Although the Air Miles program doesn't have as many ways to earn a truckload of points as the Shoppers Optimum program, there are still plenty of ways you can pad your balance and use the program to effectively save money. That said, incredible offers do occasionally come along, particularly at Safeway, where you can actually earn money by taking a product off of a store shelf. Here are some of the best ways to get more miles for your money.
Mile Multiplier Days
Similar to the Shoppers Optimum program, the Air Miles program has multiplier days. The basic premise is that a particular Air Miles partner will run a promotion where instead of earning the typical amount of Air Miles on your purchase you will earn several times more. This can range anywhere from 2x to 20x the usual number of miles on your purchases. The only problem is that these multiplier days aren't nearly as regular, consistent, or lucrative as they are with the Optimum program.
Warning! Your Air Miles will start expiring in 2017. Download this PDF guide to get the BEST value for your expiring miles.
Consistency is the main problem here as it is very hard to know what stores will be offering these mile multiplier days and, even more importantly, when they will be offering them. As far as I can tell, there is no real schedule or general frequency that you can count on here. So, you will just have to keep your ear to the ground by following this site, checking other deals sites, and maybe even signing up to receives regular email updates from Air Miles themselves. The following stores have been known to participate in the past:
- Lawton's Drug Mart
- Jean Couteau
- Metro / A&P
- The Shoe Company
- Shell - usually via coupon
It is very common when perusing the flyers of retailers that offer Air Miles to see big blue blobs next to a product with a large white number inside of it next to certain products. These numbers represent the number of bonus miles you will get when purchasing that product. Depending on the store, the quantity of miles awarded can be quite small making them insignificant considering that you can probably get the same product cheaper elsewhere. Surprisingly, there are other stores that offer very large product bonuses and discount the item steeply at the same time. This is the kind of product bonus you ought to be looking for. They are harder to come buy but there are several deals sites [see the right side bar] that can help alert you when this happens.
Safeway is one store that is known to consistently offer fantastic product bonuses. So much so that it would still be worth it to buy the product for the Air Miles alone and then just chuck it in the garbage and keep the miles. Sound foolish? It is! But there are still many people that do it. Well, most actually donate the items to food banks or charities instead of literally throwing them in the garbage, but you get the idea.
It is common when dealing with product bonuses for there to be conditions on the quantity you must purchase to receive the bonus. Retailers like to ensure that you will buy a larger quantity of something than the one you would normally buy to increase their revenues so they will word the product bonus as:
buy quantity x of product y to get z bonus miles.
Just be careful that the quantity you must purchase to get the reward doesn't destroy the overall value of the reward.
Another thing to watch out for is any restrictions on the number of times you can take advantage of a product bonus. You might think that if you get a great bonus for buying only one of a particular product that you can buy ten of the same product at once and get ten times the amount of miles. Often times you can actually do that but be sure to pay attention to the fine print to make sure it is possible. In some cases it might be restricted to one offer per person or one offer per transaction. You may need to go through the checkout multiple times if you want to take advantage of the bonus several times.
I want to give you an everyday example of a product bonus to give you an idea of the kind of miles you can earn with this. One that I saw was a product bonus of 50 miles when you purchase 2 packages of bathroom tissue containing 30 rolls each. The price for each package of toilet paper was a very reasonable $6.99, bringing your total cost to $13.98. So the ratio ends up being $0.28 spent per mile earned. Not bad right? If you consider your Air Miles to be worth $0.20 then the 60 rolls of TP only cost you $(0.28-0.20) * 50 = $4.00. That's just one reasonably good example, if you look hard enough you can do much better than that.
Another great way to increase your Air Miles balance quickly is to use bonus coupons. These coupons come in many forms, can be obtained from several places, and are all quite different. This is another thing you just need to keep an eye out for from day to day along with checking deal sites and Air Miles forum threads to make sure you are alerted to the next great coupon. Most of the coupons you will come across are fairly lousy, so make sure you aren't changing your shopping patterns for a coupon that is less than exceptional. Remember, the goal is to save money, not to limit your options just because you are earning a few Air Miles!
Air Miles bonus coupons usually originate from one of the following sources:
- The Air Miles.ca website. Usually in the Earn Miles > Offers & Promotions section.
- The Air Miles email newsletter. You can opt in to this in your Air Miles.ca account settings.
- Inside quarterly statements.
- Air Miles sends you quarterly statements with your balance and summarizing your transactions.
- Coupons to several of the participating retailers in your area are usually included.
- You're more likely to get good coupons for the retailers you already frequent regularly (unsure if this is still true).
- Coupon booklets found in stores.
- These are usually lying by the checkout or at the customer service desk.
- I have only seen them at Sobeys and Boston Pizza personally, but they could feasibly be found at any Air Miles partner.
- Partner websites.
- Check the sites of the partner stores you are interested in.
- Often they will have a PDF or printable Air Miles coupon right on their own site.
- Partner email newsletters.
- Most retailers have an email newsletter that you can sign up for.
- These can have printable Air Miles coupons in them from time to time.
- Partner flyers.
- Many of the grocery and drug stores have weekly flyers.
- Sometimes there are clippable Air Miles coupons inside the flyers themselves.
- Credit card statements.
- There are several Air Miles credit cards available from various providers.
- You might get the odd special coupon or offer with your monthly statement.
Types Of Coupons
Coupons can come in one of several different formats.
- Mile multiplier coupons.
- These coupons multiply the number of miles you are on a particular purchase.
- They work in a very similar fashion to Mile Multiplier Days.
- There is often a minimum purchase requirement for the coupon to work.
- Fixed value coupons.
- These coupons usually reward you with a specific quantity of bonus miles.
- To get these bonus miles there is usually a minimum purchase amount.
- Product bonus coupons.
- These coupons give you a bonus when you buy a specific product, much like Product Bonuses.
- These usually come with a fixed value of bonus miles attached to them.
- Sometimes you are required to buy several products to get the coupon's bonus miles.
From time to time Air Miles will run a global promotion that includes most or all of their retail partners. The typical format for these promotions involves you shopping at several of their partners within a specific period of time and then they will reward you with a lump sum of miles for doing so at a later date after the promotional period ends. 100 promotional miles is a number that seems to be chosen often but the terms and conditions for each offer are flexible. You will also typically be provided with bonus coupons corresponding to the promotion so that you earn even more miles when you shop. One of the largest such promotions is the Air Miles Millionaire that has been taking place annually, usually in the summer. I participated in this promotion in the summer of 2010 because one of the bonus coupons offered an outstanding 1400 Air Miles for opening a Bank of Montreal savings account and making a fairly large deposit. The most generous of calculations would value 1400 miles at $560! See the Redeem More section for more on how that figure was calculated.
Air Miles Credit Cards
Credit cards are typically the quickest and best way to earn rewards of any kind and Air Miles is affiliated with several cards offered by both American Express and the Bank of Montreal. Hopefully you've already visited the Credit Cards section of this site where you will find information about strictly the best credit cards currently available to Canadians. Those cards will give you the absolute maximum rewards return on your credit card spending. Unfortunately, Air Miles credit cards don't typically fall into the top tier of credit cards as far as rate of return goes. But, if you are determined to maximize your number of Air Miles earned or you wish to save time by focussing your energy on only one or two types of rewards, then these credit cards are for you.
The discussion of these credit cards deserves its own dedicated space, so if you want to know more then head on over to the Air Miles Credit Cards section.
Banking at Bank of Montreal (BMO)
The concept of offering rewards to customers for using everyday banking services is slowly starting to catch on among the banks in Canada. Many banks offer customized credit card rewards programs, although they often cannot compete with the best credit cards on the market. However, offering rewards for everyday banking has been adopted far less slowly. The first bank to do so was probably the virtual bank, President's Choice Financial. It is called it a virtual bank because they don't actually have any physical branches other than the in-store pavilions where they offer very limited face to face services. BMO, I believe, was the second bank to pick this up by offering Air Miles for various banking services outside of the credit cards they already had that did so as well.
Debit Card Use
The primary way to earn Air Miles by banking with BMO is to use your debit card. Typically, I do not recommend ever using your debit card as a method of payment because it never makes sense from a rate of return perspective compared to credit cards nor does it make sense from a security perspective; credit cards limit your liability from theft and fraud much better or more efficiently than debit cards do. However, there are certain types of payments that cannot be made using a credit card, which often include things like insurance, property taxes, tuition, cheap family restaurants, power, etc. On these guaranteed recurring expenses you might as well be earning something as opposed to nothing. Unfortunately starting on November 1, 2009 BMO downgraded its Air Miles offering with the worst change being that they cap you on a maximum of 40 Air Miles earned per month for debit transactions.
Multiple Product Bonuses
Before the November 1, 2009 changes, BMO used to offer a 40% bonus on top of the combined monthly total of Air Miles you earned using both your BMO debit card and your BMO credit card. For each extra product you had with them (mortgage, line of credit, savings account, business account)you would earn an extra 10% bonus resulting in the maximum 40% for having all your business with them. This definitely started to make a somewhat lacklustre offering from BMO start to look more attractive, especially from the credit card perspective. However, they eliminated this scheme altogether with the changes and replaced it with something much worse.
Now the only way to earn any bonus Air Miles is by subscribing to their BMO Gold Air Miles MasterCard, which comes with a hefty $99 annual fee. The new bonus being offered is a flat 25% and is only applicable to the Air Miles earned through the gold MasterCard. Worse still, the bonus is capped at a maximum of 100 bonus miles per month. To qualify for this bonus you must maintain a combined minimum balance of $5,000 across all of your BMO bank accounts. Quite the downgrade I would say, and with all of the restrictions it is hardly worth it unless you are already a dedicated BMO client.
BMO offers Air Miles on some other products that aren't related to daily banking, which include various types of investment and insurance products. The miles offered are a nice perk and can add up, but they certainly aren't substantial enough to choose BMO for something as important as insurance and investing over a competitor unless all things are exactly identical. Make sure to do due diligence and research competitors that probably offer more attractive pricing or a better product to suit your needs. If you want more details on how you can earn Air Miles on these additional products, go here.
You can find a lot more information on BMO's products and services here and more about their Air Miles offering specifically here. I would definitely consider taking full advantage of the Air Miles offered by BMO if you are already a customer of theirs for good reason. However, before switching to BMO for all your banking needs I would definitely weigh the costs of doing so and compare them with the other banks and virtual banks because their fees can be quite high in comparison.
Safeway most likely offers the single best way to earn a whole lot of Air Miles in a very short period of time without spending a lot of money. This is especially true for those people who are casual collectors and don't use Air Miles as their primary rewards program and don't have an Air Miles credit card. Regrettably, there are no Safeway stores in Canada east of Manitoba so only people in western Canada can take advantage of their abundant promotions. Because they are such a gold mine for Air Miles, I have created an entire Safeway section and I will attempt to provide you with as much information as possible even though I have no first hand experience.
AirMilesShops.ca is basically an online mall that links you to various online stores where you can purchase goods and services and receive some Air Miles in return for doing so. This is a very similar system to the various cash back websites around, except you get Air Miles instead of cash rewarded to you for your purchases. The typical rewards is 1 Air Mile earned for every $20 spent before taxes and shipping at whatever store you choose to shop at. However, some stores don't adhere to this like Expedia.ca that only gives 1 mile per $35 spent. To use the service you simply go to the site, sign in using your collector number, select the store you want to shop at from their list of more than 100 stores, and then complete your transaction at the online store you are buying the product from.
The best time to shop at AirMilesShops.ca is when they are running a promotion. Normally, several times a year they will run some sort of promotion to get people using the site. These promotions usually offer 25 or 50 bonus miles for making a purchase of a minimum of $20 at any of their stores. The most consistent time for them to do this is just before Christmas, most likely starting in November. Sometimes they will also require you to purchase from several of their stores before you will get the bonus, it varies. Whenever these promotions are going on, I pay attention to sales for online stores that I like to shop at and then attempt to purchase something I was going to buy anyway to take advantage of the promotion.
If you do manage to find the perfect $20 item that you already need during the promotional period, this can give you an earning ratio of $20 / 51 miles = $0.392 spent to earn 1 mile. That's pretty good when compared to the standard earning rate of $20 spent to earn 1 mile. Unfortunately in recent times these promotions usually require that you shop at two or even three stores to qualify for the bonus.
When To Use
Remembering to use AirMilesShops.ca can be a very unnatural thing for some people and sometimes it can hardly seem worth it. You may even want to skip using it most of the time just to avoid the extra hassle. That said, there are times when it is definitely beneficial to go out of your way to use it:
- When a promotion is running that gives you a lot of bonus miles for a small purchase.
- If you need another merchant to help you reach Gold Status.
- If you need another merchant to qualify for a standard Air Miles promotion that requires you to shop at several merchants to get the bonus.
- If you're making a large purchase online and have no other means of getting a better return through a cash back site or other rewards program.
There are several companies that provide services like phone, insurance, internet, security systems, etc. All things being equal with competitors, this is a great perk because you usually pay monthly for these services which results in a significant amount of Air Miles being earned on a recurring basis. Here is a list of a few service providers you might be able to connect with:
|Bank of Montreal||Varies||Banking, Insurance, Investing.|
|Children’s Education Funds||1mile/$100 invested||Investing in RESP.|
|ICPEI||1mile/$20||Insurance (NB, NS, PE).|
|Industrial Alliance||15 or 30 annually||Insurance (QC).|
|Johnson Inc||1mile/$20||Insurance (AB, NA, NB, NF, NS, ON, PE).|
|Primus||1mile/$5||Phone, Internet, Long Distance.|
|RSA||1mile/$20||Insurance (AB, NB, NF, NS, NU, NW, ON, PE, QC, YK).|
Air Miles Toolbar
A relatively new way to earn miles is with the Air Miles Toolbar. By installing this toolbar into your web browser and performing your everyday searches using it you can earn up to 30 Air Miles per month which equates to 360 per year (up to a $140 value). The toolbar is locked exclusively to Yahoo as a search provider so if you absolutely must use Google, then this toolbar isn’t for you! It also has a few more perks like always displaying your Air Miles balance in your web browser and automatically awarding you miles for purchases at AirMilesShops.ca online sponsors even when you don’t access AirMilesShops.ca first before making your purchase. As long as you are logged into the toolbar then you will get credit for the purchase. For more information and to download the toolbar click here.