TPG Points Clinic: What are my options when flying to Canada?

Sep 6, 2019

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TPG UK has many AvGeeks and points and miles-obsessed travellers on the team, but there are also some team members who have significant experience doing their roles in different industries and are still new to the hobby. One of these is our Social Media Editor Liam Spencer. He’s just taken his first-ever premium cabin flight as part of our all-class review of Lufthansa’s A340 from Munich (MUC) to New York (JFK).

He’s been diligently earning his points this year and learning about how to use them. When he recently came to me for some advice on how to use his points to fly to Canada in February, I happily sat down with him for a quick ‘Points Clinic’, looking at his balances, travel preferences, dates and availability.

He has allowed me to share both his situation and my advice with our TPG UK readers, so here’s the results of our Points Clinic in the hope it may help you with your own points situation.

The basics

Liam gave me the following information regarding his situation:

  • He would be travelling alone — so only need one seat, return
  • He was looking for a 10-day to two-week trip in early February, and was flexible a few days each with the dates
  • While he would love Lufthansa first class again, he’s just as happy flying economy if it’s a good value use of points
  • He wanted to fly from London to ideally Vancouver, the second choice being Calgary
  • He has the following points balances right now: 47,000 Membership Rewards points, 5,000 British Airways Avios and 17,000 Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles.

While Liam doesn’t have a huge balance in his Avios or Flying Club accounts, he does have a decent amount of Membership Rewards points, which can be transferred to several programmes including both Avios and Flying Club. Thanks to the flexibility of these points, there are several different options to consider.

vancouver
Dinner views high above Vancouver, British Columbia (Photo by Ben Smithson / The Points Guy)

Option 1: using Avios

Checking the Avios required from London to either Vancouver or Calgary, which are in the same band, he would need the following amounts:

  • Economy (World Traveller): 16,250 one-way off-peak; 25,000 one-way peak
  • Premium economy (World Traveller Plus): 32,500 one-way off-peak; 50,000 one-way peak
  • Business (Club World): 62,500 one-way off-peak; 75,000 one-way peak

Most of the first two weeks of February are off-peak dates, with peak dates kicking in on the date he was thinking of flying home. I recommended that if he was flexible with dates, he consider flying back a day earlier if he was using Avios, as the off-peak dates are much cheaper than the peak dates.

If he transferred his Membership Rewards to Avios, his balance would increase to 52,000 Avios — more than enough for either a return economy redemption or one-way in premium economy with the other way in economy. He hasn’t flown BA World Traveller Plus before, and I advised him that while it was better than economy, I didn’t consider it to be twice as good, so not worth twice the Avios. The off-peak economy number of Avios required was low, so this could potentially be a great deal. Unfortunately, while availability was great, the taxes were fairly high for a return economy redemption.

Option 2: using Flying Club miles

While Virgin Atlantic does not fly to Canada, it does fly to many Delta hubs in the US where the Atlanta-based carrier then flies on to Vancouver and Calgary. While availability was there, Liam would need 50,000 Flying Club miles for an economy redemption because of the connections required in both directions and around £400 in fees and taxes.

This was an even worse value option than using Avios, so I would not recommend transferring Membership Rewards points to Virgin’s Flying Club for this itinerary.

Option 3: using other miles

Given the flexibility of Membership Rewards points, there are a number of other programmes he could transfer them to. Singapore Airlines’ KrisFlyer programme required too many miles for an itinerary similar to this.

The best options in terms of the fewest number of points required seemed to be Flying Blue, which required 43,000 miles return. There was decent availability, however, fees and taxes were still fairly high — around £235. This would be about the same value as using Avios, however, it would not be a direct flight. The options available were via Amsterdam (AMS) or Paris (CDG) on KLM or Air France.

Option 4: cash fares

Even using a very round value of 1.0p for Avios, Flying Club or Flying Blue miles, for the redemptions above, when adding in the fees and taxes, they would ‘cost’ around £655 using Avios (£325 + £330), £900 using Flying Club miles (£500+ £400) or £665 using Flying Blue miles (£430 + £235) in economy.

That’s fairly expensive, so it’s always worth comparing this to cash fares. For nonstop flights on a full-service airline on the preferred dates, the cash fares were very reasonable — even on the exact same BA flights for which we were looking at redemptions:

Adding some more flexibility with dates and adding in low-cost and one-stop options, the cost dropped even further:

If Liam looked at the British Airways flights using either cash or Avios, given how cheap the cash fare is, his 32,500 Avios would only be worth around £100, given he would have to pay substantial fees and taxes. This would only give his Avios a value of around 0.3p each, which is less than a third of what we value them at — not a great use of points.

Bottom line

My advice to Liam in this situation would be to just pay for a cash fare. The Air Canada option is a good one, as while it is to Calgary and not Vancouver, it’s a great price with no stops, full-service and he could even earn some Star Alliance miles.

He could save those Membership Rewards points for another redemption where he could get much better value. For example, if he was looking for last-minute flights to Canada this week, he could get incredible value from using points as economy flights are sky-high.

If you would like your own Points Clinic with our points and miles experts, you can email tips@thepointsguy.co.uk with ‘TPG Points Clinic’ in the subject line for the chance to be featured on TPG UK. Unfortunately, due to the volume of requests we receive, we cannot provide advice to every reader and nor can we respond privately.

Featured image by Gettys Images

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