Why Airline Points Programs Aren’t So Great

Credit: FreeDigitalImages.net satit_srihin

Credit: FreeDigitalImages.net satit_srihin

Over the years I’ve grown increasingly disenchanted with Aeroplan. Once upon a time a free flight was a free flight, but not anymore. I have run into lots of issues trying to redeem once I had the points because of the lack of seats available, unless I wanted to suffer through 2 or 3 flight connections and to travel on different dates than I was planning.

I found myself paying almost $800 in taxes to fly to London on Aeroplan points when Air Canada’s web site had the same flight for about $1200 all-in, after years spent saving up those points.

I haven’t totally given up on collecting Aeroplan points but I don’t go out of my way to collect them. I switched credit cards because I haven’t found the Aeroplan cards to be particularly useful. I use a no-fee 1% cash back card for work expenses from MBNA and the Capital One Elite Mastercard  with 2% travel credit back (or 1.5% cash back) for almost everything else. The Capital One card has an annual fee but the points it gives me upon renewal almost pay for it. Throw in the fact that I seem to use the purchase protection insurance almost every year and I’m ahead. I got the card on a promotion with no annual fee for the first year thinking I’d switch to something else afterwards but haven’t found another card that beats it resoundingly.

To use the card’s rewards, I would buy the flight with the card and when it appears on my statement I can get use my points to get a credit for the flight, or even half the flight. Then my $1200 flight is actually a free flight. I don’t have to use the points for travel, I can convert them to cash but then they only work out to 1.5% cash back. The points can also be redeemed for hotels, and for bookings made on travel web sites.

The card is one of the few that provides cancellation insurance as one of its perks, along with the usual car rental insurance that a lot of cards offer.

Once upon a time my husband travelled a lot for work and became super elite with Air Canada. When that happened, Aeroplan became a lot more useful as they suddenly opened up a lot more seats to him. The taxes charged on the flights still really stung – and not just the taxes but the fuel surcharge (which is another point of contention to me as it should be part of the ticket price, but by separating it out they can charge it on Aeroplan bookings).

Air Canada isn’t alone in having brutal surcharges for flight bookings on points, British Airways’ program is just as terrible. From what I can gather if I didn’t mind being routed through the US, I would have a better experience with some of the US programs that don’t levy surcharges to the same degree.

I have found hotel points programs to be significantly more useful. I tried out the Starwood Amex and the Chase Marriott cards when they waived the annual fee for the first year. The cards were great when they didn’t have any fees, but they didn’t offer enough incentive to make the annual fee worthwhile when weighed against my Capital One card. I found I quite liked the programs with both Starwood (Hilton and Sheraton) and Marriott, and when they offer free room nights with points, they mean it. I will consider transferring over my Aeroplan points to those programs for free rooms.


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