If you’re an Air Miles collector, you know that the options for actually redeeming your rewards can get a bit complicated.
And sometimes, it’s just plain overwhelming.
But which of these categories give you the best value per mile?
Don’t worry. In this article, I’ll show you the top 5 options for redeeming your Air Miles that get you the best CPM.
Here's a peek:
- Events (21.6 CPM),
- Flights (17.2 CPM),
- Car Rentals (16.2 CPM),
- Attractions (13.4 CPM),
- Hotels (12.3 CPM),
- ...and what you shouldn’t bother using your points on (> 10.5 CPM).
But what’s CPM?
Cents per mile, also known as CPM, is an easy way of comparing reward value.
You calculate CPM by taking the real cost in dollars of the reward you’re buying and dividing it by number of Air Miles required to redeem for that reward.
So for example, if you want to redeem your miles for a nice new iPad Mini, you’d need 8,400 miles. The actual retail price of this product is $597.77, so:
597.77 / 8,400= 0.071
Times this number by 100 to get the value in cents rather than dollars, and you’ve got your CPM: 7.1 cents.
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Your options for redeeming Air Miles
You have 2 options for your rewards:
You can choose to collect one type of reward or a combination of both. But choose carefully – once a mile has been earned in a category, it can’t be transferred between them.
Cash Miles can be used for in-store discounts or redeemed for cash vouchers.
With Air Miles Cash, your miles can always be redeemed at a rate of 95 miles = $10. That gives each mile a value of 10.5 cents.
If you choose to stick with Air Miles Dream, then you have a more difficult decision ahead of you.
You can choose between a variety of rewards including travel, merchandise, events, and attractions. Inside each one of these 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 in 2011.
My go-to reward was always the free movie certificates because they gave 30 CPM, 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 are a few things left that are 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 CPM value of Air Miles Cash as possible.
I’ve done price checks on several 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) Events (21.6 CPM)
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 Natalie McMaster, can give a CPM as high as 30.7 cents.
I price checked 3 concerts: Rod Stewart, Paul Brandt, and Natalie McMaster. These gave me a variety of CPMs, coming in as low as 10 CPM, to 24 CPM, and all the way up to 30.7 cents.
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.
2) Flights (17.2 CPM)
You can only see options that your Air Miles balance can cover, so that limited my ability to test book flights. Because of this, I could only see flights that needed less than 2,750 miles.
From what I could find, flights provide value consistently above 10.5 CPM, averaging out to 17.2 CPM.
I tested flights departing from 12 big Canadian cities, like Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver, going to mostly bigger cities in Canada and the USA, like Vancouver, Los Angeles, and Regina.
I found that flying in Canada provided the best value, and usually found myself choosing Porter or WestJet flights.
A note for people who fly from Toronto often: Always check Billy Bishop airport to get the best deals. Flights coming from there were consistently better than the Pearson alternative.
Related: 13 Fly Ways To Find Cheap Flights
Best way to earn flight rewards
If you’re planning to redeem for flights, I would suggest getting the BMO Air Miles World Elite Mastercard to get an extra 3,000 bonus miles for your trip and a 15% discount on the amount of miles you need to fly in North America.
That 15% discount actually raises your CPM by 17.6% – making the 17.2 CPM average jump to 20.2.
Additionally, as part of the welcome bonus, you'll receive a one-time use companion flight rebate.
This will allow you to book a flight for 2 people using your Air Miles, and then have the miles for one of those flights refunded to your account.
It’s a great way to help stretch your Air Miles. (You just have to be sure to use it within the first year of having your card.)
Book flights here.
3) Car rentals (16.2 CPM)
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 1-day weekend prices for both compact cars and minivans at Canada’s major airport because those are two really popular choices. Compact cars are notoriously cheap and minivans are notoriously expensive.
Compact cars overall averaged at 20.6 CPM, whereas minivans averaged at 14.1 CPM
Both of these numbers are decent. If you need to rent a car and have the miles, it’s a really good use for them.
Book rental cars here.
4) Attractions (13.4 CPM)
Attractions are also typically going to give you a higher value for your miles than Air Miles Cash – averaging about 13.4 CPM.
Their value did fluctuate a bit though, coming in at a low of 10.1 cents all the way up to 19.2 CPM.
I considered the following attractions when I did this calculation in October 2018:
|Attraction||AIR MILES Required||Actual Cost||Value per mile|
|Calgary Zoo - 2 tickets||300||$57.65||19.2 cents|
|West Edmonton Mall Galaxyland or World Waterpark admission - 2 tickets||495||$85.06||17.2 cents|
|Mont Tremblant Lift Ticket||725||$113.80||15.7 cents|
|Toronto Zoo - 2 tickets||450||$58||12.2 cents|
|Vancouver Aquarium - Adult||340||$42.56||12.5 cents|
|Busch Gardens Tampa - Single Day||995||$122.954||12.4 cents|
|SeaWorld Orlando - Single Day||995||$122.954||12.4 cents|
|Ripleys Aquarium Toronto - Adult||350||$39.55||11.3 cents|
|Lake Louise Lift Ticket||1,110||$119.7||10.8 cents|
|7 Day Walt Disney World Resort Ticket - Adult||5,400||$543.15||10.1 cents|
Keep in mind that with some of these attractions, you can find creative ways of lowering the price.
For example, season pass holders can often bring guests super cheap.
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.
5) Hotels (12.3 CPM)
Hotels provide surprisingly decent 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.
These searches were done a month before my chosen date and were for a Friday + Saturday night stay.
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.
Related: The Best Hotel Deals I’ve Ever Had
Reward value ranged from a low of 10.1 CPM at the Ottawa Marriott Hotel all the way up to 25.5 CPM at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Ottawa Airport.
Generally speaking, if you find something above 19 CPM, you’re doing pretty well.
Be aware that only a smaller selection of hotels are usually available, but they’ve improved in giving more options in city centers as well as near airports.
Book hotels here.
Don’t waste your miles
What should you avoid spending your miles on?
This is one category I’d suggest avoiding. I tested prices for several products and most of them were in the 6-10 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.
Redeeming miles for vacation packages provided the least value in travel redemptions.
You need to redeem 909 miles to get a $100 travel certificate for use at a selection of 6 travel agencies. This gives a value of 11 CPM.
It’s not a great value when compared to cash miles, but still a decent way to use your miles.
Get the miles you need faster
If you need more miles fast to get the reward you really want, there’s no better way than a big credit card sign-up bonus.
I’ve 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, do you plan to redeem your miles soon?
If so, have you found a reward that’s almost irresistible for you?