How to Maximize Loyalty Reward Points

How many of you are a member of a loyalty points program?  I’m willing to bet that most of you are part of some program, likely it’s in one of the more popular programs like  Aeroplan, Air Miles, Esso, Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG), or even Shoppers Drug Mart.  Personally, I have accounts with all mentioned, but with a significant collection of SPG points.  Aeroplan and Air Miles come in a very distant second and third.

Although I have multiple accounts, I find it most effective to focus on your favorite program instead of spreading out the points too much.  Here are some ideas on how to maximize loyalty reward points.

Get the Credit Card

Getting an affiliated rewards credit card is perhaps the most powerful way to build a collection of points.  There’s a reason why the CIBC Aerogold is the most popular VISA in the Canadian market which is because they have a stranglehold on the popular Aeroplan program.  Air Miles can be collected through a BMO MasterCard or AMEX,  SPG through AMEX, Esso points via RBC Visa, and Shoppers Drug Mart and Sony via MBNA.

The strategy here is to funnel all spending through the card to accumulate as many points as possible.  I put every expense possible on a credit card for the points (paid off every month) so it doesn’t take long before a meaningful balance accumulates in the points account.  Before moving to my primary cash back credit card, I used the late MBNA SPG card which helped pay for many vacation hotel stays over the years.

Use InStore/Online Bonuses

If your favorite rewards program has as associated brick and mortar store, like Air Miles, then it’s likely that they have weekly specials that offer bonus points for purchasing certain items.  For example, Sobey’s sometimes has promotions where you get bonus points if you purchase a group of items.  Sure, you may end up with a pantry full of ketchup bottles, but if it’s something that you’re going to use anyways over time, it may be worth it.

In addition to in-store deals, there are ways to build points online.  For example, AirMilesShops offers Air Miles for simply using their site as a portal before shopping in one of their affiliated online stores.  AirMilesShops will receive an affiliate commission for the sale from which they will credit Air Miles to your account.  Everyone wins!

For Aeroplan, they occasionally offer extra points via Esso, Tropicana, and even Costco.  It’s simply a matter of watching for deals and collecting points for something that you’re doing to spend on anyways.

For Shoppers Drug Mart, they often offer double points for certain products, or even a multiple of points collected on particular days.

Claim Rewards that Give the Highest Return

One strategy that I often use is to claim the rewards that give the highest return on spending.  For example, with Aeroplan, claiming first class tickets can give up to 8% return, SPG “cash and points” can be around 6%+ return, claiming car washes with Esso points gives around 2% and two for one movie tickets with Air Miles works out to be around 2%.

How do you calculate the return?  Simply take the dollar cost equivalent of the reward dividend by the spending required to accumulate the reward.  For example, if a car wash retails for $10 or 500 points, and it takes $500 in spending at Esso to accumulate 500 points, then the return of $10/$500 = 2% return.

Which loyalty programs are your favorite?  How do you maximize your points?

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FT

FT is the founder and editor of Million Dollar Journey (est. 2006). Through various financial strategies outlined on this site, he grew his net worth from $200,000 in 2006 to $1,000,000 by 2014. You can read more about him here.
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EJSe Leduc County AB
9 years ago

Know what’d be a cool business? Letting the public consolidate points from multiple loyalty programmes (for cash or a point fraction). Work it so that the total points outstanding is decreased; this would work as an incentive to the issuers because the tendency is to improve their income statement or balance sheet (depending on how each transaction is paid for).

EJSe Leduc County AB
9 years ago

Know what’s weird? Sobeys in St. John’s takes Air Miles; in Alberta Sobeys is hooked up with Aeroplan.

SavingMentor
9 years ago

I agree with you 100% mike! Although personally I prefer to look for expensive economy class flights because even though they aren’t as good of a value as first class flights – I would still rather get more flights overall than increased value.

For business travelers who earn a ton of flights and fly all the time – I can definitely see the attraction of high value business class and first class flights.

mike
9 years ago

re. Aeroplan: after collecting for many years, and spending a lot of time on flyertalk.com, i’ve come to the conclusion that the best use of aeroplan points is on long-haul, business or first-class flights.

further, you should whenever possible use the points on star alliance airlines OTHER than air canada – they’ve generally got much lower taxes/fees/surcharges for reward flights than air canada.

domestic economy flights tend to be poorer value, and it’s pretty much agreed that the worst value is to buy merchandise – things like gift cards or toasters or whatever. that said, the ‘best’ is always going to be relative. if you hate flying, and happen to need a toaster, there you go.

Greg
9 years ago

@James – Points.com works well (pro) but they take their cut (con). I’ve used them when I had too few points in a program to do anything else.

@Everyone about Aeroplan – I, too, hated trying to get a flight, and actually never did. I had about 200,000 points that would have expired early in 2012 and was “worried” as to how I was going to use them. Then I found I could trade them in for Costco dollars and used, if I recall, 13,500 points to get a $100 card. I did that about 6 times. Then I recently had a balance that was not a multiple of 13,500 points and discovered I could use Points.com to turn Aeroplan points into US$ through Paypal. I swapped as much of the balance as I could fro US$236 and now have something like 70 Aeroplan points left, that will likely expire and I won’t have to deal with them anymore. That swap through Points.com was not as advantageous as Costco Dollar cards but not having a multiple of 13,500 meant I was going to lose the points anyway so this was the best I could do.

SavingMentor
9 years ago

@Elbyron

I agree with you – if you live in a major city and are only flying to a random US city then you probably won’t see much higher than $500 in North America. Flights are way more expensive in Atlantic Canada and $700 is about average for a cross country flight before taxes and fees. I have family in Vancouver so I’ve checked flight prices on a regular basis.

I’ve gone into great detail on how I value Aeroplan miles and in particular on the Redeem Aeroplan Miles For More page I talk about how to get a much higher return for your miles – up to 10%. There are a few hoops to jump through but for a good number of people it would be worth, albeit not everyone.

There are 4 pages to the Aeroplan guide in total.

ITS
9 years ago

@James

I have used points.com to exchange some continental airlines points (7500) into 43 dollars gift certificate on Amazon .com. Most of their deals are pretty lame but this one was worth it since continental merged with united. It took one week for GC code but when it came through it was awesome as I got a cool GPS toy I have been wanting with points that were going to expire.

From my experience (picture Clooney on up in the air) points are best used on the program you earned them with. When traded you are always gonna lose some to the middleman.

Elbyron
9 years ago

@SavingMentor
I once did some research to see what the average value of an Aeroplan point was worth (not accounting for the hassle). You say you can get at least $700 in value for 25,000 points, but I checked out lowest cost for travel from Edmonton to 5 different U.S. cities and the cost before taxes was always under $500 for whatever random date I chose. I’m sure there’s high-demand periods that would cost more, but those aren’t going to have any seats available for 25,000 points!
Flights might also cost more $ from small towns or isolated locations so some people could potentially get more than $500 value, but for me that seems to be impossible. It seems the value of the points, when redeemed for economy-class flights in North America, will average 1.6cents per mile, sometimes reaching as high as 2 cents.
I also compared some international destinations, but again the average is still around 1.5 cents. However, since some Aeroplan cards can earn you 1.25 or even 1.5 points per dollar, you can probably get better than 2% return… but then you’re pretty limited on when you can fly, and your points can expire.
James has the right idea with the Capital One Aspire card. Book any flight you want and get 2% return on ALL purchases, with an annual fee that works out to $20. I’m not biased because I wrote the review of this card… I wrote the review because I liked the card.

Norman
9 years ago

No one has mentioned the MBNA Travel Rewards Elite card. This replaced the MBNA SPG card a while ago.
The selection of flights is much better than Aeroplan. Also you can use points to pay for tax and fees which usually calculates to approx 3% rebate.

SavingMentor
9 years ago

@ITS

Availability is definitely an issue with Aeroplan and their taxes and fees suck but I always plan things more than 6 months in advance and choose routes where I get at least $700 in value before taxes and fees for my 25,000 points. It has been relatively trouble free for me.

I agree that the annual fees make things a lot harder to swallow but if you sign up for a new card almost every year then the bonuses more than cover the annual fee and sometimes the first year is free. Rinse and repeat.

I had the PC MasterCard for years and in the Atlantic Provinces we almost never got anything worthwhile for bonuses. That may have changed in recent years but I’ve heard that in the western provinces the bonuses are much better.