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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Maximize your Miles and Points 2011

The following article is an update to our original Maximize Your Miles article I published on Rewards Canada way back on May 30, 2005. I thought it best to bring it up to date although the basic premise has not changed.

Maximize your Miles and Points 2011

On average Canadians belong to over 9 loyalty programs and many of them according to recent surveys admit they are not using the programs to their full potential. As with most things in life that require a decision, research is warranted to make the most of your loyalty program. That being said, if you want that free flight to Hawaii sooner or want your reward program balance to grow faster you can follow these eight steps to maximizing the way you earn miles and rewards.

Focus on a few programs but you can join many
It is always best to focus on only a couple of programs (1 Airline, 1 Hotel, 1 Shopping, etc) to put your miles into but sometimes you may be shopping somewhere or renting a car that your primary programs don't partner with. In that case it can be worthwhile to find a program that does, since joining most loyalty programs is free it does not hurt to join them. In the end you may end up with some programs that have orphaned miles or points that you never use but on the other hand you may end up collecting more then you originally thought in that particular program so that you can redeem for a reward sometime in the future. If you do plan on using certain programs only occasionally, check out the rules of the program to see if points expire. Some programs don't have expiry dates so you can just leave the points in the program while other programs do have expiry dates. Expiry dates tend to be 1 to 3 years after your last action (earning or redemption) so keep track of your points and if you want to keep them ensure that you have activity in your account. In some cases it may be worthwhile to transfer those orphaned miles/points out of the program into your main program. A good example is if you have a low hotel program balance that would not be enough for a stay but enough to transfer to your airline program to increase the latter programs balance.

Look for and take advantage of bonus mile offers
Use bonus mile offers to your advantage, they are an easy way to work your way up to that reward you want to redeem for. This is what sites like Rewards Canada and Frequent Flyer Bonuses were initially started for, listing bonus offers in one site. But don't just read RewardsCanada.ca and FrequentFlyerBonuses.com, read the emails the programs send you, don't delete them, you'll never know when a valuable offer could be hidden somewhere in the email. Check out the websites of the reward programs and other frequent flyer sites like webflyer.com, frequentflier.com, freefrequentflyermiles.com, milepoint.com or flyertalk.com.

Search out offers, if you have to stay overnight in Regina and the Best Western and the Holiday Inn both have the same rates, find out if one of them is offering a bonus mile or point opportunity and stay there. Do your research, your travel agent or online booking engine won't do it for you, in fact most are unaware of the hundreds of bonus offers that are out there.

Register for every promotion even if you think you may not use it.
Many of the bonus offers require registration and while you may not think you can take advantage of the bonus offer, register anyway. Who knows when your employer may send you to Phoenix for a meeting and you don't remember or realize that the airline you're flying on was offering double miles on all flights to or from Phoenix. By registering for an offer when you first see it, you're making sure you don't miss out on any bonus opportunities.

Pay for everything with your mileage/point earning credit card
This is by far the easiest way to rack up miles outside of actual flights with the airlines or stays with hotels. Put everything that you buy on your credit cards right down to the chocolate bar from the corner store. Every mile counts no matter where or how you earn it. If you have a card that earns 1.5 or 2 times the points/miles at gas, grocery, and drug stores make sure you use it there. Plus if you want to earn higher mileage from your card for shopping or eating out, buy gift cards for your favourite stores and restaurants at the grocery store or drug store to earn your 1.5x or 2x multiplier. Be warned however, if you run a balance and pay interest on your credit cards, those miles you earn will never be worth the money you lose in paying the interest. If this is your case get a low interest credit card, and lucky for you some low interest cards now carry rewards.

Carry different credit cards
Some bonus mile offers or other offers like free gift cards (see Cash in on other rewards below) require that you only use a specific credit card like a Visa. So if it is economically viable for you to do so, carry a Visa card, a MasterCard and an American Express. Think it may be expensive? Well there are quite a few no fee credit cards that earn points like the American Express Blue Sky credit card. Of course you don't even have to get a mileage card for your additional card, you could go for cash back rebates or merchandise but since this is an article on miles, why wouldn't you? Another method of earning more miles or points with credit cards is called churning. This entails applying for a card, receiving the sign up bonus and then cancelling the card followed by reapplying for the card sometime down the road to receive the bonus again. The time period varies by card issuer so check with them first (or research it online) plus watch your credit scores, too many applications in a short period of time can have a negative effect on your credit rating.

Double & Triple Dip
Double dipping is the term coined for earning miles twice in one purchase or transaction. This basically involves your mileage earning credit card being used for a purchase where you also earn miles in the same program as the credit card. Buying gas at Esso? Using your Aeroplan Visa or American Express and then swiping your Aeroplan card ensures you are double dipping.

Triple dipping is little tougher then double dipping and mainly involves travel purchased on your credit card. Certain airlines and hotels offer some sort of mileage bonus if you buy airline tickets through their website directly. Thus the triple dip in this case would be the online purchase bonus, the miles earned on the credit card plus the miles or points earned for taking the flight or completing the hotel stay.

Double and Triple dipping does not have to involve the same program. You can always use a credit card that earns in one program while collecting the actual miles from another program for your flights, hotels, shopping or anything else you can earn miles on.

Upgrade your flights
Take steps to fly in business or first class by buying the ticket outright (the expensive way unless there is a really low or mistake fare) or by making sure that you meet criteria to get upgraded (this works more for those who are status members in their respective programs) to ensure that you earn the 25 to 200% class of service bonus associated with the upper classes of flying. This is an easy way to build up those mileage balances and your qualification for status

Cash in on other rewards
Sometimes reward programs offer bonus or rewards other then miles. Some airlines have had promotions whereby you take three flights and you'll get one free. Same goes for hotels, many hotels have promotions that offer up free nights after a certain amount of stays. Hotels also like to offer gift cards for future travel after certain stays. In many cases you have to be a member of the respective company's reward program so this goes back to the beginning where you may just have to join the program to take advantage of the offer.

Keep track of your miles and points
If you don’t keep track of your miles and/or points, you stand to miss out on potential rewards and even worse you can lose all the miles and points you earned thanks to programs inactivity or expiry rules. It can be extremely time consuming to keep track of all the programs you participate in but thankfully there are ways to make it easier. There are handful of websites out there that will help you keep track of your balances (and some also track your expiry dates) and most of them do it for free. Examples are sites like Awardwallet.com and Gomiles.com which are both free although Award Wallet does offer a paid upgrade version. Don’t like handing out your membership numbers and password/PIN codes to these sites? Then it can be as simple as creating a spreadsheet to help track your balances although you still have to manually check all your programs or you can download a program like Miletracker which runs on your computer and not a third party server.

By following some or all of these steps you will see the balance in your reward programs grow faster then you think. Then those reward flights, nights or merchandise will be within arms reach and you won’t be waiting years to get them.

Have a question or any further tips to provide? Leave your comments below.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

American Express Gold Rewards Card: A Hidden Gem for earning Aeroplan Miles

When it comes to earning Aeroplan miles, there is no easier way to earn them than on everyday Credit Card spending. Nowadays Canadians have nearly a dozen Credit Card choices to earn Aeroplan miles with. Whether it be through cards that earn the miles directly or through others that allow you to exchange points for the miles, you would think that they would all be similar in how many miles you can earn with the cards. Unfortunately this is not the case and many of you may be unaware of the cards that you can earn more Aeroplan miles on. One of these cards is the American Express Gold Rewards Card. Technically speaking, the Gold Rewards Card is not a credit but a charge card (where you have to pay your balance in full each month). For most of you this should not be an issue because if you carry a balance you should not be looking at any rewards cards in this category.

Some of the credit cards deposit Aeroplan miles directly into your Aeroplan account while others you have to convert points into miles. The latter is the category the Gold Rewards Card falls into as it earns Membership Rewards points (Amex’s proprietary rewards program) which can then be converted instantaneously to Aeroplan on a 1 to 1 basis.

The mileage that Aeroplan members can earn on their daily spending ranges from ½ mile per dollar, up to 2 miles per dollar depending on how much is spent and where the Credit Card spending took place. This is where the American Express Gold Rewards Card comes out flying. It earns 2 Membership Rewards points per dollar on eligible gas, grocery, drugstore, and travel purchases. As stated above, this transfers over to Aeroplan at 1:1, so essentially it can earn up to 2 Aeroplan miles per dollar. Unlike some other Cards, there is no limit to the number of points that can be earned at the 2 to 1 ratio. With some crafty forethought the Card’s 2 to 1 ratio can be extended to some other types of retailers and hence extending your Aeroplan earning to 2 to 1.

How, you may ask, can you extend the 2 to 1 earning ratio to other retailers? The answer comes in the form of two words: Gift Cards. Many Canadian restaurant chains, retailers and service providers sell their gift cards at Grocery and Drug Stores. You know what I am talking about, those huge display racks filled with hundreds of gift cards. By purchasing gift cards for the merchants you plan to use at grocery or drugstores, you will earn the 2 Membership Rewards points per dollar spent rather then only 1 point per dollar if you used your Card directly at the end merchant.

Finally, since the American Express Gold Rewards Card offers 2 points per dollar spent on travel, the Card is a good fit for the frequent flyer who has Aeroplan as their main program. All of your Air Canada flight purchases will essentially earn 2 Aeroplan miles per dollar after you convert the Membership Rewards points to Air Canada’s frequent flyer program.

To learn more on the hidden gem known as the Gold Rewards Card please visit American Express Gold Rewards Card

Friday, August 26, 2011

Will Canadian Credit Card Foreign Exchange Fees start to disappear like they have in the U.S.?

In Canada, the issuers of travel rewards credit cards have taken many steps in their attempts to attract and retain customers for their card products. Whether it be a sign up bonus, renewal bonus, enhanced insurance packages, first year free, you name it, it has been done except for one new marketing move that is taking place in the United States.

The latest trend in the U.S. to capture credit card clientele is the elimination of Foreign Exchange fees. Foreign Exchange fees are a service charge that credit card issuers add to transactions made in any currency outside of your home country. When you make a purchase abroad (in person or online shopping) the issuing bank will convert the purchase amount at the prevailing exchange rate at the time of purchase and charge you the Foreign Exchange fee for providing that service. Most of the Foreign Exchange fees on Canadian credit cards hover around the 2% mark, so for someone who travels a lot or does a lot of online shopping outside of Canada the 2% fee can add up really quickly.

Eliminating the Forex fee on a credit card won’t appeal to everyone in Canada but it definitely would catch the eye of frequent travelers, business travelers and those making a lot of purchases in foreign currencies. The one common factor between all these types of card users is that most of them spend a lot and almost all of that spending is put on their credit cards. I feel that a competitive advantage could be had here if a Canadian credit card issuer was to follow in the footsteps of their U.S. counterparts with such a marketing move. So I approached all the major credit card issuers in Canada with the question as to whether they are planning on following the trend in the U.S. and eliminate the Forex fee on some or all of their cards to gain a competitive advantage. The overwhelming answer from those who responded was no. At this point it seemed that for most of the card issuers it was not even on their radar except for one, American Express stated that they are following the trend closely and while they have no plans on implementing it in Canada anytime soon they are trying to understand what it could mean for them in the future.

I’ll take a shot at what it could mean for American Express or any other issuer for that matter. First, I believe the issuers see this as a loss of revenue stream rather then a potential profit center. If marketed correctly, the first card that offers this feature along with their regular rewards and benefits will be a market leader and could take a sizeable chunk of the market for credit card users using their cards abroad. Overall, the first card that takes this route should see an increased cardholder base and in turn the revenue from the increased spend on these cards could easily eclipse the lost revenue stream on foreign exchange fees. This marketing move is relatively new so the Canadian banks may also be holding back to see what happens in the U.S. market and whether the cards that have no foreign exchange fees remain that way or go back to charging the fee.

Since it is the latest marketing trend south of the border, many cards in the U.S. have been jumping on the no foreign exchange fee bandwagon so the market is starting to see a saturation of the offer and it may not lead to any competitive advantage over other credit cards. With this type of offer, the issuer has to be a market leader to realize the revenue gain because once everyone else is doing it, the issuer will have to offer it as well, but not to gain customers, rather it will need to be done to keep their current customers from defecting to another card.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject, feel free to comment below on the pros and cons of this type of marketing move, who you think will be the first in Canada to offer (if any issuer at all) and how long you think it would take other banks to respond or if leave any other comment you think ties into this subject.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Delta eliminates changes/refunds to award tickets inside 72 hours

According to this post by Wandering Aramean, Delta will no longer permit changes or refund miles for SkyMiles award tickets that within 72 hours of departure. The new policy took effect on August 15th and applies to all members including elites. What this means is that you can no longer hold a reward booking with the hopes of changing or canceling it last minute. Apparently there were hundreds of thousands of seats that went empty due to people not showing up for their reward flights and then having the miles redeposited into their accounts. Delta has taken a lot of heat from frequent and even infrequent flyers to many of the changes they have instituted recently and would like to know from our Canadian SkyMiles readers, what do you think of this change?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Air Canada cuts service to Manchester, NH

According to Airline Route Updates Air Canada will be canceling service to Manchester, NH as of October 1st, 2011. The service out of Toronto is flown by Air Georgian eight times a week.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Hyatt Gold Passport Hotel Reward Changes and new Diamond Benefits

Hyatt Gold Passport is changing the required amount of points for reward nights at 43 of their hotels. The changes which are effective September 1, 2011 see 25 hotels increase their award category while another 18 will go down.

Along with these changes Hyatt Gold Passport has made the following changes to their Diamond elite level:
- Late Check out extended to 4pm (previously 2pm)
- Nightly Room Refresh
- New Welcome Amenity: Diamond members can now enjoy a new welcome amenity at Hyatt Place and Hyatt Summerfield Suites hotels. Diamond members can now enjoy a complimentary beverage (including alcohol except where prohibited by law) at Hyatt Place and a USD$5 credit at the Guest Market at Hyatt Summerfield Suites hotels, or, members can continue to choose 500 Hyatt Gold Passport bonus points as their amenity for stays at either brand.

Thanks to Loyalty Traveler for the info

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

WestJet adds service to San Juan, Puerto Rico

Towards the third week of July WestJet released their winter 2011/12 schedule and it included service to one new city for the airline. The new service to San Juan Puerto Rico launches on November 5th from Toronto and will operate twice weekly.

Flight Timings
Toronto-San Juan Dep 0910 Arr 1435
San Juan-Toronot Dep 1605 Arr 1950