A model airplane is seen in front of the newly-revealed Air Canada Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner aircraft at a hangar at the Toronto Pearson International Airport in Mississauga, Ont., Thursday, February 9, 2017. Air Canada’s three Aeroplan credit card partners are updating the features of the airline’s main customer loyalty program for travellers.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch

A model airplane is seen in front of the newly-revealed Air Canada Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner aircraft at a hangar at the Toronto Pearson International Airport in Mississauga, Ont., Thursday, February 9, 2017. Air Canada’s three Aeroplan credit card partners are updating the features of the airline’s main customer loyalty program for travellers.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch

Air Miles or cash back? How to manage your travel rewards during a pandemic

The good news is that even travel-focused loyalty programs have become more flexible in recent years

Angela Farquhar is a self-described “sucker for a loyalty program.”

The 32-year-old teacher from Waubaushene, Ont., collects PC Optimum Points and Petro Points, but Air Miles are her favourite. She pays close attention to bonus events in order to rack them up faster.

But with her husband off work for two months due to the pandemic and travel looking unlikely for the foreseeable future, Farquhar — like many Canadians —has had to change the way she uses her rewards. This year, instead of buying airline tickets, she used her Air Miles to buy a backyard slide her daughters, Mackenzie, 3, and Alexandra, 1.

“Mackenzie absolutely loves it and I just started sliding Alexandra down too,” Farquhar says. “She actually thinks it’s more fun taking turns with her sister.”

Charlene Suchy, however, is taking the opposite approach.

The 37-year-old divemaster from Pefferlaw, Ont., is a devoted Air Miles collector, but has decided to save up rather than spend on non-travel items.

“I’m currently looking at either round trip flights or an all-inclusive package using my miles,” she says. I’m not sure of a destination yet, but have a few in mind for when we can travel again. My trip will only be nicer the more miles I can save.”

So which is the right approach when it comes to rewards cards? Save up in the hope a vaccine will make travel possible relatively soon? Or use the points right now?

According to Patrick Sojka, the founder of Rewards Canada and an expert on travel rewards, Canadians are increasingly looking to do the latter, despite the fact that travel typically offers better value.

“The loyalty programs have told us that more people are using their rewards for merchandise, more people are redeeming for gift cards. It’s definitely happening.”

Whether that’s the right strategy depends on your financial situation, says Sojka.

“If you’re an average income earner and you don’t have a way to rack up miles quickly, short-term benefits are probably a healthy way to look at it. A lot of programs tend to devalue over time, and there’s uncertainty over the lack of travel and the global economy generally.”

For those in higher income brackets, continuing to accumulate miles may be the better option. “It might not matter to you that a business class flight will cost 20,000 more miles in a year and a half,” says Sojka.

The good news is that even travel-focused loyalty programs have become more flexible in recent years, including Air Canada’s recently relaunched Aeroplan program.

“Whether it’s merchandise, gift cards, tickets, Amazon purchases, cashback options: there’s a whole gamut of options, depending on the program, says Sojka. “Most of them have added more, you just have to find the program that suits your needs.

The other option is to ditch your rewards card and switch to a cash-back credit card, though Sojka says this strategy has some drawbacks. For starters, cash-back cards tend to offer lower-percentage returns on purchases than travel rewards. And most cash-back cards only pay out once a year, making them less useful for those in search of short-term financial relief, though some, such as TD’s Cash Back Visa, allow you to redeem much sooner.

Whatever rewards strategy you choose, Sojka’s final piece of advice is to check to see when your points expire. Most programs have 12 to 24-month inactivity rules if you’re not earning or redeeming. Many pushed that forward due to the pandemic, but the deadlines will return.

“Either earn a mile or spend some on a reward,” he says. “That keeps them active.”

ALSO READ: Latest COVID-19 travel advice another blow to B.C. tourism

Alex McClintock, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Air TravelCoronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Quesnel RCMP Detachment is one of seven northern police buildings which can now connect directly to Prince George for daily bail hearings. (Observer File Photo)
Bail hearings going virtual in B.C.’s north

A court pilot project will see virtual courtroom cameras set up in seven RCMP detatchments

FILE – Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have agreed to sign a memorandum on rights and title with B.C. and Ottawa, but elected chiefs are demanding it be called off over lack of consultation. (Thom Barker photo)
Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, Lake Babine Nation get provincial funding for land, title rights

Government says it’s a new, flexible model for future agreements between Canada, B.C. and First Nations.

The property on which a residential school (pictured) that was torn down years ago in Lower Post is to be the location of a cultural centre. (Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre photo)
Lower Post residential school building to be demolished, replaced with cultural centre

Project to be funded by federal and provincial governments, Daylu Dena Council

Photo collage of loved ones lost to substance use and overdose. (Photo courtesy Moms Stop The Harm)
B.C. overdose deaths still rising 5 years after public health emergency declared

Moms Stop the Harm calls on B.C. to provide safe supply in response to deadly illicit drug use

Angelique Houlihan gets her COVID-19 vaccine jab last week at the community-wide clinic. (Angelique Houlihan photo)
Vaccine clinic continues this week

Plenty of booking spots available

Vancouver resident Beryl Pye was witness to a “concerning,” spontaneous dance party that spread throughout social groups at Kitsilano Beach on April 16. (Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts at Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for current COVID-19 public health orders,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

Lord Tweedsmuir’s Tremmel States-Jones jumps a player and the goal line to score a touchdown against the Kelowna Owls in 2019. The face of high school football, along with a majority of other high school sports, could significantly change if a new governance proposal is passed at the B.C. School Sports AGM May 1. (Malin Jordan)
Power struggle: New governance model proposed for B.C. high school sports

Most commissions are against the new model, but B.C. School Sports (BCSS) and its board is in favour

Pall Bearers carrying the coffin of the Duke of Edinburgh, followed by the Prince of Wales, left and Princess Anne, right, into St George’s Chapel for his funeral, at Windsor Castle, in Windsor, England, Saturday April 17, 2021. (Danny Lawson/Pool via AP)
Trudeau announces $200K donation to Duke of Edinburgh award as Prince Philip laid to rest

A tribute to the late prince’s ‘remarkable life and his selfless service,’ the Prime Minister said Saturday

B.C. homeowners are being urged to take steps to prepare for the possibility of a flood by moving equipment and other assets to higher ground. (J.R. Rardon)
‘Entire province faces risk’: B.C. citizens urged to prepare for above-average spring flooding

Larger-than-normal melting snowpack poses a threat to the province as warmer weather touches down

Vancouver-based Doubleview Gold Corp. is developing claims in an area north of Telegraph Creek that occupies an important place in Tahltan oral histories, said Chad Norman Day, president of the Tahltan Central Government. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO)
B.C. Indigenous nation opposes mineral exploration in culturally sensitive area

There’s “no way” the Tahltan would ever support a mine there, says Chad Norman Day, president of its central government

Stz’uminus Elder George Harris, Ladysmith Mayor Aaron Stone, and Stz’uminus Chief Roxanne Harris opened the ceremony. (Cole Schisler photo)
Symbolic red dresses rehung along B.C. highway after vandals tore them down

Leaders from Stz’uminus First Nation and the Town of Ladysmith hung new dresses on Sat. April 17

A Western toadlet crosses the centre line of Elk View Road in Chilliwack on Aug. 26, 2010. A tunnel underneath the road has since been installed to help them migrate cross the road. Saturday, April 24 is Save the Frogs Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Progress File)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of April 18 to 24

Save the Frogs Day, Love Your Thighs Day and Scream Day are all coming up this week

Local carpenter Tyler Bohn embarked on a quest to create the East Sooke Treehouse, after seeing people build similar structures on a Discovery Channel show. (East Sooke Treehouse Facebook photo)
PHOTOS: B.C. carpenter builds fort inspired by TV’s ‘Treehouse Masters’

The whimsical structure features a wooden walking path, a loft, kitchen – and is now listed on Airbnb

The Attorney General’s Ministry says certain disputes may now be resolved through either a tribunal or the court system, pending its appeal of a B.C. Supreme Court decision that reduced the tribunal’s jurisdiction. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Court of Appeal grants partial stay in ruling on B.C. auto injuries

B.C. trial lawyers challenged legislation brought in to cap minor injury awards and move smaller court disputes to the Civil Resolution Tribunal

Most Read