|Companies Using||See list|
|Rewards||Travel, gift cards, gift certs, products, etc.|
|Rate Of Return||~2.5% but varies widely|
|Official Site||Air Miles|
The Air Miles rewards program is, in my opinion, one of the most highly overrated rewards programs in Canada. But, due to its widespread use and popularity, it still deserves ample coverage on this site. Even with all of its many pitfalls, I must admit that it does have the occasional silver lining and because of that I do participate in the program myself from time to time. It also must win the award for the rewards program with the most confusing name. I mean, seriously, who calls a retail rewards program 'Air Miles' anyway? I'm a reasonably intelligent person, but before I knew much of anything about rewards programs I naturally assumed that Air Miles had something to do with an airline. From that point on, whenever someone talked about earning reward miles for flying, earning Aeroplan miles, or anything else of the sort, I became utterly confused. Upon further investigation and questioning, I sorted it all out, but I can't say that the name is very intuitive and I still run into people who are as equally confused about the whole thing as I was.
Central to any discussion concerning Air Miles should be how much they are worth and although there is no 100% exact way to do it, reasonable approximations can be made.
The Value Of An Air Mile
After taking a sampling of some of the better rewards available through Airmiles.ca, a semi-conservative value of 20 cents per Air Mile can be applied. Some would say it is less, others would say it is still more, but we will stick with that nice easy number for now. This approximate value is justified in much greater detail in the Redeem More section.
Rate Of Return
Once you know the value of a single mile, you can calculate an even more important number which is your rate of return when earning Air Miles. This is calculated by determining how much money you spend earning miles in relation to the overall value you get for those miles. This lets you easily make comparisons between different promotions and earning opportunities. Here is an example.
While shopping at Safeway you see a product that costs $10 and has a 20 Air Miles bonus reward attached to it. You decide to buy 2:
40 (bonus) + 1 (regular) miles earned x 20 cents per mile = $8.20 / $20 spent = 0.41 = 41%
This means that when buying this product you are effectively getting a whopping 41% discount because that is what is being returned to you in rewards. This is a really great reward, but as you will see in the Earn More and Safeway sections, you can sometimes get more back in rewards than you actually spend on the product!
Earning Regular Miles
The typical way to earn Air Miles is through shopping at one of various online or offline partner stores and showing your card or entering your number when making your purchase. You can view a complete list of participating stores on the Air Miles website. The odd things about this program is that there is no standard criteria for earning a single reward mile at the regular rate. The most common rate of reward is 1 mile per $20 spent but it can vary from merchant to merchant depending on the agreement they have setup with Air Miles. It is also subject to change over time if a participating merchant chooses to tweak the amount of rewards they offer. So, assuming a 1 mile to $20 spent accrual rate and doing a typical redemption of 140 miles for a $20 gift card, the rate of return works out to be a paltry 0.71%. This is better than nothing considering that you can stack it with your credit card rewards program, but I definitely would choose a cheaper price over earning Air Miles at the regular rate any day.
Silly names aside, it is indeed true that you can redeem your Air Miles for flights on one of several different partner airlines, but I would have to say this is far from the most common reward choice. The Air Miles program has one of the most comprehensive rewards catalogues of any rewards program I've ever seen with a plethora of gift cards available, travel packages, products ranging from blenders to music to dishwashers, and pretty much anything else you could want. I guess this could be considered a plus for the program, except that many of these desirable rewards choices offer terrible value. Reason: the number of points required for the item may be 2 or 3 times as much as it should be. You'd be better off redeeming your miles for something offering a better return and then use the cash saved from that to purchase your dream reward directly from a store.
The easiest and most common way to browse the various rewards and redeem your miles is to use the AirMiles.ca website. The other way to redeem miles is by calling 1-888-AIR-MILES (1-888-247-6453) and speaking to a customer service representative. I would say 99% of the time this would be unnecessary, but if you were attempting to redeem for a complicated flight or vacation, then it would make sense to do so.
The AirMiles.ca site is actually well designed, easy to use, and offers a range of useful services such as:
- A convenient place to check your balance and manage your account information and preferences.
- A complete rewards catalogue sorted by category.
- An innovative gift guide for selecting great rewards that you can gift to others.
- A list of online, offline, and payment services where you can earn miles.
- A list of current offers and promotions.
- A location based search for sponsors near you.
- Community forums for discussing various aspects of the program with other users.
- A collection of user tips and tricks for getting more from the program.
- A flight calculator for determining how many Air Miles it costs to fly where you want to go.
- Information about the Air Miles Gold Program.
- A handy site map for a very straight forward alternative way of navigating the site.