When you have plans to travel, but are short on re­ward miles

Break­ing down the fine print on top-up ca­pa­bil­i­ties for three pop­u­lar pro­grams

Toronto Star - - SPECIAL REPORT: TRAVEL REWARDS - JA­CLYN TER­SIGNI SPE­CIAL TO THE STAR

Some­times your des­ti­na­tion and your points bal­ance aren’t quite on the same page.

That doesn’t mean your trip is on hold un­til you’ve swiped your card a few more times; many travel re­ward pro­grams of­fer top-up fea­tures that let you buy the rest of your way to a plane ticket.

Top-up ca­pa­bil­i­ties can help get you there faster but they don’t come with­out fine print.

“The main thing that con­sumers should be aware of when buy­ing points or miles is the rel­a­tive value of them,” says Pa­trick So­jka, travel re­wards ex­pert and founder of the web­site re­ward­scanada.ca.

While there is of­ten no ad­di­tional fee as­so­ci­ated with pur­chas­ing re­wards, So­jka ex­plains that the value of re­ward miles can dif­fer, depend­ing on what you’re re­deem­ing for.

For ex­am­ple, if you’re re­deem­ing for an econ­omy class flight, air­line miles are typ­i­cally val­ued be­tween 1.5 and two cents.

For a pre­mium class ticket, the value per mile is typ­i­cally around three cents.

“You have to make sure you’re get­ting at least the pur­chase price of the miles back, if not more,” So­jka says. And only buy enough points or miles to get the level re­quired for your re­ward.

“Don’t buy points/miles spec­u­la­tively, if you won’t use them within three to six months,” So­jka ad­vises. “Many peo­ple have been caught by pro­gram de­val­u­a­tions that de­creased the value of the points they bought.”

Pur­chas­ing ad­di­tional re­wards isn’t the only way to boost ac­count lev­els.

Many pro­grams of­fer the op­tion to con­vert points and miles into those be­long­ing to another pro­gram.

Re­wards can also typ­i­cally be trans­ferred be­tween col­lec­tors, some­times for a fee.

“Again, look at the cost per mile to trans­fer ver­sus the value you’ll get out of them when re­deem­ing,” So­jka says.

“If the cost to trans­fer miles is less than the cash price for buy­ing a ticket, it may be worth it.”

There are dozens of re­ward pro­grams out there, each with their own set of rules and fees. Here are the de­tails on top-up fea­tures for three pop­u­lar pro­grams:

Air Miles Buy­ing: There is no fee charged for buy­ing ex­tra Air Miles “dream re­wards” (cash re­wards, which can be ap­plied to pur­chases at par­tic­i­pat­ing re­tail­ers, are not avail­able for pur­chase).

Dream re­wards can be pur­chased in lots of100 for $30 and are im­me­di­ately de­posited into the col­lec­tor’s ac­count. Trans­fer­ring: There is a $0.15/mile fee to trans­fer miles, plus a $10 han­dling fee for each trans­ac­tion. There is no min­i­mum or max­i­mum amount for trans­ferred miles, which ap­pear in a col­lec­tor’s ac­count right away. Cur­rently, trans­fers can be made only by call­ing the Air Miles’ cus­tomer ser­vice cen­tre; how­ever, ac­cord­ing to an Air Miles spokesper­son, col­lec­tors will soon be able to com­plete trans­fers online and avoid the $10 fee. Con­vert­ing: Air Miles can­not be con­verted from other pro­grams and vice versa, with the ex­cep­tion of Hud­son’s Bay re­wards.

HBC re­wards col­lec­tors can con­vert those points into Air Miles on a weekly or a one-time ba­sis. There is no ap­pli­ca­ble fee.

Aero­plan Buy­ing: Aero­plan miles can only be pur­chased when book­ing a flight; col­lec­tors can­not buy miles to use for later. If a col­lec­tor be­gins the process of book­ing a flight and finds he is short, the miss­ing miles and the topup cost — payable by credit card — will be cal­cu­lated. Top-up miles cost three cents each. Trans­fer­ring: Aero­plan col­lec­tors can in­stantly trans­fer miles from one ac­count to another online. There’s a min­i­mum re­quire­ment of 1,000 miles and a max­i­mum trans­fer level of 999,999. There’s an as­so­ci­ated fee of two cents per mile. Con­vert­ing: Col­lec­tors can con­vert other re­wards into Aero­plan with pro­grams in­clud­ing Amer­i­can Ex­press mem­ber­ship re­wards, CIBC Aven­tura, Din­ers Club Re­wards and ho­tel pro­grams such as Starwood. Us­ing points.com, mem­bers can also ex­change re­wards from pro­grams such as Esso Ex­tra re­wards and Asia Miles into Aero­plan. Con­ver­sion rates vary.

RBC Avion Buy­ing: Like Aero­plan, RBC Re­ward col­lec­tors can only pur­chase ad­di­tional re­wards dur­ing the re­demp­tion process.

At the time of book­ing a flight on RBCRe­wards.com, col­lec­tors can pur­chase up to 50 per cent of the points they re­quire.

Points can only be pur­chased in lots of 1,000, up to a max­i­mum of 15,000. One lot costs $40, plus ap­pli­ca­ble taxes. Trans­fer­ring: Re­wards can­not be trans­ferred be­tween ac­counts. Con­vert­ing: With the ex­cep­tion of Esso Ex­tra re­wards, col­lec­tors can­not con­vert re­wards from another pro­gram into RBC Re­wards. RBC Re­wards col­lec­tors can con­vert to Amer­i­can Air­lines, Bri­tish Air­ways, Asia Miles, WestJet, Esso and Shop­pers Drug Mart.

SHUTTERSTOCK

Many travel re­ward pro­grams of­fer top-up fea­tures to get you to your de­sired va­ca­tion des­ti­na­tion.

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