In this feature we take a look at the 5 Best Travel Rewards Points Currencies in Canada! This is a much needed update and refresh to our original rankings which were released back in 2014 (Click here to check out those old rankings!)
When considering which points currencies make up our Top 5 we take into account all Canadians who collect and redeem travel rewards points. We do not just focus on frequent travellers, six figure credit card spenders or credit card gamers but we look at anyone and everyone who are utilizing these loyalty programs to help them with their travel goals, dreams and more. Thus, not only is this feature for frequent travellers, it is also for frequent shoppers, high end and low end credit card spenders, people who take multiple vacations a year, those who only vacation once every few years and everyone in between.
Editor's note: This feature was originally set to be released on March 10 with AIR MILES as the 5th best points currency however the whole bankruptcy news put a wrench into our plans! Even though BMO has agreed to purchase AIR MILES we at Rewards Canada feel that is not right to have them in the rankings at this time until all uncertainty around the program has been cleared. Click here to learn more about this news.
TIP: You don't have to use just one of these programs, you can utilize as little or as many as you need to maximize the rewards you get and even include programs not listed here.
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By far and away the best rewards currency, American Express Membership Rewards points are the most valuable and flexible points for Canadians (and not just for travel)
With a portfolio of cards that earn 1 to 5 Membership Rewards points per dollar spent you can rack up points really fast in the program. Whether you have the best card in Canada, the American Express Cobalt Card which earns up to 5x points or their entry level no annual fee American Express Green Card earning 1 point per dollar, you are ahead of the game with any of Amex Canada's cards in your wallet (Click here to see all their card offerings).
Membership Rewards (MR) receives 4 out of 5 stars in the earn category and only loses that one star due to acceptance rate. The acceptance rate of 80 to 90% of what Visa and Mastercard has in Canada is the only reason why Membership Rewards loses that one star. If it matched Visa and Mastercard at 100%, this program would receive a perfect score in all categories!
With numerous travel redemption options, the Membership Rewards program has all Canadians covered. Want to book travel yourself and then redeem points against the charge? You can do that with this program and achieve returns of up to 5% on your spending. Or you can take advantage of Amex' Fixed Points for Travel chart to redeem a set amount of points towards flights and get up to a 10% return on your spending.
Then you have the potential for outsized value redemptions (by outsized we mean upwards of 10, 20 or 30%+ return on spending) and that's the ability to transfer points to airline and hotel programs. You can convert 1 to 1 to the #2 travel rewards currency, which are Air Canada's Aeroplan points or 1 to 1 to another excellent program in British Airways Executive Club. Add in conversion options to Air France KLM Flying Blue (a program to watch out for!), Marriott Bonvoy and several other airline and hotel programs and Membership Rewards really does have most of Canada covered.
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Love it or hate it, one of Canada's oldest programs still remains one of the most valuable even after they shifted focus back to being more of a frequent flyer program than the coalition loyalty program model they chased during the 2000s and 2010s. The revamp of the Air Canada Aeroplan program in late 2020 was key to keeping the program's value as they did away with those high carrier surcharges, expanded their points+cash redemption options, adding family pooling, enhanced their credit card offerings and much more.
Earning Aeroplan points is relatively easy through their credit cards, travelling on Air Canada or their almost 50 airline partners, shopping online, staying at hotels and more. The only reason the program receives 4.5 stars instead of 5 for ease of earning is that outside of travel, credit cards and select other partners, there aren't as many options to earn points as they once had when they considered themselves a coalition program.
Redeeming Aeroplan points is way easier nowadays thanks to access to all available seats on all Air Canada flights with dynamic pricing. There are also points plus cash options if you don't have enough points for the full award and you can redeem points for travel on nearly 50 partner airlines.
Where the program takes a bit of a hit is flexibility - yes the program has become more flexible and has a wealth of airline partners but members are limited to just those airlines and outside of redeeming on Air Canada flights - availability can be limited on those partner airlines. And if those Air Canada flights are getting close to full or ticket prices are high, the relative price in Aeroplan points will also be high thus making it not a great option and members may not choose to redeem their point. For these reasons we can only give the program 3.5 Stars for flexibility.
Value wise, Aeroplan points give you a lot of bang for your buck especially if you can redeem your points for business class or first class flights. Even with economy class the program holds it own as we value Aeroplan points at a minimum 1.5 cents based on those economy class redemptions. With cards like their TD® Aeroplan® Visa Infinite* Card earning up to 1.5 points per dollar and the American Express® Aeroplan®* Reserve Card earning up to 3 points per dollar we are looking at 2.25% and 4.5% returns respectively. And that 1.5 cents is a minimum, when you redeem for those premium class cabins we have seen 3, 4, 6 or more cents per point so your rates of return skyrocket.
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Back in 2014 in the first iteration of these rankings we stated that Cineplex Scene was a program to watch out for. Well, it took them a bit longer than initially planned but the revamped Scene+ program that launched in late 2021 now has the luxury of being ranked as one the best travel rewards currencies in Canada.
The points have become some of the easiest to come by for Canadians thanks to banking and credit card products from Scotiabank, a nationwide grocery partnership with Empire Group (Sobeys, Safeway etc.), dining options and of course Cineplex. On top of this the program will be adding Home Hardware to its roster later in 2023.
The Scene+ credit card options allow members to earn anywhere from 1 to 6 Scene+ points per dollar spent depending on the card. The entry level no fee Scotiabank Scene+ Visa Card racks up an attractive 1 to 2 points for each dollar spent while their points earning machine, the Scotiabank Gold American Express Card earns up to 6 points! (Click here to see all Scene+ credit card offerings).
Even if you don't have a Scene+ credit card you can still earn Scene+ points for shopping at all their partners just for being a member in the program. Now if they could add a gas station partner, Scene+ would have all their bases covered.
Redeeming points for travel with Scene+ is super easy! All members can redeem for travel booked via Scene+ Travel at a rate of 100 points to $1 and they'll let you redeem as little 1 penny if you like! Scene+ Travel is run by Expedia so you can book flights, hotels, vacation package and more and apply your Scene+ points towards the booking. You don't have to have the full amount of points required and mix points+cash payments as you like. If you happen to have one of the Scene+ Credit or Debit Cards you also get the option to buy any travel you like with anyone (not just Scene+ Travel) and then redeem points against the charge once it shows up on your account statement. You have up to 12 months after it posts to do so and the redemption rate is the same at 100 points to $1. That means no matter which method you redeem for travel you are achieving a 1% to 6% return on your Scotia credit card spending.
While being flexible enough for most Canadians, the lack of any conversion options to other programs where you might be able to get outsized value for your points keeps Scene+ from receiving more than four stars. This also affects the Overall Value ranking, not that 1% to 6% back is bad, no in fact it is great, but that lack of potential outsized value that other programs do provide keeps Scene+ at four stars.
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RBC Avion Rewards points are quite easy to earn thanks to a variety of banking and Visa credit card products offered by the bank. With additional earning opportunities available for online shopping and offers at specific merchants RBC Avion Rewards points receive 4.5 out of 5 Stars in the ease of earning category. (Click here to see all RBC credit card offerings).
Like most programs today, redeeming points is straightforward and since we are focused on travel it is easily done via Avion Rewards. You can choose to redeem points using the Avion Air Travel Redemption Schedule or if you don't have enough points for those set reward amounts you can simply redeem 100 points for $1 towards that travel booking (172 to $1 if you are not Avion Elite). Easy as that!
The Avion Rewards program provides great flexibility if you hold onto an Avion credit card (giving you Avion Elite level status) since you can book travel via Avion Rewards or convert the points to airline programs like WestJet Rewards, British Airways Executive Club and several others. While that flexibility is great it is not great enough to earn five stars. The main reason behind this is that you have to book your travel via Avion Rewards to get the best value from your points. There is no equivalent option to go out and book travel on your own like you can with HSBC Rewards, Scene+ or Amex Membership Rewards and redeem against the charge without losing point value.
With their primary credit cards such as the RBC Avion Visa Infinite Card only earning 1 to 1.25 Avion Reward points per dollar spent it can take a lot spending before you can achieve any meaningful rewards in the program. I tend to mention in my media interviews and on the Rewards Canada podcast that RBC Avion Rewards are some of the most expensive to earn seeing that other programs are providing 5 or 6 points per dollar spent vs. RBC's 1 to 1.25. So the RBC Avion Rewards program does not score very well for value. On top of this your point value can be further diminished if you don't purchase airline tickets at the maximum ticket price allowable in each flight reward category from the Avion Air Travel Redemption Schedule.
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When we first released these rankings in 2014 HSBC only provided credit cards for their banking clients but that all changed in 2017 when the launched the HSBC World Elite Mastercard. The card came out strong and with the latest changes made to it in February 2023 the card continues to be one of the best in Canada. It is thanks to this card (and the unfortunate AIR MILES saga) that HSBC Rewards has moved into 5th spot in the rankings!
Earning HSBC Rewards points is easy with any of their three Mastercard offerings with the World Elite card providing the best earn rates. The only reason the program only receives four stars is the lack of additional earning opportunities outside that we do see with the other programs. (Click here to see all HSBC credit card offerings).
HSBC Rewards points are relatively easy to redeem however not as easy as the others in the rankings. For their travel redemptions you have to redeem a minimum 25,000 points and then in 10,000 point increments after that. It is because of this quirk in the redemption process that the program only sees 3.5 stars for ease of redeeming.
HSBC Rewards points are very flexible points when it comes to redeeming for travel. You can book travel with whomever you like and then redeem points against that charge. This means you can do partial redemptions or if you have enough points you can cover the entire charge. Next to the any airline any time booking option you can also convert the points to British Airways Executive Club, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles or Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer. This gives HSBC Rewards members the opportunity to use points for those outsized value reward flights in business or first class. The only reason we give HSBC 4.5 Stars for flexibility is the general limitation of cities and partners those airlines have for many Canadians when compared to the likes of Air Canada (with Membership Rewards) or WestJet (with Avion Rewards)
When you redeem points earned on the World Elite card for the any travel any time option your rate of return works out to 1% to 3%. This is pretty good value to receive per point, not the highest in the market but not the lowest either. Of course, what makes the overall value of HSBC Rewards points jump up is that potential for outsized value when converting to the points to the airline partners and redeeming via those programs for premium class travel.
What about all the other travel rewards programs in Canada? AIR MILES, CIBC Aventura, More Rewards, TD Rewards, WestJet Rewards, and so on? To be honest with you, all the programs hold value and play a significant role for many Canadians. Our rankings try to look at what the best programs are for the population as a whole and in general these are the better programs but that doesn't mean they are the best for everyone. It all comes down to an individual's needs, spending habits, travel habits and so on. In the end you can't go wrong with any loyalty program so long as it brings value to you and meets your needs.
With all that being said though, if you don't use any of these programs it might not hurt to do some more research on them as they could potentially provide more value to you than the program or programs you are utilizing right now.
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This is an updated version of a feature that we first posted on September 30, 2014
Title image by Matteo Angeloni from Pixabay
We'd love to hear which programs you use and what you find works best for your lifestyle! Which travel rewards currencies would you rank as the Top 5? Tell us in the comments section below or join the conversation in our Facebook Group and on Twitter!