I used to take the train fairly frequently, at least a return trip once a month. I definitely prefer the train over the bus, so when I did not have a car, the train was pretty much my main source of long distance travel, unless it went over 6 hours, then I would be on a plane instead.
If you take the train, signing up for VIA Preference is must! The perks and the rate of return are great. To start, VIA Préférence offers a 500 points sign up bonus if members spend $250 within the first six months of registration. So make sure to take advantage of this promotion, because earning 500 free points is like spending $500 on VIA Rail train tickets.
It used to be that you would only earn 1 point for every $1 that you spend on VIA Rail (before taxes). But now they became even more competitive.
- If you purchase an Escape (the cheapest ticket, only available online) or Business class ticket, $1 = 1 point
- If you purchase an Economy fair ticket, $1 = 1.25 point
- If you purchase an Economy Plus or Business Plus ticket, $1 = 1.5 point
The funny thing is that when you earn points, you do not earn points on that taxes that you pay, but when you redeem for a train ticket, the VIA Preference points covers the taxes. I find this very valuable and I hope they keep it this way. It’s much better than the way Airlines do business. If VIA Rail was smart, they would keep up this way of business because it does give them an edge. Imagine they started charging the taxes for reward tickets, I’m sure they will lose business.
Just for a quick calculation, 1,250 points (means you spend a maximum of $1,250 on VIA rail tickets + taxes) gets you a free train ticket between Montreal and Toronto. Let us keep taxes out of the calculations, as well as the higher premium tickets. If you factor in the higher premium tickets, it just increases your rate of return, so I’m calculating your lowest rates of returns.
A usual train ticket between from Toronto to Montreal should be $39 economy if you shop for the fares during a promotional period. Let’s say you get the $39 deal, that means the lowest rate of return is 39/1,250 = 3.1%. But you won’t always get $39 one-way tickets between Montreal and Toronto. The usual price is actually $62, which means 62/1,250 = 4.96% return. If all the cheaper tickets are already sold out, the regular fair is $105, which means 105/1,250 = 8.4% return. I doubt any of us have any GICs at an 8.4% return.
I am showing this calculation because whenever I redeemed my points for train tickets, I used them when I was too late to purchase a cheaper ticket, so I’m better off using my points because the ticket became too expensive. If you find a train ticket between Montreal and Toronto for $39, you’re definitely better off paying for that ticket and wait for a better opportunity to redeem the points. At $62 one way, I would debate about whether it is worth it to pay, but I’m not paying $105 for a train ticket. Usually the best times to use the points is during the long weekends because the cheaper tickets are reserved much quicker.
In addition to being an eco-friendly way to travel, the train might actually be the most comfortable way to travel. Even better than a car, bus or plane. If you leverage your points carefully, you can always get a good rate of return for the money that you spend.