Maximize Your Travel with Travel Points Programs
I love earning rewards. In fact, my husband may even say that I'm obsessed with it. I wouldn't go that far, but I do love to be rewarded for purchases I already make.
Rewards programs are not all created equal, so it's a good idea to do a scan of what is available to you and what is worth your time.
Let me start by saying - I'm not hear to sway your opinion towards one program over another. I will speak to the programs I'm most familiar with, but my information is not all encompassing, so be sure you have a good understanding of what's out there and what works best for you.
I belong to a lot of loyalty programs - Marriott, Best Western, IHG, Hilton Rewards, Expedia, and the list goes on. And that's just travel related rewards programs. Don't even get me started on coffee loyalty programs. But I digress.
For hotel rewards programs, I do belong to multiple loyalty programs. This may seem counter-intuitive, because if you aren't staying at the same brand hotel all the time, you don't accumulate rewards as quickly. This is true, however, depending on where you travel, certain hotel chains may not have any hotels in the area, or if they do, they may not be conveniently located. Finally, if you're like me and sometimes need to book travel at last minute, your favourite chain may be sold out. All of these are good reasons to belong to more than one hotel rewards program. Sometimes I have people ask me about the amount of email you get from these loyalty programs. I have found the emails to be pretty minimal, but I do have a "trick" for loyalty programs - I have a "special" email account I set up just for promotional emails. For example, when a company offers a discount if you sign up for their email list, or if I want to sign up for a newsletter, but don't want the emails clogging up my daily emails, I use this particular account. Then, when I'm planning a trip, I log in to see if any promotions have been sent to me lately.
Now, for travel points programs specifically - the programs I am most familiar with are Aeroplan and Air Miles. I use both, but I admit that I use Air Miles far more frequently than Aeroplan. Here's what I like about both programs: You can earn points on purchases you already make, like for groceries and gas, and if you are someone that likes using credit cards, both offer opportunities to sign up for credit cards that earn you big bonus miles, and the opportunity to earn extra miles at businesses/stores that are considered "partners". I will caution - be careful if you are going the credit card way - you want to be sure you're regularly paying off your balance, so as not to pay extra on interest. Also, some of the yearly fees can be high, depending on the card you are looking for.
If you do decide to pursue the credit card option, there are many different options for the types of benefits, aside from points. And again, the yearly fees vary, so evaluate what works best for you. Many cards will offer sign up bonuses equivalent to one flight. In addition, some cards will offer one companion flight per year, airport lounge passes, travel insurance, etc. The most expensive card I've seen is one put out by American Express called their "Reserve" credit card - it has some great benefits, but the yearly fee is $299. One of the bonuses with this card is that you can use Air Miles to cover taxes and fees. There are also some great insurance options, lounge passes, a companion flight, and more. If you travel a lot, this may be a great option, but given the high yearly fee, it likely isn't worth it if you don't travel very often. A nice alternative is the Bank of Montreal World Elite Mastercard. The yearly fee is less than the Amex option at $120, and as a bonus they will waive the first year fee. It has similar benefits to the Amex option, however, the option to pay taxes and fees with Air Miles is a bonus only offered through Amex. But given that the savings on the yearly fee are so significant, it's likely worth it to just pay the taxes and fees, unless you are a frequent traveler and can make that bonus worth it.
Aeroplan cards are available through Toronto Dominion Bank, CIBC and Amex. The TD Aeroplan Visa offers one of the best options (at the time of publication) with an annual of $120 that is waived for the first year and up to 35,000 Aeroplan bonus miles. In addition, you get great benefits like a complimentary checked bag on Air Canada and priority check in with Air Canada. You can also get access to the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge. Similar to the Air Miles cards, there are some good insurance options included with the card.
When earning miles through credit cards, the more you spend, the more miles you get. So if you pay for as many things as possible with it, that's how you maximize the miles. Just be careful with bill payments. Some utilities charge additional fees to be able to pay by credit card. Also, this is only worth it if you pay off the balance, otherwise you pay more in interest than the miles are worth.
Air Miles and Aeroplan offer periodic promotions that provide collectors with an opportunity to earn extra miles. I will share an example from each program. Aeroplan recently (note - this article was written in April 2019) had a promotion where you could earn 35% more miles if you converted your hotel rewards points to Aeroplan miles, it's a good way to get miles if you don't use your hotel rewards points very often. Air Miles, on the other hand, had a promotion, at the time this article was written, where you could earn 1000 extra miles if you shopped at 5 different partner stores within a 4 week time span. Luckily, Air Miles has lots of partners, both online and in the community, that it wasn't too difficult for me to reach that threshold.
Earning the most miles possible happens when you use combinations of coupons, Air Miles/Aeroplan credit card, and, one other bonus that I haven't yet mentioned. Both Air Miles and Aeroplan have options to become part of a survey panel. You fill out surveys at your convenience and earn miles based on how many surveys you do and how long it takes to complete them.
Do you have additional tips to earn more Air Miles/Aeroplan Miles? Let me know in the comments below or connect with me on social media.