This is only the beginning, there is a lot to cover in the world of travel hacking. We will delve deeper into each of the programs, but here is a brief overview.
If you’ve read our introduction to travel hacking, you know that you basically earn points or miles to redeem for free travel.
But not all rewards programs are created equal. And necessarily, the credit cards you choose will determine the rewards programs that you earn points with. Therefore, you should read our ranking of the best travel hacking credit cards in Canada to help you choose (it will be updated with an amazing new card next week, stay tuned).
That being said, here are the main rewards programs in Canada.
The Main Types Of Travel Hacking Rewards Programs
There are three main types of programs: flexible points from financial institutions, hotel rewards points and finally airlines miles.
Each of them has their own advantages and disadvantages that we cover very briefly below.
You can also read our article on the valuation of every type of points and miles.
Financial Institutions Flexible Points
Although our travel hacking options are much more limited than our neighbours to the South, flexible points have certain advantages. They’re not associated with any airline and can often be used for many varied travel expenses, either through travel bookings with the financial institution’s own travel agency or in most cases as a highly flexible travel credit that can be applied on any travel purchase. That’s the simplest kind of reward, as you can use your points to pay for any travel expense.
This flexibility obviously has a downside… often, you will get much less value per point. Having said that, if you’re just getting started or don’t travel a lot, it’s probably better to have that flexibility. More details to come.
Here are a few of the main programs:
American Express Membership Rewards Points: Our favourite program. Why? You have the flexibility to transfer your points to a few airline programs, like Aeroplan Miles at a 1:1 rate, which is obviously very convenient in Canada, but also in Avios Miles, another reward program that is very popular with travelers. But you can also use your points to pay for any almost any airplane ticket, at a lower (fixed) valuation of course. You can read our article comparing the American Express Membership Rewards Points vs Aeroplan Miles.
Air Miles Miles: You probably know this program, personally I’m not a fan, but it’s definitely an option given the many credit cards that offer Air Miles welcome bonuses, and the number of retail partners. You should know that like all programs, if you decide to accumulate Air Miles, you should never use them for anything other than travel.
Others: AMEX Blue Sky Points, Scotia Rewards Points, CIBC Aventura Points, RBC Avion Points, BMO Rewards Points, Capital One Aspire Points, MBNA Rewards, TD Rewards Points, National Bank Rewards Points, Laurentian Bank Rewards Points, Desjardins Bonusdollars
Hotel Rewards Points
The more involved I get in the travel hacking world, the more I consider hotel rewards programs useful for travelers who want the most value. Personally, I am trying to earn more of these and I think you too should consider it, especially if you have flexibility with your vacation dates… and your destinations. Why? Because if you’re flexible, it will be easier to find cheap plane tickets (and it won’t be worth using your miles to buy the ticket). On the other hand, there is always a need for accommodation while traveling, and this is often a major expense. And deals on hotels are much less frequent, their prices vary less than plane tickets.
Unlike airline miles, earning points during your travels is interesting. What I mean is that often there are promotions to earn thousands of points per night that you pay, so earning hotel points outside of credit cards is much easier than it is with airline miles. And when you use hotel points, there is absolutely no taxes or fees to pay, unlike with airline miles.
Here are the main programs:
Marriott Rewards Points: Marriott now has about 30 different hotel chains, and I personally think it’s one of the best programs. You can easily earn Marriott points with the American Express SPG card because Marriott and SPG are merging. More details to come.
SPG Starpoints: SPG is a chain with slightly more upscale hotels, but also has some very interesting affordable options. Once again, this is a great, renowned program, and you can accumulate with the AMEX SPG card and stay in SPG hotels. It will be merged into Marriott Rewards shortly, so many changes are coming.
Hilton Honors: Hilton is an interesting program because they have a lot of hotels and their earn rate of accumulation is interesting, but it’s difficult to earn lots of points in Canada due to the lack of credit cards. More details to come.
Best Western Rewards: A chain with more affordable hotels, which is the only other hotel chain to offer a credit card in Canada. More details to follow.
Wyndham, Choice Hotels, IHG, Radisson, Hyatt: These are the other major hotel chains, but you can’t accumulate points with them other than by spending nights there, which is far from ideal. More details to come.
To redeem miles for free flights, unlike hotels, you’ll have to pay taxes. This is a considerable amount when you depart from Canada, so it’s not always worth paying with miles compared to paying cash directly. Especially when you can find great flight deals which are discounted compared to the regular price. It’s much more complicated to get great value, but basically the key is keeping miles for times where your flight is very expensive in cash, or to fly from US border airports to lower taxes on your miles redemptions.
Another downside is that it takes a long time to earn miles if you plan on flying outside of North America. But there are definitely some very good uses, don’t miss this detailed article that’ll give you the best miles options.
In the meantime, here is a bit more info on a simple trick to drastically reduce the taxes on miles redemptions: leaving from a US airport. For example, from Buffalo Airport or Burlington Airport, near Toronto and Montreal, a flight to California will cost you the same number of miles on Aeroplan, but taxes are $14 instead of $200 per ticket.
Here are the main programs:
Aeroplan (Air Canada): The main program in Canada given the dominance of Air Canada in the country. What you need to know is that Aeroplan allow you to book flights on Air Canada but especially on all of its partners in Star Alliance. You should always try to use your miles with partners, the fees are often much lower. More details to come. You can read our article comparing the American Express Membership Rewards Points vs Aeroplan Miles.
Avios (British Airways): The second most interesting, because it allows you to travel with one of the most useful programs, especially for short-haul flights elsewhere in the world. Again, they’re used not only on British Airways but on all members of the Oneworld alliance, including American Airlines. More details to come.
WestJet Dollars: WestJet’s low-cost roots are less and less apparent, but they are still felt in their reward program. It’s not a program that gives great value, unless you already use WestJet really often. More details to come.
This was only an overview, don’t miss the more in-depth details on how to use miles and points to travel.
Do you have any questions? Ask them in the comments below.
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This Post Has 2 Comments
We are planning a trip to Europe next year (Turkey, Greece, Italy) and have signed up for a few Amex cards so we can transfer the point to Aeroplan and hopefully be able to redeem for flights. Our plan is to visit Europe for 2-3 weeks so accommodation will be costly. I am still fairly new with travel hacking so can you please guide me on what to do for hotels. I know Amex SPG points are not much value anymore so I have no idea where to start.
Love your blog and really appreciate your insights.
Hi Kevin, thanks for following the blog! I’m glad to try and help you! For hotels, it is indeed harder for us Canadians because we have a lot less options than in the US for example.
However SPG Points are still a great value when transferred from AMEX (and they can be transferred to Marriott too) if you can use them in less expensive locations around the world, where hotel redemptions are really a good value (low amount of Points needed). So maybe not the best option for Italy and Greece, but for Turkey, it is now one of the cheapest hotel markets in the world! So many beautiful hotels for a low amount of Points. However these hotels are also really cheap when paid cash, so not always the best “value” to use your Points, depending on how many you bank until then.
One option is to use the AMEX Points as a travel credit, which can come out more valuable than transferring to SPG Points. You book hotels through the AMEX Travel portal and you’ll get a flat 1 cent per Point return, which can be better than SPG/Marriott if the hotels are expensive in terms of points. They key is a lot of research and comparing (and calculations:P).
I would definitely consider the RBC Avion card (https://blog.flytrippers.com/rbc-visa-avion/) since it also gives you $250 in credits to be applied to any travel expense (so hotels). That card is also completely free, that would cover a couple of nights at least!
It is the best offer currently but if your trip is farther away, all the other bank credit cards have Points that can be applied for travel expenses like that, that’s pretty much the best bet for hotel redemptions.
Finally, as a last resort if you can’t cover them all for free for such a long trip, another affordable option especially for Greece and Italy is often Airbnb, they’re not always the best value but in expensive European countries it is often the case 🙂
Don’t hesitate if you have more questions:)