Air Miles may have decided to cancel their their expiration policy - but that doesn't mean you should wait to redeem your miles.
Because Air Miles was banking on huge profits from being able to take millions of unredeemed miles off their books and keep that money for themselves. Now they can't...
... And who do you think is going to foot the bill?
You'd be right if you're thinking they are going to try and make their collectors pay for their misfortune in some other way! They even admitted that much in a financial disclosure to their investors as reported by The Globe and Mail.
It’s time to stop 'dreaming' about a glorious future redemption and get real about what you can actually get for your points today before they’re worth much less.
Want to get the BEST value for your Air Miles? Download the PDF version of this guide - and read it anywhere when you want.
Your Options For Redeeming Air Miles
A big change to the Air Miles program, Air Miles “Cash”, was announced back in 2011. At the same time, the clock on this new 5 year expiry policy started ticking that has now been abolished.
If you chose to switch your points to 100% Air Miles Cash at the time, then you’re pretty safe. Just go to a participating Air Miles sponsor in your area - maybe a gas station or grocery store - and get part, or all, of your purchase for free.
With Air Miles Cash, your miles can always be redeemed at a rate of 95 miles = $10. That gives each single mile a value of 10.5 cents. This is known as the cost per mile or CPM and is an easy way of comparing reward value.
You calculate CPM by taking the real cost in dollars of the reward you are buying and dividing it by number of Air Miles required to redeem for that reward. I’m going to be using CPM throughout the rest of the article.
If you chose to stick with Air Miles 'Dream', then you have a much more difficult decision ahead of you. You can choose between a variety of rewards including travel, merchandise, events & attractions, and even sweepstakes.
Inside each one of those categories is a confusing array of additional choices. The bad news is that the selection of high value rewards has really dwindled since Air Miles Cash was introduced.
My go-to reward was always the free movie certificates because they gave a 30 cent per mile value, nearly triple the cash rate. Years ago that reward disappeared so I switched to car washes which also had a high value. Not long after, that one was gone too - followed by the great selection of gift cards they used to offer.
The good news?
There’s a few things left worth redeeming for and I’m going to tell you what they are.
Top 5 Air Miles Dream Rewards
The goal here is to find rewards that are as far above the 10.5 cents per mile value of Air Miles Cash as possible. I’ve done price checks on at least 4 rewards in each category and come up with a rough average value for each type of reward still available.
Here are the top 5:
1) Hotels (19.4CPM)
Hotels provide surprisingly good value when purchased with Air Miles.
I did a few test bookings on airmiles.ca and compared the cost in miles to the cost of booking the same room through the hotel’s own website. I used the lowest fully cancellable rate listed because Air Miles reservations are also fully cancellable. Using non-cancellable discount rates or priceline bidding, you can get much lower prices.
Reward value ranged from a low of 10.3 CPM at a Best Western in North York all the way up to 26.2 CPM at the Holiday Inn & Suites Vancouver Downtown. If you find something above 19 CPM, you are doing pretty well.
Be aware that only a smaller selection of hotels are available usually with only a few in the actual city centre. Even booking months in advance, I found most of them were either on the outskirts of town or near the airport.
Book hotels here.
2) Flights (16.8 CPM)
Flights provide value consistently above 10.5 CPM averaging out to 16.8 CPM with the test flights I managed to find. My personal Air Miles balance is relatively low at 1800 miles, so that limited my ability to test book flights.
At first, they would allow me to view the search results and compare prices even if I didn’t have enough miles. Their algorithm appears to detect people who do this a lot and eventually takes away the already small link that allows you to do that. Their system was extremely busy at the time I did this with all the people trying to redeem their expiring miles at once, so it may have been removed for that reason as well.
I tested flights departing from Halifax, Quebec City, Toronto, and Vancouver going to mostly bigger cities in Canada and the USA like Vancouver, Richmond, and Orlando. What I found is that longer flights tend to reduce your value under 15 CPM, and really short flights increase it to around 20 CPM. Remote destinations, like Yellowknife for example, also help push up the value.
If you are planning to redeem for flights, I would suggest getting the BMO Air Miles World Elite Mastercard to get an extra
1,000 3,000 bonus miles and first year free (limited time) for your trip and a 25% discount on the amount of miles you need to fly in North America. That 25% discount actually raises your CPM by 33% meaning that the 16.8 average CPM for flights jumps to 22.4. That enough to push flights to the #1 spot.
Book flights here.
3) Car Rentals (15.7CPM)
For some reason I never enjoy booking or paying for car rentals, so the fact that Air Miles provides decent value when renting a car is attractive to me.
I tested single day prices for both compact cars and minivans because those are two really popular choices. Compact cars are notoriously cheap and minivans are notoriously expensive.
One compact car actually gave me a terrible CPM of 6.1 because the car was available for only $21 per day. Another one came in at 16.4 CPM though, so I suspect the $21 price was a good limited time promotion.
Minivans consistently resulted in a CPM of around 20 cents, which is really good. If you need a minivan and have the miles, it’s a really good use for them.
Book rental cars here.
4) Events (14.4CPM)
Events, particularly concerts, can provide really good value for your miles. The reason for this is twofold:
- You can get good seats to concerts that have limited spots remaining or have even sold out completely.
- Some concerts, like one I found for Gwen Stefani, can give a CPM as high as 25 cents.
I price checked 3 concerts: Blink 182, Fifth Harmony, and Gwen Stefani, along with a fun looking event called “Prairie Feast”. Honestly, most of these gave a value around 11 CPM, while the Gwen Stefani concert brought up the average with its 25.4 CPM.
I wouldn’t expect most events to deliver insanely high value, but the fact that you can get good seats at sold out concerts increases the value substantially. If you look at prices for tickets to sold out concerts on the secondary market, they are easily double or triple in cost and that “amps up” the CPM value a lot.
5) Attractions (13.2CPM)
Finally, attractions are still going to typically give you a higher value for your miles than our Air Miles Cash 10.5 CPM baseline - averaging about 13.2 CPM. They were also among the most consistent only ranging from a low of 12.4 CPM to a high of 14 CPM.
I considered the following attractions when I did this calculation in July of 2016. Some of them are now sold out or no longer available.
- Calypso Waterpark: 300 miles = $42 w/ tax = 14 CPM
- Canada’s Wonderland: 395 miles = $54.57 w/ tax = 13.8 CPM
- Disney 7 day pass: 3775 miles = $370 USD = $478.06 CAD = 12.7 CPM
- Busch Gardens: 925 miles = $89 USD = $115.01 CAD = 12.4 CPM
Keep in mind that with some of these attractions you can find creative ways of lowering the price. For example, season pass holders often can bring guests super cheap and you might be able to buy passes from them online. Other times you can buy in advance, get a package deal, or find discount coupons to bring the price down.
I just used the online pricing for a single day adult pass, except with the Disney 7 day pass. Prices at the gate were higher in some cases.
Look for other attractions here.
Don’t Waste Your Miles
What do you want to avoid spending your miles on?
Merchandise is one thing I would suggest avoiding. I tested prices for several products and most of them were in the 11-13 CPM range. The rub is that they mostly only have high end expensive products available and, as we all know, if you wait and look for a sale you can almost always get merchandise for less.
Vacation packages are something else I wouldn’t bother with. The first reason is that you’re probably better off booking your package through a real travel agency or a site that specializes in vacations. The second is that they can’t be booked or priced online and the Air Miles customer service line is so busy they aren’t even answering calls anymore. Right now, you literally have almost 0 chance of successfully booking a vacation package with your miles.
Finally, using your miles for sweepstakes is just like throwing them away - at least most of the time. Like most paid lotteries, they are designed to make you lose money. Sure, there is a chance you could win, but it isn’t likely. Entering a contest for free is one thing, but paying to do it should be avoided unless you get a lot of personal enjoyment out of doing it.
Get The Miles You Need Faster
If you need more miles fast to get the reward you really want, there is no better way than a big credit card sign up bonus. I have ranked all the Canadian Air Miles credit cards from best to worst here and update the sign up bonuses monthly as they change:
What Will You Redeem Your Miles For?
I'm curious, now that your miles will no longer expire, do you still plan to redeem them soon?
If so, have you found a reward that is still worth it for you?
First published: July 18, 2016
Updated: January 20, 2017