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Cards from CIBC, TD Bank and Aeroplan as shown Thursday, June 27, 2013 in Montreal. Aimia Inc., the company that runs the Aeroplan customer loyalty program, wants to make its travel rewards easier to accumulate and to redeem and is prepared to replace CIBC as its bank credit card partner. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Cards from CIBC, TD Bank and Aeroplan as shown Thursday, June 27, 2013 in Montreal. Aimia Inc., the company that runs the Aeroplan customer loyalty program, wants to make its travel rewards easier to accumulate and to redeem and is prepared to replace CIBC as its bank credit card partner. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Rob Carrick

Bailing on Aeroplan? Here’s how to find a rewarding replacement Add to ...

Never marry your travel reward program.

There’s no point in making that level of commitment. Travel reward programs change over the years and you may want a divorce. We’ve seen these changes most recently at Aeroplan, which will lose Air Canada as its star player in mid-2020.

Find a reward program that works for you, milk it by earning points and then burn those points off. When changes happen that you don’t like, bail. If you’re ready to do that with Aeroplan or its competitors, we’re here to help. With input from Patrick Sojka of RewardsCanada.ca, we have created a detailed comparison of customer loyalty programs with travel-focused rewards.

Figure out which program works best for you and start watching for special introductory offers to lure new clients. Competition between programs will heat up as we move closer to Air Canada’s departure from Aeroplan.

You might also consider a personal finance columnist’s perspective on the best program. After long using an Aeroplan-linked credit card, I switched a few years ago to generic cash-back travel rewards cards and couldn’t be happier.

Some people put a priority on getting the best value in terms of converting their dollar spending into reward points. Cash-back travel rewards cards don’t ace this category. They offer a reward rate of 1 to 2 per cent most cases ($1 or $2 in rewards for every $100 you spend), which is less than you can get if you have a card like RBC Avion Visa Infinite or TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite and everything goes your way in booking a flight.

My cash-back card more than offsets this with its no-hassle flexibility. Money spent on my card produces reward points that can be redeemed to partly or fully cover travel-related expenses, including tickets and taxes. To redeem points, all I have to do is log into the website for my card and decide how many points I’ll apply against my travel-related costs.

I was a big fan of Aeroplan years ago – it covered tickets for us to places like New York, Vancouver, Orlando and Paris. Our more recent experiences trying to book travel prompted us to give up because of the unavailability of the flights we wanted, and redeem points for merchandise instead.

And then there’s Air Miles, which I have participated in for 24 years. Never once was I able to redeem points for a flight I wanted. First, I had too few points. Then, I couldn’t book anything without deal-breaking layovers. Finally, I used a whack of points last fall to buy a Weber charcoal barbecue.

That was back when Air Miles was still proceeding with a plan to have points older than five years start expiring at the end of 2016. Air Miles backed off, but indicated that its rewards will become less generous in the future.

You can’t rule out the possibility that a cash-back card will put an expiry date on its points, but this risk is much more manageable than it is for a program like Air Miles. Rather than waiting to build up enough points to finally get a reward you want, you can use them to offset even a small portion of a travel-related purchase.

For the most part, all the various travel reward options have some particular appeal. Mr. Sojka said Aeroplan provides good value for premium long-haul flights, if you can get the flight you want. He said that both Air Miles and Aeroplan can be good for expensive short-haul flights between destinations in Ontario like Sudbury to Toronto.

Cashback travel cards win on pure convenience and usefulness. If you have the points, you’ve got your travel covered.

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The most rewarding reward programs

Here’s a pros and cons guide to help you find the travel-focused customer loyalty program that best meets your needs. This information was put together with the help of Patrick Sojka of RewardsCanada.ca.

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AEROPLAN / I want short-haul flights

Pros
-Can provide good value for some expensive short haul flights like Sudbury, Ont. to Toronto;
-Typically an easy award to reach for members who don’t earn a lot of miles.

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