The Air Miles rewards program is a well-known rewards program in Canada. However, not many people fully understand what they are worth, how they are accumulated, and how to redeem them to get the best value. So here is a post to try and clarify all that. After reading this, you will also have all the information to quickly accumulate hundreds of dollars worth of Air Miles, so read on!
What is 1 air mile worth ?
It really depends. There are two types of Air Miles: The Cash miles, and the Dream miles.
- Cash miles can be redeemed for, you guessed it, cash rewards in the form of gift cards at participating retailers. 95 air miles will generally get you a 10$ gift card, which comes out to about 10,5 cents per Air mile.
- Dream miles can be redeemed for, among other things, flights. They are generally worth a little more, but their value is trickier to determine. To do so, you must first see how many Air miles a particular flight costs on your Air Miles profile (make sure to take note of the amount of taxes to be paid). After that, see on Google flights or Kayak what the cash price of the flight is. The value of your Air miles is (Total cost of the flight – taxes) / amount of miles required to purchase the flight. For example, the flight I’m interested in for my next getaway (Îles-de-la-Madeleine for a long labour day week-end) costs 1,400 Air miles + 103,76$ of taxes. On Google, that flight costs 556$. The value on my Air Miles is therefore (556 – 103,76) / 1400 = 0,32$ per mile. That is an excellent value; the more ‘normal’ value of Dream miles is about 0,15$ per mile.
It’s important to note that you must establish which type of Air miles (cash, dream, or a combination of both) you want in your account profile. If you think you will accumulate a lot of Air Miles (either through spending and/or promotions) and travel, I recommend Dream miles. However, for those with less budget or who do not travel, cash miles are more accessible (you only need 95 miles to redeem 10$).
How can I accumulate Air miles ?
There are many ways to earn air miles:
1. The quickest way to accumulate a lot of Air miles is to take advantage of promotions offered by two main credit card providers:
- American Express: Through their American Express Air Miles Platinum card, they offer a signup bonus of 2,000 Air miles (worth up to a whopping 400$!) when you charge a minimum of 500$ on your card within the first three months. The annual fee of 65$ is also waived for the first year. The card also allows you to double your Air miles rewards, since you can accumulate points with your credit card (1 mile for every 10$ at gas stations, grocery stores, pharmacies, and air mile sponsors, 1 mile for every 15$ on other purchases) AND with your collector card.
- Mastercard: The lineup of BMO Air miles Mastercards can also help you get your hands on some extra Air Miles. For example, the no annual fee BMO Air Miles Mastercard offers 600 bonus Air Miles (worth about 120$) after your first purchase. The BMO World Elite Mastercard also currently has a promotion offering up to 3,000 bonus Air miles (1,000 after your 1st purchase, and 2,000 more if you charge 3,000$ or more on your card within the first 3 months). If you think you can reach the 3,000$ in purchases, this card is definitely worth the 120$ annual fee, as you’ll be getting about 600$ worth of Air Miles. Also, one of the perks of this card is a 25% redemption discount on all flights to North America. So a flight normally costing 1,000 miles would only cost 1,000 miles.
2. Another way to earn Air Miles is the conventional way, ie. using your collector card at participating retailers or on airmilesshops.ca . The general rule is 1 Air mile for every 20$ you spend, which represents a value of about 1%, which is not great. However, when combined with an AirMiles credit card (examples mentioned above), it can become more interesting.
Watch out as well for special promotions at some retailers. For example, LCBO had in 2015 a special offer of 30 free Air miles (6$) for signing up to their email list. Also, some retailers will have the ‘Get X amount of Air Miles for purchases of X$ or more’, the value depending on how generous the amount of miles per dollar spent. Now that you know the approximate value of 1 Air mile (0,20$), you can see how interesting the promotion is.
3. The last way to get miles is to buy them at the current rate of 0,30$ per mile. This option is almost never to your advantage! The only reason would be if you immediately need a small amount of miles to redeem your miles for a flight offering excellent value for your Air miles. If, in my previous Îles-de-la-Madeleine example, I only had 1,300 of the 1,400 miles required to redeem for the flight, and I had to book the flight imminently, it could be worth it to pay 30$ to buy the 100 miles I need.
Redeeming Air Miles for best value
If you decide to choose Cash miles, the redemption process is quite straightforward: Every 95 Air miles will be worth a 10$ gift card at certain retailers.
However, as I mentioned earlier, with Dream miles you have the opportunity to maximize the value of your miles by selecting the flights that offer the most amount of money for each mile redeemed. You can consult how many miles you need to fly to a particular location on the AirMiles website. However, here are some general rules to maximize the value of your miles:
- Redeem for flights during the low season. For example, a flight to New York during low season (January, February, April, May, and September to December) will cost you 1,400 Air miles, whereas that same flight would cost you 2,500 Air miles during high season (almost 80% more!). An old trick is to book near high season, that way you get the best of both worlds!
- Redeem your miles for short-haul flights. A lot of those flights will actually be quite expensive to book in cash, whereas they would be the least expensive in terms of Air miles. My Îles-de-la-Madeleine example is a very good one; using my Air miles for this trip would triple the value of my Air miles.
- Last minute purchases: If ever you need to travel last minute, your Air Miles might get you a great deal. Indeed, some flight prices might be a lot higher close to the travel date, whereas your Air miles redemption value will stay the same. However, remember that if you are traveling for tourism, you normally have more time to book your flights, so this rule applies less.
So this is pretty much it! Everyone should have an Air miles collector card in his/her wallet, since there is absolutely no cost to owning one and miles an be redeemed for more than just flights. However, to maximize the value of your Air miles collector card, I would recommend following some (or all!) of the tips mentioned above!
If you have any questions or have additional tricks, do not hesitate to share in the comments section!
Also read: Optimizing your travels for best value