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
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.