When the dust settles and this pandemic is behind us, we are all going to need a vacation. Isolation is certainly taking its toll and has many, myself included, daydreaming about that next trip. I constantly get notifications on great flight deals for future travel however, knowing when it will be safe to travel is the big question. The other option for those daydreams is building up their airline reward points so that when the all-clear is here, they can book that post-isolation trip with little out of pocket expenses.
So, what’s the safer route? Airline tickets or airline points? Let’s find out.
Should I Buy Airline Tickets Right Now?
There is no doubt the airline industry is hurting right now. On top of the uncertain futures for many carriers that operate on thin margins, there is yet to be a clear indication on when things will return to “normal.” I have already speculated on what air travel will look like post-COVID-19 and some of those speculations are already coming true. Air Canada, for example, has confirmed they will be taking travellers temperatures before boarding and not seating guests together. Meanwhile, in the USA, Frontier Airlines is grossly trying to profit off of people’s safety by allowing customers to purchase an empty middle seat.
So, on top of waiting for countries to open their borders to visitors, it may be a long time for customers to feel safe and comfortable with the additional safety measures (or lack of) in place. Because of this, I am hesitant to promote purchasing airline tickets until 2021 at the earliest. Even at that, I strongly suggest knowing what the cancellation policy is and that you are OK with flight credit instead of a full refund.
A Safe Option For Those Looking to Save on Flights Now
If you are OK with airline credit and the uncertainty that may come with it, you can capitalize on some amazing deals right now! I recommend sites like Dollar Flight Club if you want to keep an eye on the latest crazy deals that are floating around. On top of delivering these deals straight to your inbox, they are conscious of the current situation and only sharing deals that can be cancelled or shifted to flight credit should the country you are going to is not open or flights are cancelled. Win-win.
Even if you are not considering flying until we get the all-clear, I suggest you sign up to receive these deals like this so you can pull the trigger and save when ready! Setup is easy. You simply add your departure location(s) and away you go. You can further customize to highlight locations you are interested in so you only receive updates on where you want to go. The below example is from my request for Vancouver/Seattle departures to Asia. Under $500 return is a hell of a deal!
Should I Book Flights Using Points Rights Now?
If you want some additional security around your purchases, I suggest booking through reward programs where possible. Aside from offering better refund policies overall, the glaring advantage to me is that many airlines may not survive this crisis. If your points are with credit cards like American Express or an alliance partner like Aeroplan, your points are safer.
With Amex points, for example, you can keep your points safe and convert to the program of your choice when ready. Aeroplan is a 1:1 conversion and is also a safe bet in itself. As Aeroplan is a part of Star Alliance, you have multiple airlines to book with. So, if South African Airlines goes out of business, there’s a good chance you can switch to Ethiopian Airlines for the same route. Had you booked directly with the airline, the option to get this changed let alone a refund, are slim.
NOTE: Air Canada does own Aeroplan now so there is a risk of the reward program going down if Air Canada does not survive the pandemic.
There are, of course, catches with reward bookings. Some airlines charge more than others with taxes and fees however, knowing how to navigate a program like Aeroplan makes it far more valuable than booking directly with an airline. I have been able to fly around the world several times in business class using points. There is no way I could have paid for those flights out of pocket.
Should I Buy Airline Points Right Now?
So, if reward programs are a safer bet, should you be buying into these programs right now? Yes and no.
The pandemic has hit people in different ways. Many have lost someone. Many more have lost their jobs. If you are in the fortunate situation where you have an income and are spending less thanks to being cooped up in your home, consider signing up for credit cards that offer bonus points or flat out buying airline points where available if the offer is too good to pass up.
Like airlines trying to ensure they have some sort of income through crazy seat sales, reward programs are fighting to retain members as well. As mentioned yesterday, Aeroplan is offering a ridiculous 115% bonus points to celebrate their new option to purchase points. Many credit card companies are waiving annual fees on their premium products. Others are extending the minimum buy to allow members more time to collect the signup bonus offers. This is the case with American Express in the USA right now. I hope to see the same in Canada soon.
With these incentives, now is a good time to capitalize through credit card bonus offers.
Earn Now, Fly Later
Another great advantage to reward programs vs booking cheap flights is the option to accumulate points now for use later. The downside to this strategy is that there is no certainty that these points will retain their value. Reward programs are notorious in devaluing their points system every couple of years.
Aeroplan, for example, is about to shift to Air Canada’s new reward program and it is unclear what value these points will have once that is done. To be safe, it is best to earn and burn your points. This means building up enough to book an amazing trip, then starting over versus hoarding points. Thankfully, earning enough points for an epic trip doesn’t take long. With some crafty spending, I was able to accumulate over 180,000 Aeroplan points in just four months!
If are not ready to book anytime soon but still want to save, as mentioned above, AMEX points are a great option. If you are able to meet the high $7,000 minimum spend, the AMEX Platinum Business Card gets you a ridiculous 75,000 AMEX points through my referral program. This is by far the best sign up bonus out there.
So, Should you buy Airline Tickets or Airline Points?
As you can see, there are options to ensure you can get a refund or flight credit if you buy cheap flights now. That said, in my opinion, and with my current circumstances, building up reward points is a better choice. With great bonus offers like Aeroplan’s 115%, buying points is also very attractive.
Either way, be sure to understand the airline or programs COVID-19 and cancellation policy before you book. And please, please, please, travel safe!