize WestJet Rewards, but there’s definitely value for some people. Read my WestJet Rewards guide for more details. 

Choosing the right loyalty programs

There are obviously many more loyalty programs than what I’ve listed above, but those are the four main ones you’ll want to be aware of as a Canadian travel hacker. Since joining loyalty programs are free, you should always sign up for them. That said, you need to focus on what points or miles you collect.

Think about what your goals are and work towards them. Someone looking to fly home within Canada every year will likely want to accumulate as many Aeroplan points as possible. If you’re thinking about a stay at a really fancy hotel, then start collecting Marriott Bonvoy points.

It’s always in your best interest to understand how each loyalty program works as there are different tricks that can be more rewarding. In most cases, it’s as simple as knowing what your points are worth, so you don’t waste them on a redemption with a low value.

Travel Hacking for Lazy People

Travel Loyalty Programs in Canada

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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