As 2023 heads into its final approach, it’s time to look back at some of the stories that shaped Miles & Points in 2023, and forward to what we might encounter in 2024.
For reasons of parsimony, I’ll keep the discussion here focused on the Canadian context, referencing US and global programs when appropriate.
Canadian Credit Cards in 2024
This year, we saw some great promotions being offered by Canadian credit card issuers to lure new cardholders to their products.
In some cases, this took the form of a record-high welcome bonus, while in others, new features were added (sometimes paired with an increased annual fee).
As per usual, American Express gives its cardholders the most reasons to apply for and hold onto their products: Amex Membership Rewards points have the most partners to transfer to, the cards have the most competitive earning rates, Amex Offers provide great ongoing value, and referral bonuses encourage cardholders to spread the good word.
However, it’s been encouraging to see RBC expand its own suite of “RBC Offers” in 2023, as well as bringing back the Friday Friend Pass for free lift passes at ski resorts throughout Canada. Perks such as these can provide excellent value to cardholders, and hopefully we’ll see RBC expand on its offerings, as well as other issuers take note and launch similar perks in 2024.
Another common theme we’re seeing is welcome bonuses requiring spending throughout the year, and even into the second year, to unlock the full allotment of points. It’s no surprise that banks want to see cardholders use their products for more than just the welcome bonus, and structuring offers this way forces our hands accordingly.
A great example of this was the structure of the first-ever welcome bonus in the form of points on the Air France KLM World Elite Mastercard, which has now expired. New cardholders received 10,000 miles upon making a purchase, another 10,000 upon spending $5,000, another 10,000 upon spending a further $10,000, and then 30,000 miles upon renewing the card for a second year.
This is also true with many cards now having smaller monthly spending requirements, rather than a single threshold to unlock a swath of points after three months or so.
On the other hand, a shining example of a card that doesn’t encourage its holders to keep it for the long-term or to use it for daily spending was the launch of the Cathay World Elite® Mastercard – powered by Neo, which landed with a bit of a thud.
Aside from its welcome bonus of up to 30,000 Asia Miles, the only meaningful benefit offered on the card is 10% off Cathay Pacific flights with a promo code. Otherwise, the card doesn’t provide any unique perks that any Asia Miles member or cardholder of any other World Elite Mastercard product would get.
Plus, with a higher annual fee than any other World Elite or Visa Infinite product in Canada, and an insurance package that doesn’t appear to apply to Asia Miles redemptions, there’s plenty of reasons to look elsewhere for a rewarding credit card.
One of the biggest stories this year was RBC’s upcoming acquisition of HSBC Canada. For years, the HSBC World Elite Mastercard reigned supreme as Canada’s best Mastercard, and as the best card with no foreign transaction fees that earns transferable points.
However, this leaves the door wide open for RBC and other issuers to step up their game.
Compared to our neighbour to the south, Canada’s banks offer very few cards with no foreign transaction fees, and the number of transfer partners available with transferable points currencies pales in comparison to those from US programs.
Plus, we’re often faced with less desirable transfer ratios, and are left to hope for a transfer bonus promotion to beat the 1:0.75 or 1:0.7 transfer ratios.
Fortunately, MBNA Rewards has signalled that it’ll become Canada’s newest transferable points currency in 2024, when members will be able to convert MBNA Rewards points to Alaska miles.
There’s still not a firm timeline for this, but I imagine that applications for the MBNA Rewards World Elite Mastercard will skyrocket when it happens. This will especially be the case if MBNA makes the 5x earning rate at wholesale clubs (e.g. Costco) a permanent feature, after trialing it on a targeted promotion earlier this year.
In sum, an optimal outcome for the Canadian credit card landscape in 2024 would see more competition amongst issuers, higher welcome bonuses, elevated category earning rates, and the introduction of better perks and benefits to keep cardholders around for the long-term.
Canadian Loyalty Programs in 2024
It’s no surprise that Aeroplan remains the most popular and rewarding loyalty program amongst Canadians (and to many others, for that matter).
There are more ways than ever before to earn Aeroplan points, including through credit cards in Canada and the United States (as well as the HSBC Star Alliance Credit Card in Australia), everyday partners such as Starbucks, the LCBO, and Journie Rewards, the Aeroplan eStore, and more.
Aeroplan has also been adding new features to its platform, including the ability to book flights with stopovers and change bookings online. When the revamped program was launched back in 2020, Aeroplan indicated that it intended to launch these (and more) features, and it’s great to see some taking shape.
However, it’s worth noting that Aeroplan has also faced some challenges in 2023, as demonstrated by temporarily closing off new Family Sharing accounts, launching an offensive against third-party award search websites, and ongoing issues with some partner airlines.
Some of these issues pertain to concerns around fraud and abuse of the program, which winds up ruining some of the fun for the average user.
On the other hand, we know that Aeroplan is actively working to resolve these issues behind the scenes, as demonstrated by the return of Oman Air and other partner awards to online inventory. Hopefully, Aeroplan is able to find a lasting solution to these lingering issues, which started to have a material impact on the average user experience.
With the loss of Star Alliance award inventory support from award searching tools such as ExpertFlyer, it’d be wonderful to see Aeroplan (and other loyalty programs, for that matter) improve the search function on the website to make finding awards more intuitive. A great example of this is the calendar functions on the American Airlines AAdvantage, United MileagePlus, and Air France KLM Flying Blue websites.
I wouldn’t be surprised to learn of more airline partnerships launching with Aeroplan in 2024, especially as the number hasn’t yet crossed the 50-partner threshold.
One concerning trend has been new partners being subject to a hybrid chart, rather than the standard partner award prices. As it stands, Emirates and Flydubai have their own chart; however, Air Canada has also indicated that its regional partner airlines, such as Calm Air and Canadian North, will move to their own chart at some point in the future.
(If you have your eye on a trip to Churchill or remote destinations in Northern Canada, it’s best to lock in a redemption sooner rather than later).
If Aeroplan adds new partner airlines, let’s hope that they’re subject to standard partner award pricing, as that’s where much of the program’s best value lies.
In Fall 2023, we also saw Aeroplan give notice of upcoming changes to its terms and conditions in 2024. Some of the changes are meant to address data scraping and program abuse, while others are a continuation of the tougher language surrounding credit card welcome bonuses that we first saw in 2022.
It remains to be seen how strictly these terms will be enforced in 2024.
Since it launched the revamped Member Exclusive Fares in 2020, it has been very quiet on the WestJet Rewards front. We haven’t seen any material improvements to the program to drum up excitement, nor have we seen any large-scale devaluations.
However, as Canada’s second largest airline, there’s plenty of opportunity for the program to rebrand itself and become more of a player on the Canadian and North American scenes.
As it stands, there’s no way to get outsized value from a WestJet Rewards redemption in the same way that you can with Aeroplan and many other loyalty programs.
Member Exclusive Fares offer a small discount compared to the cash rate; however, you need to cover the entire cost of the base fare to be eligible for them, and you’re still on the hook for the much-loathed “Other Air Transportation Charges“, even on award bookings.
It’d be great to see WestJet Rewards better establish itself as a rewarding program in 2024, by offering members more opportunities to engage with and benefit from the program.
And by all means, it’s high time for WestJet to reconsider its approach to selling WestJet dollars for much more than what they’re worth.
Porter Airlines was on a mission in 2023, as it took delivery of new jets and started the massive expansion of its route network.
As a reminder, Porter also launched a revamped VIPorter loyalty program in early 2023.
Unlike Aeroplan and WestJet Rewards, VIPorter doesn’t have any credit card partnerships, which makes the program largely out of reach for many Canadians. Could we see VIPorter become a transfer partner with another points currency, or even get its own co-branded credit card, in 2024?
Furthermore, as the airline is rapidly expanding outside of its traditional core, more Canadians are becoming aware of what it has to offer with its onboard product, and in some cases, its loyalty program.
Since I live on Vancouver Island, I haven’t had much time to explore how the program works and how it compares to other programs; however, I’ve also heard good reports from Toronto-based frequent flyers, and I’m looking forward to spending some time getting to know VIPorter in 2024.
At the last minute, BMO acquired AIR MILES, and has since been breathing life back into the program.
It’s worth giving credit where credit is due, and I’ve been impressed to see the effort BMO is putting into making the program relevant again.
In the latter half of 2023, we saw some lucrative promotions, a revamped travel booking portal, the announcement of new, much more meaningful partnerships, and even some great welcome bonuses on its AIR MILES co-branded credit cards.
While AIR MILES doesn’t yet have the same swagger it once did, it’s a program that many Canadians hold dear, and here’s hoping for continued improvements ahead in 2024.
Canadian Airlines in 2024
Throughout 2023, there’s been a lot of movement in the Canadian aviation landscape.
While WestJet concentrated much of its efforts on expanding its presence in Western Canada, Air Canada focused on strengthening its main hubs in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver.
As the two largest airlines restored their networks to pre-pandemic levels, we also saw a number of new and returning route announcements for short-, medium-, and long-haul flights.
Many of Air Canada’s routes launched from Vancouver, including to Osaka, Singapore, and Dubai. In the route announcements, Air Canada also highlighted the easy onward connectivity to destinations served by its partner airlines.
On the other hand, WestJet has launched flights from Calgary to Tokyo and Seoul, as well as direct flights from Atlantic Canada to Europe.
As mentioned before, Porter Airlines has been on an absolute tear when it comes to route announcements. Whereas it used to fly regionally, it now offers flights across Canada and the United States, with plans to expand further as it takes delivery of more aircraft.
I don’t foresee route announcements from Air Canada, WestJet, or Porter Airlines to slow down in 2024, and hopefully, other global carriers will add new routes to Canada, too. Fortunately, with every announcement comes more choice, which is something we need a lot more of in Canada.
When it comes to earning status, it’s worth noting that many airlines around the world are moving to a revenue-based model, whereby your status level is tied directly to how much you spend with the airline, and not how frequently or how far you fly.
It’s likely inevitable that this model creeps its way into more airlines in 2024 and beyond, and whether or not you stand to benefit or lose will depend entirely on how you tend to book travel.
Lounge overcrowding was once again a big story in 2023, with many pictures of lineups outside lounges posted on various online forums. The pictures came paired with groans from actual frequent flyers who earn status and lounge access the hard way, rather than through credit cards or promotions.
For its part, Air Canada removed lounge access as a benefit to Aeroplan 35K members and instituted a three-hour time limit in June 2023, and also rejigged the furniture in its most popular lounges to allow for better use of the space.
We also got a taste of two new Air Canada lounges at Toronto Billy Bishop Airport (YTZ) and San Francisco (SFO), which should be an indication of what Maple Leaf Lounges might look like after the planned renovations in the coming years.
Some airlines are launching new business class and First Class products in 2024, and it’ll be interesting to see what the latest innovations in premium cabins have to offer.
Air Canada expects to launch new business class products to its retrofitted Embraer E175 and Bombardier CRJ900 aircraft in 2024, which could be the first indication of what its next-generation narrow-body business class cabins will look like.
The airline expects to begin taking delivery of Airbus A321XLR aircraft in 2025, and has also hinted that its long-haul wide-body fleet is also ready for an update “soon”.
As we head into 2024, it’s worth looking back on some of the main themes from 2023 and what we might expect in the Miles & Points and travel landscapes next year.
There’s plenty of room for competition in the Canadian credit card, loyalty, and aviation markets, and hopefully this will bring about positive change.
Thanks to all for reading and supporting Prince of Travel in 2023 – we’ll be sure to keep you up to date with all the goings on in 2024 and beyond.