To Spend or Not to Spend: What to Do with Your Travel Rewards Points Amid a Global Pandemic

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Travel came to a screeching halt in the second week of March. Since then, travel programs and third-party providers have been working with members to reimburse rewards and cancel itineraries. Cardholders are without a choice but to postpone their upcoming vacations indefinitely. But that doesn’t leave them without options for their travel rewards balances.

Each loyalty program will offer a different selection of redemption options. Some travel rewards credit cards have very flexible catalogues. But, is it best to save your rewards balance or cash in your points?

Flexible Points Options

While travel is typically the best redemption value for your points, there are often alternative ways for you to spend your rewards. To calculate the redemption value of your different options, divide the monetary price by the point value. Doing the math can help you make an educated shopping decision.

For example, with Scotia Rewards points, the minimum redemption value for travel is 5,000 (a $50 value). This calculation tells us travel points are worth one cent each.

  • Scotia Rewards travel value: $50 ÷ 5,000 = $0.01

A $25 Keg gift card from the online catalogue costs 3,400 points.

  • Scotia Rewards gift card value: $25 ÷ 3,400 = $0.007

A Breville mixer, with a retail value of $399, costs 45,900 points.

  • Scotia Rewards Breville The Scraper Mixer Pro value: $399 ÷ 45,900 = $0.008

Travel points are the most valuable, then merchandise (Breville mixer), then gift cards. The value will differ for each program, but the calculation method is the same.

Apart from travel, cardholders may find the following options appealing, especially if they are looking to save money or reduce debt.

Statement Credit

Most credit card providers offer a cash equivalent option that is applied as a statement credit. This option allows cardholders to pay down the balance on their credit card.

Features like these are generally only available to accounts in good standing. If you keep up with your minimum payments, applying points to your balance can help pay down your debt. Although the monetary value of a statement credit is generally less than the travel value, it is a useful detail. Carrying a lower credit card balance can result in less interest being accrued and fewer payments over time. Using points toward your balance can mean more money back in your pocket.

Savings

BMO Rewards members have the option of investing their points. Cardholders who have at least 15,000 points can invest in their BMO investment account. That is a financial reward of $100. Each contribution must be made in 15,000-point increments. Plus, this redemption value is double what you would get for a statement credit (15,000 points = $50 credit).

CIBC Aventura members can use points toward payments or contributions to existing CIBC financial products, including mortgages, retirement savings plans and tax-free savings accounts. Redemptions start at 12,000 points ($100 value). For CIBC Aventura members, this value is greater than a statement credit (4,000 points = $25 credit).

This option can help you invest in your future and boost your savings.

Cash Equivalent Rewards

AIR MILES members can use their cash rewards toward eVouchers for food delivery, including Uber Eats and DoorDash, grocery gift cards, gas, and even the liquor store, depending on the region to which they reside.

If you have American Express Membership Rewards, you can shop directly through Amazon and redeem your points for almost anything.

Merchandise

Scotia Rewards, AIR MILES, BMO Rewards, and other top travel credit cards have fantastic merchandise catalogues. Some of the offerings include the latest technology, apparel, toys, appliances, accessories, and more. Plus, many issuers offer gift card options. So, you may be able to score free groceries or presents for family and friends.

However, the arrival times for some of these products can’t be guaranteed. Deliveries are being delayed across the country due to the pandemic.

Convert Your Points

Many rewards programs have partnered with other top providers to allow points conversions. You can transfer points between Aeroplan and American Express Membership Rewards, for example.

Similarly, some third-party providers allow the same. Scotia Rewards points and SCENE points can be converted in 1,000-point intervals. And, although you can’t enjoy new flicks in the theatre, Cineplex has released highly anticipated movies online so you can enjoy them from the comfort of your couch. Treating the family to a movie night can be a great way to spend your points.

Make a Donation

If you can’t decide what to do with your rewards, you could always put them to good use. Some loyalty programs offer donation options. Here are some examples:

  • AIR MILES: 500 Dream Miles for $50 to Food Banks Canada
  • AIR MILES: 500 Dream Miles for $50 to Kids Help Phone
  • American Express Membership Rewards: 1,000-10,000 points for $10-$100 to Save the Children
  • Scotia Rewards: 6,700 points for $50 to CanadaHelps

Typically, this option will provide you with a charitable donation tax receipt.

Keep Your Points Active

If you aren’t ready to spend your points just yet, you will want to ensure they stay active. Some programs don’t have expiry dates if the account remains in good standing or open. While others may require you to make a transaction within a timeframe, typically, this period is anywhere from 12 to 24 months.

Loyalty Program Points Expiration Period
Aeroplan Points expire if there is no account activity, including earning, redeeming, donating or transferring points for 12 consecutive months.
AIR MILES Miles expire if the account is inactive for 24 months.

Under the current circumstance, most programs have extended the expiry dates for rewards. So, you may not have to worry, but it’s best to check with your credit card provider for full details.

Should You Spend Your Points?

If you are financially secure, then keeping your travel points for your dream vacation can pay off. These points will hold the highest value and get you one step closer to your goal.

However, if you are dealing with financial hardships, you may want to use your points to your advantage. As long as you keep paying your minimum balance, you may be able to relieve some financial pressure by applying your points as a statement credit. If you have the option and the wiggle room, then investing your points may be even more beneficial. Holding on to your rewards in this scenario would only be ignoring a valuable resource.

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