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Which CANADIAN reward credit card is best for airline travel?

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What do you fellow Canucks do for airline travel?
We changed our RBC Gold card to an RBC Avion card. If you have a decent relationship with your Royal Bank, the yearly card fee can be waived. We put everything on this Visa – Bell telephone, gas, house taxes (if they’ll let you).
This sounds complicated but it really isn’t.
There is a reward of 10,000 points for changing to Avion plus a yearly reward of 2,500 points. The Avion card carries with it all the usual advantages of car rental, increased warranties on purchased items plus hotel insurance in case you are robbed while staying in a hotel. Already accumulated points on RBC Gold are transferred to Avion one-to-one.
Now, Avion allows you to purchase with points airline travel on any airline, no blackouts, no seat restrictions subject to a very generous dollar limits ($1300 for return to Euruope).
However, once a year there is an opportunity to transfer your points to British Airways, 1.5 BA miles for each 1 Avion point. If you know you want to travel BA, this is great.
As an added bonus you can collect BA miles through some hotel reward programs – Priority Club (Holiday Inn). Pay with your Avion card and here is the math for that spiff … $100 room = 100 Avion points X 1.5 BA miles = 150 BA miles plus (currently) 500 BA miles with Priority Club = a total of 650 BA miles.
With British Airways you can pool family miles which accumulates even faster.
It allows us to travel executive class Canada to Paris every year to 18 months.

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    Hi robame. How was the Ontario summer?

    I have a bit of trouble wrapping my mind around these credit card questions. It strikes me, though, that the answer to which is best may depend on your travel patterns, whether or not you already have a significant point balance with a given airline, and whether you have some kind of status with an airline.

    I accumulated a lot of Aeroplan points through business travel before I retired. It seemed to make sense to choose a card that would augment those points, so I got CIBC Aerogold card for myself and a supplementary card for my wife. Like you, we're putting a lot of household spending through the card (plus those little extras like the Aeroplan points from Esso). What really makes the points add up, though, is that I have Elite status with AC, so I get a 50% point bonus on every flight. I also use AC's Eastern Canada flight pass for domestic travel, which gives me a free upgrade on a space-available basis plus another 50% bonus if I get the upgrade (and I haven't missed one yet). So, the Aeroplan points are accumulating very quickly.

    Recent changes to Aeroplan has put some collectors off about "any seat at a vastly inflated price." Well, it's true that the ClassicPlus seats are expensive, but a retired guy has a lot of flexibility on travel dates, so I haven't had any trouble finding Classic award business class seats on the few times I've gone looking.

    That's a long way of saying that one card might be better if I were just starting off, but with more than half a million points in the bank and a reasonably happy connection to AC, I think I'm going to stick with what I've got.

    Have you any plans for France in the coming six months? We're off to Paris in February.

    Anselm

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    Greetings Anselm - I had accumulated Aeroplan miles and, as you mentioned, was thwarted when I tried to use them for a domestic flight - had to upgrade to a more expensive seat. My daughter-in-law who travels AC a lot tells me people sit on available seats as the penalty for switching is little or none. As well, the recent "shelf-life" of seven years scared me some. We used straight Avion miles for a trip to Florida and the process was a joy compared to what I had experienced with Aeroplan. However for people like you it seems the obvious answer.
    Having said that, I was shocked when booking executive class seats to Paris for next September with BA miles, the cash cost for taxes etc was over $700cdn for the two seats.
    We have booked a trip next Sept/Oct. to France staying four weeks at Carlux's gite, Le Fournil, in Dordogne. We will add the mandatory week in Paris plus 4 days in, perhaps, Britanny, to which we haven't been.
    Until that time I will plan and dream by the Fodor's forum and look forward to living vicariously through your February trip report. Take many of your fabulous photos! Wghat is your itinerary?

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    robjame, Aeroplan's new seven year shelf life will certainly be a problem for people who slowly accumulate points for the big family trip or the round-the-world after retirement. It may force them to redeem their points for something that they may not have wanted, such as a short-haul trip or a plasma TV.

    The fees are a shocker. My wife's ticket to Paris is a business class award and we paid $306 in fees. As far as I can tell, that includes NavCan and security fees, the fuel surcharge, and some taxes.

    Your planned trip sounds perfect. Four weeks in Dordogne, plus Paris and one other area! (By the way, if you have a chance, could you post the url for Carlux's place here? We haven't been to that area yet, but I'd like to start a few bookmarks.)

    Our itinerary: I'll be in Paris from the 7th to the 28th of February. My wife, daughter, and her boyfriend will join me from the 15th to the 24th, and we've booked this place for the period when we're all there together: http://tinyurl.com/y3kzl9

    I'm not sure where I'm going to stay when I'm there by myself, and I've promised my next door neighbour that I'll pop down to Montpellier to see him for a day or two. Oddly, he's coaching a football team there. That's American football, not soccer.

    Anselm

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    OReilly - Is there an advantage to cashing the points at Carlson Travel as opposed to using the Avion agents to book air travel?
    Anselm - The url for Carlux's gite is
    http://www.yourfriendsinfrance.org/
    You will find it interesting as she is a Canadian expat and there is a bit of her story on the homepage. I believe she manages all the homes listed on the site, while "Le Fournil" is owned by her. I like the philosophy of this group in providing everything required, not a barebones rental.
    I am a little surprised you haven't been to Dordogne or did you mean this particular area of Dordogne (village of Carlux near Sarlat)? After visiting Burgundy, Lyon, Alsace, Rhone Valley, Provence, Lot, and Loire, the area of Dordogne was, by far, our favourite. After reading your cooking exploits, I am trying to arrange cooking classes when we are there in the autumn.

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    Thanks for that link. Lovely houses. I've bookmarked it.

    No, we've been to Paris, Provence, Strasbourg, Languedoc, and Auvergne, but never to the Dordogne. I think that's going to have to change, though. I'm going to show my wife that link when she gets home this evening.

    We're planning to take another cooking class in February. My wife has zeroed in on l'atelier des sens, but they haven't published their February schedule yet. Wherever we do, I'll write it up.

    OReilly, I recollect you travel a great deal on business. Have you been able to use up any of your Aeroplan points for personal travel?

    Anselm

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    We use the Amex Aeroplan gold card as we receive 1.35 points per dollar. It is $120 per year and the second card is free. Some places still won't accept Amex (so we also have CIBC Aerogold), but most do. I plan far in advance, and haven't had problems accessing the four seats we need. By pooling everything into Aeroplan, we get enough points for the big trips (Europe, Australia etc) about every 18 months.

    I am not an Air Canada fan as the planes are atrocious, but this gets us there "free" quickest.

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    Anselm, over the past 10 years flying with AC I have earned over 1 million miles (I have flown over 100,000 miles each year). However, I have rarely used them myself except for the odd short-haul with BMI from London to Dublin. My DH, his mum and a good friend have enjoyed several BC trips to Europe on me :>)

    robjame - the reason I went for the cash value is the flexibility. Booking using points have restrictions, such as no BC travel and, more importantly, only from HERE to there. I don;t need that as I am in Europe every month anyway and also have lots of points with AC if I choose to use them; what I really needed were tickets inter-Europe, which they won't do. I can also use them to pay for hotels, cars etc.

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    As a past 'frequent flyer' on business travel (when I say 'past' I mean back when Air Canada and Canadian Pacific first started their frequent flyer programs) who retired 25 years ago and has had to deal with using credit cards around the world ever since, I have some views on this subject.

    Air miles are more or less good for one thing, flying. Yes, there are some other possible uses but that is the one that matters. However, trying to establish a value for air miles is notoriously difficult if not outright impossible. A short hop domestic flight which costs less points than a tranatlantic for example may well cost more to buy a ticket than the cheapest transatlantic. This is in fact true. It costs more to fly Air Canada from Toronto to Vancouver than to fly Toronto to London, England on Air Transat.

    So how much are the points actually worth? The 25k points to fly to Vancouver which is a $1000 ticket or the 75k points to fly to London which is a $800 ticket. One will get you a signifigantly higher point value than the other obviously. What is the actual value of the points? Answer, it depends. You can't even get agreement (go check flyertalk.com) on an average value.

    Air miles to me only make sense on domestic flights where you are stuck with AC, Westjet and Porter, all of whom might as well be one company when it comes to pricing. On those flights, your 25k in points APPEARS to have some real value. But 75k in points for a $800 return flight to the UK is crap value. Do the math. How many dollars do you have to spend to get 25k in points to fly Vancouver-Toronto. Give that a cash value. Now what is percentage of the total amount you had to spend to get that cash value? Is it more than 2%?

    So even though I had tons of points when I flew on business, I no longer continue to collect air miles. For the average person who does not fly on business I simply don't think they can collect enough in a short enough time or get enough value out of them compared to other reward alternatives.

    For example, if you use the President's Choice Mastercard, you get points with which you can buy groceries or anything else they sell. If you put everything on your card as you note robjame, they will at some point write and tell you that they are upgrading you to double points. That has a specific cash value. It is 2% of all you spend on the card. This is also why it doesn't make sense to split your spending. Getting air miles to use on domestic flights and a form of cash reward for othe spending. If you split your spending you will not get upgraded to the 2%, you will stay at 1% reward.

    I look at the PC reward as 2% cash. Suppose I want to buy something for $500. I'm not going to buy it at PC but instead of spending $500 from my food budget, I could instead use $500 of PC points to buy the groceries and use the cash in the bank to buy the item. See what I mean? The points can't buy the item(a flight maybe?) but I can re-route the cash in the bank.

    Cash is king, always has been and always will be. I would rather have 2% cash than an unknown quantity in terms of flights. Any flight you get for points I get for PC points. The difference is I pay for the flight and get groceries for free instead.

    I am not confined to any airline, partner airline or black out periods. I can fly any airline including the low cost airlines. I don't believe air miles, no matter how you value them, will equal 2% cash.

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