The Top 8 Travel Rewards Programs to Try Today

Don’t book another trip without checking out these enticing programs. The perks are endless.

The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay, California.

The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay, California.

1. AEROPLAN

The gist: One of Canada’s premier loyalty rewards programs with more than 4.6 million members. They have 75 world-class partners representing over 150 brands, making it easy to earn miles. In 2012, 2.3 million rewards were awarded to members including 1.6 million flights on Air Canada and Star Alliance carriers. They offer more flight rewards than other Canadian loyalty program and claim to issue an Aeroplan reward every 14 seconds.

How to earn points: Enter your Aeroplan card number when booking flights with Air Canada or Star Alliance carriers. Present your Aeroplan card when shopping at one of its retail partners, or visit the Aeroplan eStore and shop for products from over 100 retailers including Chapters, Sephora and the Gap.

What you can redeem: Travel rewards include: flights, car rentals, hotel stays, vacation packages and cruises. Non-travel rewards include: merchandise, gift cards, dining and spa packages, media downloads and tickets for events and concerts.

Standout feature: Aeroplan’s Carbon Offset Program is the first of its kind in the Canadian loyalty industry. Members can offset their flight rewards or everyday carbon emissions using Aeroplan Miles. Aeroplan matches all miles redeemed for carbon offset credits by 20% and transfers the total amount to Offsetters, a Canadian organization dedicated to helping Canadians offset their carbon footprints.

Cost: Free

2. AIRMILES

The gist: Another one of Canada’s largest loyalty programs, Airmiles allows you to turn everyday purchases into vacations, merchandise, and even cash.

How to earn points: Swipe you Airmiles card when making purchases at its 120 retail partners and instantly earn miles. You can also earn online though airmilesshops.ca, which features products from 140 online retailers including Apple and Indigo.

What you can redeem: Travel rewards include: flights, hotel stays, travel insurance, vacation packages, cruises and car rentals. Non-travel rewards include: merchandise, tickets to movies, concerts and sporting events, and cash.

Standout feature: Airmiles allows your to customize how you want your miles to be used. Its new Cash Reward program allows you to redeem miles for cash instantly at participating retailers and its Dream Rewards program lets you bank miles for big ticket purchases and trips. You have the flexibility to choose online what percentage of your miles you use for cash rewards and what percentage you save for dream rewards, meaning you get the most out of every mile earned.

Cost: Free

3. MARRIOTT REWARDS

The gist: Marriott Rewards is an exclusive award-winning frequent traveller program that gives you access to more than 14 hotel brands with 3,700 locations in 70 countries, including luxury hotel brand Ritz-Carlton.

How to earn points: Sign up to become a member and earn points when you book a stay at one of the 3,700 participating hotels.

What you can redeem: Points can be redeemed for hotel stays, travel packages, leisure packages, online merchandise and air miles.

Standout feature: Marriott’s Cash + Points feature allows you to combine your redemption nights with cash for a reservation of two nights or longer, giving you the flexibility to use points for just a portion of your stay or tack on a few vacation days to a business trip.

Cost: Free

4. STARWOOD PREFERRED GUEST

The gist: Starwood Preferred Guest’s earn StarPoints at nine unique hotel brands including Westin, W Hotels, Sheraton and St. Regis.

How to earn points: Preferred Guest’s earn two StarPoints of every U.S. dollar spent at participating hotels.

What can be redeemed: 2,000 StarPoints will get you a free night’s stay. Points can also be used for flights, high-end merchandise, room upgrades and train travel. Starwood also allows Preferred Guests to bid on one-of-a-kind experiences using points through its Moments program.

Standout feature: Free Night Rewards with no blackout dates is what makes Starwood great. If a standard room is available, it’s yours — even on long weekends and holidays.

Cost: Free

5. MR & MRS SMITH

The gist: Mr & Mrs Smith’s rewards program is perfect for those who like take regular trips and prefer unique hideaways to big chain hotels. You can’t redeem points for travel or cash, but becoming a member comes with its own slew of perks if you book with the boutique hotel experts regularly.

How it works: There are three types of Mr & Mrs Smith membership cards, each comes with its own benefits. With the basic Blacksmith membership you earn 1% of the money you spend on hotel bookings, back. Plus you get tours, transfers and excursions booked for you, offers from luxury brands and exclusive hotel deals and offers. The incentives increase with the Silversmith and Goldsmith memberships. They come with perks like room upgrades, personal travel concierge, half-price deals on new listings, and access to over 600 airport lounges.

Standout features: Mr. & Mrs Smith is home to the world best collection of unique boutique hotels, meaning you’ll get an authentic and original experience every time you book with them. While big chain loyalty programs are great, those who like to travel off the beaten path will love the hotel selection offered by Mr & Mrs Smith.

Cost: Three levels of membership, Blacksmith is free, Silversmith is $60/year and a Goldsmith membership is $600/year.

6. VIPORTER

The gist: VIPorter is a simple rewards program perfect for business travellers and those who frequently fly Porter’s eastern seaboard cities.

How it works: Sign up, book with Porter and start earning points. You earn based on each one way flight you fly and the fare you select. Firm fares will get you 375 points, Flex fares 750 points and Freedom fares 1500 points.

Standout Feature: You can earn travel incentives fast. While some loyalty programs make you spend hundreds of dollars before you can redeem for a reward, with VIPorter you can cash in rewards after as few as five flights.

Cost: Free

7. STAR ALLIANCE

The gist: Star Alliance offers travellers a network unlike any other. With 28 member airlines, Star Alliance carriers operate 21,900 flights a day to 1,328 destinations in 195 countries. By joining one of its member airlines’ frequent flyer programs — Air Canada is likely the best bet for Canadian travellers — you have access to perks that stretch across the Star Alliance network.

How it works: If you belong to a frequent flyer program with any of Star Alliance’s member airlines and fly with another member airline you can earn and redeem points. For example, If you’re a part of Air Canada’s frequent flyer program and fly with Singapore Airlines, you still earn points. All you have to do is quote your frequent flyer number at check-in. Points can be redeemed for upgrades and trips.

Standout feature: Being a Star Alliance member means access to over 1,000 airport lounges across the globe. You save money and get to travel like a VIP.

Cost: Free

8. FAIRMONT’S PRESIDENT’S CLUB

The gist: Fairmont’s loyalty program is loaded with perks designed to enhance your hotel experience. Spa discounts, personalized room profiles and complimentary Wi-Fi and health centre access, make this rewards program an appealing option for frequent travelers.

How it works: Enroll and instantly start accumulating airline miles and discounts on future stays. The incentives increase with your membership status. A basic club membership means 500 airline miles per stay, 15% discount, free Wi-Fi and health club access and complimentary use of Taylormade golf clubs and BMW bikes at select hotels and resorts. Premier and Platinum memberships come with complimentary stays, dining cards and a personalized welcome amenity.

Standout feature: Fairmont offers members discounts on Passion Packages, vacations that are completely customized to your own personal interest.

Cost: Free; Premier and Platinum status can be earned.

By Alex Weber