Amex AIR MILES Reserve Card: A Review

The American Express® AIR MILES® Reserve Credit Card is the best AIR MILES credit card that Amex has to offer. The welcome bonus of 2,400 miles coupled with Onyx™ Status in the AIR MILES program can be worth up to $400, but it doesn’t stop there. The long-term benefits of this card will make paying the annual fee a laugh. A small example is the 1,700-air-miles complimentary partner ticket, which alone almost single handedly covers the fee. Add in an impressive insurance package, worldwide lounge access with four complimentary visits, and other benefits on the side, and you’ll happily sign up before you finish reading this post.

Find out why this is the perfect travel card for occasional travelers, offering the best value when you travel once or twice a year.

The Amex AIR  MILES Reserve Card
The Amex AIR MILES Reserve Card

As one of Canada’s biggest independent loyalty programs, AIR MILES® Rewards is used and trusted by thousands. After Amex partnered with AIR MILES to bring forth the American Express® AIR MILES® Credit Card family, that number has grown even more. Of all these cards, I find that the benefits that come with the Amex AIR MILES Reserve Card are the ones that best balance its annual fee, and give you more besides. In this Amex AIR MILES Reserve review, I’ll show you why I consider this card as the best choice among all the AIR MILES Credit Cards from American Express.

To make it easier to navigate, this post is divided into the following sections:

#1 The Amex AIR MILES Reserve’s Basic Features And Benefits

Welcome Bonus 2,400 AIR MILES Rewards miles
Miles Earning Rate • 1 Air Mile per $10 in eligible purchases at AIR MILES Sponsors or standalone grocery stores, gas stations and drugstores in Canada
• 1 Air Mile per $15 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
Comprehensive Travel and Purchase Coverage
Automatic Onyx Status
Optional Balance Transfer Offer
Insider Access
Front of The Line
Type of Card Credit Card
Applied Interest Rate • 19.99% on purchases
• 22.99% on funds advances
Annual Fee $299
Additional Card Fee $50
Benefit for Additional Cardmembers

#2 Pros & Cons Of The Amex AIR MILES Reserve Card

PROS CONS
• Great long-term benefits like an annual partner ticket worth over $200 and automatic Onyx Status in the AIR MILES program
• Great Lounge Access offer for the occasional traveler
• Impressive travel and purchase coverage
• Earn Air Miles on any purchase
• Great earning rate on AIR MILES sponsors even when compared the AIR MILES program’s own earning rate
• More flight redemption possibilities including business and first-class tickets as well as better itineraries
• The choice to use your miles to pay for taxes and fees completely avoiding the need for cash when redeeming your miles
• Unlimited earning potential (no caps on earning)
• Low annual fee for a premium card
• Contrary to other offers, the welcome bonus alone doesn’t cover the annual fee during the first year
• The earning rate doesn’t give you a great overall return on purchases. Other Amex cards can give you a lot more
• $750 cap on daily redeemable Cash miles (in-store or online)
• No Amex Concierge Service even though it’s a premium reserve card

Before diving into the details behind all the features and benefits of this card, it’s important to understand how the AIR MILES Rewards program works.

#3 An Overview Of The AIR MILES Rewards Program

The AIR MILES Rewards program, as you may have imagined, is a loyalty program. However, there are some differences between this loyalty program and others we’ve covered before such as Aeroplan, Membership Rewards and the Marriott BonvoyTM program.

A Different Sort Of Loyalty Program

The biggest difference with the AIR MILES program is that it’s an independent loyalty program, unlike Membership Rewards, which is tied to American Express or Aeroplan, which is tied to Air Canada. Three key features of this program include:

  • Each partner merchant has its own rewarding scheme, depending on the terms in which it signed up with LoyaltyOne, the company that runs AIR MILES.
  • There are literally hundreds to thousands of merchants in Canada where you can shop and earn AIR MILES Rewards miles.
  • There are also hundreds of different ways to redeem your points.

AIR MILES members are called Collectors, and when you sign up, you receive an AIR MILES Collector’s Card, reminiscent of the Aeroplan Card you get when signing up to that loyalty program. You show this card at eligible merchants to earn points on purchases, and you use this card to pay for eligible purchases with your miles.

A Different Way To Express Earning Rates

Earning rates in the AIR MILES Rewards program are expressed a bit differently from other programs. Instead of miles per every $1, they are expressed as the amount you have to spend on purchases to earn each mile.

This makes it a bit bothersome when you want to compare earning rates, especially if you want to compare with other loyalty programs. The bottom line is that the higher the number, the lower the earning rate.

Let me show you what I mean with the following example of a $140 purchase at different typical earning rates:

Earning Rate Total Purchase Miles Earned
$35 per 1 mile $140 $140 x 1mile / $35 = 4 miles
$20 per 1 mile $140 $140 x 1mile / $20 = 7 miles
$15 per 1 mile $140 $140 x 1mile / $15 = 9.33 miles
$10 per 1 mile $140 $140 x 1mile / $10 = 14 miles
$5 per 1 mile $140 $140 x 1mile / $5 = 28 miles

Comparing the first and last earning rates will clearly show what I just said: $5 per mile is seven times lower than $35, but you earn 28 miles on a $140 purchase, which is seven times greater than 4 miles.

This has some other setbacks apart from this unintuitive way to interpret the earning rate. The biggest problem is that you can’t add these earning rates when you earn more than one rate on the same purchase(something you can actually do with your Amex AIR MILES Reserve), but we’ll get back to that further down the post.

Two Different Kinds Of Miles

Here I’ll highlight another oddity of AIR MILES Rewards: The miles you earn are automatically split between two balances: your Cash Balance, and  your Dream Balance. Miles that go to your cash balance are called Cash Miles, whereas the ones that go to your dream balance are called Dream Miles. You can choose what portion of the miles that you earn go to each of the two balances (in 10% increments), but make note that, once in one balance, miles can’t be transferred to the other.

Cash Balance for Cash Rewards

You use your cash miles to pay for Cash Rewards, which you use to get discounts at AIR MILES sponsors, either in physical stores or online.

You trade in 95 cash miles for every $10 in discounts, and there’s a cap at $750 in accumulated discounts each day.

Dream Balance For Dream Rewards

Dream Rewards are the more traditional way to use miles. They work like any other loyalty rewards redemption you’ve come across in the past, in the sense that you pay the whole price of different rewards exclusively with your miles, and you choose those rewards by logging into your collector’s account in the AIR MILES website.

There are four Dream Rewards redemption categories:

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  • Merchandise
  • Events and attractions
  • Stage Passes
  • Travel

Some of these categories offer better value than others, but it’s sure great to have options.

AIR MILES has 15 partner airlines with which you can redeem your miles for flights. It also partnered with five of the world’s best hotel chains, giving you access to literally thousands and thousands of dream hotels around the world.

#4 How Much Are The Amex AIR MILES Reserve Miles Worth

As usual, miles value depends on how you redeem them. Since there are two types of air miles, which you can redeem in different ways, we’ll look at them separately:

Cash Miles’ Value

This is the easiest to assess value of any loyalty rewards points. There’s only one redemption value for cash miles: You trade in 95 miles for a $10 cash discount coupon.

This translates to a value of:

$10 / 95 miles = $0.105 or 10.5 cents for each mile.

As you can see, air miles are worth close to 10 times more than other loyalty points like the Marriott BonvoyTM points, for example, which are worth close to 1 cent per point.

Dream Miles’ Value

There are different types of redemptions for Dream miles. Here’s an estimate of the value you can get out of each type:

  • Merchandise Dream Rewards: 6 to 7 cents per mile
  • Events And Attractions, and Stage Passes: 10 to 12 cents per mile
  • AIR MILES Flights Program: 10 to 12 cents per mile
  • Hotel Bookings: 12 or more cents per mile

The Bottom Line On Air Miles Value:

As you just saw, the value of each miles will go from about 6 to more than 12 cents ($0.06 to $0.12/mile). However, the best estimate we can make, the one that will always hit the bullseye, is the Cash miles value of 10.5 cents or $0.105 per mile.

After seen all the redemption categories and the value you can get in each case, I’ll give you some easy to follow advice on how to get the most out of every mile:

  • It’s a good idea to use your miles for cash rewards because it’s where you’ll get a good and consistent value
  • If you prefer dream rewards, then spend your dream miles only on hotel stays or on special events. It’s where you’ll get the best value.
  • Even if you follow the previous advice, do the math every time you plan to redeem your miles and make sure you’re getting a good deal.
  • Just because AIR MILES’ site says that something is a great once-in-a-lifetime deal or opportunity doesn’t mean that it is. Always do the math first.

Air Mile Value For Onyx Collectors

The average 10.5 cents I just mentioned is the value that regular AIR MILES members or Blue Collectors will get out of their miles. However, as you’ll learn in the section covering the AIR MILES Status, Onyx members – a status you get automatically with your new Amex AIR MILES Reserve – could get up to 67% more from each mile when they redeem them for special discounted flights only available for that tier. This could raise the value of each mile to over 17.5 cents or $0.175/mile.

You’ve gotten a couple of previews of some of the benefits that come with the Amex AIR MILES Reserve Card, but now it’s time to really dig into the details:

#5 Amex AIR MILES Reserve Benefit #1: The Welcome Bonus

Once you’re approved for your new Amex AIR MILES Reserve Card for the first time, and after you charge $3,000 in purchases to it before your third month as a cardmember, you’ll receive an enticing welcome bonus of 2,400 AIR MILES Rewards Miles (or simply miles or air miles). The AIR MILES Rewards program offers over a thousand different ways to redeem those miles.

Using Your Bonus To Pay For Flights

Regarding travel, you could use those points to pay for a domestic long-haul flight during the high season, or a round-trip ticket within your Canadian province, both in economy class.

A world map depicting in white shaded regions how far the Amex AIR MILES Reserve welcome bonus will take you from Toronto
The white shaded region represents how far your bonus will take you if you depart from Toronto

Using Your Bonus To Pay For Hotel Stays

You can also use them to pay for stays at thousands of different hotels around the world, including Marriott, Hilton and InterContinental, just to name a few. The bonus is enough for 2-3 nights on some great 3 and 4-star hotels many great destinations, or even for one night at any of the following beautiful hotels in Paris:

Four great Parisian hotels you can book for one night with the Amex AIR MILES Reserve
Four great choices to stay in Paris for one night with your welcome bonus

Having said that, this bonus is only 400 miles higher than the 2,000 bonus miles that come with the AIR MILES Platinum Card. This is rather disappointing because the annual fee on the reserve is over four times higher. At the basic rate of 10.5 cents/mile, the bonus would translate to $250, which doesn’t even cover the annual fee. However, when you consider the fact that you could get up to 67% more value from your miles with the Reserve Card, thanks to the automatic Onyx Status, these 2,400 miles suddenly start feeling like 4,000. It won’t go as high as two or three times the annual fee, but at least it’ll be more than enough to make signing up for this card a good deal.

Overall, this benefit alone could be worth over $400, making the Amex AIR MILES Reserve Card an easy choice for an investment.

#6 Amex AIR MILES Reserve Benefit #2: Miles Earning Rates

The earning rate on the AIR MILES Reserve is the same as in the AIR MILES Platinum Card. A great feature of these AIR MILES Credit Cards is that they earn miles on all purchases, not just on AIR MILES sponsors. There are two slightly different rates:

You’ll get 1 mile for every $10 on eligible purchases

This means that on a $60 eligible purchase, for example, you’ll receive 6 miles deposited directly to your AIR MILES Collector’s account (split between the two balances). Eligible implies one of the following four categories of purchases:

  • Purchases at any AIR MILES sponsor or partner
  • Gasoline stations in Canada (Stand-alone)
  • Grocery stores in Canada (Stand-alone)
  • Drugstores in Canada (Stand-alone)

This makes it very easy to get the best earning rate on common everyday expenses like food, medicines and gas.

1 mile for every $15 on all other purchases

In this case, a purchase of the same $60 will get you only 4 miles. The good thing here is that the American Express AIR MILES Reserve Card rewards you for any purchase, while AIR MILES alone will not. In fact, the 1 mile for every $15 earning rate is better than what most AIR MILES sponsors themselves offer (which averages to $20 for each mile)

Now, you may be wondering:

Are these good Earning Rates, or bad ones?

Since they are expressed differently from the earning rates on other cards such as the Aeroplan Reserve, the Cobalt, or the Marriott BonvoyTM Amex cards, it’s a bit hard to compare these earning rates straight up. The answer to this problem is simple though: we just have to know how much the miles are really saving you on your purchase.

Suppose you made a $100 purchase at the 1 mile per $10 rate. That means you’ll receive 10 miles for your purchase. Valuated at an average of 10 cents per mile, those 10 miles are worth $1.

So, basically, your AIR MILES Reserve is really only giving you back $1 on a $100 purchase. In other words, you get 1% back. To put things in perspective, the Amex SimplyCash Card gives you that same return, but it’s free. The Amex SimplyCash Preferred Card gives you 2% back on all purchases, which is twice as much, and it’s a lot cheaper as well. If you compare it with the Amex Platinum Card, it looks even worse.

Either way, 1% is still better than 0%, and this card comes with other great benefits that’ll tilt the balance in the right direction.

#7 Double-Dipping: Earning Miles Twice With Your Amex AIR MILES Reserve Card

How does this work? It’s beyond easy! As a collector (read AIR MILES Rewards member), you’re entitled to earn miles on every purchase at partner brands, as we just showed you. But as an American Express AIR MILES Reserve cardholder, you’ll also get 1 mile for every $10 of the same purchase, no matter how much that merchant awards. This is because, in the second case, it’s Amex that’s rewarding you for your card purchase, not the merchant.

Put two and two together, and you’re earning miles twice when you show your AIR MILES Collector’s Card AND you pay with your Amex AIR MILES Reserve.

Finding out how this adds up isn’t that hard, but, reader beware, it’s not as simple as adding earning rates. Remember that earning rates in the AIR MILES program are expressed differently from other cases!

Let’s look at a simple example so that you’ll learn to work out your own numbers:

Case Study: Buying a $600 laptop at Amazon.ca

Ok, so Amazon.ca is one of AIR MILES’ sponsors. This means that by paying for your laptop with your Amex AIR MILES Reserve Card, you’ll earn miles twice. But at what rate?

Reviewing past sections of this post, you’ll get 1 miler for every $10 thanks to your Amex card + 1 mile for every $20 awarded by Amazon.ca, through the AIR MILES program.

The first mistake you might be tempted to make is to assume that this adds up to a rate of $30 for every mile, but it doesn’t work that way. Remember that the higher the number, the worse the rate, so $30 to earn a mile is worse than any of the two separate rates.

One way to work it out is to figure out how many miles you get with each rate, and THEN add the miles:

Purchase Value: $600
Miles earned with your card purchase: $600 x 1mil/$10 = 60 miles
Miles earned for the sponsor purchase: $600 x 1mil/$20 = 30 miles
TOTAL: 90 miles

This works out to 1 mile for every $6.67 of purchases at Amazon.ca.

#8 Amex Reserve AIR MILES Credit Card Benefit #3: Annual Companion Ticket

This is one of the Amex AIR MILES Reserve’s best long-term benefits. Once every year, when you redeem your miles for an AIR MILES flight reward, you will get a complimentary ticket for a companion for the same itinerary, worth up to 1,700 miles. Those 1,700 miles can easily be worth close to $280 when you combine them with the Onyx Status that comes with your card (read below for more on the Onyx Status).

There are other Amex cards that offer a similar benefit. One example is the AeroplanPlus Reserve Card that also offers an annual partner ticket worth up to 25,000 aeroplan miles. However, the key difference with the AIR MILES partner ticket benefit is that you’re not limited to a 1,700 miles flight ticket. You may still use this benefit even if your flight costs more than 1,700 dream miles. All you have to do is pay the extra miles of your partner’s ticket with your dream balance, and you’re both set to go.

This added flexibility really enhances this benefit’s value, and it practically ensures that you will be able to redeem it for the maximum 1,700 miles.

#9 Amex AIR MILES Reserve Benefit #4: More Flexibility In Flight Redemptions

Ok, so you know that AIR MILES offers its own flight rewards with its airline partners. However, the partners list is limited, and unless you’re an Onyx collector (which, thankfully, you will be if you sign up for this card), you won’t have access all the flights they offer. This slight setback of the AIR MILES Rewards program, is overcome by Amex for its cardmembers, by offering two additional benefits:

Access To Air Miles Business-Class Flights

This is an exclusive benefit of the AIR MILES Reserve Credit Card. AIR MILES Flight Rewards are strictly for economy-class flights, no matter where you go. It doesn’t even matter if you’re an Onyx Collector. However, by signing up to an American Express AIR MILES Reserve Card, you’ll also be able to pay for business-class flights within the AIR MILES Flights program.

Access to FlexFly Redemptions

What do you do if the destination you want simply isn’t covered by any of AIR MILES’ partners? This is a frustrating scenario that many collectors come across once in a while. If you find yourself in this situation, FlexFly redemptions can help. This is yet another Amex AIR MILES Reserve Card exclusive, and it’s as simple as redemptions get: book any flight, on any carrier, in any class you want, and pay for it with the miles in your dream balance.

Amazingly, the redemption rate for the FexFly benefit is of 770 miles for every $100, which turns out to be 13 cents per mile, which is not bad at all!

#10 American Express AIR MILES Reserve Benefit #5: Lounge Access

Airport lounges absolutely change the way you experience travel. The problem is that, in most cases, to access any lounge requires that you be a member of that lounge club, and memberships can be expensive.

The AIR MILES Reserve Card comes with a Priority Pass membership that not only gives you access to over 1,200 lounges worldwide at no extra cost, but it also throws in four complimentary lounge visits per year. You could be chilling out in the newly added Primeclass Lounge Zurich, whether you’re departing from or just in transit in that city’s international airport.

Primeclass Lounge, Zurich, Switzerland
The bar at the Zurich Primeclass Lounge
Primeclass Lounge, Zurich, Switzerland
Some of the inviting snacks and refreshments you can enjoy at the Lounge

What’s so special about lounge access?

Lounges aren’t just comfortable places to sit and rest. Most establishments also offer a wide array of services that make them a great place to be before you go. These services include things like

  • Refreshments, snacks, hot and cold beverages and even alcoholic beverages, in case you’re hungry, thirsty, or you just want a hot cup of coffee
  • Showers to freshen up before your flight
  • Nap-rooms where you can sleep during long layovers
  • Complimentary high-speed Wi-Fi
  • Business centers where you can print or fax anything you need, make an important phone call or give your presentations some finishing touches
  • Satellite or cable TV
  • Newspaper and magazine stands to keep up with the latest news
  • Some lounges even go as far as to offer massage chairs, spas and playgrounds.

The Amex AIR MILES Reserve’s Lounge Access Is A Great Choice For Occasional Travelers And Frequent Fliers Alike

The Amex AIR MILES Reserve Card includes a Priority Pass Lounge membership that grants you access to all of its lounges, four complimentary visits, and a reduced additional-visit fee of just $27 USD.

When Does The Amex AIR MILES Reserve Card’s Lounge Access Offer The Most Value?

This membership plan is like having the Priority Pass Standard membership (which costs $99 USD), and four prepaid visits (which would run for a total $128 USD). So just by signing up, you’re already saving about $300 CAD.

But the kicker is that the reduced additional visit fee saves you $5 USD every time you visit a lounge after the fourth visit. This makes the AIR MILES Reserve’s lounge access better than any of the membership plans Priority Pass offers, at least for the first 16 visits, even after paying for twelve of them!

The bottom line is that signing up to the American Express AIR MILES Reserve Card’ is the cheapest way to get Priority Pass lounge access if you travel between 4 and 16 timer every year.

This makes it a great choice for both infrequent fliers (those who travel only a few times a year), as well as for frequent fliers that travel a little more than once a month. If you don’t travel at all, of course, then this benefit doesn’t offer you any value.

If you’ve never experienced an airport lounge, this is your opportunity to do it with style and at the lowest price possible.

#11 Amex AIR MILES Reserve Benefit #6: Optional Balance Transfer Offer

As a way to attract new members, Amex provides the Optional Balance Offer with the Reserve AIR MILES Card. To be eligible for this offer, the only condition is that you’re not already an Amex cardmember (i.e., you don’t own any charge or credit card issued by Amex Bank of Canada)

What Is The Optional Balance Transfer Offer?

This is an offer for new American Express cardmembers, who can opt to transfer their debts from other credit cards to the AIR MILES Reserve Card upon enrollment. As long as you don’t fall behind on your minimum payments, you’ll get a preferential interest rate of just 1.99% on all transferred balance during the first 6 billing cycles (read months).

In short, it’s a way of helping Canadians pay off their debts by lowering the interest incurred because of the balance they carry every month. It’s like taking a low-interest loan with Amex to pay for your other credit cards.

Pay off your other credit card debts with the Air Miles Reserve Card

Some cash cards offer similar offers, and some even go the length of charging 0% interest and increasing the interest-free period to 1 year. However, the good thing about the AIR MILES Reserve Card’s offer is that Amex doesn’t charge a balance transfer fee, whereas the others do.

How To Opt For The Balance Transfer

Considering that you’re not already an Amex cardmember and are, therefore, eligible for this offer, all you need to do is opt in for the offer when filling out your online application.

That being said, there’s a limit to how much balance you can transfer to your Amex AIR MILES Card account.

How Much Of My Balance Can I Transfer To My New American Express AIR MILES Card

The maximum amount you can transfer is limited to $7,500 or 50% of your assigned credit limit, whichever is smaller.

Let’s look at the numbers of three simple examples to show you how this works:

  • Suppose you have a balance of $2,000 and a credit limit of $6,000. In this case, since 50% of your credit limit is $3,000 and this number is smaller than $7,500, than you can transfer a maximum of $3,000. Consequently, in this particular case, you could transfer your whole balance of $2,000.
  • Now suppose that you have a balance of $8,000 and a credit limit of $20,000 (50% of which being $10,000). Contrary to the previous case, you can’t transfer your whole balance because it’s higher than $7500. Furthermore, since $7,500 is less than $10,000, then you can transfer a maximum of $7,500.
  • Finally, suppose you have a balance of $8,000 but a credit limit of just $10,000 (50% of which is $5,000). You obviously can’t transfer the whole $8,000 balance for the same reason as above. However, since $5,000 y less than $7,500, then in this case you can’t transfer $7,500 either. You can only transfer a maximum of the said $5,000.

When Should You Opt For The Balance Transfer Offer?

One very important thing to consider is that after the low-interest promotional period of 6 months expires, any unpaid transferred balance will be subject to the current funds advance interest rate. As of today, this means that from under 2%, the interest rate jumps up to 22.99%.

That’s an over 10-fold increase in interest rate.

You’ll also immediately lose the low preferential rate and get the funds advance rate if you fall behind on your payments, even during the first six months. Additionally, if you fall behind again, you’ll lose that rate as well and get 26.99%. The bottom line is that it hurts to pay late.

I’ll summarize all this information into simple actionable advice.

You should only apply for the balance transfer if:

  • You’re financially responsible and never miss a payment, even if it is the bare minimum.
  • The current interest rate on your debt is greater than 22.99%, no matter how long you plan to carry a balance
  • Your current interest rate on your balance is between 1.99% and 22.99% but you think you can pay off the entire balance in 6 months or less.

You should definitely not apply for the balance transfer if:

  • You frequently find yourself missing payments or not paying the minimum on time.
  • If the current interest rate on your balance is actually lower than 1.99% (obviously)

If your current interest rate is lower than 22.99% but you can’t pay the debt by the end of six months, it may still make sense to transfer the balance to the AIR MILES Card from American Express. It all depends on the difference between the two interest rates, and how long you think it will take you to pay off the entire debt.

#12 An Amex AIR MILES Reserve Exclusive: Automatic Onyx Status In The AIR MILES Rewards Program

This is one of the great benefits that come exclusively with you Amex AIR MILES Reserve Card.

The AIR MILES Rewards program offers three different levels of rewards, 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)

Depending on which status you achieved, you’ll get access to more and more benefits.

What Do I Get In Each Status In The AIR MILES Program?

That’s the key question! It’s not about how cool the name is; it’s what it means to be in each level. Check out the following table and compare all the perks and benefits you get with each status in the AIR MILES Rewards Program. You’ll want to compare the last column with the other two, because that’s what comes with your American Express AIR MILES Reserve Credit Card:

STATUS Blue Gold Onyx™
Flights, merchandise and events Standard Prime Premium
AIR MILES Perks
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    

The Onyx Status

Becoming an Onyx Collector without the help of your Amex AIR MILES Reserve Card isn’t easy, because you need to earn a minimum of 6,000 air miles during one calendar year. This amounts to $120,000 in purchases, or to roughly half of that if you have the Amex AIR MILES Platinum , which has the same earning potential as the Reserve, but without the automatic Onyx status.

So you would need to spend $5,000 to $10,000 a month to get to Onyx Status by yourself. That’s one steep climb. It sure is great that your new American Express AIR MILES Credit Card brings in Onyx Status, but what will that mean to you?

Keep reading to find out:

Access to Premium flight, merchandise and event rewards.

This means that you get the whole package. You start off with access to all the rewards that AIR MILES has to offer, which translates into the possibility to book better flights, more routes, with more schedule flexibility. Not only that, you can also use your miles to pay for taxes and fees, avoiding the need to pay with cash altogether.

Better Discounts On Flights And Merchandise Than With Gold Status

Onyx collectors enjoy an additional 10% in discounts compared to Gold collectors in both flight and merchandise rewards. This makes savings go up to 40% on select flights and to 20% on eligible merchandise. This is a really valuable benefit, as it could increase your miles value by 67%. Here’s why:

Boost your Dream Mile’s Value By Up To 67%

Suppose you find a flight that normally costs $1,000, but it’s offered in AIR MILES for 12,500 Dream miles. That would give you a value of $1,000 / 12,500 miles = $0.08 per mile, or 8 cents.

Now suppose that you’re an Onyx Collector ant that the said ticket is eligible for a 40% discount. This means that it’ll cost only 7,500 miles, but the value of the ticket is the same $1,000, because it’s the exact same flight. Now, your miles are worth more, because you’re getting the same value for less miles. In fact each mile will be worth, in this hypothetical case, $1,000 / 7,500 miles = $0.1333 per mile, or 13.33 cents.

THAT’S 67% MORE THAN THE ORIGINAL 8 CENTS PER MILE VALUATION!

Have a go and do your own numbers, it’ll be the same every time, no matter how much value the flight you choose will  originally give your miles.

By the same logic, the 20% discount in the miles you have to pay for select merchandise will increase your miles value by almost 25%.

If you manage to spend your entire welcome bonus on Onyx discounted flights, the 2,400 miles could easily be worth $400! That’s $100 over the annual fee.

The question is, will you join one of the biggest loyalty programs in Canada and enjoy from day one all the benefits it has to offer?

#13 The AIR MILES Reserve Card’s Insurance Coverage

As an American Express premium Canadian Credit Card, the AIR MILES Reserve offers an impressive insurance package that will keep your mind at ease when you travel, as much as whe you shop.

Travel Coverage

The following table shows all the travel insurance policies that come embedded into your card, as well as their respective coverage limits:

Policy Description Coverage
Emergency Medical Insurance Covers for accidents or illnesses that require medical attention, during the first 15 days of your trip. $5,000,000
Car Rental Theft and Damage Insurance Used to waive the rental company’s own daily car insurance policy Rental Car with a maximum MSRP of $85,000
$100,000 Travel Accident Insurance AD&D policy to protect you against accidents while in transit $100,000
Lost or Stolen Baggage Insurance Covers for lost personal effects or damage to your luggage while in transit $500
Flight & Baggage Delay Insurance Covers for hotel, restaurant and out of pocket expenses when flights or your baggage are delayed for a long time $500
Hotel/Motel Burglary Insurance Covers for lost personal effects if your hotel gets burglarized $500

A very important feature of the embedded insurance coverage of the Amex AIR MILES Reserve Card is that it covers for any number of trips throughout the year (something referred to as Multi-trip policy in the insurance world). Additionally, it not only covers you, but your spouse and any dependent children you may have, as long as they are traveling with you, of course.

Purchas Coverage

Apart from these travel insurance policies, the Amex AIR MILES Reserve also comes with the standard Amex purchase coverage:

Policy Description Coverage
Purchase Protection® Plan Insures your purchases against accidental physical damage and theft for 90 days after purchase $1,000
Buyer’s Assurance® Protection Plan Doubles the manufacturer’s warranty for up to 1 extra year $1,000

How To Be Eligible For Coverage

One key condition to be eligible for coverage in all the policies I just mentioned is that everything has to be paid for with your Amex AIR MILES Reserve Card. Other conditions obviously apply, such as exclusions, limitations, pre-existing conditions, etc., but that happens with any insurance policy.

If you want to learn more, you can read our post on American Express Insurance.

How Much Is The Reserve AIR MILES Credit Card Insurance Worth?

It’s hard to estimate exactly how much you’re saving by having this insurance coverage. You’ll be hard pressed to find a policy that’ll cover you, your spouse and any dependent children under 23, as well as any additional cardmember, his or her spouse and dependent children, for an unlimited number of trips, every year.

If you add in the fact that insurance prices also depend on age, gender, pre-existing medical conditions and stability periods, calculations get even harder.

Regardless, here’s a quick estimate only considering the two most valuable policies, which are the travel Emergency Medical Insurance and the Car Rental Theft and Damage Insurance:

Emergency Medical Insurance Value

An annual, multi-trip $5 million travel medical insurance policy for one 35 year old traveler in perfect health costs an average $80, give or take. Add in your spouse and one child and the cost, at the very least, doubles. If you add in more children and additional cardmembers, you’ll be pushing well over $300.

Car Rental Theft And Damage Insurance Value

For a rental car worth $85,000 or less, Theft and Damage insurance can cost $16 to $23 per day. Therefore, paying with your AIR MILES Reserve Card for a short, 3-day rental could be saving you anything from $48 to almost $70. And that’s only for a single very short trip.

The bottom line is that, by using your Amex Reserve AIR MILES Credit Card year after year, and by traveling and renting a car at least once a year, you’ll be saving well over $120 in travel insurance alone, but as a conservative estimate, I’ll round this up to $100.

#14 Four Other Special AIR MILES Credit Card Benefits

Special Benefit #1: Use Miles To Pay For Taxes And Fees

When I go flight-hacking, I always try to pay the least amount as possible with cash, that’s what my points are for! However, most loyalty rewards programs will only let you pay for the base ticket price with their reward points, and not the taxes and fees. These can go as high as one or two hundred dollars for international flights on certain carriers.

You could say hey! that’s not a problem, I’ll just pay for the fees with my Amex card and get rewarded and keep boosting my rewards balance. The thing is, since taxes and fees aren’t classified as purchases, they won’t earn you miles or any other kind of points for that matter!

With the Amex AIR MILES Reserve, you get a neat benefit that allows you to pay for taxes and fees with your miles, avoiding the use of cash altogether.

Special Benefit #2: Avoid AIR MILES Booking Fees

This is a simple benefit but it could be worth a lot if you travel frequently. If you book travel through AIR MILES while being a Reserve cardmember, AIR MILES will waive the booking fee whether it’s an online booking or by phone. Those fees are always in the $2-$8 range per trip, per traveler.

That’s another $64 you could save if you travel twice in a year with your spouse and two children!

Special Benefit #3: Insider AccessTM

Insider AccessTM is about seeing your favorite artists LIVE, for FREE!

A couple of times every year, Amex opens up a contest for American Express AIR MILES Cardmembers (sporting either the Amex AIR MILES, AIR MILES Platinum or AIR MILES Reserve credit cards) so they get a chance to win free tickets to their favorite shows.

In some cases, you need to answer some skill-testing questions to enter the contest. You can also participate and enter more than once (usually limited to one entry per day) to increase your chances of winning.

To give you an idea of just how great the prizes are, the most recent contest was for two tickets to see Jennifer Lopez’s “It’s My Party” world tour in Canada. Last year, it was Shania Twain and Bon Jovi

https://www.themarcocorporation.biz/AmexAirMilesContest/contests/c39/JenniferLopez2019.jpg

To keep an eye out for the latest contest, all you have to do is visit American Express Insider Access to find out which event is coming up.

Special Benefit #4: Front Of The Line

Front of the line gives you access to many benefits regarding some of the most sought after concerts and special events. These benefits include getting advanced tickets before they are sold to the general public, and reserved tickets so that you’ll always have an extra chance to buy them even if they run out for everyone else.

Additionally, you get other perks as well on special venues and locations like at the Budwiser Stage where you can get in through a special priority line, and enjoy the show at the Amex lounge.

#15 Is The AIR MILES Reserve Credit Card Worth The Annual Fee?

Absolutely! Even though almost $300 may seem steep at first glance, the benefits will clearly outweigh the fee year after year, as long as you travel at least once or twice annually.

And that’s without counting in the welcome bonus!

To estimate how good of a deal this is I’ll make the following assumptions, based on four trips per year:

  • I’ll value each mile at 16.7 cents apiece due to the Onyx Status and use round numbers.
  • As I explained above, I’ll value the Priority Pass lounge access at $300 CAD .
  • I’ll value the insurance coverage at $100, in order to be as conservative as I can.
  • I’ll value each AIR MILES Booking fee waiver at an average $5 per booking, therefore in four trips you would save $20

Let’s see how this card performs during the first year and for the long run:

Benefit During The First Year After The First Year
Welcome Bonus $400 N/A
Complimentary Partner Ticket $300 $300
Lounge Access $300 $300
Insurance Coverage $100 $100
Booking Fee Waiver $20 $20
Annual Fee ($300) ($300)
TOTAL PROFIT: $820 $420
Additional Benefits

This is a conservative estimate, and it still works out to return of almost 300% during the first year and over 100% every year after that. Even if we valued the partner ticket at 10 cents per mile, it still works out to over 100% in return. The question is, will you get your hands on this card, or will you let it pass?

#16 FAQs

Can I transfer dream miles from my dream balance to my cash balance?

No you can’t. What you can do is choose what percentage of your miles go to each balance. That way you’ll always have the miles you need for the rewards you want.

How Do I Protect My Cash Balance Against Unauthorized Use?

All you have to do is log into your AIR MILES profile and lock your cash account. That way no one will be able to use your cash miles (not even you) until you unlock them. If you download the AIR MILES app, you’ll be able to lock/unlock your Cash Balance anywhere, anytime. Consequently, you can keep your account locked all the time, and only unlock it once you’re at the cashier.

If My Collector’s Account Is Locked, Will I Still Earn Miles?

Yes, you will. Locking your account only stops cash miles from going out of your account, but it doesn’t stop them from going in. You can keep your account locked all the time and only unlock it when you’re about to pay with your miles.


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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