Back in June I wrote about a great way to unlock up to $850 in travel rewards for free from CIBC. In summary, you had to apply for the CIBC Aventura Visa Infinite Card, the CIBC Aventura for Business Card, and the CIBC Aventura Gold Visa Card.
After meeting the minimum spending requirements you could earn 73,000 Aventura rewards points, plus a $120 travel credit. Best of all, each of the cards included a first year annual fee rebate which cancelled out any fees. The scheme sounded too good to pass up, so I applied for all three cards with my sights set on earning $850 in free travel.
But that’s not what happened.
Here’s my CIBC Aventura adventure:
I’ve never banked with CIBC nor owned one of its credit card products. When I applied for the Aventura Visa Infinite Card and Aventura for Business Card online in June I immediately knew something was wrong. I wasn’t approved instantly, instead a message stated that CIBC would get in touch with me within 10 days.
A few weeks later I received a letter in the mail stating that there was a problem with my applications when they did a credit check. The name on my application did not match the name on my credit report. This didn’t make sense to me. I have successfully applied for dozens and dozens of credit cards over the years and have never had this issue.
Credit bureau issues
I called CIBC and a representative said that I’d have to clear up the error with the credit bureau. I looked into doing that and it would involve a pile of paperwork and weeks of waiting for answers – plus the fact that I didn’t think anything was wrong with the credit file.
I set the issue aside until I received another letter from CIBC informing me that my application had once again been denied. Apparently they thought I would have cleared up the credit bureau issue and they went ahead and did another credit check. I called and asked them to cancel the application and that I would reapply if and when I got this issue sorted out.
Fast-forward to August and I decided to apply in-person at a CIBC branch. Everything was good and the advisor sent off my two applications to head office for approval. The advisor also confirmed that the bonuses from June were still available, which was great news.
Two weeks later and I still had not received any word from CIBC about the cards. I called the advisor and she said to be patient as they should have been sent out. When I did not receive anything the next week she ‘cancelled’ the original card applications and re-applied. Finally, 10 days later, I received an email from CIBC ‘welcoming me’ to the Aventura program. Still no cards though.
Added insurance without consent
Another week goes by and I get a letter from CIBC in the mail. But when I opened it I didn’t find a credit card package inside – no, instead it was from Canadian Premier Life Insurance Company explaining how the balance protection insurance on my card works(!).
I did not consent and have never consented to putting balance protection insurance on a credit card. It’s an expensive, borderline scam of a product that charges the cardholder monthly premiums on their statement balance, whether they pay it off in full or not.
So I call the insurance company and explain that I never signed up for this insurance and to kindly remove it from my credit card.
Earning and Redeeming Aventura Points
Finally, another week later (now the end of August), I receive two CIBC credit cards. I quickly reached the minimum spend thresholds on each card and on the first statement I see what I’ve been waiting for – those sweet Aventura points, plus two $120 travel credits (one on the personal Aventura side and the other on the Business side).
I decided to combine my Aventura points, thinking it would make more sense to have them in one account (they were split 22,000 on the personal card and 25,000 on the business card). CIBC allows you to combine the points into one account, so I moved the business card points over to the personal card side.
That was a mistake. Here’s why:
I called the CIBC rewards centre to make a hotel booking and use up my points and travel credit. I read somewhere that you could use your credit and points in the same transaction, but only if you call in and speak with an agent.
So I found out that’s only partly true. The agent told me she could only combine points with a travel credit on the business credit card…not the personal card. My hotel booking came to just over $500, so I could use 47,000 points but I’d still be short about $50 that I’d have to pay out of pocket.
Now that I’ve used up my Aventura points I’m left with two separate $120 travel credits that I cannot combine into one booking. Not the end of the world, but slightly inconvenient for booking future travel.
Obviously your mileage may vary when it comes to applying for CIBC credit cards and redeeming Aventura points and travel credits. This was a frustrating experience for me and enough of a hassle to probably stay away from CIBC cards in the future. I’m not going to bother with the Aventura Gold Visa Card.
That said, I did (eventually) get to redeem $470 in travel for free and still have another $240 in travel waiting to be redeemed for future trips. Still a pretty lucrative adventure in Aventura point collecting.
This trip has been more than 10 years in the making. What started as one of those dreamy ‘what-if’ conversations with my wife before we got married and had kids has now turned into reality. Earlier this week I redeemed 120,000 Aeroplan miles and booked four flight reward tickets to travel to Edinburgh, Scotland next summer.
It’s the first trip across the pond for our family of four and we’re planning to stay for one month; with two weeks in Scotland and two weeks in Ireland. We saved thousands of dollars by redeeming Aeroplan miles on flights to the U.K. While we didn’t get exactly what we wanted in terms of flight rewards I did manage to avoid several pitfalls to help us maximize our points. Here’s what we did:
Redeeming Aeroplan Miles on Flights to the U.K.
I’ve been covering Aeroplan for years through this blog and as a freelance writer for the Toronto Star. This experience has taught me many of the pain points that Aeroplan members feel when they redeem their miles for flight rewards. For example, I wrote about an Aeroplan member who tried to redeem his miles for two business class tickets to Glasgow, Scotland, only to find out his ‘free reward’ would cost him $2,200 in fees.
Other readers complained that Air Canada’s carrier fees and fuel surcharges levied on flight rewards often added up to more than the cost of booking the flight directly with Air Canada.
Tips for booking Aeroplan Rewards
I turned to the industry experts to get tips on how to maximize Aeroplan miles for flight rewards and learned that the biggest trick is to avoid Air Canada whenever possible. You see, Air Canada is part of the Star Alliance and, for now, Aeroplan members can redeem their miles on any of the 27 partner airlines. Some of those partner airlines, such as United, don’t levy fuel surcharges, so you can save hundreds if not thousands of dollars by flying on one of those airlines instead of Air Canada.
Trouble is, the Aeroplan flight search tool will often only display the Air Canada flights. A savvy customer looking to maximize his or her points while minimizing fees will have to do some extra research.
Check Google Flights
Check Google Flights for the direct flights or flight combinations that match your trip and then (patiently) try to find those routes on the Aeroplan flight search tool. You can filter the routes to show only Star Alliance members (or even one member in particular) to help you zero in on the best available options.
Be flexible with dates and itinerary
For weeks we had an itinerary set in our minds. We wanted to fly business class on United Airlines from Calgary to Dublin and then fly home business class on United from Edinburgh to Calgary. The two things we had going for us was that our dates were flexible (leaving somewhere between June 12 and June 26) and we were willing and able to book a year in advance.
United opens up their flights for booking 330 days out (as opposed to Air Canada, which is 355 days in advance). Hoping to score business class seats as soon as they became available I started checking once that window opened but unfortunately could not find anything – not even economy flights – on United to Dublin next June.
Eager to book our accommodations and map out the rest of our journey I tried another option: doing our trip in reverse and flying into Edinburgh. Bingo!
While I couldn’t find business class seats I did see four economy seats on a great route on United from Calgary to Chicago to Edinburgh. Best of all, the fees and taxes on four tickets amounted to just $345.64. I snatched those up in a hurry!
Call an Aeroplan booking agent
If you do have trouble finding exactly what you’re looking for – especially with a more complicated itinerary – then contact an Aeroplan agent. You’ll pay a $30 booking fee if the agent completes the booking on your behalf, but it’s a relatively small price to pay to avoid wasting time searching for flights on your own.
As you can see, we’ve only booked one-way tickets to Scotland. That’s because our return date is currently outside the booking window. We’ll have to wait a few weeks and then go through this process all over again.
The good thing with Aeroplan rewards is that they don’t penalize you for booking a one-way ticket instead of a round trip. It’ll cost 120,000 Aeroplan miles to get four economy seats on our return journey to Canada – same as it was on the way to the U.K. If we can find business class seats on the way home from Dublin then it’ll cost 220,000 Aeroplan miles.
So while we don’t quite have our entire itinerary booked, here’s what we have planned so far:
Calgary —> Chicago —> Edinburgh —> Inverness
We leave from Calgary on the morning of June 13, 2019 and fly into Chicago O’Hare where we have a five-hour layover before we fly directly to Edinburgh, Scotland. We have unlimited airport lounge visits thanks to my American Express Platinum Card, so we’ll handle that layover in style.
We’ll arrive early on the morning of the 14th and plan to stay 2-3 nights exploring the city and checking out nearby attractions such as Rosslyn Chapel and St. Andrews Links.
From there we’ll take the ScotRail train service to the Scottish Highlands where we plan to find an Airbnb in Inverness to call home for the next 10 nights or so.
Inverness is rich in history and so it’s a good location from which to take day trips to visit Loch Ness, Fort William, and the famous Hogwarts Express train that runs across the Glenfinnan viaduct.
Inverness —> Dublin —> Kilkenny
Scottish regional airline Loganair has direct flights from Inverness to Dublin and if we book far enough in advance we can get four tickets for around $350 CAD. Once we arrive in Dublin we’ll head to Kilkenny via IrishRail – a 90-minute train ride that’ll cost about $50 for our family of four.
We’ve already got an Airbnb picked out at a farmhouse just outside of Kilkenny, where we’ll stay for 14 nights. Similar to our stay in Inverness, we’ll rent a car in Kilkenny when we feel like visiting the surrounding attractions. Otherwise we plan to live like the locals and spend lots of time exploring Kilkenny.
Kilkenny —> Dublin
After our two-week stint in Kilkenny we’ll return on the train to Dublin and stay in the city for 2-3 nights. Here’s our chance to check out the lively Temple Bar, Guinness Storehouse, Trinity College, and Dublin Castle.
Dublin —> Chicago / Newark —> Calgary
That will bring us to the end of our epic journey to the U.K. and so we’ll be looking for a return flight on or around July 12th, 2019. Again, we hope to fly business class on United, but we’ll see what’s available and keep our options open.
I’ve redeemed Aeroplan rewards for short hauls to Vancouver and Victoria, but never for a big trip to Europe. I’m glad I took the time to research the tips and tricks to maximize my miles while minimizing carrier charges and fuel surcharges. I’m also pleased that we got decent flights, not some milk run with 3-4 plane changes and hours of layovers.
The total trip will cost us 240,000 to 340,000 Aeroplan miles (depending on whether we can get business class return) and $700 in fees and taxes. That’s compared to booking directly through Air Canada and paying $4,500 for four round-trip flights.
We also hope to use hotel points to cover our 2-3 night stays in Edinburgh and Dublin. That means the bulk of our expenses will be for accommodations in Inverness and in Kilkenny. The Airbnb in Kilkenny will cost $2,400 CAD for 14 nights, and prices in Inverness should put our 10 night stay at around $2,000 CAD.
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I’d love to keep our flights, hotels, and Airbnb accommodation under $5,000 so we can free up more of our budget to spend on dining and entertainment. We’ll also need to factor in ground transportation – car rentals, bus, and train – which can be expensive. Can we visit the U.K. for a month and spend less than $10,000? Time will tell, but we’re off to a great start!