Now that we’re familiar with the details of the new Aeroplan credit cards by TD, CIBC, and American Express which will launch on November 8, it’s time to think about where we’d situate these new products in the wider context of the Canadian credit card market as a whole.
In my video on my immediate impressions of the new Aeroplan program, I shared my belief that the new premium line of Aeroplan credit cards – the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Privilege, the CIBC Aeroplan Visa Infinite Privilege, and the American Express Aeroplan Reserve Card – are very much intended to “make the market” when it comes to premium travel credit cards in Canada, playing a much bigger role than their predecessors in enticing frequent flyers to sign up and spend on the cards on a regular basis.
Of course, until now, the biggest player in this market has been the American Express Platinum Card, which has also been one of the best ways to rack up Aeroplan miles thanks to the 1:1 transfer ratio from American Express Membership Rewards.
In this edition of Head-to-Head, let’s take a closer look at how the Amex Platinum, traditionally regarded as the best premium travel credit card in Canada, stacks up against Aeroplan’s trio of young pretenders to the throne.
When deciding on a credit card, the most important comparisons will always be made on a few key characteristics: the welcome bonus, the annual fee, and the earning rate on purchases.
Since the welcome bonuses of the new premium Aeroplan cards are unclear at the moment, and the Platinum Card’s welcome bonus is currently depressed thanks to the challenging external environment, we’ll skip over this comparison for now.
Instead, we’ll simply note that the Platinum Card has historically offered a signup bonus of 60,000 MR points, so this would be the benchmark against which the new Aeroplan cards’ yet-to-be-announced bonuses shall be judged.
1. Annual Fee
All of the premium Aeroplan credit cards will come with an annual fee of $599.
On the surface, the Platinum Card’s annual fee of $699 exceeds that; however, we usually also take into consideration the Platinum Card’s $200 annual travel credit as well, which is easily redeemed towards any type of travel (flight or hotel, refundable or non-refundable, etc.) booked through American Express.
When the travel credit is netted against the annual fee, we can think of the Platinum Card as having an “effective annual fee” of $499, which is more favourable than what the premium Aeroplan cards are charging.
Verdict: Once the $200 travel credit is taken into account, the Platinum Card’s price point is more favourable.
2. Points Currencies
The Platinum Card earns Amex MR points, which can be transferred at a 1:1 ratio to Aeroplan, but can also be transferred to other programs like British Airways Avios, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, and Marriott Bonvoy (or converted into US MR points at the prevailing exchange rate).
On the other hand, the premium Aeroplan cards will simply earn… Aeroplan points. You’ll be able to redeem according to Aeroplan’s rules and charts, but won’t have any of the other points programs available to you.
Verdict: Optionality is always inherently valuable, so it’s an easy win for the Platinum Card in this category.
3. Earning Rates
It’s interesting to note that TD, CIBC, and American Express have gone with slightly divergent earning rates for their new premium Aeroplan products. TD and CIBC’s cards will earn:
- 2 Aeroplan points per dollar spent on Air Canada and Air Canada Vacations
- 1.5 Aeroplan points per dollar spent on gas, grocery, travel, and dining
- 1.25 Aeroplan points per dollar spent on everything else
Meanwhile, the American Express Aeroplan Reserve Card will offer:
- 3 Aeroplan points per dollar spent on Air Canada and Air Canada Vacations
- 2 Aeroplan points per dollar spent on dining and food delivery
- 1 Aeroplan point per dollar spent on everything else
We then compare those earning rates against the Platinum Card, which earns:
- 3 MR points per dollar spent on dining (including food delivery)
- 2 MR points per dollar spent on travel
- 1 MR point per dollar spent on everything else
As you can see, it’s a bit of a mixed bag here, but we can think about which card offers the strongest earning in each individual category.
On travel, the Platinum Card’s 2x MR points is the winner, unless we’re talking about Air Canada or Air Canada Vacations purchases, in which case the new Amex Aeroplan Reserve’s 3x earning rate would be superior.
On dining, it’s still the Platinum Card’s 3x MR points that wins out, and the nearest competitor would be the Cobalt Card’s 5x MR Select points (although the Cobalt serves a separate segment of the market). Even though they’ve incorporated dining into their bonus categories, the new Aeroplan cards don’t really come close to challenging.
On all other purchases, however, TD and CIBC’s new Visa Infinite Privilege cards do trump the Platinum Card with their 1.25x base earning rate.
Verdict: The superiority of earning rates will depend on which categories you put most of your spending in. If you primarily spend on dining and travel, the American Express products would serve you better – and that speaks to the general spending patterns of American Express’s clientele base. On the other hand, if your spending isn’t heavily concentrated in these categories, the TD or CIBC VIP cards may be a better fit.
4. Foreign Exchange Fees
All four products under consideration will charge the standard 2.5% transaction fee on purchases in a foreign currency.
While the waiving of FX fees would be something you might expect from a travel credit card, the fact is that Canada’s credit card market hasn’t yet reached a stage where the major players feel that the added market share in waiving this fee would justify the forgone revenue. Hopefully we’ll reach that stage soon.
Verdict: Honours even – and not in a good way.
Perks & Benefits
Premium travel cards justify their hefty annual fees through their travel perks, so let’s see how the Platinum Card and the new premium Aeroplan cards stack up in this category.
1. Lounge Access
No credit card in Canada offers a stronger lounge access benefit than the Platinum Card: the unlimited Priority Pass membership provides carte-blanche access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide for yourself and one guest, as well as a dozen outstanding Centurion Lounges by American Express and even more affiliate lounges scattered around the world.
(For a full rundown of the Platinum Card’s lounge benefits, refer to this article.)
Meanwhile, much has been made about the fact that the new premium Aeroplan cards will offer unlimited Maple Leaf Lounge access within North America.
But that’s still more restrictive than the Platinum Card’s Priority Pass, because Maple Leaf Lounges are only found at 14 airports around North America, and you have to be travelling on an Air Canada or Star Alliance flight. Compare that to, say, being able to access the Priority Pass lounge when you’re flying between two minor European airports on EasyJet.
Moreover, not all the premium Aeroplan cards will offer free guest access to the Maple Leaf Lounge, either. So far, only the CIBC Aeroplan Visa Infinite Privilege has indicated that cardholders will be allowed to bring in one guest for free until November 7, 2021; the TD and American Express products refer to guest access as “subject to an applicable fee”.
Note that the premium Aeroplan cards do also come with Priority Pass memberships, but they aren’t the unlimited-access variety: TD and CIBC will offer six complimentary visits per year, while the Amex Aeroplan Reserve Card will offer a membership only, with any lounge visit subject to fee.
Verdict: Overall, it seems like the premium Aeroplan cards are certainly more geared towards those who fly with Air Canada frequently within North America, but not too frequently so as to earn Aeroplan 50K status and receive unlimited Maple Leaf Lounge access anyway. Outside of these folks, I think the Platinum Card’s Priority Pass will elevate your pre-flight lounge experience on a much broader basis.
2. Priority Airport Services
The other much-hyped feature on the premium Aeroplan cards is the priority airport services when flying with Air Canada, which includes the free first checked bag, priority check-in, Zone 2 priority boarding, priority standby, and priority baggage handling, as well as a higher priority on the upgrade list.
In addition, the American Express Aeroplan Reserve Card will offer access to the priority security lane at Toronto Pearson, as well as complimentary valet parking and select discounts on car care, overlapping with the same benefits that have always been offered to Platinum Card holders.
Verdict: The new premium Aeroplan cards will give you a smoother airport experience than the Platinum Card, as long as you’re flying with Air Canada.
3. Elite Status Benefits
Both the Platinum Card and the premium Aeroplan cards offer close integration with elite status: the former with a variety of hotel programs, and the latter with Air Canada’s new Aeroplan Elite Status.
As we know, the Platinum Card’s hotel statuses are quite valuable when considered in totality: just for holding the card, you’ll instantly be enrolled in Marriott Gold Elite, Hilton Gold, Radisson Gold, and Shangri-La Jade status (which, in turn, can trigger a status challenge to Star Alliance Gold via Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer).
On the other hand, the premium Aeroplan cards will help you get closer to achieving Aeroplan Elite Status, but won’t be nearly as generous in terms of doling out the mid-tier status level instantaneously (and this is of course understandable, given the vast differences between how airline and hotel statuses work).
Instead, the ability to earn 1,000 Status Qualifying Miles (SQM) or 1 Status Qualifying Segment (SQS) per $5,000 in eligible spending will help a lot of folks who might’ve otherwise completed the Status Qualifying Dollar (SQD) requirement achieve their next status level, and the ability to rollover SQM and eUpgrades will also help members get more out of the program, with fewer benefits going to waste.
Verdict: This will depend on how much you value your airline status and hotel status in relation to each other, but there’s no denying that the Platinum Card and its wealth of hotel status benefits will be much more attractive for the average traveller, who many not fly frequently enough with Air Canada to earn Aeroplan Elite Status year after year.
4. Threshold Benefits
I’ve always thought that Canadian credit cards could get a lot more creative with threshold benefits: assigning a reward to a certain spending threshold(s) per year to incentivize continued usage even after the initial signup bonus.
In this regard, the new Aeroplan premium cards have made a step in the right direction with the Annual Worldwide Companion Pass upon spending $25,000 per year. However, I personally feel that this benefit could’ve been a lot more attractive given the $25,000 spending threshold – some folks might be wondering why there’s such a high spending threshold associated with a benefit that, say, the WestJet RBC World Elite MasterCard offers for free.
Since it’s quite likely that these Aeroplan co-branded cards will continue to evolve in the future, I’d love to see the concept of threshold benefits being integrated even more closely with the cards, and in particular it would be interesting if the new Priority Rewards could be associated with a spending threshold of some kind (even if it’s very high).
Verdict: For now, though, the singular threshold benefit of an Annual Worldwide Companion Pass is still better than what the Platinum Card offers: none, besides maybe an annual retention bonus here or there if you have enough spending volume.
5. Other Benefits
Among all four products under consideration, there are a host of other benefits that may or may not move the needle, depending on your preferences as a cardholder.
The Platinum Card’s Concierge service has come in handy a couple of times for me, and I do value the Concierge’s ability to book a table at a hot restaurant on short notice and stuff like that. Platinum membership also provides access to Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts (FHR), which provides you with exclusive discounts and perks on luxury hotel stays.
On the other hand, TD and CIBC’s premium Aeroplan cards will offer select Visa Infinite Privilege benefits along the same lines; in addition, they’ll also be offering a $100 NEXUS credit, which should certainly come in handy if you don’t currently have NEXUS.
I think the biggest benefit that remains something of an unknown quantity is the new Aeroplan credit cards’ “preferred pricing” on Air Canada flights under the new dynamic pricing model. To what extent will holding these credit cards offer meaningful discounts on the number of Aeroplan points required to book a flight?
The answer to this question will likely make a big difference in piquing people’s interest in the Aeroplan credit cards over the Platinum Card, which, despite its many strengths, does not automatically give you discounts on award pricing.
Verdict: These “nice to have” benefits are the icing on the cake for any premium travel card, so it’s up to you which card’s extra perks you value more. We’ll keep a close eye on how the “preferred pricing” on the premium Aeroplan cards, as it could make the difference here.
Finally, we’ll take a look at the cards’ ancillary benefits and any other considerations that might sway your choice in either direction.
1. Supplementary Cards
Much has been made about the fact that the new Aeroplan cards will share benefits more seamlessly with their supplementary cardholders. Indeed, supplementary cardholders will receive all of the benefits of Maple Leaf Lounge access, free checked bag, priority airport services, preferred pricing, and more.
In exchange, supplementary cards on the premium Aeroplan credit cards will command an annual fee of $199.
Meanwhile, the Platinum Card charges $175 for supplementary cards, and also shares some of its benefits with authorized users as well. Currently, it’s well-documented that supplementary Platinum Cards receive their own unlimited Priority Pass membership, the quartet of hotel elite statuses, and the ability to access the Platinum Concierge and flash their card for benefits like priority security lane at Toronto Pearson.
Not only that, but primary Platinum cardholders also receive a bonus of 5,000 MR points whenever they add supplementary cards, which increases the value proposition even further.
It remains to be seen whether the premium Aeroplan cards will offer a similar incentive for adding supplementary cards under a single account – in my view, they absolutely should make this a feature in order to get cardmembers used to sharing the benefits with their trusted friends and family.
Verdict: Both the Platinum Card and the new Aeroplan cards will offer strong shared perks for supplementary cardholders. Since I’d consider the Platinum Card’s underlying benefits to be stronger to begin with, and its supplementary card fee of $175 is lower as well, I’d call it the winner in this category.
2. Travel Insurance
The Platinum Card’s travel insurance package has long been considered industry-leading; however, the new premium Aeroplan cards by TD and CIBC do outperform the Platinum Card in many regards.
The TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Privilege and CIBC Aeroplan Visa Infinite Privilege will provide up to $5,000,000 of coverage for the first 31 days of an out-of-province trip (for travellers under 65 years of age) or the first 4 or 10 days, respectively, of an out-of-province trip (for travellers aged 65 years or older).
Compare that to the Platinum Card, which also offers $5,000,000 of coverage, but only for the first 15 days of an out-of-province trip for travellers under 65 years of age, with no coverage for more elderly travellers.
The TD and CIBC cards have also added hotel burglary insurance (up to $2,500) and mobile device insurance (up to $1,500), both of which exceed what’s offered by the Platinum Card ($1,000 and $0, respectively), and their purchase security provisions (up to 120 and 180 days after purchase, respectively) are also stronger than the Platinum’s 90 days.
Furthermore, you can also take comfort in the fact that the Aeroplan cards’ insurance will apply when you redeem Aeroplan points for travel, whereas the Platinum Card’s insurance only kicks in if you’re redeeming Amex MR points directly.
(Incidentally, the insurance package is another point where the American Express Aeroplan Reserve Card seems to diverge from TD and CIBC’s offerings, as it’s significantly weaker than both of its counterparts as well as the Platinum Card itself.)
Verdict: The premium Aeroplan credit cards from TD and CIBC provide an even stronger travel insurance package than the Platinum Card, although the American Express Aeroplan Reserve Card lags behind by quite a fair margin.
3. Ease of Getting Approved
The American Express Aeroplan Reserve Card, like all other American Express products, will have no income requirement and will not be subject to the same income requirements as its Visa Infinite Privilege counterparts under TD and CIBC.
Therefore, the Aeroplan Reserve Card offers an easier inroad to the premium Aeroplan cards for those of you who might not meet TD and CIBC’s requirement of $200,000 in personal or household annual income.
Of course, the Platinum Card has historically been very easy to be approved for, and there’s been no income requirement on this card in recent times and American Express has been generous in terms of extending credit.
Verdict: As a charge card, the Platinum Card is likely to be the easiest card among the four products under consideration to be approved for. If the Aeroplan Reserve Card follows the rest of the American Express products in having no income requirement, it’ll be easier than the TD and CIBC premium cards in terms of getting approval, but may still be subject to stricter credit checks as a credit card, rather than a charge card.
4. Visual Appearance
CIBC and American Express have both confirmed that their new Aeroplan credit cards will be made of metal, so I’d be surprised if TD didn’t follow suit.
Of course, the Platinum Card is already made of metal, and is actually be a fair bit heavier at 18 grams than the Aeroplan Reserve’s 13 grams. Plus, in spite of the new Aeroplan cards’ snazzy designs, I still think the Platinum Card’s timeless look is ultimately the most likely to win the admiration of baristas and bartenders everywhere when you whip it out.
Verdict: All four products should go a long way towards satisfying the credit card community’s fascination with metal cards, but the American Express Platinum Card still has that wow-factor that few other products can match.
After taking some time to consider the value proposition of the new Aeroplan credit cards by TD, CIBC, and American Express, I’m left with a feeling that the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Privilege, the CIBC Aeroplan Visa Infinite Privilege, and the American Express Aeroplan Reserve Card have certainly made a respectable effort to challenge the American Express Platinum Card, but still have a fair ways to go before they come close to unseating the Platinum Card as Canada’s leading premium travel credit card.
When it comes time to choose a premium travel card with a hefty annual fee, very few Canadian households will have the budget to hold more than one product simultaneously in the long run. And despite the hype surrounding the new Aeroplan credit cards, their value proposition at a $599 price point is, in my view, still overshadowed by the Platinum Card’s broader lounge access offering, more versatile hotel status benefits, and lower price point of $499 once the $200 travel credit is taken into account.
The premium Aeroplan credit cards will deliver excellent value for Air Canada frequent flyers, that’s for sure, but I feel that they could’ve done more to appeal to the wider Canadian travelling public, who might otherwise find more appeal in the Platinum Card’s broader benefits, and attract them more into the Aeroplan sphere instead.
Here’s hoping that the premium Aeroplan credit cards will deliver a greater wow-factor of their own when they launch with elevated welcome bonuses, as well as when they inevitably evolve over time and seek a place in the wallets of more and more travellers across Canada.
Now that we’ve looked at the personal cards, in the next installment, we’ll do a similar analysis on the business side between the American Express Business Platinum Card and the brand-new American Express Aeroplan Business Reserve Card.