AIR MILES: How To Make The Most Of It

March 8, 2020
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AIR MILES is the biggest loyalty program in Canada, and it allows you to become a collector and start earning points you can later trade for Cash rewards (discount towards your purchase) or Dream rewards (hotel rooms, travel packages, flight tickets, and more). You can become a collector by being a member of the AIR MILES program and owning an AIR MILES collector card, or by having one of the different AIR MILES co-branded credit cards.

Every day, millions of Canadians use their credit card to buy something. They book flights, reserve hotel rooms, go shopping or simply go to the nearest market, without realizing they could earn AIR MILES while they do so.

According to a survey made back in 2017 by Bond Brand Loyalty, 50% of Canadians weren’t even aware of how many miles they have earned, nor did they know how to redeem them, leading to Canadians hoarding $16B worth of unused loyalty points.

Today, we’re going to guide you through everything you need to know about the AIR MILES loyalty program, what it is, how it works, how you can join and so much more. Let’s begin.

What Is The AIR MILES Loyalty Program

Let’s start from the beginning. A loyalty program is nothing but a system that is meant to encourage people to continue to purchase/spend money on stores or services with the promise they’ll get something in exchange.

Often we see these types of loyalty programs implementing a points or rewards system to give back to their customers. We see it with makeup stores, hotel chains, and of course, airline companies.

That being said, AIR MILES are simply points people can collect and then exchange for multiple different rewards such as flying tickets, exclusive discounts at selected stores, and even money.

The AIR MILES Reward Program was launched in Canada back in 1992 and is currently operated by LoyaltyOne, Inc. It is one of the biggest loyalty programs in the country, and one of the best ways to turn your expenses into rewards you can actually perceive.

We will get into how this program works and how you can join it further down the article, but for now, you should know it allows you (and anyone who wants to join) to collect points on any purchase you make with your card and to decide how, and when to redeem these points however fits you best.

How Does The AIR MILES Loyalty Program Work

The way this loyalty program works is simple to understand. Once you become a collector, you will instantly start ‘collecting’ miles with every eligible purchase you make simply by showing or presenting the cashier your AIR MILES collector card. Of course, how many miles you get from each purchase depends directly on the retailer, since the number can vary from retail partner to retail partner.

There’s also the fact AIR MILES constantly releases offers you can take advantage of to earn more miles; offers you can check here. This way, every purchase you make at the stores they point out will earn you more miles in return.

To put it simply, you really don’t need to have an AIR MILES credit card. You can sign up and earn miles just for showing your membership or collector’s card (which is not a credit card) when you make purchases. However, if you do sign up for an AIR MILES credit card, then you will war twice as many points as you would for being a simple collector.

As we said, the miles you’ll earn for every purchase depends directly on the retailer partner. However, you can expect to earn at least a mile for every $20 you spend, and some retailers will give you more. You can later decide if you want to exchange these miles for Cash or Dreams Rewards, or even a combination of both options. As will be explained further down the post, this is done by deciding what percentage of your earned miles go to your Dream balance or your Cash Balance. You, as a collector, get to set up this percentage at any time, but once the miles are earned, you can’t transfer them from one account to the other.

How To Join The AIR MILES Loyalty Program

Now that you know what AIR MILES is and how the program works, let’s talk about how you can join it and start collecting miles. Joining the program is completely free and it can be done directly on their website.

To enroll you’ll have to provide personal information, and once that’s done you’ll be able to activate your account using your new collectors’ card. Of course, this is just one way to join the program, you could also apply for a credit card that is a part of the AIR MILES program.

We already have a whole post about the American Express AIR MILES Platinum, you can check out, but there are other credit cards such as the BMO AIR MILES World Elite Mastercard and the BMO AIR MILES Mastercard.

Chances are that if you already own one of these credit cards, you have been accumulating miles for every $10 you’ve spent so far.

Types Of AIR MILES Loyalty Reward Accounts

There are two options you can choose from when deciding how to get rewarded for your accumulated miles: cash rewards and dream rewards, or you can decide to have a mix of the two. It’s up to you. The miles you plan to use for Cash Rewards are called Cash miles, and they go to your Cash balance. The miles you earn for Dream Rewards are called Dream Miles, and they go to your Dream balance.

Cash rewards

The cash rewards option allows you to use your Cash Miles to get instant rewards and discounts in everyday stores and online shops. You can do this in every partner store.

As to the conversion, it is very simple, every 95 miles equals $10 towards your purchase, and you can change your miles for up to $750 per collector account, per day. It can be used both in online and regular stores such as Starbucks, Cineplex, Timber Mart and more.

Dream rewards

If you want to take up your membership to another level and make the most out of your miles, you can always go for dream rewards. This option lets you turn your accumulated miles into vacations, flights, hotel rooms, and exclusive events.

When setting a dream reward account, you can trade your miles to book flights, hotel rooms, vacation packages, go to exclusive events like concerts, or exchange them for electronics, cellphones and more.

You can see available travel, merchandise and events & attractions available for this type of account here

Keep in mind, you don’t have to pick between these two options since air miles lets you decide how to split your miles between your Cash and Dream balance. However, as we stated before, this is done before you start earning miles, once you do, you won’t be able to transfer miles from one account to the other.

How Much Are Air Miles Worth

This is the big question everyone wants to know, and it’s no wonder why. You need to know how much your miles are worth to be able to use them correctly and make the most out of them.

As to the value itself, it can vary depending on what you decide to redeem them for. For example, if you use your miles on short national flights during the low season, chances are you’ll get more value than using your miles to book an international flight during vacation time.

However, on average, your miles will be worth $0.168 on flights, and roughly $0.194 on Hotels reservations. Of course, this is an estimate and can vary depending on the destination/season/region or thing you’re trying to buy.

On the other, if you’d rather use your miles to buy a $100 gift card, each mile will be worth only $0.10.

The bottom line is that you’ll do better by saving your miles as Dream Miles, and spending them on hotel stays and flights.

PRO TIP: Learn How To Earn More Air Miles 

Once you are officially a collector, meaning you have an AIR MILES card, or you already own an AIR MILES credit card, you will start saving up miles with every eligible purchase you make.

Now, to earn more air miles and make the most out of your cards, the trick lies in making smart purchases using them to shop at any store that is part of the air miles partners.

Depending on the credit card you use, you can earn one air mile for every $10-$20 you spend (again, depends on the card). And, if you use them on any AIR MILES’ retail partner such as Shell, Staples, Metro and other partner stores, you can earn even more miles in a single purchase.

How To Redeem/Exchange Your AIR MILES

Using your collected air miles is probably the easiest thing to do. Once you have enough miles on your balance, you can redeem them for either Cash Rewards or Dream Rewards. 

Redeeming your cash rewards is very simple. You can do this anytime you’re out shopping by just showing your collector card at check-out and asking to use your points.

Of course, in-store shopping isn’t the only way to exchange your cash rewards, you can also redeem them for electronic vouchers or e-Vouchers directly through the AIR MILES website.

As to how to exchange your Dream miles, you will have to log in to your account and directly browse the dream rewards portal to pick the reward that best suits you. You can pick over a thousand different reward options.

Air Miles Co-Branded Credit Cards

Like we said before, there are two ways of earning air miles: One, by having an AIR MILES collector card, and two, by having one of the following air miles co-branded credit cards:

#1: Amex AIR MILES Platinum Card

Air Miles Platinum credit card

This credit card comes with a welcome bonus of 2,000 miles, and the opportunity to earn 1 mile for every $10 spent, and even go as far as earning 1 mile for every $5 spent with AIR MILES sponsors.

It does come with an annual fee of $120, but you won’t have to pay for it during your first year. And it’s a relatively low fee when you consider the travel benefits that come with this card.

#2: BMO AIR MILES World Elite Mastercard

BMO Air Miles World Elite Mastercard

This is one of the top options for anyone looking to rank up air miles in a faster way. This credit card has one of the best earn rates in the bunch. The BMO credit card lets you earn 1 mile for every $10 you spend anywhere, regardless if it is an AIR MILES sponsor or not.

It comes with a welcome bonus of 3,000 miles, and an annual fee of $120. As to the benefits you might find, you can expect 15% discounts on selected flights to North America and travel insurance.

#3: BMO AIR MILES Business Mastercard

BMO Air Miles Business Mastercard

As the name of this credit card says, this is a great option for business people. It also comes with a welcome bonus of 3,000 miles, and the opportunity to earn 1 mile for every 10$ spent in any store.

It comes with a travel and car rental insurance, and a very standard annual fee of $120, which you won’t have to pay during the first year neither.

#4: BMO AIR MILES Mastercard

Perhaps the best feature about this card is that it comes with no annual fee, although the earn rate is a little bit high, allowing you to earn one mile per every $20 everywhere, and 2 miles for every $20 spend with AIR MILES sponsors. As to the welcome bonus, you can expect 800 miles.

Down below is a table with all the information about these cards summarize so you can take a better look at each one and what they offer you.

Credit CardAnnual Fee
Credit Score RequiredEarn Rate
Insurance Coverage
Welcome Bonus
Amex AIR MILES Platinum Card$120Good1 mile per every $5 spent with AIR MILES sponsors and 1 mile per every $10 spent anywhere.Yes2,000 miles
BMO AIR MILES World Elite Mastercard
$120Good1 mile per every $10 spent anywhereyes3,000 miles
BMO AIR MILES Business Mastercard$120Good-Excellent1 mile per every $10 spent anywhereyes3,000 miles
BMO AIR MILES Mastercard0Fair-Good1 mile per every $20 spent anywhere, and 2 miles per every $20 with AIR MILES sponsorsno800 miles

Which Is The Best?

When it comes to choosing an AIR MILES credit card, we stick with the BMO AIR MILES World Elite Mastercard since the welcome bonus is great, the annual fee they offer is pretty reasonable, and the earn rate is one of the best amongst all the other options. You can learn more about this credit card and apply by clicking on the button down below. 

Elite Status Levels In The AIR MILES Program

All loyalty programs offer different levels of rewards and redemptions depending on how “loyal” you are to the brand. In other words, the more you purchase and spend within the program and earn points (in this case miles), the more benefits you’ll receive for your spending.  In this sense, the AIR MILES Rewards program is no different from other loyalty programs, and it offers three different rewards levels or statuses, depending on the number of miles you earn each calendar year (January 1st through December 31st):

  • Blue Status (from 0 to 999 annual miles)
  • Gold Status (from 1,000 to 5,999 annual miles)
  • Onyx Status (6,000 annual miles or more)

AIR MILES Blue, Gold & Onyx Status

Going elite is not about how cool the name is; it’s what it means to be in each level. Each one of the tiers you can aim for, offer increasing levels of rewards that’ll make your mouth water. Check out the following table and compare all the perks and benefits you get with each status in the AIR MILES Rewards Program. The last column is where you want to aim at, since the Onyx status has it all.

STATUS Blue Gold Onyx™
Flights, merchandise and events Standard Prime Premium
AIR MILES Stage Pass
Discounts on Flights   Up to 30% off Up to 40% off
Discounts on merchandise rewards   Up to 10% off Up to 20% off
Exclusive Events  
Top Service    
Personal Shopper Service    

If you want to learn more about the Blue, Gold and Onyx statuses, read our dedicated post on this topic.

Pros And Cons Of AIR MILES Loyalty Program

When you think about getting air miles as a reward for every time you spend your money, it sounds like a win-win. However, there are certain pros and cons you need to consider about this loyalty program, and we’re going to break them down.


#1: You make the most out of your money

The great thing about this program is that it allows you, as a collector, to take advantage of your daily expenses and save up miles whenever you swipe up your card to buy something.

It’s a great way to accumulate miles while doing next to nothing.

#2: Access to exclusive offers

Being a part of the AIR MILES program means you have access to offers most people don’t. From special discounts at regular everyday stores to special access to exclusive events, passes to airport lounges and more, with this loyalty program you can step up your travel (and living) experience.

#3: You’ll be secured everywhere you go

As you might have noticed, most AIR MILES co-branded credit cards have travel insurance as one of their bonus benefits, which means you’ll be safe and secured when traveling abroad.

#4: High variety of reward options

Last, but not least, you have plenty of rewards to choose from when redeeming your accumulated miles. You can pick amongst thousands of different travel, merchandise, and even money rewards in a matter of seconds.


#1: It has little flexibility

Like we mentioned before, you can decide and set up the percentage of earned miles that will go to your Cash and Dreams accounts, but once you do, the system won’t allow you to transfer them from one account to another.

#2: Taxes and Fees aren’t covered

Last, but not least, when it’s time to redeem your air miles, these won’t cover taxes or extra fees, meaning you’ll have to pay off a certain amount by yourself, in cash.

In summary

To wrap this up, the AIR MILES loyalty program allows Canadians to start earning miles with their everyday purchases by simply becoming a collector or by applying for a co-branded credit card.

Every time you use this card you will start collecting miles for every dollar you spend (depending on the card you can earn 1 mile from every $10 to $20 spent, although conditions may apply), and you can later redeem these miles for rewards.

There are different cards you can choose from depending on the benefits they offer and the rate that better benefits you, but one thing is for certain, if you’re already using a credit card on a daily basis, the best thing you can do is apply for one of these cards and start making out the most of your expenses.

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