This is a guest post by reader Charles Newell, who has recently done some extensive research on redeeming travel rewards.
Much has been written on these pages about rewards cards but little with regard to what you can do with the rewards once you’ve got them.
In October of 2009 we switched from two CIBC Aeroplan Gold cards, that we used to accumulate Aeroplan points, to one RBC Avion card.
We decided that since neither of us was working it made sense to only have one reward credit card, save some fees and have one account.
Related: Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards
RBC offered 15,000 get started points for their Avion program so off we went with a card costing $170 per annum for the two of us. It’s a Visa Infinite Avion Card.
We’ve now built up a total of about 98,000 points. Avion allows you to book with any airline and 65,000 Avion points will buy an economy ticket price to anywhere in Europe costing up to $1,300.
The rest of our banking is with HSBC and we have an HSBC Premier MasterCard which is used by other family members for our family business.
It builds up points at the same rate as the Visa Avion card, one point for each dollar spent.
Redeeming Points: How Much Are You Really Saving?
We are planning on a trip to Europe from September 2nd to Dec 2nd. We’ll start off in northern England, move to London then go to the South of France from London.
We decided to price out flights as follows:
Vancouver to Manchester returning to Vancouver from Paris, a multi-city or open jaw trip. Using Lufthansa and 65,000 Avion points one ticket will cost $609.80.
Using the balance of the Avion points will reduce the single ticket cost to $276.90.
If we buy a second ticket to match it will cost $1840.80. The base price is $1,231 and the balance is $609.80. The 65,000 Avion points cover the $1,231 base price.
We found $1,840.80 a bit expensive so we decided to check out return flights to London. Flights from Vancouver to London can be had from Air Canada via Calgary for $1,219 – that’s $622 less than the multi-city Lufthansa flight.
That cheaper flight booked through the RBC Rewards program costs $628.87 – that’s more than the expensive multi-city flights!
It’s because the base flight, which uses the 65,000 points, is only worth $590 – not $1,231 like the Lufthansa multi-city flight.
We also tried on a ticket starting in one city in Canada and returning to a different one, that is not eligible for the much touted $1,300. Either you must come and go from the same place or just use the points at 10,000 point per $100.
That’s a huge variation in the value of those points – $590 to $1,231 – with up to $1,300 being available and being advertised.
Values are far less complicated with the HSBC program, where they simply compensate you at the rate of 10,000 points for every $125 spent.
Related: How To Profit From Loyalty Programs
The London return ticket would cost roughly 97,500 HSBC points. Using all the Avion points (98,290) the same ticket comes in at $295.
RBC is not encouraging or rewarding cheap travel. Avion points rewards are $100 for 10,000 points.
Avion also offers a conversion to British Airways Avios program. That allows you to switch Avion points to British Airways Avios points.
There are occasionally bonus rewards offered. I called Avios and asked what availability they had under their point system, and there was nothing for flights to London until the end of October.
So, in summary, if we choose the less expensive route, we will save money and Avion will save money. We’ll save a few hundred dollars on the ticket price and they will only have to pay $590 instead of $1,231.
That free ticket cost $170 annually for the rewards cards. $170* 4 = $680. It’s that or buy an iPad mini with the points……also not worth that elusive $1,300.
What’s been your experience when it comes to redeeming travel rewards points?