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Back in February, I wrote about the “Best Canadian Credit Cards for Miles and Points, which prompted a few readers to ask me what exactly the differences are between American Express’ Membership Rewards program in the US and that in Canada, so I thought I’d take a look.
You can find out all about the US program by having a look at my presentation from last year’s Chicago Seminars.
For now, let’s have a look at the ins and outs of the Canadian program and do a quick comparison concerning the travel partners and transfer potential of Canadian Membership Rewards points.
There are some very big differences when it comes to redemptions, including the number of partners, and the transfer ratios.
Airline and Hotel Partners
Air Canada, 1,000 points: 1,000 miles
Alitalia: 1,000 points: 750 miles
British Airways: 1,000 points: 1,000 Avios
Asia Miles: 1,000 points: 750 miles
Delta: 1,000 points: 750 miles
The US program has additional partners of Aeromexico, ANA, El Al, Flying Blue (Air France/KLM), Frontier, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue, Singapore Airlines, Virgin America and Virgin Atlantic, though not Asia Miles, and the transfer ratios are usually 1:1 rather than 1:0.75.
Priority Club: 1,000 points: 800 Priority Club Points
Hilton HHonors: 1,000 points: 1,000 HHonors
Starwood Preferred Guest: 1,000 points: 500 Starpoints
The US program has additional partners of Best Western Rewards, Choice Privilege and Jumeirah. The other two differences to point out are that the transfer ratio to Priority Club is 1:1, to HHonors is 1:1.5 and that the transfer ratio to Starwood is actually worse in the US at just 3:1 rather than 2:1, so Canada has the US beat there.
The key difference is that the US program runs frequent transfer bonuses, while the Canadian one does not. This is a huge downside to the Canadian program, including the dismal 1:.75 transfer ratios.
Much like the US program, Canadians can also just use their points at a set value of one cent apiece to pay for travel. In the US it’s called Pay With Points, while in Canada it’s just done by booking through Amex Travel. Canadians can also pay with points via the TripFlex feature where they can book travel with their carrier, agent or entity of choice and pay with their Amex card then request a statement credit. The ratio is at 1 cent per point as well.
Canadian Membership Rewards members can also use their points to pay for vouchers at restaurants, theme parks, movie theaters, and various other stores selling electronics, home & garden, business and home office equipment, clothing and other outlets, though the ratio is often well below one cent per point, so in general these are not good options for pulling a lot of value out of your points—same as in the US!
Right off the bat, you’ll notice that the sign-up bonuses tend to be smaller than here in the US, so our neighbors to the north are usually out of luck on that account, plus you don’t get the same lucrative spending categories that you do in the US (3x airfare and 2x gas and grocery on the personal and 2x gas and shipping on the business card).
While Canadians generally get offered lower sign-up bonuses than in the US, right now you can get the Business Gold Rewards card with 25,000 points after $3,000 in spend within 3 months. The $180 annual fee is waived the first year. The personal Gold card has a 15,000 points after $500 in spend within 3 months with the $150 annual fee also waived for the first year.
Since the Canadian Membership Rewards program has less than stellar transfer ratios to airlines, it might make the most sense to get the Canadian Starwood American Express since those points transfer at a 25% bonus to over 30 airline partners including Aeroplan, American, Delta, and US Airways.