American Express AIR MILES Cards: How To Choose

Canadians have known the AIR MILES Reward program for years and today it touches almost two thirds of all Canadian households. The program offers great rewards and redemptions from hundreds of merchants across Canada that can really give the miles you earn a lot of value. However, when it comes to making the most out of the AIR MILES program, nothing beats having an American Express AIR MILES Card when paying for your purchases. These cards can really help you stock up on miles a lot faster than regular collectors, either with great bonuses, by earning miles twice on AIR MILES sponsors at excellent rates, by earning miles on non-sponsor purchases, and more.

Regarding AIR MILES cards, American Express offers four options: two personal cards and two business cards, depending on what sort of features and benefits you cherish the most. I’ll let you in on a little secret: if you already use AIR MILES or if you plan to in the near future, the question isn’t whether you should sign up for an American Express AIR MILES card… the question is which one. In the following post, we’ll teach you how to make the best decision when choosing the right American Express AIR MILES card for you or your business.

In this post you’ll find:

A Comparison Of The Basic Features And Benefits Of The Four American Express AIR MILES Cards

If you’re looking for a quick take on how the four American Express AIR MILES cards differ, all you have to do is take a look at the table below:

American Express Air Miles Reserve credit card
Amex AIR MILES Reserve Card
American Express Air Miles Platinum credit card
Amex AIR MILES Platinum Card
American Express Air Miles for Business credit card
Amex AIR MILES for Business Card
American Express Air Miles Gold Business credit card
Amex AIR MILES Gold Business Card
Welcome Bonus2,400 miles
(after spending $3,000 in the first three months)
2,000 miles
(after spending $1,500 in the first three months)
2,000 miles
(after spending $5,000 in the first three months)
150 miles
(after spending $1,000 in the first three months)
Miles Earning Rate • 1 Air Mile per $10 in eligible purchases at AIR MILES Sponsors

• 1 Air Mile per $10 in eligible purchases at standalone grocery stores, gas stations and drugstores in Canada

• 1 Air Mile per $15 on everything else
• 1 Air Mile per $10 in eligible purchases at AIR MILES Sponsors

• 1 Air Mile per $10 in eligible purchases at standalone grocery stores, gas stations and drugstores in Canada

• 1 Air Mile per $15 on everything else
• 1 Air Mile per $10 in eligible purchases at AIR MILES Sponsors

• 1 Air Mile per $15 on everything else






• 1 Air Mile per $15 in eligible purchases at AIR MILES Sponsors

• 1 Air Mile per $20 on everything else






Travel Benefits • Complimentary Annual Companion Flight Ticket worth up to 1,700 miles
• Access to FlexFly redemptions
• Access to AIR MILES business class seats
• 4 complimentary Priority Pass lounge visits per year
• Access to Toronto Pearson Airport Priority Security Lane
N/A N/A N/A
Comprehensive Travel and Purchase Coverage Limited Limited N/A
Small Business Benefits N/A N/A • 55-day interest-free period
• Employee Card Misuse Protectio
• 25% discount in the AIR MILES for Businesses catalogue
• Business servicing from Amex and AIR MILES
• Access to Expense Management Reports
• Dynamic purchasing power
• Access to cash through Interlat ABMs
• Monitor employee spending
• Access to Expense Management Reports



Automatic Onyx Status N/A N/A N/A
Optional Balance Transfer Offer N/A N/A
Insider Access N/A N/A
Amex Invites and Front of The Line
Type of CardCredit CardCredit CardCharge CardCredit Card
Applied Interest Rate • 19.99% on purchases
• 22.99% on funds advances
• 19.99% on purchases
• 22.99% on funds advances
30% on any unpaid balance after the interest free period • 19.99% on purchases
• 22.99% on funds advances
Annual Fee$299$65$180FREE
(No Annual Fee)
Additional Card Fee$50Up to 9 free additional cards$50FREE
(No Annual Fee)
Benefit for Additional Cardmembers N/A N/A N/A
Application Links
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The table I just showed you is nothing more than a very organized summary of some of the key aspects to consider when you want to choose a credit card. It always boils down to how the benefits balance the annual fee in each case, under different circumstances. Before we embark in the differences, let’s get the similarities out of the way, since they won’t help you at all to decide for on or for the other.

What All American Express AIR MILES Credit Cards Have In Common

The four Amex AIR MILES cards are quite different from one another. However, they share a couple of key benefits that help you boost your earnings at a much faster pace than you’d expect, as well as other benefits that come with almost all Amex cards:

Double-Dipping On AIR MILES Sponsors Purchases

Apart from the miles you regularly earn by being a collector and shopping at partner brands, when you use any American Express AIR MILES card to pay for that purchase you will receive extra miles courtesy of Amex. This means that by using your Amex AIR MILES card you earn miles twice on eligible purchases. What’s more, the earning rate on these cards is actually better than the ones most AIR MILES sponsors offer.

Earning Miles On Purchases Other Than In AIR MILES Sponsors

In addition to earning miles twice on sponsor purchases, using any one of the Amex AIR MILES cards will let you ear miles on purchases outside of the loyalty program. As long as it’s classified as a purchase, it will earn you miles. The earning rate on non-partner brands is obviously lower than the one for sponsors, but it’s still a good rate with all of the cards, and it can even be better than the one AIR MILES offers on most of its sponsors.

Amex Invites And Front Of The Line

American Express Invites and the Front of The Line service are standard Amex perks that come with all of their current cards. It’s a chance to get tickets to coveted shows and events before they’re sold to the public and, sometimes, even after they’ve already sold out for everybody else. These services also gives you access to special memorable events you won’t be quick to forget, all of it just for being a part of the American Express cardoholders family.

How To Compare The American Express AIR MILES Cards

Now we can really get down to business. In this post, I’ll estimate the value of each card based on a series of assumptions with the intention of making things easier to understand and the cards easier to compare under different circumstances. The basic assumptions, which apply for all four cards, are listed below:

  • Except in the cases of the AIR MILES Reserve card and the AIR MILES for Business Card, I’ll value each mile at the nominal Cash mile value of $10 for every 95 miles, or 10.5 cents per mile, since it’s the easiest to get value for your miles.
  • The miles earned with the Reserve I’ll value a little higher thanks to the automatic Onyx status that can raise their value to over 17.5 cents when you redeem them for discounted flights. Assuming half of your miles are spent that way, and the rest at the standard 10.5 cents per mile valuation, I´ll value the miles you earn with the AIR MILES Reserve Card at an average value of 14 cents apiece
  • Because of the discount in the AIR MILES Business catalogue, I’ll also value the miles earned with the Amex AIR MILES for Business Card at 12 cents per mile, assuming you manage to spend half your miles on discounted redemptions.
  • I’ll base all my calculations on $1,000 in purchases so that the results can be easily scaled up or down if need be
  • I’ll assume you split your spending half and half at both earning rates, so you’ll get an average earning rate of 1 mile for every $12 in purchases with the AIR MILES Reserve, Platinum and AIR MILES for Business cards, and of 1 mile for every $17 in purchases with the AIR MILES Gold Business Card.
  • Finally, I’ll assume one trip per year with a PP lounge visit and a four-day car rental

Since they are different types of cards, I’ll compare the personal and business cards separately and I’ll also show you other credit card options outside of the AIR MILES program that will probably interest you.

Comparison Of The American Express AIR MILES Personal Cards

The American Express AIR MILES Reserve and Platinum cards are quite different, even though they belong to the same card family. The only aspects in which they coincide are in the fact that both are credit cards with the same interest rates, they both offer a balance transfer offer to help pay off other credit card debts, and they both provide Insider Access. However, the similarities stop there. In the following sections, I’ll take you by the hand and show you where the Amex AIR MILES personal credit cards show the most promising potential.

The Welcome Bonus

It’s common with Amex cards that the welcome bonus pays the annual fee several times over during the first year of cardmembership. This makes these credit cards an attractive investment in which you sign up with the sole intention of winning the bonus, and then you cancel the card after the first year, something referred to as “churning”. We’ll compare the cards’ welcome bonuses based on their potential for churning, without considering any of the other benefits they offer.

Two differences regarding the welcome bonus offers of these two cards stand out:

  1. The 2,400 miles bonus on the Reserve is only 400 miles higher than the platinum’s while its annual fee is over four and a half times higher.
  2. You need to spend twice as much during the first three months of cardmembership in order to get the Reserve’s bonus compared to the Platinum’s.

Now let’s see how much these bonuses are really worth and how the numbers break down:

Card Welcome Bonus Miles value Bonus Value Annual Fee Return On Investment on the Annual fee
AIR MILES Reserve 2,400 miles 14 cents/mile $336 $299 12.4%
AIR MILES Platinum 2,000 miles 10.5 cents/mile $210 $65 204%

These numbers are really conclusive! As you can see, the AIR MILES Reserve’s welcome bonus fails miserably from a churning point of view, giving you a return of only 12%, whereas the AIR MILES Platinum will give you over 200%. When you add the fact that it’s twice as hard to get the AIR MILES Reserve’s bonus as the Platinum’s, the bottom line becomes crystal-clear:

The AIR MILES Platinum’s welcome bonus offer is much better than the Reserve’s

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Miles Earning Rates And The Return On Your Purchases

Miles earning rates are something these two cards have in common. They’ll both give you 1mile:$10 in purchases at AIR MILES Sponsors, groceries stores, gas stations and drugstores in Canada, and 1mile:$15 on all other purchases. However, the amount you’re getting back for your purchases is different in both cases.

The following table shows how much you recover from a $1,000 purchase with either card in the best and worst case scenarios:

Card AIR MILES Reserve AIR MILES Platinum
Purchase Value $1,000 $1,000
Miles Earning Rate 1 mile : $12 purchase 1 mile : $12 purchase
Earned Miles 83 miles 83 miles
Miles Value $0.14/mile $0.105/mile
Overall return on your purchase 83 miles x $0.14/mile = $12 (1.2%) 83 miles x $0.105/mile = $9 (0.9%)

So, on average, you’re only getting 1.2% cashback with the AIR MILES Reserve and less than 1% with the AIR MILES Platinum. These numbers aren’t too promising are they? It’s needless to say that if you’re looking for a card with a good return on you spending, you better look elsewhere. Neither of these cards actually represents a good choice in terms of earning potential, and you could do a lot better with many other Amex cards for less money and with more redemption flexibility.

Either way, since we’re here to compare, the bottom line is this:

The American Express AIR MILES Reserve card has a better earning potential than the AIR MILES Platinum, but neither is really good in this category

Travel Benefits

Well, not much to say here, is there? I mean, Just look at the features table and you’ll see a long list of travel benefits on the AIR MILES Reserve and none at all on the AIR MILES Platinum. So, if you’re looking for a travel card that earns you air miles, the reserve is your only real option.

Those travel perks are really awesome, by the way. The lounge access and annual partner ticket alone will take care of the annual fee for you, as long as you travel at least once or twice a year.

Embedded Insurance Coverage

Both cards offer the same standard Amex shopping coverage, but travel insurance is another matter. The AIR MILES Reserve’s travel coverage exceeds by far the limited coverage that comes with the Platinum, as you can see in the following table:

Travel Insurance Policy American Express AIR MILES Reserve card American Express AIR MILES Platinum card
Emergency Medical Insurance ($5,000,000) N/A
Car Rental Theft and Damage Insurance ($85,000)
Travel Accident Insurance ($100,000)
Lost or Stolen Baggage Insurance ($500) N/A
Flight & Baggage Delay Insurance ($500) N/A
Hotel/Motel Burglary Insurance ($500) N/A

The AIR MILES Reserve has a matching travel insurance plan for its many travel perks. It has almost all the embedded insurance policies that Amex offers, only missing trip cancelation/interruption coverage. The Car Rental Theft and Damage policy is definitely a plus on both cards, but especially on the AIR MILES Platinum card, considering its low annual fee.

However, the AIR MILES Platinum falls short once again compared to the Reserve.

Are The Benefits Worth The Annual Fee?

As you saw earlier in this post, both cards turn up a profit with the welcome bonus alone during the first year. This is especially true for the American Express AIR MILES Platinum card. Even though the return from the welcome bonus on the Reserve seems low, when you add up all the other benefits this card brings, it’ll leave both its annual fee and the Platinum well behind, particularly during the second year onwards.

Take a look at the following tables to see how much each card can be worth every year of use with only $1,000 in monthly purchases, one trip with lounge access and a four-day car rental:

Overall Annual ROI On the American Express AIR MILES Reserve Card

Benefit During The First Year After The First Year
Welcome Bonus $330 N/A
Complimentary Partner Ticket $240 $240
1 Priority Pass Lounge visit $170 $170
Return from $12,000 in annual purchases $140 $140
Travel Medical Insurance $80 $80
4-day Car Rental Insurance $80 $80
Booking Fee Waiver $5 $5
Annual Fee ($300) ($300)
TOTAL PROFIT: $745 $415
Additional Benefits

This works out to almost 250% in return for signing up and using your card during the first year, with a manageable spending level. On the long run, the return drops down to roughly 140%, which is still really good. One thing must be said though. Virtually all the high-value benefits that come with this card are travel perks, and if you don’t travel, you won’t be saving money by having this card. In that case, you would have to spend close to $26,000 a year in purchases just to break even with the annual fee.

The AIR MILES Reserve is a travel card, so the more you travel, the more you will reap its benefits. If you travel at least four or more times a year, especially if you’re travelling with your family, you’ll save hundreds of dollars and you’ll be able to travel at ease and like a VIP, from lounge to lounge while being the one that got in for the least amount of money.

Overall Annual ROI On the American Express AIR MILES Platinum Card

Benefit During The First Year After The First Year
Welcome Bonus $210 N/A
Return from $12,000 in annual purchases $120 $120
4-day Car Rental Insurance $80 $80
Annual Fee ($65) ($65)
TOTAL PROFIT: $345 $135
Additional Benefits NOT MANY NOT MANY

In the AIR MILES Platinum’s case, numbers get even better. In the same circumstance as before (one trip with car rental, etc.), with this card you’ll get over 5X in return for the $65 annual fee during the first year. After that, it drops down to 2X, which is a lot better than the Reserve’s return in the same conditions. Even if you didn’t travel at all, you’d just need to spend a little over $500 a month in purchases to break even, which is fairly simple to accomplish.

The Bottom Line When Choosing Between The Two Personal American Express AIR MILES Cards

The two personal American Express AIR MILES cards are quite different and I’ll show you how to choose, based on your lifestyle.

You should choose the AIR MILES Reserve if:

  • You use AIR MILES and want to boost your earning rate
  • You value getting instant Onyx status in the AIR MILES program and you want access to Onyx redemptions without having to earn 6,000 miles in the process
  • You travel frequently, especially if you do so with your family and supplementary cardholders
  • You absolutely can’t travel without lounge access (it changed your life the first time you tried it!)
  • You can manage the $300 annual fee and $1,000 in monthly spending, at least during the first three months of cardmembership

Choose the American Express AIR MILES Platinum if:

  • You use AIR MILES and want to boost your earning rate
  • You don’t want to pay a high annual fee but still want a good return on your investment
  • If you don’t travel a lot, and especially if you always travel alone
  • You don’t mind traveling without a good comprehensive travel insurance plan
  • You can manage the $5000 in monthly spending, at least during the first three months of cardmembership, in order to get the welcome bonus

Other Personal Amex Credit Cards To Consider

The Platinum Card

With an impressive welcome bonus, the best travel insurance coverage Amex has to offer and the most spectacular travel perks you can dream of, the Platinum Card pays for itself several times over, and not only during the first year. If you want to experience what VIP travel is all about, then you absolutely need to try this card out. Lounge access and the famed Platinum Concierge Service are just the tip of the iceberg.

The Amex Cobalt Card

The best everyday spending card in Canada today, the Cobalt includes features like a one of a kind accessible monthly $10 fee in lieu of annual fee, great points earning rates on everyday spending like food and drink and transportation, including commuter transport – a Cobal exclusive. More benefits and travel perks on the side, make this card a must have in any Canadian’s wallet. Learn more about the Amex Cobalt Card.

The Marriott Bonvoy™ Card

As the successor to the Amex SPG Card, the Marriott Bonvoy Card is the best all-around hotel credit card, and it’s not even an expensive card. The long term benefits are so great that it becomes one of the best options available to Canadians, even if you only stay at a hotel for one single night during the entire year. A handsome welcome bonus transferable to the membership rewards program gives you all the flexibility you need to get the most out of Marriott Bonvoy points.

Comparison Of The American Express AIR MILES Business Cards

The Welcome Bonus

Both cards offer a welcome bonus, though the difference is noticeable. 2,000 miles after spending  $5,000 in the first three months versus 150 miles after spending $1,000 in the same period? That’s the difference between paying and not paying an annual fee.

At an average value of $0.12/mile, the AIR MILES for Business Card’s bonus is worth $240, which covers the annual fee during the first year. In the second case, those 150 miles are worth only $16, which is not much, but it’s ok because it’s pure profit, no strings attached.

Miles Earning Rates

The AIR MILES Business Card takes the lead in miles earning rates, as it gives you 1mile:$10 in purchases at AIR MILES Sponsors, and 1mile:$15 on all other purchases. The AIR MILES Gold Business Card, on the other hand will grant 1 mile:$15 on sponsors and 1mile:$20 in all other purchases, which is worse.

 The following table shows how much you recover from a $1,000 purchase with either business card if you split your spending half-and-half between both earning rates each card offers. Since the AIR MILES Business Card offers 25% discount from the Business AIR MILES catalogue, I’ll value each mile a little higher than the basic 10.5 cents per mile, at $0.12/mile:

Card AIR MILES Business AIR MILES Gold Business
Purchase Value $1,000 $1,000
Average Miles Earning Rate 1 mile : $12 purchase 1 mile : $17 purchase
Earned Miles 83 miles 59 miles
Miles Value $0.12/mile $0.105/mile
Overall return on your purchase 83 miles x $0.12/mile = $10 (1 %) 59 miles x $0.105/mile = $6 (0.6%)

What these numbers show is that neither of these two cards are a good choice when it comes to earning you miles and cash back. Plenty of other cards will give you more for your buck.

So, regarding the two American Express AIR MILES Business cards, we can reach the same conclusion we did when analyzing the two personal cards above:

Neither the AIR MILES Business nor the AIR MILES Gold Business cards are a good choice if you’re looking for a high return on your purchases.

Business Solutions

A big difference with the personal cards is that the Business cards include solutions or perks for your small business, while the others do not. One common feature on both business cards is that you could use quarterly or annual expenses reports to assess areas where you can cut operational costs, for example. They also include great business expense management tools to keep track of your businesses expenses as well as your employees’ spending. Finally, with both cards you can also get access to cash at any Interlac ATM in Canada, or Amex branded ATMs worldwide. Keep in mind that foreign transaction fees do apply.

Yet the American Express AIR MILES for Business Card gives you more than the Gold. Great business solutions like a 55-days interest free period, 25% discounts in the AIR MILES for Business Rewards Catalogue, employee card misuse protection and special business servicing from both Amex and AIR MILES, make the AIR MILES Gold Business Card’s business benefits seem insignificant.

As a no-fee credit card, the Amex AIR MILES Gold Business Card doesn’t bring many benefits. In this sense, perhaps the only business benefit where the AIR MILES Gold Business Card beats the AIR MILES for Business Card is in the fact that you can get free supplementary cards for your employees, while in the latter case each additional card costs $50. This was to be expected considering that the basic card is free as well.

Embedded Insurance Coverage

As a no-fee credit card, the Amex AIR MILES Gold Business card only comes with American Express’ basic purchase coverage, whereas the AIR MILES Business Card gives you four additional travel policies. Of course, they’re not free, because in the end you are paying $180 a year for the card.

Travel Insurance Policy American Express AIR MILES Reserve card American Express AIR MILES Platinum card
Car Rental Theft and Damage Insurance ($85,000) N/A
Travel Accident Insurance ($100,000) N/A
Flight & Baggage Delay Insurance ($500) N/A
Hotel/Motel Burglary Insurance ($500) N/A
Purchase Protection Plan
Buyers Assurance Protection Plan
Fraud Protection Guarantee

If you’re looking for an AIR MILES card with travel coverage for your small business, than the Amex AIR MILES for Small Business Card is the only real choice. As before, the one policy you’ll get the most value from if you travel and rent a car is the car rental insurance coverage.

Are The Benefits Worth The Annual Fee?

Let’s take a look at how these business cards perform overall during the first year and on the long run so you can decide for yourself if it’s worth it or not.

Overall Annual ROI On the American Express AIR MILES for Business Card

Benefit During The First Year After The First Year
Welcome Bonus $240 N/A
Return from $12,000 in annual purchases $120 $120
4-day Car Rental Insurance $80 $80
Annual Fee ($180) ($180)
TOTAL PROFIT: $260 $20
Additional Benefits

Notice that this card can give you a very decent return during the first year, but after that, it barely breaks even, even if you charge $1,000 to it every month. Anything less than that and you’ll be in red numbers. That’s definitely not a good sign.

Overall value of the American Express AIR MILES Gold Business Card

Benefit During The First Year After The First Year
Welcome Bonus $16 N/A
Return from $12,000 in annual purchases $72 $72
Annual Fee ($0) ($0)
TOTAL PROFIT: $88 $72
Additional Benefits

In this case, the AIR MILES Gold Business Card performs almost equally in the short and long terms. It turns out to be a great idea to apply for this card, regardless of any other card you may be considering, because you don’t risk to lose anything… it’s free, so everything it gives you is profit; there’s no losing with this card.

The Bottom Line When Choosing Between The Two Business American Express AIR MILES Cards

Both these cards can be good choices depending on your business’ financial behavior.

You should choose the AIR MILES for Business Card if:

  • You use AIR MILES and want to boost your earning rate
  • You can manage the $180 annual fee and $5,000 in purchases during the first three months of cardmembership
  • You plan to pay your entire balance once every two months (thanks to the 55-day interest free period)
  • You don’t plan to carry a balance after the interest free period
  • You travel frequently on business trips and rent a car wherever you go

Since this is a charge card, you should avoid it if you plan on keeping a balance and paying the bare minimum, as there is a very high penalty interest rate of 30% for any unpaid balance.

Choose the American Express AIR MILES Gold Business Card if:

  • You use AIR MILES and want to boost your earning rate
  • You don’t want to pay an annual fee but still want an AIR MILES credit card for your business
  • You don’t mind traveling without insurance coverage (if you did, it’s a better idea to sign up to the AIR MILES Business Card than to buy a separate policy)
  • You plan to, or don’t mind to carry a balance every month.

Other Amex Business Credit Cards To Consider

The Business Platinum Card

The Business Platinum Card® from American Express has offered excellent value to Canadian business owners for years. The card’s impressive 40,000 MR points welcome bonus is enough for a flight to just about anywhere in Europe or Asia, but the long-term benefits – worldwide airport lounge access, impressive travel and business insurance policies, Amex Concierge, and more – also make this card a winner every single year.

The Business Gold Rewards Card

If you’re not in love with AIR MILES, you can also consider the Amex Business Gold Rewards Card that is also a credit card. This card’s annual fee is a bit higher than the AIR MILES Business, but it also brings more perks and earns MR points which can be more flexible than dream miles or cash miles.

The Marriott Bonvoy™ Business Card

Finally, as our winner in the mid-range fee, we recommend the Marriott Bonvoy™ Business Card. It’s also a credit card, it has a lower fee of just $150 but it offers an Annual Free Night award that alone is worth twice that much, making this card a sure win.

This post was not sponsored. The views and opinions expressed in this review are purely my own. We update this information as frequently as possible, but keep in mind that the terms of these cards do change from time to time.

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