Miles & Points for Beginners: Why Flexible Points Matter

In the second part of our Miles & Points for Beginners series, we dove into the importance of setting a goal to help guide you to the right credit card and the right loyalty rewards programs.

Here in part three, we steer the ship towards the earning side of this endeavour.

More specifically, we focus on transferable points and loyalty program points, and what makes them so powerful.

Loyalty Programs

Nearly every airline and hotel chain has a loyalty program.

Nearly every airline has a program to encourage customer loyalty

In North America, some of the better known airline programs include:

The top hotel loyalty programs are:

Unfortunately for people who are newer to the Miles & Points game, learning the ins and outs of loyalty programs can potentially be quite overwhelming.

This is because every loyalty program has different pricing structures and different rules and requirements when it comes to redemptions.

For example, World of Hyatt has a fixed redemption chart that slightly fluctuates based on peak season and low season.

Marriott Bonvoy, on the other hand, has a dynamic pricing model which means that the cost for a night at a hotel will rise and fall with demand, and may be different from one night to the next.

Air Canada operates its loyalty program on both a dynamic and fixed pricing model. When booking Air Canada flights, the cost in Aeroplan points is dynamic, but when booking partner airlines, the pricing is fixed.

With over 100 airline and hotel loyalty programs around the world, it’s not practical to learn everything about each one. Instead, the best practice is to invest some time in learning about a couple of the key loyalty programs that will be most useful to you.

By diving into a select three or four airline programs and learning their sweet spots, you’ll have a much better chance of booking the flights you want at the best price.

Given this, the next question is: what airline programs should you choose?

How To Choose A Loyalty Program

Most airlines belong to one of the three major airline alliances:

  • Star Alliance (26 airlines)
  • Oneworld (19 airlines)
  • SkyTeam (13 airlines)

For the most part, if you collect points/miles with an airline’s loyalty program, you can redeem your points/miles from this program for award flights on all the other airlines that are in the same airline alliance.

For example, Air Canada and United are both members of Star Alliance. This means that you can redeem Air Canada Aeroplan points for United flights, and you can redeem United MileagePlus miles for Air Canada flights.

Air Canada is a founding member of Star Alliance

Again, award pricing differs between each airline’s loyalty program, and in some cases it might actually be more economical to book an award flight for airline A through the loyalty program for airline B, rather than through airline A’s in-house program.

As we mentioned above, it’s a good idea to focus your learning and attention on only a few loyalty programs.

With this in mind, here’s our top picks of loyalty programs within each alliance, balancing redemption pricing and how easy it is to access and earn the points/miles.

If you earn points in any one of these programs, you’ll be able to access luxury flights at a discount. However, there’s no one airline loyalty program that does it all.

Each of the above programs has its strengths and weaknesses. For example, Aeroplan points are great for booking flights within Canada as well as for long-haul business class flights with select partners to Europe and Asia.

British Airways Avios are perfect for short-haul flights around Asia and Australia, as well as for business class flights to the Middle East on ‌Oneworld partner Qatar Airways.

Additionally, to earn points/miles in each program you need to either spend cash on eligible flights or earn points through co-branded credit cards and other earning partners.

Earning these points directly with an airline loyalty program can be difficult in Canada since not all the loyalty programs offer co-branded credit cards and many of the airlines only fly out of select airports.

In Canada, you can currently get a co-branded credit card for four of the seven airline loyalty programs we highlighted above. There are co-branded credit cards available for Aeroplan, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, and Air France KLM.

Airline Co-branded Credit Cards
Credit Card Best Offer Value
60,000 Avios† $899 Apply Now
Up to 40,000 Aeroplan points† $544 Apply Now
Up to 30,000 Asia Miles $348 Apply Now
Earn Flying Blue miles on daily spending
First Year Free
Earn Flying Blue miles on daily spending $0 Apply Now

To learn more about earning and redeeming points with each of the programs mentioned above, you can check the guides we’ve written about each one. By clicking each program name above, you can explore their strengths, weaknesses, and sweet spots to help you determine which program is best for you.

Now, if you could rack up points in every loyalty program, you’d be set, but for most people that’s just not possible, especially given the limited earning opportunities in Canada for many of the programs.

However, despite these limitations, there is a way you can earn points in Canada that can‌ then be transferred to airline programs in each of the three airline alliances.

This earning option exists through the power of transferable points.

Transferable Points Programs

Transferable points are the key to accessing literally hundreds of airlines spread across each of the three alliances.

There are two transferable points currencies in Canada: American Express Membership Rewards and RBC Avion.

Both of these currencies can be very valuable, but American Express Membership Rewards in particular has a lot more transfer partners and redemption options.

Membership Rewards points are earned through welcome bonuses and by spending on certain American Express credit cards.

There’s a lot of redemption options you can enjoy with Membership Rewards points; however, the best use of your points is to transfer them to other loyalty programs.

In Canada, you can transfer Membership Rewards points to the following airline programs:

If you were to only focus on three programs (one from each alliance), we would recommend Air Canada Aeroplan (Star Alliance), Air France KLM Flying Blue (SkyTeam), and British Airways Executive Club (OneWorld) to allow you to unlock award flights with almost every available airline.

This means that by only earning Membership Rewards points, you gain access to all three major airline alliances which allows you to book award flights on over 50 airlines.

Additionally, there are also other airlines that don’t belong to an airline alliance, but that still have a partnership with other airlines.

For example, Etihad Airways isn’t a member of Star Alliance (or any other alliance), but you can still book Etihad flights with Aeroplan points.

Another way to think about all this is that earning one American Express Membership Rewards point is the same as earning one Air Canada Aeroplan point, or one British Airways Avios, or one Flying Blue/KLM Flying Blue mile.

In fact, it’s actually far better to earn Membership Rewards points because you can choose which loyalty program you want to transfer them to after you’ve earned the points, rather than being stuck with a stack of points in one loyalty program when you really want them to be available with a different program.

To illustrate this, let’s say you want to fly to Europe in the summer.

When looking for an award flight and comparing availability and price, there may be times when Aeroplan points are the best choice and there may be other times when Flying Blue is the best program to use.

You don’t want to be in a situation where all you have is Aeroplan points, but there are no flights available, while at the same time, Flying Blue has just released discounted business class flights to Europe through their monthly Flying Blue Promo Rewards.

With Membership Rewards points, you can quickly and easily transfer the necessary points to the best program once you’ve found the award flight you’re after, allowing you to keep more options open.

Why Not Earn Both?

Even though American Express Membership Rewards points may be the best, you don’t have to limit yourself to only earning with one bank, card, or program.

At this point in the series, you should understand the power that exists in loyalty programs, and why transferable points matter.

You should also know that you can earn transferable points and points in individual programs at the same time.

By doing this, you’re building a balance in multiple programs at once, instead of putting all your eggs in one basket.

The best credit card strategy is to build up a small portfolio of cards over time.

Stay tuned for the next guide in this series, where we’ll guide you through welcome bonuses, earning rates, and how to decide which credit cards to add to your collection.

Conclusion

Understanding the intricacies of various loyalty programs and the power of transferable points is essential for maximizing your travel rewards.

Each loyalty program has its unique strengths and weaknesses, and being able to navigate these can significantly enhance your travel experiences.

Transferable points, such as American Express Membership Rewards and RBC Avion, offer unparalleled flexibility by allowing you to access numerous airlines across different alliances.

By focusing on earning points you can transfer to multiple loyalty programs, you unlock the potential to book award flights with over 50 airlines. This approach ensures you can always find the best redemption options, whether it’s a business class flight to Europe or a short-haul trip within Asia.

As we move forward in this series, we’ll delve deeper into the best strategies for earning with credit cards, helping you build a diverse portfolio of rewards.

 

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