There have been a lot of changes in the Travel Card Industry, and if you like to collect points, you really have to keep on top of which is the best, for the next two years or more.
Now, we need to cover a few basic things before we get into this. First there are three main types of points to collect in Canada.
- AeroPlan by Air Canada. Yes there are other airlines, but none that are National and apply to all Canadians flying.
- AirMiles is a private point collector that has successfully crossed the product line barrier and has been accepted by many store brands as well as Credit Card Companies.
- Credit Card Companies. These cards need to be broken down into sections.
Traditional cards where they add to your AeroPlan or AirMiles points and
The newer style cards that have their own travel point systems.
One important point here when we get into the Credit Card systems. I do not endorse or recommend that anyone get a credit card that cannot say they would never, ever carry a balance. The whole point of saving money on travel gets destroyed if you do not pay the entire balance off each and every month and end up paying interest charges. You have been warned and I say this because the newer bank driven travel plans are, simply put, great.
I can remember when, AeroPlan was really the only card and way to get travel miles. Yep, I go that far back. But, over the years, things have changed a lot. Do I still have an AeroPlan account and do I use it? Yes, but no longer for my “basic” travel.
To choose the best card for you depends on 2 things.
- The travel points and how much you have to spend to get free travel and
- What are the soft costs that still have to be paid to get that travel?
This second item is a really big point with the newer bank reward systems. With plans like AeroPlan and AirMiles, after you save for a long time to get your points, you still have to pay the taxes and fees. In many cases this can be over $200 per person travelling. A family of four spending $800 in travel frees is not exactly a free plane ticket.
To combat this, Banks started offering their own reward system that could not only be used for air travel, but any kind of travel including Hotels and All inclusive travel packages. This was good, in that, it offered a product outside of the plane travel, but it used to take far more points per dollar value then AeroPlan did.
Are you confused yet? The 1990’s was a confusing time for travel points. The good news is that Banks have caught on to this need, more and more banks offered their own reward systems and it is getting more and more competitive. This means better and simpler choices for you, the consumer.
There are programs that offer great point value on economy flights and the same points for separate great value on vacation packages. In fact, I have just used up my AirMiles travel points and have basically stopped collecting them through Credit Cards. Yes, I will still use my AirMiles card when merchants offer this. I would be silly not too. But, not for collecting via Credit Cards. The New generation of point systems are just too good. For example, my local grocery chain offers 95 AirMile points when I buy a $200 Gift card. So, we tend to spend a little over $400 a month and by getting two gift cards, I gain and extra 190 AirMile points plus the $400 in points on that Credit Card.
AeroPlan is getting to be the same with one MAJOR exception. For flights 3 hours or less, I don’t mind Economy, but, when I travel for longer time periods I want to be in business class. AeroPlan is the best and really only choice if you want to travel Business or Executive Class on a reasonable number of points. I have never seen a card that has polarized itself quite so badly as this one. I find for any reasonable short-term reservations, booking my travel in less than a month in advance, I really have a hard time getting classic seats in economy and my newer card offer better value in any case. However, the point system leaves everyone else in the dust on Business class seats.
If we speak of AeroPlan Classic Rewards, one long haul ticket is 25,000 points. One business class is 40,000 points. Yes, these levels are changing in 2014, but I see for the small point person, it gets worse, not better. So, 15,000 points to upgrade to Business class. So a 60% increase in points.
Now, all the newer cards are based on the real cost of the tickets. So I looked up the cost from my airport (East Coast)to Vancouver (West Coast). The best Economy price was about $1,500 and the corresponding Business Class (Executive Class Lowest) was $3,500. An increase of $2,000 or a whopping 130% increase. So for any point system that uses the airline ticket price to figure out the points used, they don’t hold a candle to AeroPlan Business Class points. But again, this is the only exception that I can find.
Another way to look at this is you will need to spend $40,000 in purchases for this ticket in AeroPlan plus say $200 in taxes and fees. On the norm for leading bank cards, you would need to spend about $175,000 to $350,000 in purchases to get the same ticket. Again this really only applies to business class travel. Long story short, AeroPlan is still a good choice for those looking for long haul business class flights.
There are features I like in 3 of the newer plans, but really, it all has to come down to, Which plan will me, for my travel needs, travel sooner.
- If you are going to be traveling economy, I would recommend a travel card like the new CIBC Aventura MasterCard since they offer special point pricing on airfare only. Unless you live outside of a major metropolitan area like I do. In this case most tickets are over the allowed maximum price.
- I do really like the Scotia Gold American Express Card since it is the only one that allow you to book on any site, I.e. Air Canada or Expedia or directly with a hotel, use this card to pay and then call and have them apply the amount to be paid in points. If you hit a great seat sale, you might cash in with this card. My 2 draw backs are that for most purchases, it is still a dollar spent for 1 point and it is American Express. I still find many places that do not accept this card since they have higher costs to the merchant.
- But for “package travel” the all-inclusive that so many of us use, right now the choice would have to be the BMO World Elite MasterCard as they offer 2 points instead of 1 for each dollar spent and for packaged holidays, cars, hotels etc. It is a penny a point on all for redemption for mast cards with the exception to the CIBC airline system, so, about 1/2 the points needed from the Bank of Montreal Travel card.
I am building with BMO for now, being very specific on target amounts going on the card and as these approach, I will once again check the murky waters to the Travel Card business.
I am hoping that the next big card out there will offer 2 or more points on ALL purchases, be a Visa or MasterCard product and allow me to book with anyone and charge it the points on the card. This last point is really huge and will be the next game changer since it is the one thing that will guarantee us that we are getting the best price possible and using the least amount of points to get it. The last thing it needs to have a point for point transfer without penalty to AeroPlan so if you want to be in Business Class … you can.
Hey, this is a travel article, so I am allowed to dream.