Thursday, May 3, 2012

Options outside of Aeroplan and Air Miles. Part 1: Frequent Flyer Programs

The majority of Canada's loyalty program market share is held by two programs, Aeroplan and Air Miles. While both programs have strong roots in travel they have grown into what the industry calls coalition loyalty programs, which in layman's terms means many earning partners and a varied rewards catalog. Its hard not to be a member of at least one of these two programs since you would miss out on some potential rewards because of their vast coverage within Canada. With that being said, I receive numerous emails from my readers on how they are fed up with Aeroplan or Air Miles or both and they want to know what other options they have, particularly for travel rewards. This piece will look at the other options Canadians have for travel reward loyalty programs and while you can take any of these routes as your primary program I would recommend keeping Aeroplan and/or Air Miles as a secondary program. One thing you will notice is that to make one of these other programs your primary one, it will require the use of a credit card to maximize your reward potential. For travel reward programs, credit card use is the easiest way to rack up points and miles outside of actual travel. I've broken out the choices into four parts and will focus on the pros and cons of making one of these choices as your primary program.

Part 1: Frequent Flyer Programs
Part 2: Credit Card Programs

Part 3: Hotel Programs


Aeroplan is the best known frequent flyer program in Canada but Canadians are not limited to Aeroplan only. If your paid travels and/or reward travel requirements are primarily in Canada then Westjet Rewards is a viable option as they are the only other significant airline offering domestic flights within Canada. The program has a credit card attached to it from RBC so earning WestJet dollars can come faster through your daily spend. One big difference between WestJet's program and most legacy FFPs is that you do not need the full amount of points or miles to redeem. Since WestJet Dollars are treated like money you can redeem them as cash against the price of your ticket or a WestJet vacation whether it is $25 or $300 towards the ticket. Where the program still lacks is in having a suite of partners to earn even more WestJet Dollars. That being said, you can now earn WestJet Dollars on Delta Airlines flights that are booked under a WestJet codeshare flight number. Watch for more airline and possibly hotel/car rental partners to come on board as the program grows. The other major component lacking from WestJet is business class amenities like a business/first class cabin on their planes and no business class lounge access (well, not for free for the latter). Perhaps free lounge access will come to the WestJet program if they choose to create Elite levels in the future. Chances are that you will be able to redeem WestJet dollars for Business/First Class flights on their partner airlines sometime in the future as well (If WestJet is reading this: hint hint)

In terms of other airlines from outside of Canada, most mileage can only be earned via travel (flights, hotels, car rentals) but several do have their own credit cards in the Canadian market like Alaska Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific and Delta Airlines. The amount of airline frequent flyer programs to choose from is further expanded upon with Hybrid and Hotel credit cards that offer conversion options to numerous airlines (see our chart “Which Airlines can you earn miles in with Canadian credit cards”). A good example may be someone who flies to Italy on a regular basis and prefers Alitalia’s direct flight out of Toronto. While Alitalia’s MilleMiglia program does not have their own co-branded credit card in Canada you can convert points to MileMiglia from Hybrid cards like the American Express Gold Rewards Card and Diners Club Club Rewards MasterCard. You could also choose a Hotel loyalty program credit card like the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express or the MBNA Best Western Platinum MasterCard to convert points into the Alitalia MilleMiglia program.

If you don’t have a preferred airline but do have a preferred destination(s) certain Frequent Flyer programs may require less miles for a reward ticket than others. Do some research into the programs for their reward mileage requirements for flights between Canada and your preferred destination to see what program may be best for you. A good example of this is flights between Canada and Hawaii. Aeroplan, Star Alliance and most U.S. programs require 45,000 miles for a reward ticket while many European airlines in the SkyTeam alliance only require 30,000 miles. So if you held the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express you would only have to spend $25,000 (includes SPGs 5,000 mile transfer bonus) on the credit card to convert Starpoints to miles and redeem for the ticket to Hawaii.

Some other Frequent Flyer Programs to watch out for:

Delta SkyMiles

- Delta serves more cities in Canada than any other non-Canadian airlines and add in all their Skyteam partners you get great coverage for flights to the U.S., Asia, Europe and Africa.
- They are also partnered with WestJet and you can earn SkyMiles on WestJet flights that are booked under a Delta flight number.
- Add to this Delta SkyMiles® World MasterCard® from Capital One and you have a pretty good frequent flyer program option.

United Mileage Plus

- One way flights at exactly half the miles with a very good reward booking engine (Continental’s system). 

- You can earn Miles on Air Canada flights, redeem miles for AC flights and in many cases you don’t pay the fuel surcharge that you would find for the same booking via Aeroplan

British Airways Executive Club
- Executive Club award tickets run on mileage based system which has made their short haul awards in North America very attractive. For example you can redeem for a return flight between Toronto and New York for only 9,000 Avios points (compare this to 15,000 with Aeroplan and 25,000 with most other U.S. programs)
- Lower mileage amounts to London than Aeroplan, 40-50,000 Miles versus 60,000 with Aeroplan
- Can easily use miles to upgrade fares to the next fare class, ie purchase Economy Plus and redeem miles to upgrade to Business Class

There are many other frequent flyer programs that Canadians can join, we track over 60 on Rewards Canada that either fly directly to Canada or offer frequent flyer benefits via code share agreements with the airlines that do serve the Great White North. You can see these listed here. Over and above that you can technically join any program Worldwide even if they don’t serve Canada, do a lot of flying in Southeast Asia? Then AirAsia’s Big program or Bangkok Airways Flyer Bonus program may be of use to you. In the end when you determine you earning potential and also your reward requirements (well, reward wants) then it will be easier to pick a frequent flyer program that works for you.

No comments:

Post a Comment