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Travel rewards cards: Cut through the hype

Canadians love a good deal, and few things make us smile as broadly as booking a vacation using travel miles earned when we buy gas, groceries and shampoo at the drug store.

That's the (not-so-surprising) finding of a new nation-wide survey gauging our emotional response to travel-rewards programs, published by TD Canada Trust Tuesday.

The bank has a vested interest in how and why we use travel rewards after launching four new Aeroplan credit cards earlier this month.

Happiness was at the top of the list of answers given by 35 per cent of survey respondents when asked how they feel when they redeem travel points.


The second-most common emotion cited was satisfaction with the chosen reward (26 per cent), followed by a sense of accomplishment in collecting the required number of miles and excitement about being able to take a dream trip (16 per cent).

The new suite of credit cards, launched Jan. 1, are designed to appeal to both existing TD customers and other card users in the highly competitive world of travel rewards.
Stephen Menon, TD’s associate vice president of Aeroplan card products, said the new cards allow users to earn valuable air miles more easily than others on the market.

"They will let you get to your travel destination faster," he said.

Not everyone is as impressed with the offerings.

Patrick Sojka, founder of the Calgary-based website Rewards Canada, said the cards are technically strong (a factor due mainly to the Aeroplan partnership), but don’t live up to the bank's pre-release hype.

The TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Card (the card most likely to be used by Canadians, according to Sojka), for instance, was almost indistinguishable from many other premium cards on the market, with similarities in sign-up bonuses, annual fees and insurance benefits.

“Honestly, it is really no different than the CIBC Aerogold Visa Infinite,” he said.

Sojka said extras earned through the TD Infinite card, such as priority boarding and concierge service, will likely not be enough to convince other card users to convert.

He was more impressed with the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Privilege Card, but noted that card only appeals to a select group of affluent Canadians.

Rewards Canada rated CIBC Aerogold Visa Infinite among the best travel-rewards cards in 2013. Other notables included the Capital One Aspire Travel World MasterCard, the American Express Blue Sky Credit Card, American Express Gold Rewards Card and the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express.

MoneySense magazine, meanwhile, named the RBC WestJet World Elite MasterCard the best travel card in 2013.

Sadly, most of us know all too well that travelling on points isn't all sunshine and rainbows. The lack of availability of seats and limits in the number of seats that can be purchased at the lowest reward points can make you want to pull your hair out.

And then there are those annoying fuel surcharges, fees and taxes that add hundreds, even thousands, of dollars onto a so-called “free vacation.”

Yet, the travel-rewards cards remain the preferred rewards option in Canada, with cards offering cash back in pursuit of our loyalty.

“When you are redeeming points for a ticket to Paris, there is an amazing feeling about that,” said Sojka.