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Part 4: Create a strategy with reward programs

To the point

Now that you know a little more about credit cards and rewards programs, and that you know our tips to earn points, let's take a look at an essential creating a strategy with reward programs.

Your goals: the starting point of your strategy

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

And of course we are talking about a personal strategy: even if an outline can be taken up according to a strategy established by another person, it will be up to each person to carry out his or her 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.

  • Short-term: we wish to earn Best Western Rewards points to fill our need for 2-3 free nights on a trip that will be completed in 3-6 months.

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

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 allows you 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 earn 20,000 Best Western Rewards points or 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, like the Scotia Momentum® VISA Infinite* card.

High bonuses

Quite a big expense is coming up (municipal or school taxes, etc.)? It’s the perfect time to earn credit card welcome bonuses requiring $3,000 or more in minimal spend within the first 3 months!

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

As you can see, we are thinking short term. Whether it’s hotel nights, cash back or welcome bonuses based on high spending, our goal is usually no more than the next 6 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 create 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 for example with friends, 6 to 12 months before going to Thailand in business class!

Travel points

This will usually be a goal that requires applying to more than one card to reach the amount in points & miles required for an airline award or hotel stay.

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

You should 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 virtually no risk of loss of value (whereas other programs may 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 are constantly evolving – and given that we are not immune to devaluation – the long-term objective 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 their 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
  • Reward flights 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 medium-haul flight rewards:

  • Air Canada’s carrier surcharge
  • Reward flights 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
  • Reward flights 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 reward flights:

  • Reward flights availability
Medium-Haul flight rewards

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

AIR MILES’ strengths for medium-haul reward flights:

  • Reward flights 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 reward flights:

  • Reward flights availability
Long-Haul flight rewards

Your goal is a long-haul flight?

Air MILES’ strengths for long-haul flight rewards:

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

AIR MILES weaknesses for long-haul reward flights:

  • 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, which offer 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 for 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 in nearly 7,000 hotels around the world. It’s the largest hotel loyalty program.

The highlights of the Marriott Bonvoy program:

Marriott Bonvoy weaknesses:

  • Additional charges for more than two adults per room (avoidable)
  • Annual award category changes in March
  • 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. In addition, 2 credit cards allow you to quickly earn points AND it is possible to transfer 100,000 points from one account to the other: which is particularly advantageous for a couple!

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

Marriott Bonvoy's Weaknesses Summary

As you can see, there are 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 who use miles and points.

Strengths of American Express Membership Rewards

Weaknesses of American Express Membership Rewards

  • Acceptance of American Express cards

Summary of American Express Membership Rewards

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

A welcome bonus of 25,000 Membership Rewards points offered by the American Express® Gold Rewards Card can be used as:

  • 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 those who prefer cash back!

Summary of American Express Membership Rewards

American Express cards are a little less often accepted in various stores than Mastercard or Visa. However, American Express is gradually narrowing the gap thanks to the Shop Small initiative: many small merchants are now accepting American Express cards.

In Canada, the leading grocery stores who accept American Express are Safeway, Metro and Super C. And you can buy gift cards on Rakuten (formerly known as ebates) (with Paypal + American Express) for other grocery stores like IGA or 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 which offers great 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!

The traveller's 'Swiss Knife' credit card

Often, in the Facebook group, we find that the goal is often difficult to set and even changes over time!

To overcome this, there is ONE card: the American Express Cobalt™ Card!

We proclaimed it the best credit card in Canada. Besides, all Cardmembers are glad to have this card and let it be known!

During the first year with the American Express Cobalt™ Card, you can earn a minimum of 60,000 points, or $600 in statement credits on travel purchases:

  • You can earn 2,500 Membership Rewards points for each monthly billing period in which you spend $500 in purchases on your Card.
  • And if you spend those $500 at a 5X multiplier store (groceries, restaurants, bars, convenience stores – don’t forget about gift cards), you can get 2,500 extra points ($500 x 5).
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Here’s what you could do with those 60,000 points:

$600 statement credits on travel purchases
(flights, hotels, Airbnb, car rentals, etc.)

$420 statement credits on any purchase

You can convert 60,000 points into 25,000 Aeroplan miles through the Marriott Bonvoy program

Whether you like hotels or Airbnb or you book your flights directly with any airline, the American Express Cobalt™ Card is indeed a real Swiss knife!

More information and card application here.

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