Compare Travel Loyalty Programs – Aeroplan vs. Air Miles vs. Avion
Canadians love to travel, but those of us who are paying entirely out of pocket for our journeys are in desperate need of a GreedyRates tutorial. With some light reading you can find the Canadian travel rewards program that matches your spending habits and maximizes how often and how comfortably you’re able to fly.
So welcome to the main event! It’s Aeroplan vs. Air Miles vs. Avion in a knock-down, drag-out battle.
Travel Loyalty Rewards Program Key Features
Do you know what to look for in a travel rewards program? GreedyRates 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
I. Average Point Value
Winner: Air Miles
The average point value for these three programs can be broken down as follows:
Air Miles: $0.105
Avion: $0.0114, if redeeming through Avion’s Air Travel Redemption Schedule, or $0.01 if redeeming for travel within 14 days of departure and 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 GreedyRates 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, these points also have two different values, but its value system is the least convoluted and the most straightforward of the three. If you’re redeeming for all merchandise rewards and flights or vacations within 14 days of departure, each point is worth $0.01. However, if you are an Avion cardholder redeeming a flight over 14 days from departure, its value is determined by the Avion Air Travel Redemption Schedule, which divides the world into six regions:
- Short-haul Canada/U.S.
- Long-haul Canada/U.S.
- Long-haul Asia/Australia/New Zealand
- West Coast to Cancun/Honolulu and East Coast to Punta Cana
- West Coast to Punta Cana and East Coast to Cancun/Honolulu
II. How Easily Can You Earn Points?
When comparing Aeroplan vs. Air Miles vs. Avion, 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 Amex cards and BMO 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? Like Air Miles, Avion is limited to a single bank and credit card partnership—RBC and Visa. And like Aeroplan, for every dollar you spend you earn one Avion point. You also earn 25% more points for all travel-related purchases, like car rentals, hotels and flights, as well as for downloading the RBC Avion app and taking advantage of its special offers. Finally, you can Convert Esso Extra points to RBC points for free with a minimum of 2,500 Esso Extra points per transaction. Double the points are available when paying for Uber.
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 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. 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; imminent Air Canada divorce
Though Aeroplan is much loved in Canada, its sketchy redemption and forthcoming break from Air Canada raise concerns about the program’s present and future value. Therefore the ‘Aeroplan’ credit card we recommend to readers is not really an Aeroplan card at all, but rather a flexible rewards card with the ability to transfer points to Aeroplan 1:1.
American Express Gold Rewards Card
American Express is accepted at about 80% of Canadian retailers, so its earning potential isn’t as vast as more widely-accepted cards like Visa or Mastercard. But its flexibility is unparalleled in the Canadian travel rewards space, and for Aeroplan lovers it’s more than worth its $150 annual fee.
- Amex Membership Rewards points can be converted 1:1 with Aeroplan
- Sign-up bonus: 25,000 points when you spend $1,500 in the first three months
- Book flights within Canada or anywhere in the world with the Fixed Points Travel Program
- Earn 2 points for every dollar on travel and eligible purchases
- Earn 1 point for every dollar on everything else
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
Air Miles credit cards worth considering include:
BMO Air Miles Mastercard
Why shouldn’t travel junkies earn Miles for free? The no annual fee BMO Air Miles Mastercard lets them do just that. Though not as robust as its higher-end cousin, the BMO Air Miles World Elite, it’s a great option for Air Miles fans that have an annual fee phobia.
- Sign-up bonus: 500 Air Miles
- No annual fee
- Earn 1 Air Mile for every $20 spent
- Get more Miles when you use your card at Air Miles partners
- More Miles when you add additional cardholders at no extra cost
- Up to 25% off at participating National Car Rental and Alamo Rent-a-Car locations
American Express Air Miles Card
Though less widely accepted than the comparable BMO card, Amex does come with its own perks. Those who want to consolidate and pay off high-interest debt can do so in the first six months after signing up for this card, while simultaneously accruing Air Miles for their purchases.
- Sign-up bonus: 500 Air Miles when you make $500 in purchases in the first three months
- No annual fee
- 1 Air Mile for every $15 in card purchases at Air Miles sponsors
- 1 Air Mile for every $20 in card purchases everywhere else
- Double the Miles at Air Miles partner retailers
- Insider access to live concerts, events and other special offers for Air Miles members
- 1.99% introductory interest rate on balance transfers for the first six months
BMO World Elite Mastercard
The BMO World Elite Mastercard is the best deal of the bunch and is consistently placed on Canadian best card lists. If you can earn enough Miles to overcome the $120 annual fee and have the required $80,000 individual and $150,000 household income, we recommend going for it.
- Sign-up bonus: Up to 3,000 bonus Air Miles and no annual fee for the first year. Offer available until June 28, 2018
- 1 Air Mile for every $10 spent
- An exclusive 15% discount off the amount of points it takes to redeem flights within North America
- Extensive travel insurance
- $120 annual fee
Avion Loyalty Program
Strengths: no blackout dates or seat restrictions; straightforward rewards value; book with any airline
Weaknesses: comparatively few credit cards available
The Avion card that we recommend most to readers is:
The RBC Visa Infinite Avion
Like the Amex Gold Rewards card, the RBC Visa Infinite Avion comes with a generous signup bonus as well as very flexible redemption options: cardholders can redeem for travel or as a statement credit against their card balance. Plus the fact that it’s a Visa bodes well for the card being accepted virtually everywhere.
- Welcome bonus: 15,000 Avion/RBC Rewards points
- 10,000 extra points if you spend a minimum of $1,000 in the first three months
- Annual fee ($120) waivered in the first year
- 1 point for every dollar spent
- Earn an extra 25% points on eligible travel purchases
- Earn 20% more points at Petro-Canada
- Extensive travel insurance and car rental insurance included
This card features a $120 annual fee waivered in the first year and requires a personal income of $60,000 per year or household income of $100,000 per year to qualify.
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, along with blackout dates and seat restrictions. And losing Canada’s largest airline as its major partner doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence for a bright future. 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 and only one partner bank, Avion 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.
Disagree with us or want to add to our assessment? Feel free to add a comment below!