Compare Travel Loyalty Programs: Aeroplan vs Air Miles vs Avion

Compare Travel Loyalty Programs: Aeroplan vs. Air Miles vs. Avion (RBC Rewards)

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Last updated on May 25, 2021 Comments: 18

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 (RBC Rewards) 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

Compare Travel Loyalty Rewards Programs

Travel Loyalty ProgramAverage Point ValueStrengthsWeaknessesBest ForRead More
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.Read More
Avion (RBC Rewards)$0.0114, if redeeming through RBC Air Travel Redemption ScheduleNo blackout dates or seat restrictions
Straightforward rewards value
Book early or last minute with any airline
Comparatively few credit cards availableRBC customers looking to earn travel points.Read More
Air Miles0.105
High average value for Miles
Many merchandise rewards options
Pay with Air Miles directly at some partner retailers
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
Infrequent travellers. Points are slow to earn, so an Air Miles card may not be ideal if you travel multiple times a year.Read More

I. Average Point Value

Winner: Air MilesAir 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 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 (RBC Rewards), 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, each point is worth $0.01. However, if you are an Avion cardholder redeeming a flight early or last minute, its value is determined by the RBC Air Travel Redemption Schedule, which divides the world into six regions:

  • Short-haul Canada/U.S.
  • Long-haul Canada/U.S.
  • Europe
  • 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?

Winner: AeroplanLoyalty Program 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 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 (RBC Rewards)? Like Air Miles, RBC Rewards is limited to a single bank and credit card partnership—RBC and Visa. And like Aeroplan, for every dollar you spend you earn one RBC Rewards 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.

III. How Easily Can You Redeem Points?

Winner: Avion (RBC Rewards)RBC Loyalty Program

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

Aeroplan Loyalty Program

Image source: Shutterstock

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 and a forthcoming break from Air Canada raise concerns about the program’s present and future value. However, there are great Aeroplan cards as well as cards with flexible rewards earning rates that could be perfect for you.

Air Miles Loyalty Program

Air Miles Loyalty Program

Image source: Shutterstock

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.

Avion (RBC Rewards) Program

Avion Loyalty Program

Image source: Shutterstock

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

Weaknesses: comparatively few credit cards available

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 (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.

Disagree with us or want to add to our assessment? Feel free to add a comment below!

Author Bio

Aaron Broverman
Aaron Broverman is a freelance writer based in Toronto. When he’s not writing about money for publications like Yahoo Canada and GreedyRates, 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

Article comments

18 comments
Mark says:

A flawed analysis – 1 Air Mile per $10 on a BMO card or 1 Aeroplan point $1 spent on their respective cards. Bonus events are fine, but usually only happen at places like Safeway where the extra cost of shopping there offsets whatever “bonus” you’re getting.
Actual return per dollar spent is $.0105 (or different for various products) for Air Miles. And really, what’s what one cares about.

Aaron Broverman says:

Hi Mark,
Things have certainly changed among these loyalty programs since I last wrote this article a few years ago. It probably needs another look and a true update, especially with Aeroplan revamping its program recently. Avion may still come out on top when these three are matched-up for me because I value my redemption options and value, but they are deserving of a real rematch under current circumstances, so I will give you the benefit of the doubt for now and allow for the need for reanalysis.

Peter Morrow says:

Here we are in the middle of June, 2020 and there is no announcement from either Air Canada or TD (who is supposed to be the main card holder) about a new credit card for the new Air Canada loyalty program. What’s the reason for the holdup?

Aaron Broverman says:

Hi Peter, probably COVID-19. From a PR standpoint, it would come across as patently insensitive to announce a travel loyalty program when the government is encouraging the populous not to travel and everyone is nervous and uncomfortable about traveling in the first place.

Shannon says:

Another thing that I love about my BMO World Elite Airmiles Mastercard is the two free lounge passes per year. My favourite lounge so far has been YYC’s (Calgary Airport).

Ann says:

I first went with Aeroplan in 1986. A few years ago I was told by well meaning friends that Avion were, overall, much better. Not so! When I fly within Canada, I only need 12,000 points for a one-way flight with Aeroplan. Avion requires me to use 35,000 points for the same flights. Needless to say I switched back to Aeroplan.

Aaron Broverman says:

Hi Ann,
I’m so glad you found a frequent flyer program that works for you. I would say that based on the research I did for this article Avion is still better overall in terms of comparative offering, but the value of all three of these programs is based on when you book, where you’re going and the time of year you are flying. This means that when you flew and where you flew possibly allowed you to get more value for your Aeroplan than Avion because the value calculation for both programs works out differently. That does not mean Avion doesn’t provide more value on the whole or on average than Aeroplan. It just means Aeroplan was better in a few specific cases.

DZ in TO says:

I just compared a booking from YYZ to BWI in January 2020 Airmiles vs. Air Canada website. I have a BMO airmiles elite which gives me 15% discount on the miles.
Through Air Canada it was $438, and airmiles was 1105 miles after the discount, plus $157. Airmiles saved me $281, which comes to more than $.25 per point.

Francis Gough says:

Very interesting – do you know if they can just take away your points legally or if there is a excalation point if this happens? I just logged in to my AEROPLAN points only to see the have been taken away. Over 20,000 points gone. Aeroplan stopped their affiliation with Esso so I have not accumulated more points. I called in and they told me to basically to pound sand. I did not get any emails they must have gone into a spam filter and now they are gone. I can’t believe the rude service and he tells me to just start accumulating more and then use them within a year. Can I get this rectified AEROPLAN?

The GreedyRates Team says:

Hi Francis,

We’re having a bit of trouble deciphering what exactly happened. Are you concerned about your Esso points disappearing or your Aeroplan miles? Which card did you have and was it left unused for a year or more? These are all relevant considerations which indeed have a bearing on if your points or miles expired. Regardless, it’s worth checking to see if you have an Esso points account separate to your Aeroplan account and bank account, as that’s where your points may be. Get back to us and we’ll help as far as we’re able, and if you’d prefer to include some details of a personal financial nature, it’s best to email us at info@greedyrates.ca for a one-on-one correspondence. Thanks!

GreedyRates

Wes says:

One consideration I would recommend for those looking at Avion as a point option: starting off with RBC Signature. The big drawback I see with Avion Infinite is the high annual fee with very little point multipliers. What I am doing is earning RBC Rewards points with RBC Signature. When it comes time to redeem, I will upgrade the card to Avion and then use them. This way I only pay $39 per year vs $120.

One feature your RBC Avion write-up missed is the conversion option to British Airways Avios, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, Westjet and American Airlines AAdvantage. While this makes calculating value metrics harder, it is a great value finder especislly when RBC does periodic transfer promotions especially to British Airways.

MH says:

I earn Aeroplan (via Amex Gold card), Air Miles (via BMO World elite and partners) and a CBC Aventura Infinite (similar to the RBC Avion). Interestingly I have found there are good uses for all three.

I would tend to disagree that AirMiles are hard to earn. First of all there are lots of promotions to earn up to 2000 points just by shopping at a certain number of shops (easy to do) within a certain time frame. Then there are promotions by companies that earn you 400 points etc. This adds up really fast and it is easy to become an Onyx member.

I have found AirMiles particularly valuable for mid distance flights like London, ON to Ottawa or Ottawa to Halifax. Those flights can be really pricey and I’ve received value on the points well in excess of the nominal $0.10 mentioned here. Another big advantage of AirMiles is that you can pool all the points into one account as opposed to having to split them up by individual as you have to with, say Aeroplan. You can even have multiple credit cards with different owners all contributing to the same account which is great.

Having all three programs is helpful though. I typically look at all three when I book a flight and compare value. CIBC always has flight availability which is great but is better vale for longer haul flights. AirMiles is also good and particularly valuable for medium haul flights. Aeroplan is best for flights within North America and offers the best value when you are going to places that aren’t the major hubs – like the BC interior from Ottawa.

Both CIBC and AirMiles tickets let you collect flyer points with an airline (e.g. Aeroplan) also b posting their value over Aeroplan which doesn’t offer this.

I have not found that it is easy to earn points with Aeroplan ever since ESSO dropped out. I don’t find they are easy to cash in for flights as availability is spotty, and I really don’t like that the points can expire. The other programs don’t do that.

In summary though all programs have their place. I have become a more heavy user of AirMiles over the past years and have found them to be quite good and easy to earn much to my surprise as for years I didn’t think this was the case.

The GreedyRates Team says:

Hi MH,

Wow, thanks for the thorough and informative comment! We’re glad you liked our article and came to some of the same conclusion as we did. It’s impressive that you’ve got your travel rewards ecosystem so well-tuned. As an Onyx member of Air Miles, thanks to your focused array of credit cards, you’ll get a bigger discount when using Miles on merchandise or flights and also receive priority service along with invites to exclusive events as well. This is a benefit of these cards that we rarely talk about, so we appreciate you bringing it up for other readers.

If you’re no longer happy with the value that you’re getting from Aeroplan, perhaps consider replacing it with a card that complements your lifestyle in other ways. Since Air Miles is capable of making your travel more cost-effective and enjoyable, maybe you’d be best served by a card that saves you foreign transaction fees while you’re travelling. How nice would it be to save on your flight and enjoy other Air Miles perks, and then also skip the 2.50% fees on all the purchases you make on the trip? With a card like the Rogers World Elite Mastercard, this is easily possible—and all without an annual fee. It’s 4.00% cash back on foreign purchases is the best tool for using your money outside of Canada, but even in Canadian dollars purchases the card earns 1.75%.

Thanks again for your amazing travel rewards blueprint. Other readers take note!

GreedyRates Staff

DZ in TO says:

Another perk for the BMO World Elite Mastercard is that you get one free companion ticket per year. You need to have enough miles in your account to purchase both tickets, but after purchase, the miles for one of the tickets gets refunded.

The GreedyRates Team says:

Hi DZ!

We appreciate the comment very much! You’re completely correct that with the BMO Air Miles World Elite Mastercard, you can book two flights on the same itinerary with points, and then get a rebate (of Air Miles) afterwards for the cost of one of the tickets. All the criteria you mentioned also apply, such as the requirement that you have enough points to fully pay for the two flights, and that both ticket holders travel together.

You won’t find this promotion on the BMO website, though it’s active until November 30th, 2018. This is because it isn’t BMO’s promotion, but is offered through Air Miles instead. BMO cardholders with the Air Miles Mastercard can take advantage of it, but they’ll need to book their travel arrangements through Air Miles and not BMO.

We’ll add a note about this nice perk in our article above, and appreciate you bringing it to our attention.

Thanks,
GreedyRates

Drew says:

To be eligible for this offer, you must have taken the BMO WE Airmiles during the promotional period that ended in November 2017. Since that time, new owners of BMO WE Airmiles can no longer benefit from this benefit.

The GreedyRates Team says:

Hey Drew,

Thanks for calling our attention to your issue. However, we just double-checked the fine print and can confirm that the promotion for 3,000 Air Miles (plus the waiver of your first year’s annual fee) is still available. New cardholders who apply for the BMO Air Miles World Elite Mastercard before June 28th will get the Miles, while the fee waiver is available to all applicants regardless of when they complete the application.

To get this deal, you’ll need to get approved within the week, so act fast. Thanks for your attention to detail!

The GreedyRates Team

Drew says:

You understand me wrong. I was talking about thé companion ticket. If the BMO WE Airmiles card was taken before December 2017, then the promotion atoll good. Since then, this promotion of the companion ticket no longer exist. I confirm with an agent on chat (Airmiles).