Of all loyalty programs in Canada, Air Miles is the most recognized one and counts over 11 million members. Created in 1992, it has since made partnerships with over 200 retailers and travel-related suppliers. Honestly, Air Miles is probably the first loyalty program I ever heard of since my dad used to collect Air Miles at the Petro Canada near where I grew up.
Air Miles has many long-time loyal collectors but also many critics fueled by weak earning rates, lack of redemption availability and the 2016 announcement of points cancellation saga. However, if you look past these concerns, Air Miles is still a solid program and can bring good value. Read my Air Miles review now and find out how it can work for you.
How to earn Air Miles
With over 200 partners and more than 25 years of presence in Canada, there are now many ways to earn Air Miles. If you’re an Air Miles collector, then make sure you’re aware of all the following ways to earn Air Miles.
- In-store: Show your Air Miles card in-store to get miles based on your purchases. There are over 100 retailers offering Air Miles including Shell, IGA, Sobey’s, Metro Ontario, Lowe’s, ACE, Staples, Jean Coutu, etc. You can earn double the points at these merchants if you pay with an Air Miles credit card.
- Booking hotels and car rentals: When booking with select hotel and car rental chains, you can opt to earn AirMiles instead of hotels or car rental points. This includes Alamo, Avis, Budget, National, Best Western, Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, etc.
- Shop online using airmileshops.ca: When making online purchases, you can earn Air Miles if you first login into Air Miles shopping portal at airmileshops.ca. Similar to rakuten.ca or greatcanadianrebates, airmileshops will reward you for your online shopping by giving you Air Miles on your purchases. The list of available online merchants is 150+ long and includes Amazon, Apple, booking.com, eBay, expedia.ca, GAP, H&M, hotels.com, Hudson Bay, Indigo, Lowe’s, Macy’s, Nike, Priceline, Reitmans, Sephora, Staples, Ticketmaster, etc.
- Book travel using travelhub.airmiles.ca: You will earn Air Miles if you book hotels, flights, car rentals or travel packages through the Air Miles travel portal.
- Take advantage of promotions: Air Miles runs many promotions that earn you extra points such as:
- Promotions with partner retailers – search for them in your local flyers
- Bonus earnings on airmileshops.ca
- Targeted offers by mail or on Air Miles app
- Big nationwide promotions like Mega Miles or Shop the Block
Earn AirMiles on all your expenses with credit cards
There are more than 10 credit cards that will earn you Air Miles in Canada, but I think the following two are the best bang for your buck.
BMO Air Miles World Elite Mastercard
- $120 Annual fee (first year free)
- 2,000 Air Miles signup bonus after you charge $3,000 in the first three months
- Earn 1 Air Mile per $10 spent on all purchases
- 15% Discount on all Air Miles flights in North America with no blackout periods
- Free membership in Mastercard Airport Experiences provided by LoungeKey, plus two annual passes
- Comprehensive travel insurance package included
The BMO Air Miles World Elite Mastercard is widely considered the best Air Miles credit card since it earns you 1 Air Mile for every $10 spent and you get a 15% discount on air miles flights within North America. Right now, the current promotion gives you 3,000 Air Miles as a welcome bonus and the annual fee of $120 is waived for the first year. For more details, you can read my BMO Air Miles World Elite Mastercard review now.
American Express Platinum Air Miles Card
- $120 annual fee
- 2,000 Air Miles sign-up bonus after spending $1,500 in the first 3 months
- $120 annual fee
- 2,000 AIR MILES sign-up bonus after spending $1,500 in the first 3 months
- Earn 1 Reward Mile for every $5 spent at restaurants, grocery stores, gas and transit purchases, up to $30,000 annually
- Earn 1 Reward Mile for every $10 spent everywhere else
- Annual travel redemption benefit – Get 25% of the miles used back (up to a maximum of 750 miles).
- Receive 500 Air Miles as a bonus if you refer a friend to this card
- Travel accident & Car rental theft and damage insurance
- Purchase protection & Buyer’s assurance
Although there’s an annual fee of $120 that’s not waived for the first year, the American Express Platinum Air Miles card is still popular since it comes with a good earn rate and a decent welcome bonus in 2,000 Air Miles. People like this card since you can use the Amex Refer A Friend program and get an extra 500 Air Miles for every referral. Although it’s not one of the best travel credit cards in Canada, I still think it’s decent. This card did see some changes recently with the earn rate going up quite a bit but the annual fee doubled. The new annual travel redemption benefit where you get 25% of your miles back will be a winner for those who make regular redemptions. Read my American Express Platinum Air Miles card review now if you want to learn more.
Dream miles vs. Cash miles
Most people don’t realize is that there are two types of Air Miles: Dream miles and Cash Mile
Dream miles can be exclusively redeemed for flights, travel booking on Air Miles travel portal, merchandise or attraction tickets. Hence the term “dream.”
Cash miles can be redeemed directly in stores to reduce the cost of your purchase or can be redeemed for gift cards. Think of this as a cash back type of redemption.
One really annoying rule of Air Miles is that you need to decide if you want to earn Dream miles or Cash miles. You can allocate any percentage for Dream and Cash (e.g. 60% Dream and 40% Cash), but once those miles are in an account (Dream or Cash), they are locked in that account and can’t be transferred into the other one. The good news is that you can change your allocation percentage at any time.
How to redeem Cash Air Miles
Cash Air Miles are very easy to use. They can be redeemed at retail outlets just by swiping your Air Miles card or can be redeemed for gift cards online at a ratio of 95 Air Miles for $10.
The list of stores where you can redeem cash Air Miles is quite extensive and includes Shell, Rona, Sobey’s, IGA, Safeway, Metro (Ontario), Hudson’s Bay, Jean Coutu, Cineplex, Starbucks, ACE, VIA RAIL, Toys’R’Us, The Keg…
Air Miles merchants different based on your region so make sure you check out the complete list of stores for here
How to redeem Dream Air Miles
Dream Air Miles can be redeemed online for merchandise, attraction tickets (ex: DisneyWorld), hotels, car rentals, flights or travel packages.
Redeeming for flights is what makes Dream miles popular since they’re arguably the best way to get the most value out of Air Miles. The Air Miles redemption chart is based on distance flown, but note that they also have seasonal pricing which can increase or decrease the number of points required to get a free flight. Here are a few examples of redemption costs in miles (low season / high season) within North America:
- Toronto – Washington : 1,300 / 1,600
- Montreal – Halifax : 1,300 / 1,600
- Calgary – Portland : 1,400 / 1,700
- Vancouver – San Diego : 1,900 / 2,600
- Toronto – Miami : 2,800 / 3,500
For other continents, the number of miles required varies based on distance but flights can easily cost more than 10,000 miles. To see how many miles you need for a particular destination, you can look it up on their interactive chart here.
Since the Air Miles redemption chart is based on distance and not cost, it means that short but costly flights can yield a very good value. As an example, flights within the same province like Sandspit – Vancouver, Sept-Iles – Montreal or Labrador City – Saint-John can easily cost more than $500 but can be redeemed from 1,200 to 1,400 miles only. This is a fantastic value for Air Miles.
It’s important to note that only a limited amount of seats per flight are allocated to award redemptions so you need to book in advance or be flexible on your dates in order to book popular routes or popular dates. When redeeming for flights, the miles only cover the base fares of the flight so you would need to pay for the taxes, fees, fuel surcharges and aircraft surcharges.
When do Air Miles expire?
Technically, Air Miles don’t expire. However, your Air Miles account will become dormant if you don’t have any activity in your account in 24 months. If your account goes in dormant status, your points will be removed. If you want them back, you will need to pay $0.15 per mile to reinstate them. In other words, make sure you don’t let your account go dormant!
How my friend got $2,000 in free grocery from Air Miles in a year
A friend recently told me that he and wife redeemed $2,000 of free grocery out of Air Miles.
Remember, it takes 95 Air Miles for $10 in free groceries so they would have needed 19,000 Air Miles to claim $2,000. You would think that it would have taken them years to earn that many points, but you’d be surprised.
Earning 19,000 AirMiles seems impossible if you only consider the regular earnings from spending at participating retailers since you would need to spend $380,000. However, by focusing on signup bonuses and yearly major promotions on 2 accounts, they were able to pull it off.
Here’s the breakdown of how they earned 19,000 Air Miles in only a year:
- Signup bonus from BMO World Elite MasterCard: 2 x 3,000 = 6,000
- Spending on BMO World Elite MasterCard: 2 x 1,000 = 2,000
- Shop The Block promotion: 2 x 2,000 = 4,000
- Mega Miles promotion: 2 x 1,500 = 3,000
- Bonuses from other promotions: 1,500
- Airmilesshops.ca earnings (regular and promos) : 2,000
- Earning miles on regular spending at participating retailers: 500
- TOTAL: 19,000 Air Miles
Obviously, they relied a lot on promos, but as you can see, Air Miles can be lucrative.
Are Air Miles worth it?
My Air Miles review is positive. Although Air Miles does have ridiculous rules, the credit card signup offers and in-store promotions can give great value for little effort. It costs nothing to join, so you might as well sign up.