With the cost of flights and hotels at record highs, many people are turning to travel hacking to save money. Travel hacking is where people earn points and/or miles to help offset their future travel costs. However, with dozens of loyalty programs and hundreds of credit cards available, many people have no idea where to begin. If you’re a Canadian and want to start travel hacking, these are the loyalty programs you’ll want to become familiar with.
Air Canada’s loyalty program is called Aeroplan. What many people don’t realize is that Aeroplan went through a huge overhaul in 2021. These days, you can redeem any seat available on Air Canada. In addition, Aeroplan has more than 40 airline partners where you can redeem your points.
What makes Aeroplan appealing is that Air Canada has the most reach when it comes to Canadian airlines. Aeroplan points are also incredibly easy to earn since there are more than a dozen Aeroplan credit cards in Canada. Mid-tier and premium Aeroplan credit cards typically come with a welcome bonus in the 50,000 to 100,000 Aeroplan points range. That’s pretty generous, considering it’s not hard to find a return flight within Canada and the U.S. for under 30,000 Aeroplan points.
There is one downside to Aeroplan. They use dynamic pricing. That means when flights are in demand, the number of points required for an award flight also increases. It’s not uncommon to find flight prices that exceed the Aeroplan flight reward chart. Although this is highly annoying for consumers, there are always ways to save if you’re flexible.
Air Canada may be the largest airline in Canada, but WestJet has a strong presence in western Canada, so it’ll appeal to many Canadians. Instead of earning points or miles with WestJet rewards, you earn WestJet Dollars. This effectively makes WestJet Rewards a cash back program.
While there’s no denying the simplicity of cash back, WestJet Rewards is a bit basic. Your WestJet dollars can only be used on WestJet flights and a handful of partners. In addition, you still need to pay airport transportation charges (ATC). Since you only have WestJet dollars to work with, you won’t be able to use your rewards for cheap aspirational travel such as a business class flight around the world.
That said, the strength of WestJet Rewards lies in its credit cards. The Westjet RBC World Elite Mastercard gives you your first checked bag free and an annual free companion voucher. The companion voucher is incredibly valuable since it allows a secondary passenger to travel with the primary cardholder at a fixed price.
For those that want to focus on hotels instead of flights, Marriott Bonvoy will be of interest. Marriott Bonvoy is the loyalty program of Marriott International. Marriott International has more than 8,000 hotels in 140+ countries. Basically, it’s not hard to find a Marriott hotel anywhere in the world.
Marriott Bonvoy is relevant to Canadians since it’s the only major hotel chain with a co-branded credit card. With the Marriott Bonvoy Amex Card, you get a good welcome bonus and a free annual night certificate. That benefit more than covers the annual fee of $120.
Similar to Aeroplan, Marriott Bonvoy uses dynamic pricing. This can be annoying since the price of reward nights can fluctuate quite a bit. That said, when you book five nights on points, you’ll only pay for four. This lowers the average nightly rate, which can be quite good.
Finally, there’s American Express Membership Rewards. This program is excellent since you can transfer your points to various travel loyalty programs. For example, you can transfer your points to Aeroplan at a 1:1 ratio or Marriott Bonvoy at a 1:1.2 ratio. This is relevant since your points are more flexible. You would only need to transfer your points when you find a good redemption.
More importantly, American Express credit cards come with some incredible welcome bonuses. For example, the Amex Platinum Card typically has a welcome bonus worth about 100,000 points. Since you can transfer your points to Aeroplan, you can maximize your value.
For example, 100,000 Aeroplan points will get you about three to four return flights within North America in economy class. That’s a value of around $2,000. Even though the card comes with an annual fee of $699, the welcome bonus would be worth more than double that.
The Bottom Line
Travel hacking requires a little bit of research, but the goal is to focus on programs that help you reach your dreams. To earn points fast, you need to sign up for credit cards with huge welcome bonuses and then cancel them before your second annual fee posts. Not everyone will like the idea of applying for new credit cards and then cancelling them, but there’s no other way to earn points as quickly. Always keep an eye out for the best travel credit cards in Canada, as there’s usually an offer that’s worth it.
Barry Choi is a personal finance and travel expert at moneywehave.com. He makes frequent
media appearances where he talks about all things related to money and travel.