Over the last three weeks, over 2,000 votes were cast in the inaugural 2020 Prince of Travel Awards.
As a community, we’ve taken this opportunity to look back on everything that has happened in the landscape of travel, loyalty programs, and credit cards over the past year, and we’ve picked out some of the best performers in each category.
Without further ado, I’m excited to announce the winners of the 2020 Prince of Travel Awards in all 16 award categories, along with some of my thoughts and impressions about the results.
Remember, voters were invited to rank the 4–5 nominees in each category in order of preference, and these rankings were aggregated to determine the results.
However, in discussing the results, we shall also make reference to the percentage of first-place votes (i.e., the percentage of total votes that placed the candidate in #1 spot) – even though this may not align exactly with the final ranking.
- Winner: American Express Platinum Card (74%)
- Runner-up: American Express Aeroplan Reserve Card (12%)
- Third place: TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Privilege (9%)
Despite drastically lowering its welcome bonus for most of the year, the American Express Platinum Card continues to hold its longstanding title as Canada’s best premium travel credit card.
The recently-relaunched American Express Aeroplan Reserve Card and TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Privilege may have sought to compete in the premium travel credit card market, but they clearly still have a long way to go before unseating the Platinum Card.
- Winner: American Express Gold Rewards Card (34%)
- Runner-up: HSBC World Elite Mastercard (33%)
- Third place: TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite (22%)
This was despite the Gold Rewards Card having a relatively quiet year in terms of promotions and welcome bonuses, so if HSBC keeps up its strong bonuses throughout next year, it might well have a shot at the title.
- Winner: American Express Business Platinum Card (67%)
- Runner-up: American Express Aeroplan Business Reserve Card (18%)
- Third place: TD Aeroplan Visa Business (8%)
The American Express Business Platinum Card, having lowered and then reinstated its stunning signup bonus of 75,000 MR points in 2020, while also offering a consistent earning rate of 1.25x MR points, won this category handily.
Even though the American Express Aeroplan Business Reserve also offers 75,000 Aeroplan points as a bonus, it’ll perhaps take a stronger offering to tempt Canadian business owners away from the Business Platinum.
Mirroring to the personal side, the TD Aeroplan Visa Business came in a distant third – perhaps not helped by its lower-than-expected welcome bonus upon its relaunch in November.
- Winner: American Express Cobalt Card (83%)
- Runner-up: Scotiabank Gold American Express (8%)
- Third place: BMO eclipse Visa Infinite (6%)
Among lifestyle credit cards geared towards millennials, the American Express Cobalt Card won in a landslide, thanks to its ability to transfer points to hotel rewards partners and unlock greater value.
Scotiabank and BMO, the message is clear: a compelling rewards program with strong transfer partners will go a long way.
- Winner: 75,000 MR points on the American Express Business Platinum Card (49%)
- Runner-up: 75,000 Aeroplan points on the American Express Aeroplan Reserve Card (17%)
- Third place: 100,000–130,000 HSBC Rewards points on the HSBC World Elite Mastercard (25%)
It’s easy to see why the 75,000 MR points on the Business Platinum Card is the undisputed winner in this category, as it’s the single most valuable welcome bonus in all of Canada.
The Aeroplan Reserve’s strong performance in second-place and third-place votes helped it win second place.
As for the HSBC World Elite, after a strong 2020, it certainly has plenty of loyalists who picked it in first place. But as the results show, that strong performance must be sustained in 2021 to continue challenging the Amex/Aeroplan establishment here in Canada.
- Winner: 100,000 US MR points on the American Express US Platinum Card (53%)
- Runner-up: 125,000 Marriott Bonvoy points + Platinum Elite status on the American Express Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card (33%)
- Third place: 80,000 Chase UR points on the Chase Sapphire Preferred (6%)
On the US side, the recent emergence of 100,000 US MR points on the US Platinum Card took the landscape by storm, followed by the generous offer of 125,000 Bonvoy points + Platinum Elite status on the Bonvoy Brilliant.
I’m sure both offers have tempted plenty of Canadians into jumping into the US credit card game – and that we’ll have even more meaningful offers to vote on (hopefully including some sweet Chase Aeroplan Mastercard bonuses) by the time we host these awards in 2021.
- Winner: Priority Pass on the American Express Platinum + Business Platinum Card (57%)
- Runner-up: Anniversary certificate (up to 35,000 points) on the American Express Marriott Bonvoy cards (22%)
- Third place: Maple Leaf Lounge access on the Aeroplan premium cards (12%)
Perhaps not surprisingly, unlimited Priority Pass lounge access at 1,300+ airport lounges around the world was chosen to be Canada’s best credit card perk in 2020. In truth, it’s hard to beat that.
In second place, we had the anniversary free night certificate worth up to 35,000 Bonvoy points on the Amex Bonvoy cards.
A respectable finish, but it does make me think: there’s so much unexplored room for creativity in credit card perks here in Canada, isn’t there?
- Winner: American Express Membership Rewards points (88%)
- Runner-up: Marriott Bonvoy points (9%)
- Third place: RBC Avion points (2%)
Surprise, surprise: you’ve chosen American Express Membership Rewards points as Canada’s best transferable points currency. With their versatility and ease of earning, Amex MR points was always likely to be a shoo-in.
I would’ve imagined Avion points being more popular due to their ease of earning and stronger 1:1 transfer ratios, but I suppose Marriott Bonvoy’s wide range of 40+ airline partners won out in the end.
- Winner: American Express Membership Rewards Select points (69%)
- Runner-up: HSBC Rewards points (13%)
- Third place: Scotia Rewards points (7%)
On the fixed-value side, Amex MR Select points again emerge as clear winners due to their versatility and ease of access (refer back to the Cobalt Card’s handy win in the Best Lifestyle Credit Card category).
The rest of the pack was quite evenly matched, with HSBC Rewards coming second, Scotia Rewards just about edging out TD Rewards in third place, and BMO Rewards coming in last.
The lesson? Fixed-value points currencies that let you retroactively redeem points against travel purchases yourself are better than fixed-value points currencies that force you to book through a dedicated travel portal.
- Winner: Aeroplan (77%)
- Runner-up: Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan (17%)
- Third place: British Airways Avios (3%)
When it comes to the best airline loyalty program in Canada, I don’t think anyone can begrudge Aeroplan their clear victory.
The program underwent a major transformation in 2020. Some are happy with the changes, others are unhappy, but I think if we compare Aeroplan to its global peers, then it’s a loyalty program that we as Canadians can be proud of.
In the absence of significant domestic competition, Aeroplan is followed by Alaska Mileage Plan in second place. The Alaska program certainly has its fair share of loyalists too, and let’s hope that remains the case in 2021 even after the airline joins Oneworld.
- Winner: Marriott Bonvoy (72%)
- Runner-up: Hilton Honors (11%)
- Third place: World of Hyatt (14%)
Marriott Bonvoy takes the prize for the best hotel loyalty program in Canada, thanks to its wide range of properties and its Canadian co-branded credit cards.
Meanwhile, Hilton Honors takes second place, even though it received fewer first-place votes than World of Hyatt in third. With easy access through Amex US co-branded cards, Hilton is a more preferred backup option to Marriott for most Canadians.
But Hyatt has a strong segment of loyalists who picked it as a top choice – and that number might well increase next year with Hyatt offering an easy path to top-tier Globalist status as well. One to keep an eye on for 2021, that’s for sure.
- Winner: 55,000 Aeroplan points for Air Canada or ANA business class from Vancouver/Calgary to Tokyo (22%)
- Runner-up: 70,000 Alaska miles for Cathay Pacific or Japan Airlines First Class to Asia (38%)
- Third place: 12,500/25,000 Aeroplan points for Vancouver to Hawaii, or from Canada to Mexico, Central America, and Caribbean (23%)
We’re lucky in Canada to enjoy a fair few attractive award chart sweet spots for international travel, and this category turned out to be one of the most evenly-matched across all the awards.
While it didn’t receive the most first-place votes (or even the second-most), the ability to redeem only 55,000 Aeroplan points for a transpacific business class flight from the West Coast to Japan was the most appealing to Canadians on an overall basis.
In second place is a real classic that won the greatest number of first-choice votes: 70,000 Alaska miles for Cathay Pacific or JAL First Class to Asia. One has to wonder if this will still remain in the running for next year’s awards.
An honourable mention goes to the third-placed “North America Zone 3” redemption under the new Aeroplan, which covers flights from Canada to most of Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean for only 12,500 or 25,000 Aeroplan points in economy or business.
It’s perhaps less glamorous than other sweet spots for international premium flights, but it’s the bread and butter for many Canadian travellers, so it’s great to see that Canadians are recognizing the value here.
- Winner: Redeeming Aeroplan points for flights under 2,750 miles (59%)
- Runner-up: Using the Air Canada Buddy Pass (24%)
- Third place: Using the WestJet companion voucher (9%)
Alas, it’s hard to pinpoint quite as many sweet spots for domestic flights that are quite as compelling as the international ones.
The majority of voters prefer simply redeeming Aeroplan points at the “North America Zone 3” level for their domestic travel needs.
Following that, the use of companion fares – the Air Canada Buddy Pass and the WestJet companion voucher – was the preferred way for domestic travellers to save money on flights.
I’d certainly love to see some even better options in 2021 for Canadians to explore our own country; however, given the relatively stronger demand for domestic travel both within and outside of the pandemic, it’s perhaps no surprise that the airlines don’t feel the need to offer too many sweet spots here.
- Winner: American Express Platinum Card: Double Rewards (35%)
- Runner-up: Aeroplan: 50% Miles Back (18%)
- Third place: American Express Business Platinum Card: $680 statement credits (14%)
The race for the best promotion of 2020 was another hotly-contested category. The Amex Platinum Double Rewards promotion, allowing Platinum Card holders to both earn and redeem MR points at double the usual rate, took home the prize.
With American Express having to take extreme steps to avoid losing money on this promotion (such as disabling the ability to link points accounts or transfer points from the US), I think it’s safe to say we’ll never see a promotion quite as generous as Double Rewards again.
For the remaining places, the results were extremely close. Aeroplan’s 50% Miles Back promotion certainly made a splash, and I expect that we can look forward to similar promotions from Aeroplan in 2021.
The Business Platinum Card‘s $680 in statement credits and the Platinum Card’s $250 in grocery credits were also fierce competitors – it’s hard to beat cash straight in your pocket, especially during a pandemic year.
An honourable mention must go to Air Canada’s Travel at Home promotion in the early days of the pandemic, allowing many Aeroplan members to earn Aeroplan 25K status for the year, which actually won 23% of first-place votes.
However, Travel at Home also earned a fair share of last-placed votes – some members loved maximizing it, others saw no value in it – and that’s why it failed to place in the top three.
- Winner: Air Canada 777/787 Signature Class (78%)
- Runner-up: WestJet 787 Business Class (12%)
- Third place: Air Canada A220 Business Class (7%)
We wrap up the 2020 Prince of Travel Awards with a few categories focused on our airlines here in Canada. In terms of the business class offering, Air Canada’s Signature Class product on the Boeing 777 and Boeing 787 won first place by a large margin.
WestJet’s 787 business class came in second place, and the Calgary-based challenger will be hoping to narrow the margin in next year’s awards as they introduce their Dreamliner business class product on more routes going forward.
- Winner: Air Canada (65%)
- Runner-up: WestJet (25%)
- Third place: Air Transat (6%)
In economy class, Air Canada wins with 65% of the first-choice vote, although WestJet performed significantly better among economy class flyers with 25% of the first-choice voice, perhaps due to their longstanding reputation for being the “friendly” Canadian airline.
Air Transat, Swoop, and Flair Airlines placed a distant third, fourth, and fifth, respectively.
With the winners announced, the 2020 Prince of Travel Awards draw to a conclusion.
You’ll find annual rankings like this all across the web, but in my view, far too many of them are cherry-picked with inherent bias along the process. And so, my sincere thanks goes out to all of you who participated in the voting process here at the 2020 Prince of Travel Awards.
As a community, you’ve helped establish a clear and unbiased picture of the leading players in the Canadian credit card and loyalty landscape:
- Best Premium Travel Credit Card: American Express Platinum Card
- Best Travel Credit Card: American Express Gold Rewards Card
- Best Business Travel Credit Card: American Express Business Platinum Card
- Best Lifestyle Credit Card: American Express Cobalt Card
- Best Credit Card Signup Bonus: 75,000 MR points on the American Express Business Platinum Card
- Best US Credit Card Signup Bonus: 100,000 US MR points on the American Express US Platinum Card
- Best Credit Card Perk: Priority Pass on the American Express Platinum + Business Platinum Card
- Best Transferable Points Currency: American Express Membership Rewards points
- Best Fixed-Value Points Currency: American Express Membership Rewards Select points
- Best Airline Loyalty Program: Aeroplan
- Best Hotel Loyalty Program: Marriott Bonvoy
- Best International Award Sweet Spot: 55,000 Aeroplan points for Air Canada or ANA business class from Vancouver/Calgary to Tokyo
- Best Domestic Award Sweet Spot: Redeeming Aeroplan points for flights under 2,750 miles
- Best Promotion: American Express Platinum Card: Double Rewards
- Best Business Class in Canada: Air Canada 777/787 Signature Class
- Best Economy Class in Canada: Air Canada
2020 was a tough year for the travel industry, and as a result, the award winners largely reflect the status quo that we’ve seen from years past.
Here in Canada, we’re continuing to see near-total dominance from American Express and Aeroplan, with the latter reinforcing their dominant position thanks to a smooth relaunch in November.
Through the grapevine, I’m hearing that many credit card issuers that have been more conservative in 2020 have made big plans for 2021. Coupled with the recovery in global travel, I’m hoping that we’ll find ourselves in a much more fiercely competitive landscape when it comes time to vote on the 2021 Prince of Travel Awards next year.
For now, I hope you’ve enjoyed voting in the 2020 awards, and I wish you a happy holiday season ahead.
And stay tuned for this time next week, when we’ll vote on the “Anti-Awards” – and get our frustrations in 2020 out of the way before 2021 begins!