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Best travel rewards card/program for cash-expensive short haul flights.

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  • Jun 2nd, 2019 5:17 pm
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[OP]
Member
May 1, 2019
288 posts
612 upvotes
Smithers, BC

Best travel rewards card/program for cash-expensive short haul flights.

We live in a small town in northern BC, but are serviced by a regional airport that AIr Canada flies out of (Smithers).

We fly somewhat frequently to Vancouver to visit family, but the costs for the flights are significant, almost always $550-600+.

We are currently Air Miles collectors, as they offer zone-based travel, which is better than points per dollar redemption in our scenario, but are more and more running into jacked rates for flights, limited availability, etc.

Are there any better programs that would would meet our travel needs?
8 replies
Deal Addict
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Nov 14, 2003
4380 posts
2675 upvotes
Gotham
Aeroplan. I use almost all of my points to fly between YVR and YYZ with a random stop (it is the same amount of points). Most of the time I book within a week of travel. Last week, I booked in the afternoon for an evening flight. There are lots of flights on this route and lots of empty seats. On less busy routes, this may be a challenge. Years ago, getting a reward flight to Yellowknife or Whitehorse was near impossible. It is better now though.

Timing is also important, because I think additional seats are released to aeroplan closer to the flight date. There may be a better selection the day before the flight than one week before. Also, low vs high season vs number of seats required are other factors. As always, ymmv

Check each program to see what availability there is.
Jr. Member
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Nov 1, 2010
186 posts
137 upvotes
Toronto
Any program with a fixed points travel schedule would be good. Some off the top of my head: Aeroplan, AMEX (Cobalt), RBC Avion (Visa Infinite).

If you aren't keen on churning cards you'd want cards with strong earning power to make best use of this. AMEX Cobalt would be a solid option for this. 20k pts for round trip short haul (depending on base ticket price, covers up to max $300, pay rest in cash). This would equate to around $4000 in grocery/restaurant/bar spends assuming they take AMEX.

For NON AMEX, you have Aeroplan which you can earn via TD's Aeroplan Visa Infinite card (30k welcome bonus right now which is enough for 2 round trip, expires june 2nd) at 1.5 miles on grocery, gas, drug store, aircanada.com spendings. It costs 15000 miles (+ fees) for a round trip via Aeroplan so by those categories it'll take $10000 spend. Worth noting AMEX Gold earns 2 miles in grocery, gas, drug store, travel spends. If stores near you take AMEX then this is also an option (Aeroplan covers full base ticket price, you just pay fees where with other programs you're only covered up to a certain amount).

RBC Avion Visa Infinite is another option. For 15000 pts (+ fees) you can get a round trip via their fixed points travel schedule. RBC earns 1.25 pts on travel, 1pt on everything else (max base ticket price $350).

Another option is to opt for cards with strong earning power that allow you to redeem against travel spends (usually at 1 cpp but the earning power makes it worthwhile vs cashback cards). Again if AMEX is viable, Scotiabank's AMEX Gold is pretty good here (Cobalt does this too but better to use against fixed points travel than travel credit). TD First Class Travel can be good if you can get availability/decent offers through their Expedia 4 TD portal (from quick check it's the same as what I'm seeing on Google Flights) as it is essentially 4.5% if you book through Expedia 4 TD & redeem against a future Expedia 4 TD booking (if you redeem after booking then it's 3.6%). If you sign up for TD FCT now you can get 80000 pts as welcome bonus which is worth $400 on Expedia 4 TD redeems.
[OP]
Member
May 1, 2019
288 posts
612 upvotes
Smithers, BC
Thanks for the replies. Based on what I'm seeing, I think Air Miles is still actually the best option for us. We average about 250-300 per month Air Miles on credit card spending alone, and collect around 5500 to 6000 Air Miles per year, enough for around 4 to 6 flights, depending on time of year, and quoted rates. Safeway is one of two major grocery options for us, so strategically shopping for bonus AM helps as well.

The numbers quoted above seem to indicate a much higher spend for the same reward, and I wasn't aware that some programs have a max base ticket price, which does not exist with AM.

Thanks for the info!
Deal Guru
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May 8, 2009
14073 posts
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Not Leask
Areoplan if taxes are low. To lower taxes, can you fly round-trip Seattle and take the train from there?

For cash fare (best when taxes are high)...
  1. BNS. Lousy issuer, no transfer partners, but winner for SCOTS (statement credit on travel spend)
  2. TD. Expedia4TD 0.5cpp, SCOTS or gift card 0.4cpp, can price match flight + hotel or hotel only. Can transfer to AP at 5:1
  3. CIBC. Redeem 1cpp on Expedia. No price match AFAIK
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Deal Guru
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Jan 9, 2011
10132 posts
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Vancouver
briand1989 wrote: Thanks for the replies. Based on what I'm seeing, I think Air Miles is still actually the best option for us. We average about 250-300 per month Air Miles on credit card spending alone, and collect around 5500 to 6000 Air Miles per year, enough for around 4 to 6 flights, depending on time of year, and quoted rates. Safeway is one of two major grocery options for us, so strategically shopping for bonus AM helps as well.

The numbers quoted above seem to indicate a much higher spend for the same reward, and I wasn't aware that some programs have a max base ticket price, which does not exist with AM.

Thanks for the info!
YYD-YVR for a week in September is:

Aeroplan is 15,000 points plus $134.66 in taxes
Air Miles is 1,400 dream miles plus $128 in taxes
Cash price is $469 plus $69.91 = $538

Looks like Aeroplan and Air Miles are a wash, given that aeroplan points are typically valued at 1¢ each and Air Miles are 10¢ each.

Question is...what's your earn rate?

Consider Amex Gold for Aeroplan points...get 2 points/dollar for spending at Safeway and on gas and at pharmacies, 1 point/dollar everywhere else. $150/year annual fee.

What Air Miles card can you get that can beat that? BMO Air Miles world elite: 1 point for every $10 spent everywhere. $120 annual fee. Only half as as good as Amex Gold on your grocery/gas/pharmacy spend.

And if you need to fly beyond Vancouver, Aeroplan will kick Air Miles' pants off. Smithers to Toronto requires far fewer Aeroplan points than the equivalent value in Air Miles points.
Sr. Member
Aug 5, 2018
538 posts
751 upvotes
Kiraly wrote: YYD-YVR for a week in September is:

Aeroplan is 15,000 points plus $134.66 in taxes
Air Miles is 1,400 dream miles plus $128 in taxes
Cash price is $469 plus $69.91 = $538
Those numbers seem amazing.

Get BMO airmiles WE, FYF, 3000 miles, + 2 free lounge. (need $3k min spend in 3 months)
Get TD aeroplan infinite (before june 2) FYF, 30k aeroplan (need $1k min spend in 3 months)

Now you are covered for at least 4 flights roundtrip, plus these cards gives insurance for reward redemptions.
Deal Addict
Oct 13, 2006
2310 posts
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Burnaby
If you shop mostly at Safeway, might be worth a look at the Scotiabank American Express Gold. If you get it before July 31st the annual fee is $99, goes up to $120 August 1. You just missed the Swagbucks signup offer for this card, might be worth it to wait until next week to see if there are any new signup promos for this card. And then switch your airmiles earn to cash miles only since i'll likely be a slow slog to earn airmiles.
Deal Guru
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Jan 9, 2011
10132 posts
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Vancouver
amplified wrote: If you shop mostly at Safeway, might be worth a look at the Scotiabank American Express Gold. If you get it before July 31st the annual fee is $99, goes up to $120 August 1. You just missed the Swagbucks signup offer for this card, might be worth it to wait until next week to see if there are any new signup promos for this card. And then switch your airmiles earn to cash miles only since i'll likely be a slow slog to earn airmiles.
Scotiabank's card is best for booking flights that have low cash prices compared to their point-booking cost. If the cash price is high compared to the point-booking cost (which is the OP's case), it's better to use points like you get from Aeroplan or Air Miles.

Example using my Smithers-Vancouver flight from a few posts up:
  • Amex Gold: Spent $7500 at Safeway to get enough Aeroplan points, plus pay $128 in taxes.
  • Scotia Amex Gold: spend $13,450 at Safeway to pay for the flight, including taxes. An additional $5,950 spend at Safeway to save $128 in taxes is a 2% return, eating up half of the 4% the card normally earns.

I recommend OP collects both Aeroplan (with credit card) and Air Miles (Safeway's offers). Then he earns points in both programs. Best of course is to get multiple cards and churn them for the welcome bonus. Churning gets you way more points than spending ever will.

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