Peyto Lake Canadian Rockies

How to Use Miles and Points for Banff and the Canadian Rockies

Are you trying to figure out the best ways to use miles and points for Banff and the Canadian Rockies?

I’ve been lucky enough to redeem miles and points for Banff and the Candian Rockies twice and already I’m planning a 3rd Banff itinerary!

The fact is a Canadian Rockies vacation can cost much less than you imagine if you use your credit card, airline, and hotel miles and points correctly.

In this guide, we’ll look at travel hacking the Canadian Rockies and money-saving tips for visiting Banff National Park so you can make this bucket list trip a reality.

How to Use Miles and Points for Banff and the Canadian Rockies

Lake Louise Banff National Park
Beautiful Lake Louise

Banff National Park is the unquestionable gem of the Canadian Rockies. The spectacular natural beauty makes the area a top place to visit, a perennial favorite for outdoor enthusiasts, and a bucket list trip for many who make the trip.

Travelers heading to Banff National Park and the surrounding area will want to fly into Calgary in Alberta, Canada.

The airport is a straightforward 90-minute drive to Banff, while the next closest major Canadian airport, Edmonton, is more than double the time at 4 hours by car to Banff.

Once you arrive in the area, there’s no shortage of things to see and do! In winter, Johnston Canyon is spectacular, and driving along the Icefields Parkway in Summer leads to Jasper National Park in all of its wild beauty.

Banff Flights

Before the age of dynamic pricing, North American economy award flights between the continental U.S. and Canada typically cost about 25k miles roundtrip on airlines like United, American, and Delta.

As you consider the best award flight options for your trip to Banff and the Canadian Rockies, keep this ballpark figure in mind to know whether the pricing you’re seeing is low, average, or high.

Additionally, Southwest Companion Pass holders will be sad to learn neither Southwest nor competitor, JetBlue, operate flights to Calgary.

For those of you looking to use miles and points for Banff, let’s take a closer look at your options and some possible ways to save miles.

WestJet & Delta

Canadian airline WestJet flies between Calgary and several U.S. cities including

  • Atlanta,
  • Houston Intercontinental,
  • Las Vegas,
  • Los Angeles,
  • New York-JFK,
  • Orlando,
  • Palm Springs,
  • Phoenix-Sky Harbor, and,
  • San Diego.

Cities like Boston, Fort Lauderdale, and Nashville also have seasonal WestJet flights.

WestJet isn’t a member of any airline alliance but luckily they do have airline partners.

Delta, Air France, and potentially even Qantas, will be among the most useful for getting to Banff and the Canadian Rockies with miles and points.

Particularly because these airlines have loyalty programs connected to common flexible points programs like Chase and American Express to name a couple.

So for example, you can search on Delta’s website for a flight flown by WestJet. When you find the flight you want, you’ll use your Delta miles to pay.

It’s always best to compare several options to know which airline has the best award price.

Let’s take a look.
delta WestJet Flight Banff

For this flight from Atlanta to Calgary, Delta is pricing the award flight at 25k Delta miles round trip. And if you look closer, you can see the flight number WS1591. The flight is flown by WestJet.

Delta miles can be earned through one of their co-branded airline credit cards. These cards are:

  • Delta SkyMiles Blue American Express card
  • Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express card
  • Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express card
  • Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express card
  • Delta SkyMiles Gold Business American Express Card
  • Platinum Delta SkyMiles Platinum Business American Express Card
  • Delta SkyMiles Reserve Business American Express Card

You can also earn American Express Membership Rewards points with the cards mentioned below and transfer them to Delta.

Just be sure the valuation on the award makes sense to do so because Amex points are generally a higher value than Delta miles.

airfrance westjet Banff Flight

Air France is pricing a similar WestJet itinerary for 29k Flying Blue miles, so about the same as Delta’s pricing. The taxes and fees are similar as well.

Luckily, Flying Blue – Air France is a transfer partner of all the major flexible points currencies so they are super easy to earn. The Chase, American Express, Citi, Capital One, and Marriott cards mentioned below will help you earn points that you can transfer to Air France.

Depending on the pricing you see on Delta and Air France for these WestJet flights, it’s worth it to search on Qantas, too.

Qantas prices award flights by the distance flown so this won’t always be the best deal as longer flights will cost more. But it could come in handy if the other partners have super high mileage prices.

Qantas Westjet Flight to Banff
This itinerary priced out at 40k Qantas points round trip.

Searching on Qantas for WestJet-flown flights, I found this award itinerary from New York to Calgary. It’s a round-trip economy class ticket just like the Delta and Air France examples above.

At 40k Qantas points for the round trip, it’s more expensive than the other direct flight itineraries. But again, it’s something to keep in mind depending on what your price comparisons reveal and the type of miles and points you have available to use.

Qantas is a transfer partner of American Express, Citi ThankYou, Capital One, and Marriott Bonvoy. So these points are easy to earn with travel rewards credit cards like:

  • Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card
  • The Platinum Card from American Express
  • American Express Gold Card
  • Marriott Bonvoy Boundless credit card, and
  • Citi Premier.

Star Alliance – United & Air Canada

Star Alliance airlines Air Canada and United run direct routes from several U.S. cities including:

  • Los Angeles,
  • Newark-NYC,
  • Chicago,
  • Denver,
  • Phoenix,
  • Las Vegas,
  • Houston-Intercontinental,
  • Honolulu,
  • Portland, and,
  • San Francisco.

Because of the power of airline alliances, you can search for Air Canada flights on United’s website and also United’s flights on Air Canada-Aeroplan’s website.

In fact, it’s in your best interest to compare the pricing of both airlines. Even though they are partners, each airline gets to decide its own award pricing.

Let’s take a look at a few examples.

Air Canada Portland to Calgary Canadian Rockies Banff Flight
Typically, it’s a better value to pay the taxes & fees on an award flight instead of offsetting the out-of-pocket with additional miles.

Air Canada’s North American award flight pricing differs depending on whether you flying on Air Canada or one of their partners. Air Canada’s award pricing on its own flights is based on distance zones and is dynamically priced.

Here you can see a flight from Portland, Oregon to Calgary would be just 17k Air Canada-Aeroplan miles round trip. Shorter-haul flights are one of the highlights of the Air Canada-Aeroplan award program.

United Airlines EWR-YYC  Flight

As you can see, United has an award flight from Newark Liberty Airport to Calgary priced at 13,800 United miles one way in economy. However, this fight comes with a very long stop (9+ hours!) in Montreal.

The next award option is more than double the price at 32,500 United miles, again for a one-way in economy and again with a stop (albeit slightly shorter).

Air Canada EWR to YYC Banff Flight

But take a look at what I found over on the Air Canada website!

Again from Newark to Calgary on the same day, there is a nonstop flight operated by Air Canada for 20,100 Aeroplan miles one way in economy. The return priced at 16,500 Aeroplan miles for a grand total of 36,600 Aeroplan miles for a round trip ticket in coach.

Clearly, the Delta and Air France options are still better. However, it’s worth noting that this nonstop round trip with Air Canada priced out for about the same price as one of the one-way flights on the United search results that had a connection!

And for what it’s worth, the exact same award flight at the top of the United search results (with the super long layover in Montreal for 13,800 United miles) was 11,500 Aeroplan miles on the Air Canada website.

This is not to say that Air Canada Aeroplan will always have a better price than United. However, with United’s dynamic pricing, it’s more than worth the effort to compare prices and itineraries on these Star Alliance airlines.

Here’s one more quick comparison. This time the flights are one-way nonstop from San Francisco to Calgary.

United SFO-YYC Flight

United is showing an Air Canada-operated flight for 13,800 United miles in economy and 27,500 United miles in business class.

Let’s look at the same exact flight on the Air Canada Aeroplan website to compare pricing.

Air Canada SFO-YYC Flight

The exact same flight is now 8,100 Aeroplan miles in coach and just 18,600 Aeroplan miles in business.

ProTip: Avianca is also a member of the Star Alliance. Their LifeMiles program is also worth a look to compare pricing. Avianca is a transfer partner with all the flexible currencies except Chase.

The good thing is United and Air Canada Aeroplan are both transfer partners with Chase Ultimate Rewards. Points transfer at a 1:1 ratio.

Chase Ultimate Rewards points can be earned AND transferred to United and Air Canada Aeroplan with travel rewards credit cards like:

  • Sapphire Preferred,
  • Sapphire Reserve, and
  • Ink Preferred.

United miles can be earned with several United co-branded airline cards including:

  • United Explorer 
  • United Quest
  • United Gateway
  • United Club Infinite, and
  • United Business

Aeroplan is also a transfer partner with American Express, Capital One, and Marriott Bonvoy. These credit cards can help you earn transferrable points.

  • Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card
  • The Platinum Card from American Express
  • American Express Gold Card, and
  • Marriott Bonvoy Boundless credit card.

The Aeroplan Credit Card is a co-branded airline credit card that also helps you earn Aeroplan miles.

Oneworld Alliance – American Airlines & Alaska Airlines

American Airlines and Alaska Airlines are both members of the Oneworld alliance that fly routes to Calgary.

As with the above airline examples, you want to understand who partners with American Airlines and Alaska Airlines to get the best price for your award flight.

British Airways and Iberia could both be useful depending on your itinerary.

Both of these airlines are Oneworld Alliance members with American and Alaska. These airlines are also transfer partners with Chase, American Express, and Marriott Bonvoy so their Avios are easy to get.

These airlines price their award flights by distance, whereas American Airlines and Alaska Airlines’ pricing can fluctuate based on demand and seasonality.

The one difference is British Airways is better for nonstop flights. Iberia is better if your itinerary includes a connection.

Let’s look at an example with Alaska Airlines and its only route to Calgary from Seattle.

Alaska Airlines YYC-SEA Flight

The one-way morning flight operated by Alaska Airlines would cost 10k Alaska Airlines miles for a seat in the main cabin.

Let’s compare this pricing with British Airways because both airlines are partners and the flight distance is advantageously short for BA’s distance-based award chart.

Alaska Air BA Award YYC-SEA

For the exact same Alaska Airlines-operated flight, British Airways would charge 7,500 Avios one-way for that same seat in the main cabin.

Keep in mind too, that British Airways sets its pricing on distance so this price won’t fluctuate. Take a look at this example.

Alaska Airlines SEA-YYC Flight

This is the same route between Calgary and Seattle, just in the opposite direction. Alaska would charge 15k-20k Alaska miles on this particular day for a one-way economy ticket.

British Airways would still charge the same 7,500 Avios because the price is based on the distance flown.

American Airlines also operates flights to Calgary, but from Chicago and Dallas-Fort Worth.

American airlines DFW-YYC flight

In this example from Dallas-Fort Worth, a round trip economy class ticket would cost 37,500 American Airlines miles. The flexible date view shows a fluctuation of prices up and down on the 2 days before and after this flight.

Compared to other options on this list, booking an award ticket with American Airlines would not be the best value miles and points redemption.

American Airlines BA Award DFW-YYC

British Airways would charge 11k Avios one-way in economy for the same route and on flights that American Airlines would fly.

For a business class seat, you’d pay 22k Avios one-way (44k round trip) compared to nearly 70k American Airlines miles round trip for the same business class seat as seen in the example above.

BA AA YYC-DFW Business Flight Screenshot

American Airlines and Alaska Airlines miles aren’t the easiest to earn. You’ll need one of their co-branded credit cards or to earn miles through flying, shopping, and dining rewards.

Luckily British Airways and Iberia Avios can be transferred from Chase and American Express. These cards earn the transferrable points you’ll need.

  • Sapphire Preferred,
  • Sapphire Reserve,
  • Ink Preferred
  • The Platinum Card from American Express
  • American Express Gold Card

British Airways and Iberia both have co-branded credit cards to earn even more Avios that can be used to book flights on American and Alaska Airlines.

  • British Airways Visa Signature
  • Iberia Visa Signature

ProTip: Always check the cash flight of your trip on a search tool like Google Flights. If there are super cheap deals on your travel dates, it might make sense to pay cash or book through a portal like Ultimate Rewards.

Banff National Park Hotels

Interior of a hotel room the house-keeper of a class

There aren’t many points hotels in Banff or the immediate Canadian Rockies area.

The Banff Springs Fairmont and Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise are fantastic hotels to enjoy the beauty of Banff and Lake Louise. Fairmont is under the umbrella of the Accor loyalty program. Only Capital One Miles transfer to Accor.

The nearby town of Canmore about 20-25 minutes from Banff has Best Western, Radisson, Choice, and Wyndham hotels. Banff National Park is easily accessed from Canmore and tends to be more affordable than staying in Banff.

It’s also closer to the fascinating Yamnuska Wolf Dog Sanctuary which makes for a great visit.

For those of us who prefer to stay in Banff, there are still a few cost-saving accommodation tips to consider.

For those of you with the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Chase travel portal will have access to independently run hotels in Banff that can be booked with UR points.

The 50% bonus on the card makes this a viable option and a decent value for hotel award nights.

I did this on multiple trips to Banff, using Ultimate Rewards points to book several nights at the Juniper Hotel, the Fox Hotel & Suites, and the Banff Aspen Lodge.

Banff National Park Sunrise
Sunrise over Vermillion Lakes in winter

Another option is Hotels.com. While not a points loyalty program, Hotels.com gives a free night for every 10 paid nights.

If you’re going to pay for your nights in Banff, then why not have them count toward a free hotel night at some point down the road?

Finally, if you’re looking to save even more or have a large family group, renting a vacation home in Banff could be the way to go.

There are lodging options in all budget ranges for solo travelers to groups. Plus, with a kitchen, you’ll be able to save money by preparing snacks and meals.

Also, keep in mind, there’s no shortage of Hilton, Marriott, Hyatt, Best Western, and Radisson hotels near the Calgary airport.

Banff Car Rental

Airport car rental sign

In order to explore Banff, drive the Icefields Parkway, and maximize your time in the Canadian Rockies, you’ll need a rental car.

Calgary Airport has all major car rental companies like Budget, Hertz, Avis, Enterprise, etc.

The key to getting a good deal on your rental is to only rent the car you need.

Now, if you’re heading to Banff in winter, you’ll need a vehicle with snow tires. They don’t come standard. But, 2 people visiting Banff in summer will be just fine in a smaller car.

Travel credit cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Sapphire Reserve come with primary coverage on your car rental insurance. This can help you save money by waiving additional CDW coverage for an added cost per day.

To save money on a car rental, don’t pay for things you don’t need.

After making a reservation on any car rental site, though, do use Autoslash to track the booking. They’ll let you know if they find a better price so you can rebook for less.

Cashback rewards can be used to cover car rental costs, but remember to pay for some of the rental with a credit card that includes primary rental insurance.

Peyto Lake Canadian Rockies

Miles and points can help you save a bundle no matter where you want to travel.

Banff National Park and the Canadian Rockies are bucket-list-worthy for sure! But, you don’t have to break the bank in order for this trip to be a reality.

What are your questions about using miles and points for a trip to Banff and the Canadian Rockies?

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How to Use Miles and Points for Banff and the Canadian Rockies
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6 thoughts on “How to Use Miles and Points for Banff and the Canadian Rockies”

  1. We are looking to go to Banff in June and stumbled across your blog. I was already looking at Juniper Hotel so I will check out what the rates/points are going for on CSR’s portal! Thanks for the tip!

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Thanks for reading, Erin. Banff is great and Juniper was by far my favorite hotel out of 3 that I have stayed in on trips to Banff. Hope you can find it on the CSR portal! 🙂

  2. Bookmarked your article so glad i ran into this. planning a small summer vacation to Banff for my first time 🙂

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Thanks for reading, Leo. Glad the article will be helpful! Banff is spectacular. You’re sure to love it. 🙂

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