The easiest airline points to earn in Canada is Aeroplan, by a mile. However, they do levy fuel surcharges on several airlines including Air Canada, Lufthansa, Thai Airways, and others. This can run to absurd levels in some cases. If you want to fly with those carriers, it may be a better option to use programs that do not incur these fees, which include United MileagePlus and Avianca Lifemiles.
Avianca often has sales on their miles, but if you don’t want a cash outlay, United miles are basically your only option. The easiest way to acquire United miles in Canada is through the SPG American Express that earns Marriott points. You can then transfer them to United at a reasonable rate. If you spend a lot on travel, groceries, and dining, the Cobalt Card earns at an even faster rate of up to 5x points per dollar. You would then transfer your Membership Rewards to Marriott and then to United. You can earn Marriott points with these credit cards:
- Starwood Preferred Guest American Express: Get up to 50,000 points!
- SPG Business American Express: Get up to 50,000 points!
- American Express Cobalt Card: Get up to 30,000 points!
Marriott 30% Transfer Bonus to United
Marriott Rewards transfer to most airlines at a 3:1 ratio. Furthermore, they have up to a 25% bonus on some airline transfers, and a 10% bonus on United MileagePlus transfers. The 25% bonus is earned in increments with transfers of 60,000 points, so transfers in these increments would yield the best value. Marriott released a promotion earlier this week which gives you an additional 30% bonus when converting Marriott (and ex-SPG) points to United miles.
The bonus runs until November 30, 2018, which will be credited on or before January 30, 2019. You have to register through this link to qualify for the bonus. Thus, when converting 60,000 Marriott points to United, you stack these bonuses and earn:
- 20,000 United Miles – 60,000 conversion at a 3:1 ratio
- 5,000 United Miles – 25% bonus on airline transfers
- 2,500 United Miles – 10% on transfers to United
- 8,250 United Miles – 30% Bonus
That’s a total of 35,750 United miles, a ratio of 1:0.6. The maximum bonus you can earn from this bonus is 25,000 United miles, so you shouldn’t transfer more than 180,000 points per account to maximize the promotion. While United may have slightly higher pricing for Star Alliance partners, it’s worth it because MileagePlus has no fuel surcharges whatsoever. You only pay airport taxes and fees on all redemptions.
On my trip to Geneva in August, I had commitments on both ends which restricted me from many flight options. There was no award space that would get me there in time without incurring fuel surcharges, so I made the decision to redeem United points on Lufthansa business class. The redemption cost me 70,000 United miles as opposed to 55,000 Aeroplan, but I saved the $500 carrier surcharge. With airport taxes are similar with both programs, I was happy to use 15,000 United miles to save $500.
United also has superior pricing on some international routes – those not to/from North America. For example, a redemption from Singapore to Auckland falls in the (South) Asia to Oceania category. MileagePlus requires 50k/65k United miles for this award, in business and first class respectively. This was even lower in the past. Aeroplan charges, on the same route, 67.5k/85k points respectively and fuel surcharges. My Thai Airways First redemption from a few years back, one of the better Star Alliance products, cost much less than had I used Aeroplan.
As well, United elite status accounts have lower change and cancellation fees. At the highest Premier 1K rung, this is $0. You can also cancel within 21 days with hassle. To take advantage of a friend’s status, you can transfer Marriott points between accounts. Folks with SPG/Marriott Platinum (now Platinum Premier) will also get a free match to Premier Silver. That does not completely waive fees but lowers them.
The Starwood American Express earns 2 points per dollar. For a spend of $30,000, you would earn 60,000 Marriott points which convert to 35,750 United miles. You effectively earn 1.2 United miles per dollar spent in this manner. The bonus categories on the Cobalt Card produces even better ratios because of their whopping 5x bonus on dining and groceries, with no limit.. With a spend of $10,000, you earn 50,000 Membership Rewards points. AMEX MR converts at a 1:1.2 ratio, for a total of 60,000 Membership Rewards and 35,750 United. This means you earn a whopping 3.57 airline points per dollar spent on the Cobalt Card in these bonus categories. It’s worth noting that you can generate spend so that most of your purchases do fall in this bonus category.
Marriott Rewards are much more flexible than United miles, so you should only transfer points if you have a specific use in mind. Transfers aren’t reversible.