The True Value of Air Miles

Bassel Abdel-Qader
by Bassel Abdel-Qader March 17, 2016 / No Comments

When people think about their Air Miles, they’re usually struck by the thought that they need a lot of them to redeem for any type of reward—and that’s about as far as the thought process goes. But what makes a good rewards program? Is it as simple as getting the best travel credit card to earn the most miles as possible? What strategies can people employ to ensure that they’re making the most of their Air Miles when redeeming them?

The inconsistency of the value of Air Miles presents a challenge when assessing the flexibility of an Air Mile. The value of Air Miles, when redeemed for a flight, depends on the time of year (high or low season), and the travel destination. Generally speaking, we want to associate an average dollar value to an Air Mile so that we have a benchmark to compare all other possible values to. However, there are many factors which can’t necessarily be quantified that contribute to the value of an Air Mile. Here’s a little bit about each of them:

Extent of coverage

Knowing how much of your trip can be covered by your Air Miles is essential to knowing how best to redeem them. Certain loyalty programs, for instance, allow you to redeem your Air Miles only for the base price of the flight while any taxes and additional fees must be paid for out of pocket. Other programs allow you to redeem your Miles for the entire price of the flight. In the case of Air Miles, taxes and fees are partially covered. Air Miles can be used to cover the cost of the ticket as well as fuel surcharges; anything on top of that must be paid for out of pocket.

Associated airlines

Many rewards programs make your Air Miles redeemable only through a particular travel agency or with a select few airlines. The more your options are limited, the less flexibility you have with your miles. The Air Miles program offers great flexibility in this case, providing collectors with over 30 different airlines to choose from, including WestJet, Air Canada, American Airlines, British Airways, and Lufthansa.

Transferability

Several different loyalty programs allow you to transfer their points into Air Miles. However, you aren’t allowed to transfer your Air Miles into points for other programs. In addition, when you earn Air Miles, you earn two types of miles: Air Miles Cash rewards and Air Miles Dream rewards. Cash rewards can be redeemed for everyday purchases, while Dream rewards are redeemed for travel rewards such as hotel bookings and flights. You set your preference as to what percentage of your earned miles you want to fall into each bucket, but after that you can’t transfer points between both balances.

Expiration

Finally, when judging the strength of a loyalty program, you need to take into account whether or not your miles expire (and if so, when). Air Miles expire 5 years after they are earned and, starting December 31st of this year, reward miles that are older than 5 years will begin to expire on a quarterly basis. You can request to have the Air Miles program send you a personalized expiry e-mail statement that tells you how many miles are due to expire each quarter for the next year.

There are several credit cards on the market right now that are affiliated with the Air Miles program, but our favourite Air Miles MasterCard that lets you start earning right away is the BMO Air Miles World Elite MasterCard. Here are a few reasons why:

BMO AIR MILES World Elite MasterCard

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  • $120 annual fee
  • Redeem for Air Miles flights anywhere in North America for 25% fewer miles!
  • You’ll get exclusive access to VIP Airport Lounges worldwide with the included Priority Pass membership
  • You’ll earn 1 Air Mile for every $10 you spend, without limitations
  • Limited time: Get 1,000 Air Miles bonus miles

This card, however, does have an annual fee of $120. If you’re still looking for a great card that earns you Air Miles but you don’t want to pay an annual fee, consider the BMO Air Miles MasterCard:

BMO Air Miles MasterCard

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  • No annual fee
  • You’ll earn 1 Air Mile for every $20 you spend, without limitations
  • Limited time: Receive 500 AIR MILES Bonus Miles after your first card purchase
  • Get up to a 25% discount at National Car Rental and Alamo Rent A Car