What To Do If You Can't Find Award Availability

What To Do If You Can't Find Award Availability

I’ve mentioned in the past that a big part of Travel Hacking and finding award availability is having flexibility when you search but what happens if you just don’t have that flexibility?  Well, the simple answer is to either pay for your travel with cash (that’s a last ditch effort for me, though I have done it in the past) or you can redeem your points for a fixed value redemption.

I will caveat this by saying that you are not going to receive as much value as possible for your points but sometimes, the circumstances dictate that just don’t have a better option.  So let’s jump into it.

What is a Fixed Value Redemption?

A Fixed Value Redemption is a redemption that gives you a set value for every point you have.  Typically, it’s less than 1¢ per point but there are other factors to consider.  Here are some examples of when using points for a fixed value redemption might make sense:

  • You need to get somewhere for an exact date and you can’t find award availability
  • You would rather find a more direct flight and you value your time more than extracting the most value possible out of your points
  • You want to fly somewhere that isn’t easily serviced with the alliance you have your points in

What Are My Options?

In Canada, there are a few fixed point redemptions that I am familiar with.  They are:

  • American Express Fixed Points Travel Program
  • Aeroplan Points for Gift Cards
  • Capital One Points

I will delve into each in detail and give you the pros and cons of each.  Outside of the Capital One point redemptions, I would typically need to be in a fairly dire situation before I considered using one of these fixed value redemptions but it’s always good to know your options.

American Express Fixed Value Redemptions

A while back, American Express introduced their Fixed Points Travel Program.  Essentially what this program offers is a chance to cash in your points using their redemption chart as listed below.  There is a points redemption chart for both Economy as well as Business Class travel.

 

How To Use The American Express Fixed Points Travel Program

To use the program, you need to hold the American Express Gold Card, Platinum Card, Centurion Card or Choice Card.  The business versions of these cards are also eligible.  Your account also needs to be in good standing and you have to have enough points in your account to redeem.

Essentially, what you are doing is booking your airline ticket using American Express Travel.  After you log in, find your flight and redeem your points.  You pay for the full amount of the ticket using your credit card and a statement credit is applied to your card, which covers off the base price of your ticket.

Pros of the Program
  • More flexibility on what airlines to fly
  • More flexibility on the route to fly
  • The ticket purchase is considered a revenue fare so you are eligible for points accumulation and status segments towards status with the airline
Cons of the Program
  • Valid only for round trip travel
  • Complicated tiered system for redemption
  • Points redemptions only cover the base price of the ticket.  Taxes are extra and your responsibility, though you can apply points for the taxes, fees and carrier surcharges or any amount over the maximum base ticket price at a rate of 1,000 MRs per $10 (1¢/point).
  • 1.7 – 2.0¢/point redemption value if redeeming for the maximum base ticket price
Overall Impressions

I despise tier redemptions like this because it encourages the wrong behavior.  When you see the chart above, your first though is probably “how can I get the most value out of my points?”.  The answer is to book a ticket with the highest base ticket price possible that is still within the maximum allowable for the points redemption.  But what are you really doing there?  You’re looking for the best – worst deal possible.  If you had a choice between flying WestJet or Air Canada to the same destination and the Air Canada flight was exactly $300 for the base fare and the WestJet flight was $180 … you’re probably booking the Air Canada flight so you can extract the most value.  Obviously, I’m not taking into account preferences or status … just trying to make the point that this way of looking for airfare is the exact opposite behavior of what we try to do as Travel Hackers.

For the full terms and conditions of American Express’ Fixed Points Travel Program, please refer to https://www.americanexpress.com/canada/en/fixedpointstravel.html?inav=ca_menu_rewards_mr_travel

Aeroplan Points for Gift Cards

As the title suggest, what you are doing here is redeeming Aeroplan Points for Air Canada gift cards.  You can then use these gift cards for redemption on AirCanada.com.  Again, these are “desperate times” type redemptions because you are getting pretty low CPM value for these gift cards but it gives you a lot more flexibility.

How to Redeem Aeroplan Miles for Air Canada Gift Cards
  1. Log into your Aeroplan account
  2. Navigate to https://www5.aeroplan.com/mrch/browse.ep?cID=100359&filters=cngifts+cncards+b100301&sorter=price-asc
  3. Try not to think about the poor redemption value you’re getting
  4. Purchase
Pros of Using This Method
  • More flexibility on the route to fly
  • The ticket purchase is considered a revenue fare so you are eligible for points accumulation and status segments towards status with Air Canada
  • Taxes and fees can be covered
Cons of Using This Method
  • Only a maximum of 2 gift cards can be applied to one reservation and you CANNOT combine the values of multiple gift cards into one gift card
  • The gift cards are hilariously physically shipped to you, meaning you can’t redeem for the gift card and make an immediate booking
  • Gift cards are only redeemable for the purchase of air travel offered by Air Canada and operated by Air Canada, Air Canada Rouge, and Air Canada Express carriers (i.e., Air Georgian, Sky Regional, Exploits Valley Air Services, and Jazz Aviation LP)
  • Cannot be redeemed for Air Canada Vacation packages
  • 0.83 – 0.86¢/mile value depending on the gift card redeemed for
Overall Impressions

Getting less than 1¢/mile for a redemption is a very tough pill to swallow, especially because you are “locked” into both Air Canada and the gift card itself.  If you don’t use the full value of the gift card, you’ll need to use it for a future revenue fare.  The fact that the redemption does not give you instantaneous access to the gift card is also very frustrating.  I personally cannot find a reason to redeem for these low values but then again, you never know what life might throw at you so never say never.

For the full terms and conditions of Air Canada’s Gift Card redemptions, please refer to https://www.aircanada.com/ca/en/aco/home/book/air-canada-gift-cards.html

Capital One Points

I can’t tell you how hard it was for me to write about the two methods above but we finally get to a place where you get fair value for your points.  For those of you that haven’t read my review on the Capital One Aspire card, I would encourage you to do so to get a good understanding of the card and its benefits.  The basic gist of the Capital One Aspire point is that you earn 2 points per dollar spent (2% return – 2¢/point redemption) and you redeem at 100 points = $1.  It’s as simple as that.

How to Redeem Your Capital One Aspire Points

It’s quite easy … and that’s probably the best part about it.  All you need to do is use your Capital One Aspire Card to make a travel-related purchase and once the charge clears your card, you can log in and use your points to write off the cost.  The great thing is that you don’t need to write off the entire amount.  In fact, you can redeem as little a 1 point to write off 1¢ of a travel purchase.

Pros About Using Capital One Aspire Points
  • Easy earning at 2 points/dollar regardless of retailer
  • It’s a MasterCard so it’s accepted everywhere
  • Easy redemptions using points … no need to worry about tiers
  • Immediate redemption possible once the charges clear your card (~1 day)
  • More flexibility on the route to fly
  • The ticket purchase is considered a revenue fare so you are eligible for points accumulation and status segments towards status with the airline you are flying
  • Taxes and fees can be covered
Cons About Using Capital One Aspire Points
  • You can only use the points towards travel at 2¢/point.  You can use the points for an account credit but at 0.75¢/point
  • Not much else
Overall Impressions

The Capital One Aspire program is the most flexible fixed value redemption option in Canada and I often use these points for hotels but they are always an option if I can’t find the award availability I need.  This is the card that I use if American Express is not accepted at the retailers I am at because it is the next best thing to Membership Reward points in Canada.

Conclusion

I know that I preach the maximizing of value for your points redemptions but it’s always good to know your options because sometimes life gets in the way of your plans.  Look for value in point redemptions but know that your points can still give you an out even if you aren’t redeeming for traditional awards.

3 Comments
  1. The fixed points with Amex is a welcomed addition. While I don’t see value in all of the categories, YYZ- Hawaii looks great, especially for a family since you are basically buying tickets.

    It would be 45,000 points plus taxes with Aeroplan and then trying to find say three tickets on dates you want is basically impossible.

    However, 50,000 amex points finds the quantity and dates needed easily and only $138 in taxes.

    I could spend hours searching aeroplan, using numerous dates and different Hawaii airports and not get my ideal itinerary.

    I could spend 10 minutes with Amex and get exactly what I want. Well worth the 5,000 extra points per ticket.

    The same scenario works for YYZ to the Caribbean.

    1. Great point Steve … truthfully, I hadn’t thought of that redemption. As you probably know, I am in the same boat with 3 pax in my party so this is pretty relevant. Thanks for sharing your insight … while I try to broaden my horizon past my own personal circumstance, I can sometimes be blinded by my own desires when it comes to redemption.

      Cheers
      Jayce

    2. Actually this is an example where the Fixed value is probably better. The 5000 points points difference will be made up also in points you get back. Remember from the airline perspective you bought the ticket, so you will get milleage. You might also get Amex points, since it is a purchase.

      The other great is you can pick your airline, so for 100,000 point i’ll be able to fly from YYZ-Auckland in prime season on ANZ. Good luck finding this on AP

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