Seeing as I was a good little saver when I was a teenager, RBC had no problem giving me a credit card the week I turned 18. I can even remember the first thing that I bought with my credit card — a loaf of freshly baked bread, mmmm. In the months that followed, I used my credit card exclusively and collected sweet RBC rewards points (this was back in the early 00s when Canadian reward cards weren’t nearly as lucrative as they are now).

Later, I signed up for a Scotiabank visa and started collecting Scene points until I realized that I never watch movies. Seriously. I still have 9000 points and haven’t used my card in over a year. I promptly went back to my trusty RBC card and, over the years, earned thousands and thousands of points (mostly from tuition payments but also from everyday purchases).

In 2011, I traded in all of my points to help pay for my first trip to Europe. Somehow, I have over 15 000 points again and points are earned 1 per dollar spent — meaning I’ve spent $15 000 on my credit card since fall 2011!? This hardly seems possible. I don’t shop; I don’t buy things; I don’t… Oh wait. I travel. A lot.

Seeing as I spend a large majority of my money on travel, I’ve been thinking about how I can optimize my spending to earning ratio and am just completely unimpressed with the cards that are out there. Right now, considering that I’m low-income, that I earn 1 point per dollar and that I have no annual fee (negotiation FTW!), I think that my card is about as good as I’m going to get. Plus, the internet, in all its wisdom ranked my RBC Rewards Visa as the #2 top travel rewards credit card in 2013! Yay me!

However, as with all rewards cards, you have to look at what your points actually get you — Aeroplan is notorious for 1- not letting non-members see how many points need to be exchanged for goods/services, 2- charging 100 000s of points for travel and 3- for charging incredible fees to redeem points. Let’s look at RBC’s reward schematic of random items I selected: (exclusive of travel rewards):

Gift certificates: 120pts per $1
LOC/TFSA/Mortgage payments: 120pts per $1
Visa payments: 172pts per $1
Swarovski charm: 92pts per $1
2GB iPod shuffle: 143pts per $1
16GB iPod nano: 104pts per $1
Kitchenaid mixer: 132pts per $1

As you can see, the exchange ratio is terribly disjointed and, surprisingly, your best value is Swarovski charms at 92 points per dollar. Your worse value is for you to use your points to pay off your Visa bill. In fact, the ratio is so skewed that you’re better off to pay off to buy merchandise, pay off your visa with your line of credit and then apply your points to your LOC than it is for you to actually redeem points for product.

Here’s an example. Say I wanted to buy that Kitchenaid mixer. It retails for $400 online and “sells” for 53 000 points. That $400 would cost you 68 800 points if redeemed against your Visa balance and only 48 000 points if redeemed against your LOC.

But I digress because we all know that I’m only redeeming these points for travel. RBC offers multiple ways to exchange points for adventure but the only two that I’m going to discuss right now are converting points to Westjet dollars and exchanging points directly for travel.

Westjet dollars: 100pts per $1
Misc. travel: 100pts per $1

LOL. RBC, why would I exchange my points for Westjet dollars? I can just call you and have you book my Westjet flight at the same ratio and save myself some time.

The other option we have is, obviously, RBC’s famed Avion program. Avion, despite being two separate French words, is not pronounced as either in English or French Canada. This alone, however, was not enough to dissuade me from looking at their offerings — sure I get a ton of bonus points for signing up but OMG is their exchange ratio messed up. It’s the same number of points to fly from Vancouver to Calgary as it is to fly from Montreal to Thunder Bay? Ditto with Halifax to Montreal vs Halifax to Vancouver? And don’t even get me started on the international flights!

Here’s another example: Recently I flew round-trip from Calgary to Montreal. Based on RBC’s Avion schematic, I would have had to exchange 70 000 points to cover my return ticket. With my card though, I could have exchanged 1 point per dollar of travel ($407) and saved myself almost 30 000 points simply because I found a ticket that’s cheaper than what RBC’s analysts predicted it would cost. Plus, I’m not paying RBC $120 per year for the privilege of having an Avion card.

Long story short, despite the recent trend to travel hack, I’m super happy with my Visa card and think that RBC rewards is the most competitive rewards scheme out there if you’re into traveling and don’t mind doing a bit of legwork to find the best price available.

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