How About Those Travel Reward Programs

My husband travels a lot on business and, by extension, always has air miles stored for a few free family trips a year. Thankfully, he really has them stacked up because Aeroplan is making it more difficult to benefit from the program after it went public as an investment trust. For example, when you’re using travel points, more often than not, you cannot use them for trips that are on sale- -only for regular priced trips. This really drives me crazy because often it would be both simpler and more cost effective to just buy the trip that’s on sale instead of redeeming our travel points.

And, only recently, Aeroplan gave us one more reason to look elsewhere. In early October, Aeroplan said that we will lose points which have not been redeemed within a year. To make sure no extra point goes unpunished, they also decided to time-stamp all points earned effective January 1.

If this were a perfect world, with Aeroplan we get no mandatory Saturday night stays, no advance bookings are needed, and our points should go towards any flight, regardless of whether it is on sale or not. But, as we all know, this is not a perfect world, and booking a flight with Aeroplan points often requires an extra session with my therapist. What is reasonable point redemption to me, and what is promised in brochures, is not necessarily reasonable to Aeroplan. Plus, the program can take away your points, if circumstances warrant so. What those “circumstances” are remains a mystery.

So, we decided to look what else is out there. As it turned out, some credit cards offer reasonable travel rewards programs. For example, the credit card veteran, Diners Club, has allied itself with MasterCard, and in Canada, it is offered by Citibank Canada. Their travel rewards program is very competitive and it does not restrict the participants from booking flights on any airline.

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Now, when it comes to plan-to-plan comparison, Diners Club program requires more points than Aeroplan ClassicFlight, but also much less than the new ClassicPlus, which doesn’t limit business from coach seats. There is also a cap on how many points can be converted to ticket dollars, but at least that cap is about $50.00 higher than most competitors’. Trips can also be customized, and if you find something better on another travel rewards program, you can convert your Diners Club points into points on ten different airlines.

There is also CIBC Aventura, a lesser-known version of CIBC Aerogold, and it is a viable alternative for people who aren’t ready just yet to completely leave the Aeroplan fold. This card lets you fly with 100 different airlines, and you can convert your Aventura points into Aeroplan frequent-flying miles. With Aventura, you can book cruises, tours, car rentals–only for shorter flights, your price cap starts at $350.00, as opposed to $400.00 with Diners Club.

Finally there is MBNA WorldPoints MasterCard, which offers the lowest annual fee of $29.00, but requires a minimum of 25,000 points earned before booking any flight. This means that since the card gives you a point for every dollar spent, you’d need to spend at least $25,000 before you can redeem your flight. For business owners and frequent travelers, that may not be a problem. For ordinary people, well, let’s hope you’re not going to spend $25,000 just to get a free flight to see Aunt Marlene in Poughkeepsie.