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Part 4: Make a strategy with reward programs

To the point Now that you know a little more about credit cards and rewards programs; and you know our tips to earn points, let's take a look at an essential part: making a strategy with reward programs.

Your objectives: the starting point of your strategy

We can’t tell you enough: set yourself one or more objectives to achieve! It’s ESSENTIAL to make a strategy that makes sense for you.

And of course, we are talking about your strategy: if you can get inspired by someone else’s plan, it will be up to you to set your own! Income, expenses, lifestyle are different from one person to another!

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These goals may differ depending on your short, medium or long term vision.

Here are some examples of short / medium / long term goals to help you define your own:

A short-term goal: one to six months

Your short-term goal should be for the next six months:

Hotel points

The fast hotel points earning to cover a travel need in three to six months.

After the first purchase with the Best Western Rewards® Mastercard – a no annual fee card – you can get 20,000 Best Western Rewards points for at least one free hotel night!

Within three months, you can easily earn 50,000 Marriott Bonvoy points with the Marriott Bonvoy™ American Express® Card for five to ten free hotel nights!

And double up by also applying for the Marriott Bonvoy™ Business American Express® Card.

Cash back

Large expenses in the next three months? Think cash back!

Below, you’ll find good credit cards, to begin with, as the Scotia Momentum® VISA Infinite* card.

High bonuses

A significant expense to come (municipal, school taxes, etc.)? It’s the perfect time to earn credit card welcome bonuses requiring $3,000 or more in minimal spend in 3 months!

This is the case right now with both BMO World Elite credit cards.

As you can see, we are in the short term. Whether it’s for hotel nights, cashback or welcome bonuses based on large expenses, our goal doesn’t usually exceed the next six months.

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A medium-term goal: six to twelve months

Your medium-term goal should be for the next six to twelve months.

Hotel points

You can make a strategy with your Significant Other or a friend to earn many hotel points or airline miles!

The goal is to afford a trip in six to twelve months (or more). This is what I did with friends, for example, six to twelve months before going to Thailand in business class!

Travel points

You’ll have to apply to more than one credit card to earn miles and points needed for your trip.

That’s why it takes more time than a short-term goal.

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A long-term goal: twelve to twenty-four months

Your long-term goal should be for the next twelve to twenty-four months.

Hotel points

We earn Membership Rewards Points:those points are the most flexible on the market with a lot of transfer partners (such as Aeroplan, British Airways Executive Club, Delta Skymiles, Marriott Bonvoy, etc.).

And these points have almost no risk of loss of value (while other programs can be “devalued”).

American Express has six cards within the Membership Rewards program.

With those Membership Rewards Points, you’ll be able to book reward flights for you and your family (please note that Cobalt and Edge cards cannot transfer points to airline programs).

Consumer Cards

Small Business Cards

As loyalty programs continuously evolve – and we are not immune to points devaluation – the long-term goal should not exceed 18 to 24 months.

For example, Aeroplan had announced an end date for its partnership with Air Canada effective June 30, 2020. But then this changed and Air Canada took over Aeroplan. But we don’t know anything about Air Canada’s new program coming out in 2020.

All we know is that Aeroplan miles will be transferred to this new program.

This is the most challenging goal to achieve, but the most coveted. Here, strategy and preparation will be essential to earn many credit card bonuses.

This is how, for example, you can afford a Mini Round-The-World trip with Aeroplan miles in Business class or even First Class!

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Choose the right rewards programs for you

In Canada, there are must-have rewards programs:

And other programs that will save you a lot of money. Let’s take a look at each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

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Aeroplan and your goals

Aeroplan is useful to book flights with flight rewards.

Here are the strengths and weaknesses of the Aeroplan program.

Short-haul flight rewards

Your goal is a short-haul flight (to a nearby province or U.S. state)?

Aeroplan’s strengths for short-haul reward tickets:

Aeroplan’s weaknesses for short-haul flight rewards:

  • Air Canada’s carrier surcharge that is unavoidable
  • Flight rewards availability

Medium-Haul flight rewards

Your goal is a medium-haul flight (anywhere in North America)?

Aeroplan’s strengths for medium-haul flight rewards:

Aeroplan’s weaknesses for short-haul flight rewards:

  • Air Canada’s carrier surcharge
  • Flight rewards availability

Long-Haul flight rewards

Your goal is a long-haul flight?

Aeroplan’s strengths for long-haul flight rewards:

Aeroplan’s weaknesses for long-haul flight rewards:

  • Not great compared to cash fare for economy class travel
  • Air Canada’s carrier surcharge
  • Flight rewards availability

Aeroplan's Highlights Summary

Aeroplan as a lot of partners: from credit card issuers (American Express, CIBC, TD) to hotel partners (Marriott Bonvoy, Best Western Rewards, etc.), which makes it easy to earn miles.

Aeroplan is excellent for short and medium-haul economy flights, as well as long-haul business class flights.

Another strength of the Aeroplan program is the ability to make multi-city itineraries.

Aeroplan is also a way to travel in the luxury of business or first-class at a lower cost.

Aeroplan's Weakness Summary

Flight availability is the real weakness of Aeroplan. If you have fixed travel dates (spring break/Christmas), it will often be challenging to find tickets, especially if you look for more than two people.

Besides, if you plan to travel to Europe in economy class, it will be wiser to pay for your flight as fares regularly run around $600. We will then use a program offering travel points to save money (see below).

Finally, it is necessary to have reached a slightly more advanced knowledge of the program to find flights without carrier surcharge.

It should be noted that apart from credit card issuers, Aeroplan has fewer retail partners compared to AIR MILES.

To learn more about Aeroplan, check out our ultimate guide!

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AIR MILES and your goals

AIR MILES has two programs:

  1. CASH Rewards
  2. DREAM Rewards

Here are the strengths and weaknesses of each program.

AIR MILES CASH Rewards

The CASH Rewards program is straightforward. You can redeem your CASH Miles instantly in-store with participating Cash Partners.

Generally, we wait for a promotional period to redeem 75 or 85 CASH miles to get increments of $10 towards our purchases instead of 95 CASH miles! And the best deal is to buy gift cards, especially for your Disney trips!

The highlights of CASH Rewards

No weakness for those wanting to earn cashback.

AIR MILES DREAM Rewards

Short-haul flight rewards

Your goal is a short-haul flight (to a nearby province or U.S. state)?

AIR MILES’ strengths for short-haul flight rewards:

AIR MILES’ weakness for short-haul flight rewards:

  • Flight rewards availability
Medium-Haul flight rewards

Your goal is a medium-haul flight (anywhere in North America)?

AIR MILES’ strengths for medium-haul flight rewards:

  • Flight rewards from 3,000 miles R/T
  • You can book with many airlines (Delta Airlines, Porter, Air Canada, WestJet,etc.)

AIR MILES’ weakness for medium-haul flight rewards:

  • Flight rewards availability
Long-Haul flight rewards

Your goal is a long-haul flight?

Air MILES’ strengths for long-haul flight rewards:

  • Flight rewards from 6,000 miles
  • You can book with many airlines (Delta Airlines, Porter, Air Canada, WestJet,etc.)

AIR MILES weakness for long-haul flight rewards:

  • Can be very expensive in miles
  • Surcharge
  • Availability
DREAM Miles for Vacation Packages / All-Inclusive

Would you like to redeem your AIR MILES DREAM miles for an all-inclusive vacation package?

Air MILES’ strengths for vacation packages:

No AIR MILES weakness for an all-inclusive.

DREAM Miles for Other Rewards

It is possible to redeem your DREAM miles for other rewards:

  • Theme park tickets
  • Hotels
  • Rental cars

Check out our ultimate AIR MILES guide to find out how.

Summary of AIR MILES' strengths

AIR MILES has two credit card issuer partners, American Express and BMO, issuing 10 AIR MILES credit cards.

So it’s straightforward to earn many AIR MILES bonus miles with welcome bonuses.

Besides, AIR MILES has a more significant retail footprint (IGA, Jean Coutu, Rona, etc.) than Aeroplan. Another way to earn miles faster.

For those wishing to travel, we suggest earning AIR MILES DREAM miles.

Of course, by doing so, we try to get a higher value from AIR MILES DREAM Rewards than CASH Rewards (95 miles = $10 or $0.105/ mile).

AIR MILES strength is for short-haul flights: you can get 2 to 4 times the value of your DREAM miles vs CASH miles.

Summary of AIR MILES weaknesses

You won’t use your DREAM miles long-haul flights: you will not be able to get a fair value of your miles that way (a lot of miles and imposed surcharges). So forget AIR MILES to travel to Europe, Asia, South America, etc.

Except with some credit cards, you can’t book business class flights with AIR MILES, unlike Aeroplan.

To learn more about AIR MILES, check out our ultimate AIR MILES guide!

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Marriott Bonvoy and your goals

Marriott Bonvoy is useful to get free hotel nights at nearly 7,000 hotels around the world. It’s the largest hotel loyalty program.

The highlights of the Marriott Bonvoy program:

Marriott Bonvoy weakness:

  • Additional charges for more than two adults per room (avoidable)
  • Annual award category changes
  • Marriott peak and off-peak pricing to check regularly

Marriott Bonvoy Highlights Summary

Marriott Bonvoy is especially useful to get free hotel nights, but airline miles also!

It is like a “Swiss knife” for the miles and points traveller. Besides, with its two credit cards, you earn points quickly, and you can transfer up to 100,000 points per year from one account to another: it is an excellent perk for a couple or some friends!

Find out how you can save on a trip to Disneyworld with Marriott Bonvoy.

Marriott Bonvoy's Weaknesses Summary

As you can see, no real weaknesses for this program! The only one we see is related to the extra costs automatically charged when you add more than two people in the same room.

To avoid them: just indicate two people and choose a room with two beds. 😉

Want to learn everything about Marriott Bonvoy? Check out our ultimate Marriott Bonvoy Guide!

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American Express Membership Rewards and Your Goals

American Express Membership Rewards is THE best loyalty program for travellers with miles and points.

Strengths of American Express Membership Rewards

Weakness of American Express Membership Rewards

  • Acceptance of American Express cards

Summary of American Express Membership Rewards

The strength of American Express Membership Rewards is its great flexibility! This is especially handy if you decide to change your strategy along the way!

You can use the 25,000 Membership Rewards points welcome bonus of the American Express® Gold Rewards Card for:

  • 25,000 Aeroplan or Avios miles
  • 30,000 Marriott Bonvoy points
  • $250 statement credits on travel purchases (flights, hotels, Airbnb, rental cars, etc.)
  • $175 statement credits on any purchase

We highly recommend American Express Membership Rewards to people who would like to travel, or even wanting cash back!

Summary of American Express Membership Rewards

American Express est un peu moins bien accepté dans les différents commerces que ne le sont les cartes Mastercard ou Visa. Cependant, American Express réduit progressivement l’écart grâce à l’initiative Shop Small : de nombreux petits commerçants acceptent désormais les cartes American Express.

Au Canada, les principales épiceries à accepter American Express sont Métro et Super C. Et il est possible d’acheter des cartes-cadeaux sur Rakuten (anciennement connu comme ebates) (avec Paypal + American Express) pour les autres épiceries comme IGA, Maxi…

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Other programs and your goals

There are many other rewards programs offered by credit card issuers. Each of them will have their pros and cons.

We suggest you choose a program offering greater flexibility to use points:

With most of these programs, you will save a few hundred dollars here and there: it can make a clear difference in a “travel budget.”

Now let’s see the right credit card to apply for, according to your goals!

Apply for the RIGHT credit cards

Now you know:

  1. How to define short/medium/long-term goals
  2. In which rewards programs you have to earn points

It’s time to build your credit card application strategy. To help you, you can check out our best credit card offers page.

It’s a beginner’s guide, so we will not drown you too much from the beginning with multiple credit card applications!

Credit cards rankings

Check out our ranking of the best credit cards for each program: AIR MILES, Aeroplan, Hotel Points, travel points, cash back.

Everything is available here!

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