My Simple Strategy for Maximizing Air Miles

Air Miles CardThere are a wide variety of sponsors that allow you to earn Air Miles, but each one rewards you with varying amounts of miles based on their own one-of-a-kind rewards structure. It can all get very confusing very quickly.

If you want to know all the ways you can earn, redeem and maximize Air Miles, then Stephen has already written a complete guide, which may just overwhelm you. However, I have found that we can earn a decent amount of Air Miles quickly and easily simply by shopping at a select few high earning sponsors as well as using a good Air Miles credit card.

I think it’s important for each individual to craft their own unique strategy based on what works for them taking into account your available time and energy to put into it. Settle on something repeatable that gives you maximum rewards per amount of time invested.

Maximizing Air Miles at Participating Sponsors

Each sponsor offers Air Miles at a different rate but here are some of the best deals:

  • Candlewood Suites (hotels) – 1 Air Mile for every $5
  • Budget Car Rental – 1 mile for every $10
  • Crowne Plaza – 1 mile for every $5
  • Embassy Suites – 1 mile for every $8
  • Holiday Inn – 1 mile for every $5
  • Pharmasave – 1 mile for every $10
  • Staybridge Suites (hotels) – 1 mile for every $5
  • Intercontinental Resorts (hotels) – 1 mile for every $5
  • Hilton Hotels – 1 mile for every $8
  • Hampton Inn – 1 mile for every $8

Related: Everything You Could Want To Know About Aeroplan Miles

As you can tell from the list above, most hotels and resorts offer the best value for earning Air Miles. When planning a trip or vacation it is definitely something to keep in mind when choosing accommodations.

Earning Air Miles at Safeway

I have found Safeway to be the single best source of quickly earning Air Miles while spending a minimal amount of money and without a huge time investment, because everyone needs to buy groceries anyway. Here is what you need to watch out for:

Weekly Deals

Safeway shoppers can earn 1 Air Mile for every $20, and they regularly offer deals for collecting Air Miles like “Spend $100 to earn 100 Air Miles”. These deals are usually offered twice per month on weekends. Considering you would need to spend $2,000 using a BMO Air Miles Mastercard to earn 100 Air Miles, this is an easy way to fast track your Air Miles balance.

Customer Appreciation Days

Safeway also offers Customer Appreciation Days, typically the first Tuesday of every month that gives shoppers either 10% off or 20X their base Air Miles. If you spent $140 you would earn 140 Air Miles. The miles work out slightly better than the 10% discount if you use them for Air Miles Cash and if you choose a high value Air Miles Dream reward like an airline flight, you can do much better.

‘Bonus Event’ Products

Safeway also offers additional miles for buying products from a small group of bonus event products’. For example, from their latest weekly flyer you can earn 60 bonus Air Miles if you buy 5 items from a selection of various Kraft products. You’d just need to price-compare at other stores to make sure you are getting the best deal possible for those products after taking the miles earned into account.

Safeway Email Direct

Safeway sends out weekly emails containing coupons for deals on Air Miles. For example, last month Safeway had a coupon to earn 50 Air Miles by purchasing a certain group of products. Some of the coupons are printable while others do not require a hard-copy coupon. Click here to sign up for Safeway Email Direct.

Safeway Pharmacy

In Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, shoppers can earn 7x their base Air Miles when they use the Safeway pharmacy. At a Safeway pharmacy you would receive 35 Air Miles for a $100 prescription.

Air Miles Credit Cards

Next, you’ll want to pick up a good Air Miles credit card so you can earn miles on all your everyday purchases. Stephen has done a thorough analysis of all the Air Miles credit cards on the market to help you pick the one that will give you the best value. You can see that here:

Air Miles Credit Cards Analysis

One card that really stands out on that list is the American Express Air Miles Reserve Credit Card with its hefty annual fee of $299. Along with this fee it offers exclusive travel rewards for cardholders. Here is a breakdown of the Air Miles benefits:

  • 2,400 free Air Miles when you charge a minimum of $3,000 to the card within the first 3 months.
  • A free companion flight (maximum value of 1,450 Air Miles) annually when redeeming a flight through Air Miles.
  • Air Miles FlexFly – exclusive access to airlines, departure times and flights not available through the regular Air Miles program.
  • Waived Air Miles flight booking admin fee (usually $30 for booking over the phone, $15 online).

Which Card Should You Choose?

Deciding which card is best really depends on what your own personal spending habits are like. The BMO Air Miles World Mastercard offers more Air Miles for your money and also requires 25% less Air Miles to redeem for rewards. The drawback is the $99 annual fee, so it would only be worth it if you spend approximately $20,000 or more annually.

The BMO Air Miles Shell Mastercards (regular version and World version) are very similar to the BMO Air Miles cards, and would be better for anyone who spends a significant amount on fuel (Air Miles bonus at Shell gas stations or car rentals (bonus at National Car).

AMEX offers a variety of cards with annual fees ranging from $0 to $299. For most people, the card with no annual fee (American Express Air Miles Credit Card) would make the most sense because offers comparable value to the other cards without having to spend more money to recoup an annual fee.

For higher spenders, the American Express Air Miles Platinum Credit Card likely makes the most sense, while the reserve card only makes sense for frequent travelers.

Tip: Regardless of which card is used, it is also a good idea to run as many payments as possible through the card to maximize the number of miles earned. Recurring monthly payments such as gym memberships, cell phone bills, cable bills, and utility bills are all examples of monthly costs that can be paid through your credit card.

BMO Air Miles Bank Account

If you’re uncomfortable using a credit card for all of your purchases, then BMO offers an Air Miles bank account that allows you to earn 1 Air Mile for every $30 in debit spending. It offers unlimited everyday banking transactions and a host of other features. Unfortunately, the monthly fee is $13.95.

Related: Tangerine vs. PC Financial Bank Comparison

If you want to recoup the monthly fee through collecting Air Miles, then you’d need to spend about $2,700 monthly on your debit card, which assumes an Air Mile is worth about 15 cents. Therefore, it is probably only worth getting this account if it offers other banking features you were already looking at paying for. There’s also the added incentive that BMO is giving away 1,000 Air Miles when you open the account.

Becoming An Air Miles Gold Collector

Air Miles collectors can achieve gold status by simply shopping at 5 different Air Miles sponsors within one year. This could be a huge perk because Gold Collectors are able to enjoy reward miles savings up to 40% off select flights and vacation packages.

Redeeming Your Air Miles

Redeeming Air Miles Dream Rewards can be done online through the AirMiles.ca website. Air Miles cash rewards require 90 Air Miles for $10 off at participating merchants.

Air Miles Dream Rewards can vary in terms of value, but generally the best value can be found by redeeming for flights. A wide variety of merchandise is available and the ‘Deals’ section of the site offers the best in terms of merchandise value.

My Strategy

To maximize our Air Miles I buy groceries at participating sponsors such as Safeway and always use the ‘spend $100 earn 100 Air Miles’ coupon that gets offered occasionally. When we need a rental car we use Budget because they offer good value for the money spent. In the past we have used an Air Miles MasterCard and put virtually all purchases on there to earn as many miles as possible.

We generally redeem Air Miles to reduce our monthly expenses. My wife has family in Vancouver so we tend to fly there twice per year and use Air Miles for these flights. We have found the best value is for travel rather than merchandise, and redeeming for travel also allows us to reduce our costs rather than redeem for merchandise we don’t want or need.

Do you collect Air Miles? If so, what is your personal strategy?

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Comments

Robb Engen's picture
I collect the majority of my Air Miles at Safeway, but on Customer Appreciation Day I always take the discount. Are you sure it's 10% off or 20x your Air Miles? I'm pretty sure here in Lethbridge it's 15% off or 10x your Air Miles. Much better deal to take the percentage off.
May 13, 2014 @ 10:51 am
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture
You guys with Safeway are definitely lucky. Wish we had them around here because the mile earning opportunities are outrageous. Sometimes I wonder how they can afford to do it. We don't have a lot of choice when it comes to grocery stores.
May 14, 2014 @ 12:21 pm
Robb Engen's picture
On another note, while maximizing your Air Miles is great, it doesn't do much good if you can't redeem them. Air Miles Cash is pretty useless in Alberta, with only Shell and Rona accepting it as payment. Even worse, Shell stations affiliated with Mac's or Flying J don't accept Air Miles Cash. So the only time I can use them is on the way to Calgary when I stop at the independent Shell in Claresholm to fill up. Hopefully I don't run out of gas along the way!
May 13, 2014 @ 10:55 am
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture
I've yet to convert to Air Miles cash. They are pushing it really hard and the redemption options are getting worse and worse for Air Miles dream. It used to be easy to get really good value for your miles on at least a few things but now most things aren't much more valuable than the cash option, if at all. At the value you get redeeming them with Air Miles cash, I find them much less appealing. I still collect and look for bonus opportunities but without Safeway around here I'm not an incredibly serious collector. I still use them mostly for movie passes.
May 14, 2014 @ 12:23 pm
Dan @ Our Big Fat Wallet's picture
@Robb I checked and it's 10% off for customer appreciation days here (in Calgary). So you're getting a better deal down there, I'd take the 15% off too :)
May 13, 2014 @ 11:52 am
Harry
Harry's picture
Hi Robb, Safeway is great to shop at but it's not available here in Ontario. That suck! How can I go about that?
May 14, 2014 @ 8:51 am
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture
If you don't have Safeway you have to keep your eyes peeled for other partners an offers. In my area we have Sobeys that offers Air Miles but not nearly in the quantity that Safeway does. Some other partners that offers groceries and drug supplies are Metro, IGA, Rexall and Pharmasave and Lawtons. If you don't have any of those options, then Shell is a good place to earn when they are offering a 10x promo when buying gas. I also keep an eye out at AirMilesShops.ca for when they are running good bonus promotions to pad the balance or when special offers come by snail mail there is occasionally something good as well.
May 14, 2014 @ 12:31 pm
Carrie
Carrie's picture

Hi
I noticed that lawtons they are using their own airmiles card when I purchase from the pharmacy.They do give me 3 airmiles for my purchase but never on the full cost of the drug.As I pay the monthly premiums it seems they are acquiring airmiles and I'm wondering who would be benefitting??

November 30, 2016 @ 7:33 pm
Rosemary Wells
Rosemary Wells's picture
In Ontario, Metro grocery stores give AirMiles and have some good bonus offers as well.
May 14, 2014 @ 6:29 pm
CanadianDaniel's picture
On the redemption side, we live within 100 yards of a Metro store so I can convert my Air Miles cash rewards for items at deep discounts. For example, when frozen pizza goes on special for $2.99 (regularly $5.99 or more) we in effect double the cash value of our Air Miles. Very useful article, thank you
May 16, 2014 @ 9:32 am
daun0
daun0's picture
I agree with Stephen. A couple of tips that we've used.... If you convert to the GOLD mastercard a few days before booking flights, you only need to pay the prorated fee for the year and you'll get the 25% discount on miles needed for flights in a few days. When it comes time to renew the expensive credit card, just down grade again, unless you're going on another trip soon. I just noticed that Starbucks seems to be a place where you can redeem your miles, but haven't looked into it, maybe it's only online... I've also had great luck buying items for VERY good value on the online Safeway group buys every spring. Sometimes we keep the items we buy, sometimes we gift them and once we even re-sold it at a tidy profit. Thanks for a great article1
May 16, 2014 @ 12:59 am
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture
Converting to the Gold MasterCard is a great idea if you are planning to book flights soon. I have thought about doing it several times in the past but seeing as I'm usually strapped for Air Miles and have enough Aeroplan miles to fly most of the time I've never actually done it. I never really considered cancelling or downgrading it after the trip though for a pro-rated annual fee refund. That's a good tip, thanks!
May 18, 2014 @ 9:38 pm
My Own Advisor's picture
Taking over the internet Dan? :) Good post. I get Air Miles with my insurance carrier and frequent LCBO visits. Other than that, I don't collect them. I think I earn a few hundred miles every year. I will save them up for a trip. I hate paying fees to borrow money, so our credit cards are all no-fee cards. Mark
May 20, 2014 @ 9:46 pm
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture
He does seem to be everywhere now doesn't he? :) Well, I'm glad to have him writing for me because he knows his stuff and provides informative well-written content. I'm guessing you wouldn't go for the $700 annual fee credit card option like I did then eh Mark?
May 21, 2014 @ 9:37 pm

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