A model airplane is seen in front of the newly-revealed Air Canada Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner aircraft at a hangar at the Toronto Pearson International Airport in Mississauga, Ont., Thursday, February 9, 2017. Air Canada’s three Aeroplan credit card partners are updating the features of the airline’s main customer loyalty program for travellers.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch

A model airplane is seen in front of the newly-revealed Air Canada Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner aircraft at a hangar at the Toronto Pearson International Airport in Mississauga, Ont., Thursday, February 9, 2017. Air Canada’s three Aeroplan credit card partners are updating the features of the airline’s main customer loyalty program for travellers.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch

Air Miles or cash back? How to manage your travel rewards during a pandemic

The good news is that even travel-focused loyalty programs have become more flexible in recent years

Angela Farquhar is a self-described “sucker for a loyalty program.”

The 32-year-old teacher from Waubaushene, Ont., collects PC Optimum Points and Petro Points, but Air Miles are her favourite. She pays close attention to bonus events in order to rack them up faster.

But with her husband off work for two months due to the pandemic and travel looking unlikely for the foreseeable future, Farquhar — like many Canadians —has had to change the way she uses her rewards. This year, instead of buying airline tickets, she used her Air Miles to buy a backyard slide her daughters, Mackenzie, 3, and Alexandra, 1.

“Mackenzie absolutely loves it and I just started sliding Alexandra down too,” Farquhar says. “She actually thinks it’s more fun taking turns with her sister.”

Charlene Suchy, however, is taking the opposite approach.

The 37-year-old divemaster from Pefferlaw, Ont., is a devoted Air Miles collector, but has decided to save up rather than spend on non-travel items.

“I’m currently looking at either round trip flights or an all-inclusive package using my miles,” she says. I’m not sure of a destination yet, but have a few in mind for when we can travel again. My trip will only be nicer the more miles I can save.”

So which is the right approach when it comes to rewards cards? Save up in the hope a vaccine will make travel possible relatively soon? Or use the points right now?

According to Patrick Sojka, the founder of Rewards Canada and an expert on travel rewards, Canadians are increasingly looking to do the latter, despite the fact that travel typically offers better value.

“The loyalty programs have told us that more people are using their rewards for merchandise, more people are redeeming for gift cards. It’s definitely happening.”

Whether that’s the right strategy depends on your financial situation, says Sojka.

“If you’re an average income earner and you don’t have a way to rack up miles quickly, short-term benefits are probably a healthy way to look at it. A lot of programs tend to devalue over time, and there’s uncertainty over the lack of travel and the global economy generally.”

For those in higher income brackets, continuing to accumulate miles may be the better option. “It might not matter to you that a business class flight will cost 20,000 more miles in a year and a half,” says Sojka.

The good news is that even travel-focused loyalty programs have become more flexible in recent years, including Air Canada’s recently relaunched Aeroplan program.

“Whether it’s merchandise, gift cards, tickets, Amazon purchases, cashback options: there’s a whole gamut of options, depending on the program, says Sojka. “Most of them have added more, you just have to find the program that suits your needs.

The other option is to ditch your rewards card and switch to a cash-back credit card, though Sojka says this strategy has some drawbacks. For starters, cash-back cards tend to offer lower-percentage returns on purchases than travel rewards. And most cash-back cards only pay out once a year, making them less useful for those in search of short-term financial relief, though some, such as TD’s Cash Back Visa, allow you to redeem much sooner.

Whatever rewards strategy you choose, Sojka’s final piece of advice is to check to see when your points expire. Most programs have 12 to 24-month inactivity rules if you’re not earning or redeeming. Many pushed that forward due to the pandemic, but the deadlines will return.

“Either earn a mile or spend some on a reward,” he says. “That keeps them active.”

ALSO READ: Latest COVID-19 travel advice another blow to B.C. tourism

Alex McClintock, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Air TravelCoronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

City of Williams Lake considering using remainder of COVID Safe Restart Grant to make up for unpaid taxes. (City of Williams Lake photo)
Williams Lake weighs allocating rest of COVID safe restart grant in capital programs

The $546,205 lef of the $2.6 million could make up for $746,874 in outstanding taxes

Chief Joe Alphonse
OP-ED: Williams Lake municipal, regional councils lack awareness on historical trauma

Systemic racism isn’t always obvious to those that are not experiencing it

A nurse performs a test on a patient at a drive-in COVID-19 clinic in Montreal, on Wednesday, October 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
36 new cases of COVID-19, one death in Interior Health

The number of active cases in the region is at 366

The City of Williams Lake is asking for public feedback on whether it should explore the opportunity to host a Greater Metro Hockey League team in Williams Lake. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Williams Lake GMHL expansion questions, concerns, to be discussed later this month

If approved, the team would begin play in the fall of 2021

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the B.C. legislature press theatre to give a daily update on the COVID-19 pandemic, April 6, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. nears 300,000 COVID-19 vaccinations, essential workers next

564 new cases, four deaths, no new outbreaks Thursday

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Walter Gretzky father of hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky waves to fans as the Buffalo Sabres play against the Toronto Maple Leafs during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky, father of the Great One, dies at 82

Canada’s hockey dad had battled Parkinson’s disease and other health issues

Kelowna General Hospital (File photo)
Second death reported in Kelowna General Hospital COVID-19 outbreak

A total of seven cases have been identified at the hospital: six patients and one staff

Municipal Affairs Minister Josie Osborne speaks in the B.C. legislature, March 4, 2021. (Hansard TV)
B.C. Liberals, NDP sing in harmony on local election reforms

Bill regulates paid canvassers, allows people in condo buildings

(National Emergency Management Agency)
No tsunami risk to B.C. from powerful New Zealand earthquake: officials

An 8.1 magnitude earthquake shook the north of New Zealand Thursday morning

(AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)
Pandemic stress, isolation key factors as to why Canadians turned to cannabis, alcohol

Study found that isolation played key role in Canadians’ substance use

(File photo)
Kamloops Mountie bitten while arresting woman

The assault on March 1 is the latest in a string of incidents that have left local officers injured

Most Read