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If you’ve searched for flights recently, you’ve likely noticed that airfares can easily be 50 per cent higher than they were before the pandemic. The reality is that flights have never been more full, and demand has never been higher. And that’s forcing many people to delay or abandon their travel plans.

While it’s getting tougher to find a travel deal, one way you can save is with loyalty points. But there’s a hitch: Many travel loyalty programs, including Air Canada’s Aeroplan and Marriott Bonvoy, have switched to a dynamic pricing system. Simply put, when there’s more demand for certain routes, destinations, or rooms, the number of points required for a redemption will also increase.

For example, according to the Aeroplan flight reward chart, a one-way ticket from Toronto to Hong Kong should cost 65,000-110,000 Aeroplan points in economy, 80,000-180,000 points in premium economy and 105,000-250,000 in business. When there’s more demand, you’ll see the number of points required on the higher end of the scale.

To make matters worse, dynamic pricing with Aeroplan can see rates that far exceed what’s listed in the chart. For example, I recently searched for flights to Hong Kong from Toronto. The prices I found were simply mind-boggling. An economy seat was going for 125,000 Aeroplan points, premium economy for 240,000 points and business was 350,000 points.

At those prices, people may be wondering whether to quit their loyalty programs completely. However, if you can get over the initial shock, there are a few tricks you can use to reduce the number of points you’ll pay.

Look at partner airlines. Aeroplan has more than 40 partners that charge a fixed rate for redemption flights. For my Hong Kong route, a partner airline redemption would cost 50,000 points in economy or 80,000 points in business. That’s significantly lower than Air Canada’s rates. However, partner airlines typically only release a few reward seats about a year before departure. Unless you’re planning for a trip a year from now, finding a seat will be difficult. Alternatively, partner airlines will usually release a few more seats within two weeks of the departure date. This can be beneficial to people who don’t mind last-minute planning.

Be flexible. The most popular routes will typically be the most expensive ones. If you’re flexible with what day and at what time you fly, there could be considerable savings. For example, midweek and midafternoon flights typically cost fewer points than flying Friday through Monday or 10 a.m. to noon. Flying during less popular months will also have an effect.

Take the long way. In most cases, the most direct path to your final destination will cost you the most points. While searching for the flight to Hong Kong, I found a route via Seoul for 129,000 Aeroplan points. It would be premium economy from Toronto to Seoul and then economy between Seoul and Hong Kong. It added a few hours compared with flying through Vancouver, but considering this route was 111,000 points less, it offered a big saving.

Consider the refund policy. With Marriott Bonvoy redemptions, most properties give a full refund as long as you cancel your reservation at least 48 hours before your arrival date. If you were to recheck your room rate once a week, you could rebook if prices drop. This is a low-effort method that could save you thousands of points.

Check often. Dynamic pricing means the rates will fluctuate at random times. When I was ready to book the flight to Hong Kong, I saw that seats from Toronto via Vancouver were now priced at 160,000 for economy, 380,000 for premium economy and 267,000 for business. The business seat offered the most value, so I booked it right away.

If the idea of earning tens or hundreds of thousands of points seems daunting, it’s easier than you think. There are multiple Aeroplan credit cards that give you 50,000 to 100,000 points as the welcome bonus. Marriott Bonvoy also has a credit card that typically offers a welcome bonus of 50,000 to 70,000 points.

Dynamic pricing is annoying, but people only complain when prices are on the high end of the scale. No one complains when they find a route priced below the reward range. Plus, with dynamic pricing, almost all seats and rooms are now bookable on points, as opposed to the set limit that was common before.

There will always be opportunities to cash in your points at a good value as long as you look at all your options. For my flight to Hong Kong, I was still able to get a cost-per-point value of more than two cents each. In addition, I found that flying home from Tokyo cost significantly fewer points, so I booked that route. To get in between the two cities, I paid cash for a cheap flight.

Never assume loyalty points aren’t worth it because they’re complicated to use. By not earning and redeeming points, you’re ensuring that you’re always paying full price.

Barry Choi is a personal finance and travel expert at He was previously affiliated with Aeroplan and Marriott Bonvoy, but currently has no relationship with any of the brands.

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