Most people have a preferred loyalty program.
But the one loyalty program I’ve had the most success with is Air Miles.
I’m a teacher by trade, and one day, I was having a staff-room conversation about credit cards and loyalty points.
Air Miles came up and a fellow teacher said, "I never use Air Miles. I have the card, but I can’t get any miles to earn anything. You don’t get enough reward miles to make a difference."
I had to smile and tell her: "In the past three years, I have collected enough Air Miles to redeem a four-day trip to New York (flights and hotel included), an electric snowblower, a raised tomato planter, several nights at hotels in my local city, and a bunch of movie tickets."
The truth is: You can earn Air Miles quickly to get great dream and cash rewards.
My experience with Air Miles
I had been collecting for about seven years – not really earning enough miles to be useful – before I figured out how to make this whole thing work.
Along the way, I have learned a few valuable lessons about how to collect and what constitutes a good deal when it comes to Air Miles.
While there are obvious ways to earn (such as with Air Miles credit cards and shopping at accepted Air Miles locations), there is a lot you can do to earn more miles.
What you really need to know:
Not all miles are equal, and the same is true for rewards.
So let’s start with those miles: the unequal ones.
All you need to know can be broken down into just five simple principles that are guaranteed to help you rack up some serious Air Miles and get some pretty great rewards.
Related: Save Money Using Rewards Programs
5 simple principles for shopping at Sobeys
Shopping at Sobeys is a good step to racking up those Air Miles.
When you make the switch, be sure to follow these five simple principles to ensure you’re getting maximum Air Miles:
- Get the Sobeys app or go to their website for special weekly offers
- Look for the big mile bargains
- Stock up on goods (if you can afford it!)
- Comparison shop for miles
- Watch for the gift card bonus
1. Get the app
By getting the Sobeys app or by going to their website and entering your Air Miles card number, you’ll be provided with bonus offers that you won’t get in store.
The example below is from my own account and the items you see are based on past purchases. We use a lot of taco seasoning, bacon, olive oil and Shreddies, so we get some extra savings on some of these items and some extra Air Miles thrown in for purchases we are likely to make.
Because of that, we are earning extra miles and we don’t even have to go out of our way to do it. We just load the offers and buy the things we would anyway. Simple.
2. Look for big miles bargains
Certain items have special offers linked to them, which are big, combination offers that help you rack up miles.
They are usually phrased like this: "Buy 5 and get 99 Air Miles" or “Buy $25 in Post products and get 50 miles.”
For me, there have been a couple of really great ways to cash in – coffee, cookies, cereals, apple juice and detergents.
I am married with two kids and these are all things I will need on a regular basis. So when there is a big, in-store bonus, I jump on it!
This deal on bread is a great example. As long as you have a large freezer, you can stock up on loaves of bread at a decent price ($2 more than Our Compliments brand, but better quality).
And if you wanted to stock up on cereal, this deal isn’t bad. Although there are certain times of the year when they will give 99 bonus Air Miles when you buy four or five boxes.
3. Stock up on bonuses
When you see a large bonus being offered on a particular brand, it can be worthwhile to buy in bulk to get those miles.
If you are a coffee drinker and don’t care about what brand you’re drinking, then all you have to do is wait.
Sometimes the big bonuses will come with Maxwell House and sometimes it will be another brand. But as soon as you see the large bonus, aim to buy your next couple-of-months worth of coffee at once.
4. Comparison shop
There will be bonuses for competing brands at different rates of return on your dollar. One of the easiest places to see this is in the cleaning aisle:
Scrub Free will net you 10 Air Miles at a a cost of $5, while Hertel’s 10 miles will cost you $6.58.
As long as you aren’t particular about your brands, you should stock up on Scrub Free. Get about 30 or 40 Air Miles worth of the stuff and put it away in a closet.
5. Gift card bonuses
Sobeys will have a promotion every month or so where you can buy $200 worth of gift cards and get 100 bonus Air Miles. Here is how you make this work:
Put your whole grocery budget for the (weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly) pay period into gift cards of $200 increments. Then go buy your groceries and live off those gift cards until the next pay period or two.
But be warned: Only buy what you can afford to buy.
There are people who make the bonuses work by using credit cards to purchase more than they can afford. This may work for some, but I do not advise it.
Related: How To Eat Healthy On A Budget
My strategy of redeeming Air Miles
Now let’s think back to that lady in the staff room.
If you use the five principles listed above, you’ll have no trouble in getting at least 100 Air Miles with every weekly visit to Sobeys.
But the other part of her complaint still bothers me:
Are you getting enough Air Miles to make a difference? Can you get anything good?
Cash rewards vs. Dream rewards
When you set up your Air Miles account, you are asked to set a slider for the percentage of cash or dream rewards you wish to earn.
For instance, you can choose to have 30% of your Air Miles go into your cash rewards with the remaining 70% going into your dream rewards.
You can go into your account and edit these settings at any time, but mine always stays in one place: 100% Dream Rewards.
I’m a dreamer, what can I say?
The upside of cash rewards
Should you earn cash rewards? The answer is simple, depending on two questions:
- Are you on a tight budget?
- Do you want free gas and groceries?
If you answered yes to one or both, then you probably want to set your slider closer to the cash rewards side. You may even want 100% cash rewards.
Keep in mind that the equation for redeeming cash rewards is simple:
95 reward miles = $10
If you follow the five principles, then you can probably earn $10 a week.
Canadians spend an average of $200 a month per person on groceries, while those in the Atlantic provinces spend roughly $150 per person. So in a three-person family, you’re likely to spend between $450 and $600 a month.
Getting $40 off your groceries is a pretty good return on investment (between 7% and 9%).
Another way of looking at it: for every dollar you spend, you earn 9.5 miles.
The dreamer in you
Despite the upside of cash rewards, I’m still a dreamer.
I have gotten some great rewards from Air Miles and the flight rewards are still a good return on your investment. I like keeping my miles and saving for a vacation that I could not otherwise afford.
But you need to be aware of the relative value of your miles. The best case scenario is 1 Mile = $1. But that is almost impossible to attain.
Get close to the 1:1 value
When you redeem Air Miles, be sure to get your points as close to the dollar value as possible.
If you redeem your dream miles for a reward like the ones above, you are redeeming 10.7 miles per dollar spent on the Napoleon Prestige Pro 665. Instead, you can redeem 9.4 miles per dollar spent on the lower-end model, which is slightly better. (You should note that this deal is only offered to Gold Members, but you can attain gold status by earning 1,000 miles in a year.)
Remember: Each reward has a different conversion rate – some are for suckers.
In an effort to start a backyard garden, I spent 1,500 miles on a raised planter that would have cost $125 at my local hardware store. The conversion rate worked out to be about 12 miles per dollar – that one hurt.
If you look at the current deal on movie tickets, this also seems like a good deal.
But in this scenario, 425 Miles = $24.99 at Costco, which works out to be 17 miles per dollar. Ouch.
Air Miles travel
Not all miles are equal. But what is a flight worth? Just like everything with Air Miles, the answer varies, so you need to be educated and do the math.
Let’s take a scenario where we want to take a summer vacation to New York for a Yankees game and a Broadway show. For two people, that will cost 5,000 miles (or $1,350 when searching on Expedia at 1:34 p.m., Feb. 13, 2018).
3 miles per dollar is a sweet deal! Your mile is getting really close to par with the dollar on this one (1:1).
This summer, I will be sending my wife to Italy for a week with 7,500 Air Miles. The cost is $1,200 on Expedia, which equals out to a conversion rate of 6.25 miles per dollar. While this isn’t the greatest deal, it gets my wife to Italy, and that is something you should always take into account.
Air Miles credit cards
The best Air Miles credit card in Canada right now is:
But if it's a no-fee card you're looking, check out this one:
Make your miles count
No matter how you redeem your Air Miles, it has to be worth it to you.
Whether you use cash miles, go to a movie, or fly to New York, it has to be something you want. (My wife will never let me live down the ugly, grey planter in our backyard.)
So remember to use the five principles and redeem your points wisely.