Compare Travel Loyalty Programs – Aeroplan vs. Air Miles vs. Avion

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Last updated on November 29, 2019 Views: 547 Comments: 8

Canadians love to travel, but those of us who are paying entirely out of pocket for our journeys are in desperate need of a GreedyRates tutorial. With some light reading you can find the Canadian travel rewards program that matches your spending habits and maximizes how often and how comfortably you’re able to fly.

So welcome to the main event! It’s Aeroplan vs. Air Miles vs. Avion in a knock-down, drag-out battle.

Travel Loyalty Rewards Program Key Features

Do you know what to look for in a travel rewards program? GreedyRates stresses the importance of three main features:

  • the average value of a reward point
  • how easily you can earn points with the program and its products
  • how easily/quickly you can redeem the points

I. Average Point Value

Winner: Air Miles

The average point value for these three programs can be broken down as follows:

Aeroplan: $0.014

Air Miles: $0.105

Avion: $0.0114, if redeeming through Avion’s Air Travel Redemption Schedule, or $0.01 if redeeming for travel within 14 days of departure and for all other rewards you can redeem for.

Keep in mind that the actual point values for all three programs vary based on a variety of factors and use cases, including the distance travelled, the class of ticket, whether you will be using your points to pay airline fees and when you are booking.

For Aeroplan, per the GreedyRates Loyalty Bible:

  • Short-Haul Economy: $0.0062 per Mile
  • International Economy: $0.0184 per Mile
  • International Business Class: $0.0452 per Mile
  • International Upgrade Flight: $0.0936 per Mile
  • Merchandise: $0.0069 per Mile
  • Gift Cards: $0.0074 per Mile

Air Miles takes into account the same factors as Aeroplan, but then further assigns value to the category of the reward:

  • Hotels – $0.194
  • Flights – $0.168
  • Car Rentals – $0.157
  • Events – $0.144
  • Attractions – $0.132
  • Merchandise – $0.12

An important note about an Air Mile’s value is that the program has been split into two different streams – Air Miles Cash and Air Miles Dream. Air Miles Dream has cardholders saving up their points to redeem for trips and other rewards, while Air Miles cash allows you to cash in your points instantly when you buy goods and services directly from select merchants. These two pools of Miles do not mix. Air Miles Cash have a specific value of $0.105, while the values for Air Miles Dream are reflected above.

As for Avion, these points also have two different values, but its value system is the least convoluted and the most straightforward of the three. If you’re redeeming for all merchandise rewards and flights or vacations within 14 days of departure, each point is worth $0.01. However, if you are an Avion cardholder redeeming a flight over 14 days from departure, its value is determined by the Avion Air Travel Redemption Schedule, which divides the world into six regions:

  • Short-haul Canada/U.S.
  • Long-haul Canada/U.S.
  • Europe
  • Long-haul Asia/Australia/New Zealand
  • West Coast to Cancun/Honolulu and East Coast to Punta Cana
  • West Coast to Punta Cana and East Coast to Cancun/Honolulu

II. How Easily Can You Earn Points?

Winner: AeroplanLoyalty Program Aeroplan

When comparing Aeroplan vs. Air Miles vs. Avion, Aeroplan is the travel rewards program that allows you to earn the most miles the fastest. With over 150 partner brands and over 100 online retailers, it’s very hard not to earn Aeroplan miles when you shop. Plus, their partner credit card portfolio is vast and not just limited to a single bank. Aeroplan credit cards are available through CIBC, TD and, thanks to its 1:1 conversion rate of Aeroplan to Amex Membership Rewards points, American Express. Diner’s Club Rewards can also be converted to Aeroplan miles at a 1:1 ratio.

Opportunities to earn bonus Aeroplan miles are also quite extensive and not just limited to credit card sign-up bonuses. (However, these bonuses are hefty and varied in their own right, ranging from 2,500 to 50,000 points), Aeroplan gives special offers on its website and through various retail partners in addition to bonuses through eStore purchases.

Finally, Aeroplan allows its cardholders to double dip, earning miles for the credit card spend and the eligible purchase in question at the same time.

Air Miles‘ retail partner list is dwarfed by Aeroplan, but like Aeroplan, you can earn Miles by making purchases through the reward program website – Product and coupon bonuses, especially at Safeway grocery stores, are probably the most common way to earn Air Miles outside of Amex cards and BMO credit cards and banking products.

Bonus Air Miles offers can be hidden in partner emails, websites, flyers and even credit card statements. On rare occasions there are program-wide, global promotions that involve shopping or doing specific actions at a select group of partners over a certain period of time for a lump sum of Miles (often 100).

What about Avion? Like Air Miles, Avion is limited to a single bank and credit card partnership—RBC and Visa. And like Aeroplan, for every dollar you spend you earn one Avion point. You also earn 25% more points for all travel-related purchases, like car rentals, hotels and flights, as well as for downloading the RBC Avion app and taking advantage of its special offers. Finally, you can Convert Esso Extra points to RBC points for free with a minimum of 2,500 Esso Extra points per transaction. Double the points are available when paying for Uber.

III. How Easily Can You Redeem Points?

Winner: Avion (RBC Rewards)RBC Loyalty Program

Despite giving business class travellers a 7.5% return on their points, Aeroplan members often find a lack of seats available for the dates they want to travel. This is because just 8-10% of Air Canada seats are allocated to Aeroplan and the program’s 5 million members outpace the amount of seats available. Therefore customers will likely need to book more than a year out for business class seats. Aeroplan also isn’t recommended for families: seasons when families are most likely available to travel together, like Spring Break and Christmas, cost the most miles and have limited availability.

In 2014, Aeroplan introduced Market Fare Rewards, for which seats are always available. But these tickets cost more miles and must be booked on Air Canada, so carrier fees apply. These fees, taxes and surcharges can make a seemingly “free” flight rather expensive. Note that not every airline in Star Alliance charges these fees. EVA and United Swiss Airlines don’t charge fuel surcharges, so look for loopholes like that.

With Air Miles, while you can book flights outside the Star Alliance portfolio, this program suffers from some of the same issues as Aeroplan, like blackouts and seat restrictions. Air Miles only covers fuel surcharges on flights within North America and doesn’t cover any other taxes or fees. These extra costs will have to be paid in cash and can’t be covered with points. Both Air Miles and Aeroplan have tried to make up for their blackout dates and fees by offering more merchandise and experience options, but these cost a high number of points, disproportionate to their ‘real-world’ value.

When it comes to ease of redemption, Avion trumps them all. There are no blackout dates or seat restrictions and you have access to over 130 airlines at any time, so there’s no fear of not being able to book during peak travel season. Plus, you can use points to pay for fuel surcharges, taxes and fees at a rate of 100 points per dollar.

So it looks like we have a winner in each key category. Keep reading to learn more about the programs and find out which one is the best fit for you.

Aeroplan Loyalty Program

Image source: Shutterstock

Strengths: Easy to earn; good ROI on business class and international flights

Weaknesses: Inconsistent redemption values; limited flight availability

Though Aeroplan is much loved in Canada, its sketchy redemption and forthcoming break from Air Canada raise concerns about the program’s present and future value. Therefore the ‘Aeroplan’ credit card we recommend to readers is not really an Aeroplan card at all, but rather a flexible rewards card with the ability to transfer points to Aeroplan 1:1.

TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Card

Carte Visa Infinite TD AéroplanTD is a co-owner of Air Canada and offers several Aeroplan cards accordingly. One of the most impressive is the Aeroplan Visa Infinite, which currently offers a killer promotion: up to 30,000 Miles (approx. $420 value) and a $120 annual fee rebate.  The card’s key features are broken down as follows:

  • Up to 30,000 Aeroplan Mile bonus (15,000 miles after a first purchase and an additional 5 points per $1 spent for the first three months; up to an extra 5,000 miles per month.  30,000 potential bonus points total.)
  • Earn 1.5 Miles for each $1 spent on gas, groceries, drugstore, and purchases
  • Earn 1 Mile for each $1 spent elsewhere
  • Double Miles received at participating brands and Aeroplan eStore (when using both your Aeroplan membership card and Aeroplan Visa Credit Card)
  • Discounts at Avis and Budget locations worldwide
  • $120 annual fee (rebate in the first year)
  • Comprehensive traveler’s insurance, purchase protection and extended warranties
  • Book flights using Market Fare or Fixed Mileage flight rewards
  • Once-yearly free entry into the Maple Leaf airport lounge

Click here to apply for the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Card.

American Express Gold Rewards Card

American Express Gold Rewards Card

American Express is accepted at about 80% of Canadian retailers, so its earning potential isn’t as vast as more widely-accepted cards like Visa or Mastercard. But its flexibility is unparalleled in the Canadian travel rewards space, and for Aeroplan lovers it’s more than worth its $150 annual fee.

  • Amex Membership Rewards points can be converted 1:1 with Aeroplan
  • Sign-up bonus: 25,000 points when you spend $1,500 in the first three months
  • Book flights within Canada or anywhere in the world with the Fixed Points Travel Program
  • Earn 2 points for every dollar on travel and eligible purchases
  • Earn 1 point for every dollar on everything else

Click here to apply for the American Express Gold Rewards card.

Air Miles Loyalty Program

Image source: Shutterstock

Strengths: high average value for Miles; plentiful merchandise rewards options; pay with Air Miles directly at some partner retailers

Weaknesses: taxes and fees aren’t covered; fuel surcharges covered only within North America; takes a long time to earn rewards; fewer partners and bonus offers than Aeroplan

Air Miles credit cards worth considering include:

BMO Air Miles Mastercard

BMO Air Miles MastercardWhy shouldn’t  travel junkies earn Miles for free? The no annual fee BMO Air Miles Mastercard lets them do just that. Though not as robust as its higher-end cousin, the BMO Air Miles World Elite, it’s a great option for Air Miles fans that have an annual fee phobia.

  • Sign-up bonus: 1000 Air Miles
  • No annual fee
  • Earn 1 Air Mile for every $20 spent
  • Get more Miles when you use your card at Air Miles partners
  • More Miles when you add additional cardholders at no extra cost
  • Up to 25% off at participating National Car Rental and Alamo Rent-a-Car locations

Click here to apply for the BMO Air Miles Mastercard.

BMO Air Miles World Elite Mastercard

The BMO Air Miles World Elite Mastercard is the best deal of the bunch and is consistently placed on Canadian best card lists. If you can earn enough Miles to overcome the $120 annual fee and have the required $80,000 individual and $150,000 household income, we recommend going for it.

  • Sign-up bonus: 3,000 bonus Air Miles, plus annual fee waiver in the first year
  • 1 Air Mile for every $10 spent
  • An exclusive 15% discount off the amount of points it takes to redeem flights within North America
  • Extensive travel insurance
  • $120 annual fee

Click here to apply for the BMO Air Miles World Elite Mastercard.

Avion Loyalty Program

Image source: Shutterstock

Strengths: no blackout dates or seat restrictions; straightforward rewards value; book with any airline

Weaknesses: comparatively few credit cards available

The Avion card that we recommend most to readers is:

The RBC Visa Infinite Avion

RBC Avion Visa Infinite Card

Like the Amex Gold Rewards card, the RBC Visa Infinite Avion comes with a generous signup bonus as well as very flexible redemption options: cardholders can redeem for travel or as a statement credit against their card balance. Plus, the fact that it’s a Visa bodes well for the card being accepted virtually everywhere.

  • Welcome bonus: 15,000 Avion/RBC Rewards points
  • 1 point for every $1 spent
  • Earn an extra 25% points on eligible travel purchases
  • Earn 20% more points at Petro-Canada
  • Extensive travel insurance and car rental insurance included

This card has a $120 annual fee and requires a personal income of $60,000 per year or household income of $100,000 per year to qualify.

Click here to apply for the RBC Visa Infinite Avion card

Which Program Is Right for You?

For now it’s difficult to declare an overall winner of this three-way match between these titans of Canadian travel loyalty, as each program has its relative strengths and weaknesses.

Aeroplan offers the largest number of opportunities to earn points, but it has an inconsistent point value, along with blackout dates and seat restrictions. And losing Canada’s largest airline as its major partner doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence for a bright future. Though Air Miles have a lot of inherent value and there are a wide variety of ways to redeem them, they can be slow to accrue and it can take some digging to find special program bonuses.

Despite few bonus point opportunities and only one partner bank, Avion offers a lot of redemption flexibility—no blackout dates or restrictions and fees or surcharges can be paid for with points.

Think about which of these virtues is most valuable for you and choose the right credit card accordingly. Loyalty programs and their credit cards evolve with time, so we’ll be sure to update this article to declare an overall winner should one emerge.

Disagree with us or want to add to our assessment? Feel free to add a comment below!

Article comments

Wes says:

One consideration I would recommend for those looking at Avion as a point option: starting off with RBC Signature. The big drawback I see with Avion Infinite is the high annual fee with very little point multipliers. What I am doing is earning RBC Rewards points with RBC Signature. When it comes time to redeem, I will upgrade the card to Avion and then use them. This way I only pay $39 per year vs $120.

One feature your RBC Avion write-up missed is the conversion option to British Airways Avios, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, Westjet and American Airlines AAdvantage. While this makes calculating value metrics harder, it is a great value finder especislly when RBC does periodic transfer promotions especially to British Airways.

MH says:

I earn Aeroplan (via Amex Gold card), Air Miles (via BMO World elite and partners) and a CBC Aventura Infinite (similar to the RBC Avion). Interestingly I have found there are good uses for all three.

I would tend to disagree that AirMiles are hard to earn. First of all there are lots of promotions to earn up to 2000 points just by shopping at a certain number of shops (easy to do) within a certain time frame. Then there are promotions by companies that earn you 400 points etc. This adds up really fast and it is easy to become an Onyx member.

I have found AirMiles particularly valuable for mid distance flights like London, ON to Ottawa or Ottawa to Halifax. Those flights can be really pricey and I’ve received value on the points well in excess of the nominal $0.10 mentioned here. Another big advantage of AirMiles is that you can pool all the points into one account as opposed to having to split them up by individual as you have to with, say Aeroplan. You can even have multiple credit cards with different owners all contributing to the same account which is great.

Having all three programs is helpful though. I typically look at all three when I book a flight and compare value. CIBC always has flight availability which is great but is better vale for longer haul flights. AirMiles is also good and particularly valuable for medium haul flights. Aeroplan is best for flights within North America and offers the best value when you are going to places that aren’t the major hubs – like the BC interior from Ottawa.

Both CIBC and AirMiles tickets let you collect flyer points with an airline (e.g. Aeroplan) also b posting their value over Aeroplan which doesn’t offer this.

I have not found that it is easy to earn points with Aeroplan ever since ESSO dropped out. I don’t find they are easy to cash in for flights as availability is spotty, and I really don’t like that the points can expire. The other programs don’t do that.

In summary though all programs have their place. I have become a more heavy user of AirMiles over the past years and have found them to be quite good and easy to earn much to my surprise as for years I didn’t think this was the case.

The GreedyRates Team says:

Hi MH,

Wow, thanks for the thorough and informative comment! We’re glad you liked our article and came to some of the same conclusion as we did. It’s impressive that you’ve got your travel rewards ecosystem so well-tuned. As an Onyx member of Air Miles, thanks to your focused array of credit cards, you’ll get a bigger discount when using Miles on merchandise or flights and also receive priority service along with invites to exclusive events as well. This is a benefit of these cards that we rarely talk about, so we appreciate you bringing it up for other readers.

If you’re no longer happy with the value that you’re getting from Aeroplan, perhaps consider replacing it with a card that complements your lifestyle in other ways. Since Air Miles is capable of making your travel more cost-effective and enjoyable, maybe you’d be best served by a card that saves you foreign transaction fees while you’re travelling. How nice would it be to save on your flight and enjoy other Air Miles perks, and then also skip the 2.50% fees on all the purchases you make on the trip? With a card like the Rogers World Elite Mastercard, this is easily possible—and all without an annual fee. It’s 4.00% cash back on foreign purchases is the best tool for using your money outside of Canada, but even in Canadian dollars purchases the card earns 1.75%.

Thanks again for your amazing travel rewards blueprint. Other readers take note!

GreedyRates Staff

DZ in TO says:

Another perk for the BMO World Elite Mastercard is that you get one free companion ticket per year. You need to have enough miles in your account to purchase both tickets, but after purchase, the miles for one of the tickets gets refunded.

The GreedyRates Team says:

Hi DZ!

We appreciate the comment very much! You’re completely correct that with the BMO Air Miles World Elite Mastercard, you can book two flights on the same itinerary with points, and then get a rebate (of Air Miles) afterwards for the cost of one of the tickets. All the criteria you mentioned also apply, such as the requirement that you have enough points to fully pay for the two flights, and that both ticket holders travel together.

You won’t find this promotion on the BMO website, though it’s active until November 30th, 2018. This is because it isn’t BMO’s promotion, but is offered through Air Miles instead. BMO cardholders with the Air Miles Mastercard can take advantage of it, but they’ll need to book their travel arrangements through Air Miles and not BMO.

We’ll add a note about this nice perk in our article above, and appreciate you bringing it to our attention.


Drew says:

To be eligible for this offer, you must have taken the BMO WE Airmiles during the promotional period that ended in November 2017. Since that time, new owners of BMO WE Airmiles can no longer benefit from this benefit.

The GreedyRates Team says:

Hey Drew,

Thanks for calling our attention to your issue. However, we just double-checked the fine print and can confirm that the promotion for 3,000 Air Miles (plus the waiver of your first year’s annual fee) is still available. New cardholders who apply for the BMO Air Miles World Elite Mastercard before June 28th will get the Miles, while the fee waiver is available to all applicants regardless of when they complete the application.

To get this deal, you’ll need to get approved within the week, so act fast. Thanks for your attention to detail!

The GreedyRates Team

Drew says:

You understand me wrong. I was talking about thé companion ticket. If the BMO WE Airmiles card was taken before December 2017, then the promotion atoll good. Since then, this promotion of the companion ticket no longer exist. I confirm with an agent on chat (Airmiles).