The best travel rewards program for your destination | Milesopedia
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The best travel rewards program for your destination

There are as many loyalty programs as there are airlines, and you must choose the best travel rewards program for your projects. In addition, there are also transferable programs you can focus on to reach your travel goals. Then, there are in-house programs and the old simple cashback. Where to start, then?

Here are steps to get you on the right track.

1. Identify the airlines serving your destination

Let’s say your dream is going on a once-in-a-lifetime safari in Africa in Kenya; you will first need to find out the routes available to Nairobi, the capital, before selecting the best travel rewards program for you. 

For this, the ideal tool to use is FlightConnections.

Routes To Nairobi
Routes To Nairobi

As we can quickly see here, there are eight routes with one stop from Montreal to Nairobi via the following cities:

  • Cairo
  • Amsterdam
  • New York
  • Frankfurt
  • London Heathrow
  • Paris
  • Istanbul
  • Doha

Flight Connections also lists an additional 20 routes with two stops, so it’s up to you whether you’re ready to embark on a longer journey or not. When we skim through the results, we can see that Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi is very well served by many airlines and cities.

By identifying the companies, you will also find their alliances and the different programs you can book. In this case, Nairobi is linked by all three major ones: Star Alliance, OneWorld and Skyteam.

2. Identify if you have a preferred route or airline

After the first step, if you know you absolutely want to visit Egypt as well, chances are that your search to select the best travel rewards program will end here.

Indeed, the fastest route between Montreal to Nairobi via Cairo will be on Air Canada and Egypt Air, which are members of Star Alliance. While that is not the only way, it is the quickest journey and most convenient. Therefore, you will most certainly resort to Aeroplan and their 5000-points stopover option.

Similarly, if you wish to fly in a specific plane or the amazing Qsuites, you will have to turn to Avios and Qatar Airways Privilege Club for example.

3. Getting there as cheaply as possible

However, if you are open to flying any routes, you will have to do some more research to pay the least.

If we take our example to Nairobi, we know all three major alliances serve it. From here, we’ll look at our choices with Aeroplan (Star Alliance), Flying Blue (Skyteam) and Avios (Oneworld).

Why only search among those to find out the best travel rewards program? There are indeed endless options, but I would limit my search to them as their points are easier to accumulate in Canada (directly or via transfer).

Here’s an example of transfer ratios when using American Express Membership Rewards:

Should you wish to do a complete search, I would repeat this exercise with other programs at your disposal, such as Delta Skymiles, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, American Airlines AAdvantage, United MileagePlus, etc.

By searching for each program, you can analyze the best travel rewards program for your destination and dates; inputting the same dates as dynamic pricing will be something to consider, and the result will depend on your situation.

Additionally, we look for the cheapest cash rate on Google Flights to compare if points are the way to go or if you should book with cash.

With Aeroplan:

Aeroplan
Avios Qatar
Avios Baec

With Flying Blue:

Flying Blue

With cash:

Cash Y

We will be comparing our points vs. cash options with the lowest cash fare found to see which is the cheapest way to go.

4. Compare different award prices

After figuring out our options during the previous step, you should now compare the award prices you just found for that round-trip ticket to Nairobi to know which is the best travel rewards program for you.

Aeroplan Avios Qatar Avios BA Flying Blue Cash
100,700 points + $216.83 85,000 Avios + $424.65 110,000 Avios + $666,57 70,000 Miles + $489.23 $1,183

As you can see, it will cost you more Avios to fly on British Airways than Qatar Airways. Same Avios currency, but very different pricing. Because of that, we’ll drop the British Airways option from our comparison in the next step.

When you lay out these choices side by side, we can also see that Air France Flying Blue requires the least number of points. However, points do not hold the same value, and the amount of taxes and fees are very different, so it’s crucial to bring it back to the same currency to evaluate your options.

Since you can transfer American Express Membership Rewards to any of these programs, we’ll use that currency. So you can also employ them to cover the cash ticket, taxes and fees. Therefore, it’s a great way to compare before choosing the best travel rewards program for your destination.

Program MR points needed
Aeroplan 122,383 (100 700 + 21,683)
Avios Qatar Airways 127,465 (85,000 + 42,465)
Flying Blue 142,256 (93,333 + 48,923)
Cash 118,300

As you can see here, the best travel rewards program for this situation would be by paying in cash (so either points for statement credits or cashback rewards) when you consider the total number of points in addition of taxes and fees.

I wouldn’t redeem Aeroplan for this particular flight because the valuation of a point is much lower than Milesopedia’s 2 ¢.

($1,183—$216.83) ÷ 100,700 × 100 = 0.96 ¢

Instead, you can use your versatile Membership Rewards for a statement credit on your flight purchase; you will need 118,300 Membership Rewards points to do so as compared to 122,383 Membership Rewards needed when transferring to Aeroplan.

There are also a lot of other programs that will give you a statement credit when you redeem their points on flights you book in cash:

While Membership Rewards and HSBC Rewards can be redeemed for a statement credit following a cash travel purchase, you can get a greater value from them by transferring them to partner airlines. Even more so when you do so during transfer promotions or if you aim for premium cabins. When flying in economy, the gap is bridged.

As the cash rate can fluctuate, the best travel rewards program may not be the same for your trip to Nairobi.

Also, changing the class of service can shuffle everything on how we choose the best travel program. If we do the same exercise for business class, here are the results:

Aeroplan Avios Qatar Flying Blue Cash
165,200 points + $216.93 170,000 Avios + $615.85 190,000 Miles + $1167.70 $7,279
Cash J
Program MR points needed
Aeroplan 186,893 (165 200 + 21,693)
Avios 231,585 (170,000 + 61,585)
Flying Blue 370,103 (253,333 + 116,770)
Cash 727,900

($7,279—$216.93) ÷ 165,200 × 100 = 4.27 ¢

If you wish to make the same trip, but in the front cabin, the best travel rewards program is Aeroplan if you are looking for the cheapest way to go and the greatest return on your points.

Aeroplan J

Unfortunately, there is not one clear-cut answer to choosing the best travel rewards program for your destination, and you need to repeat this exercise for all your different projects and dates. How I choose the best travel rewards program will depend on the comparisons of what’s available.

5. Other factors to consider

As we mentioned, if you wish to combine two trips, such as Istanbul and a safari in Kenya, the most convenient route will be Aeroplan and its stopover option.

If you dream of seeing Paris instead of Turkey, the free Flying Blue stopover might be more fitting for you as you might face Aeroplan’s dynamic pricing since the YUL-CDG leg is on Air Canada.

Similarly, if you are travelling with a child between the age of 2-11, Flying Blue has a 25% discount on miles rates when the other programs will charge you a full fare; you’ll have to repeat the search and comparison with the appropriate party number.

Flying Blue With Child 2

There is also a matter of availability; maybe there are hardly any seats left on Turkish Airlines and Aeroplan even though you use ExpertFlyer to help, and the only way to reach your goal of visiting both Turkey and East Africa might be with Flying Blue Miles to Istanbul with KLM via Amsterdam and Kenya Airways onwards.

Then, there is the ability to accumulate points and your consumer profile; when you think about the best travel rewards programs to get to Japan, it is often mentioned that Alaska Mileage Plan can bring you there for as low as 35,000 miles in economy and 60,000 miles in business class.

But, in Canada, getting those points will be trickier than Aeroplan, so that’s also something you should evaluate. Sure, you can buy those miles while a promotion is underway! If you do so, that’s another option you should add to your comparison list!

Finally, if you are mainly doing your groceries at Maxi or Costco, you will have a hard time getting any Membership Rewards as Amex is not accepted. So, it would help if you identify what kinds of points you can easily earn based on your spending habits.

For example, you could subscribe for a TD® Aeroplan® Visa Infinite* Card or a National Bank’s World Elite Mastercard® card depending on what you focus your earnings on (this should be easy as we went through the thought process earlier in this article).

6. Search Tools

If going through all those searches to find the best travel rewards program isn’t something you want to do repeatedly, there are tools you can employ, such as AwardLogic or point.me. They are designed to look for award fares and availability on many existing programs and present you with the results after one single click.

They will search multiple platforms, but you still need to bring it back to the same currency and compare your options. To utilize them, you must pay for a subscription.

I have never used any of them since it takes me a few minutes to search among the programs I know I have access to; I don’t need an engine to search through dozens of loyalty programs I don’t have.

Indeed, if you are sitting on a Membership Rewards Canada stash, you have six loyalty programs to go over; if you have Aeroplan and Avios, you only have two searches to do.

Marriott Bonvoy points can also be transferred to many airline programs, but I wouldn’t fall on that since you lose on the optimal use of those points (which is when they are redeemed on hotel stays).

Awardlogic
Awardlogic

7. How to choose the best travel rewards program again?

In my opinion, there is no need to choose the best travel rewards program for your destination when you are earning Membership Rewards since they can be transferred to a handful of other programs.

Those points are the most valuable you can have as a travel hacker; you can decide where to transfer them when you are ready to book and when you’ve secured availability.

In addition, you can always resort to using them as a statement credit if the lowest fare you’ve found is by purchasing a cash ticket. You can’t ask for more than having so many of ways to pay for your trip.

They are the most practical for those who have many projects in mind and without any set dates.

Also, they are straightforward to accumulate with the American Express Cobalt® Card, which gives you 5X the points on your groceries, restaurants and gift cards. This increases earning potential since you can get 5X the points on fuel, Amazon, SAQ, Netflix, Simons, etc. For me, almost all my organic spending gets the 5X accelerator.

American Express also has many generous sign-up bonuses that can easily and quickly replenish your Membership Rewards balance. For example, you could subscribe to an American Express Platinum Card® to maximize rewards toward your upcoming income or house tax bill!

In addition to the boatload of points you will receive, you will get many exciting travel benefits, such as superior travel insurance and access to over 1,300 airport lounges worldwide.

It’s worth keeping an eye on current offers when choosing the best travel rewards program for your destination. After all, the best points are the ones you get (almost) for free!

Bottom Line

Identifying the best travel rewards program for you can be overwhelming at first, but it’s like having to choose between the best currency to pay; you need to bring them back to the same level to compare them. Then, it would help if you saw how easily you can earn them with your spending habits.

With some experience, you’ll know which program to lean on for a particular trip, but you’ll still want to search and compare to make the best choice.

In short, the best point program is the Membership Rewards and the best credit card to earn points on your daily purchases is the American Express Cobalt® Card; most of our community seems to share this opinion. But when all is taken into consideration, it will depend on your situation.

Come to discuss that topic in our Facebook Group!

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