Some consumers upset with not-so-free flight programs

Many people are using travel reward cards right now to book summer vacations, but there is a good chance they might run into some turbulence.

Financial writer Robb Engen says there are about 80 different travel rewards programs in Canada

Whether you're wanting to fly economy or business class, domestic or international, the best flights are free ones. 

Robb Engen, a financial writer with the Toronto Star and personal finance blogger, said 

"It's a really good time to be looking for a travel rewards program," Engen said. "The whole landscape kind of got shaken up last year when CIBC and TD fought for the right to issue the Aeroplan cards - probably the most popular travel program."

I think a lot of people are getting fed up- Robb Engen

Many flyers are using travel reward cards right now to book summer vacations, but there is a good chance they might run into some turbulence. Engen said he frequently hears from consumers who are upset that their "free" flight are not always free.

"There is either blackouts or restrictions on the flights or that they can't get the flight that they want," Engen said. "They're upset that the fees and taxes that they pay on top of the free flight almost equal what it would have cost them to fly."

Engen said one person who contacted him had nearly 400,000 Aeroplan miles and he wanted to redeem them. The man wanted to fly to Scotland and scatter his father's ashes. When he booked a flight for himself and his son, two business class flights would have cost him 180,000 points. However, the fees and taxes on top of that came to $2,200.

"I think a lot of people are getting fed up with this and they're looking for a program, travel card, or travel program that lets them travel how they want," Engen said.

Engen said common reasons for extra charges are fuel surcharges and airport taxes. 

"You can get around it if you know the ins and outs of it by say, flying out of a US airport that has lower taxes," he said. "Or flying on one of the US airlines that are a member of the Star Alliance, so part of that Aeroplan group."

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