Loyalty clubs, rewards, points, where does one begin?

We all love free stuff, and as a traveller, you should be taking advantage of the opportunities for discounted travel (I say discounted because nothing is really free – even “free” flights and hotels require you to pay taxes and service fees)

Travel Rewards Credit Cards:
The biggest tip I can give you if you want to travel is to get yourself a travel rewards credit card. There are many sites out there to help you decide which card is best suited for you based on your needs and preferences. I like comparing on www.greedyrates.ca for up to date comparisons on the different credit cards in Canada but a few things you should consider:

  • Many offer no annual fee for the first year with a large points incentive (often enough for a free flight or several nights in a hotel)
  • Most cover the additional car rental insurance – this alone can justify the cost of the card if you rent a car for a week or more every year.
  • Most include emergency travel medical insurance – another important insurance that can justify the cost of the card. Typically this insurance is only for the first 15 days of your trip so you will still want to ensure you have insurance for the remainder of your trip.
  • Trip cancellation and interruption insurance – another saving
  • Baggage insurance – this one has saved me on more than one occasion when the airline coverage is simply not enough to cover those wardrobe emergencies while your bag is finding its way to your final destination the long way.
  • Purchase security and extended warranty protection – this is not entirely travel related but does make me feel better about bringing a brand new iphone or camera travelling knowing I have 90 days’ coverage from the time of purchase if it is lost or stolen.

Personally I continue to use the CIBC Aerogold VISA Infinite. It had a great welcome bonus including first year free and I continue to remain loyal to the Aeroplan program (I explain why in more detail here) however I do plan on switching in the near future. The $120 annual fee pays for itself several times over with the free flights, and ease of making insurance claims (with no deductible) which unfortunately I have done several times for lost baggage, and medical. I also have a Rogers Platinum Mastercard as my backup card because of the no annual fee and foreign currency cash back option. And because no traveller should rely on a single credit card when abroad.

Loyalty clubs
Blind loyalty is dangerously expensive but discerning loyalty can pay off with members only discounts. Nobody likes junk email from all these loyalty clubs but when planning a trip, I make a point to sign up for the newsletters and loyalty clubs, and to follow social media of the hotels and car rental companies I am thinking about using in my travels.  A great example of this is with Vegas hotels. I have found some amazing deals by joining their loyalty clubs and email lists when thinking about booking a specific hotel in Vegas, even better than secret hotrate hotels on Hotwire (and I love my secret Hotwire hotels…) 

Airline Loyalty
Airline loyalty is one that I will recommend. In Canada, the two major airlines offer almost identical flight schedules (with the exception of some rural routings which can make your loyalty easy to choose if you live in one of these communities) and almost identical prices. Pick one. Stick with it. For me, I am loyal to Air Canada, the Aeroplan program, and the Star Alliance. The only time I have flown Westjet in the last 10 years was when I moved from Toronto to Vancouver and they flew my dog on the same plane, rather than on a cargo flight. For me, everything about the Star Alliance is preferable from the free seat back entertainment, the network connections around the world, right down to the cheese and cracker snacks on Air Canada flights being superior to other airlines. But again, this is personal choice. That being said, blind loyalty can come with a price tag. I really wanted the points and security of flying Star Alliance to the Philippines but was I willing to pay $300 more and have longer connections? No. China Eastern, here I come.

Car Rental Loyalty
In my experience, there are too many local discount car rental companies to make loyalty to one of the big brands (Budget, Avis, etc) worthwhile. I managed to save a significant amount on a car rental in New Zealand by signing up for the newsletter for a local car rental company a month before I left so a little research can pay off by signing up in advance.

Hotel Loyalty
As for hotels, if your travels take you to major cities, there are benefits to remaining loyal to one particular brand as hotel points can result in free hotel stays and discounts. Since most of my travel does not involve major cities, and I use a variety of accommodation options, I do not usually opt for this and if booking regular hotels, I use discount sites like Hotwire or Priceline which typically offer the best rate. However, having access to hotel points through family members who collect these have saved me from some seriously expensive hotel stays in overpriced cities.

Booking Site Loyalty
If you’re able to redirect the junk email, signing up for any loyalty club can’t hurt. I didn’t realize Expedia even had a loyalty club (Expedia+) until I had enough points for a free stay! I had only signed up to keep my bookings organized, not realizing I was accumulating points.

For more information on booking with points, click here 

For more information on booking sites and how to book flights, click here