The MapleMoney Show » How to Spend Money Wisely » Loyalty Rewards

Keeping Up With Changes to Credit Card Travel Reward Programs, with Barry Choi

Presented by Wealthsimple

Welcome to The MapleMoney Show, the podcast that helps Canadians improve their finances to create lasting financial freedom. I’m your host, Tom Drake, the founder of MapleMoney, where I’ve been writing about all things related to personal finance since 2009.

Most Canadians have been grounded from travel during COVID-19, but behind the scenes, credit card companies have been making plenty of changes to their travel rewards programs.

Barry Choi is a personal finance and travel expert based in Toronto, who makes frequent media appearances in Canada and the U.S. He joins me this week to explain what’s going on in the world of travel credit cards, and share some tips on how to maximize your rewards.

In our discussion, Barry and I touched on a number of travel rewards programs, including American Express, TD Aeroplan, RBC WestJet Rewards, and BMO World Elite. According to Barry, Amex seemed to put a pause on lucrative signup bonuses during COVID-19, choosing to focus on existing cardholders instead. Recently, however, the deals are back. Is it a sign that Amex is counting on better times ahead for travel?

In November of 2020, the Aeroplan program was completely revamped. While there was some negative feedback from long-standing Aeroplan clients, Barry feels like the new program is better for everyone across the board, and fixes some previous pain points.

For example, In the old Aeroplan days, not every seat was available with points. Under the new Aeroplan, every Air Canada seat is available. The trade-off comes in the form of dynamic pricing. If there is a lot of demand for the seats, it will cost you more points. A way around this is to book travel during non-peak periods.

We also talk at length about WestJet Rewards, and in particular, the RBC WestJet Rewards World Elite Mastercard. While Barry remains a big believer in the program, he feels like WestJet missed an opportunity to leapfrog ahead of Air Canada and Aeroplan as the rewards leader amongst Canada’s two biggest airlines.

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Episode Summary

  • Credit card travel rewards – the rules are constantly changing
  • During COVID-19, AMEX shifted away from signup bonuses, but they’re back.
  • A lot of value in American Express points if you use them the right way
  • If you have a major expense coming up, consider using credit card bonuses
  • The cards that are worth hanging onto long-term
  • The new Aeroplan program has fixed a lot of the previous pain points
  • If your credit card devalues points, you can always move to a different card
  • The WestJet Rewards annual companion voucher is a great value
Aeroplan made some huge changes in November of 2020...admittedly, a lot of the changes were negative...but to be fair to Air Canada and Aeroplan, to me it’s a program that’s better for everyone. - Barry Choi Click to Tweet