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Air Miles loses a major in-store Partner (and it’s not the first)

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Air Miles may be one of the largest loyalty programs in Canada – with a whopping 11 million accountholders collectively swiping thousands of Air Miles Cards a minute – but it’s arguably become less rewarding when shopping in-store.

As of April, LCBO officially dropped Air Miles as an in-store Partner after 23 long years.

LCBO joins Rona, Lowe’s, and Rexall, which all exited the Air Miles program within the past two years – with the latter launching its own rewards program Be Well. Sport Chek was a former Air Miles Partner a while back too but left Air Miles for Canadian Tire’s Triangle Rewards.

Previously, Air Miles collectors could redeem Miles for in-store purchases right at the checkout counter at these retail giants as well as earn Miles on new purchases (Air Miles credit card holders would earn Miles twice).

While the selection of Air Miles Partners does vary by province, here’s a snapshot of the loyalty program’s current in-store Partners:

The current roster of Partners does span several retail locations, and you can still earn and redeem a ton of Miles if you regularly cross off your grocery list at Sobeys or fill up your tank at any of the 1,300 Shell gas stations dotted across the country. But it’s clear the number of in-store Partners is dwindling.

The silver lining: Air Miles has beefed up its online shopping portal

Air Miles has reportedly added 95 new e-commerce Partners, typically earning 1 Mile for every $20 spent (or more). The caveat is you can’t collect Miles on all online purchases. In the case of Walmart, for example, groceries, baby products, and video games are excluded from earning Miles from (note, Air Miles credit card holders will still earn Miles on every dollar spent and just won’t earn Miles twice).

Air Miles also continues to have ties with a handful of other service providers that let you earn (but not directly redeem) Miles, like Avis Rent a Car and Holiday Inn Express.

The loss of in-store Partners coincides with a considerable shift in Air Miles co-branded credit card products. BMO changed its no fee Air Miles Mastercard in November 2020 to earn additional Miles when shopping at Air Miles Partners. Meanwhile, the BMO Air Miles World Elite is also set to experience a change in May 5, 2021.

The drop in the number of Air Miles in-store Partners is likely due to a mix of factors. Like the fact it costs retailers money to be an Air Miles Partner, it’s become increasingly cheaper for retailers to launch their own in-house loyalty programs, and many cardholders are shifting their preferences towards cash back cards.

There’s also a bigger shift of card providers partnering directly with merchants instead of working through a coalition rewards program like Air Miles. The Koho Premium Prepaid Visa Card, for example, lets you earn bonus cash back at specific partner retailers like Baskin Robbins, Frank and Oak, Reebok, Chef’s Plate, and more. Neo Financial, which is issuing the new Hudson’s Bay Mastercard, also offers bonus rewards at stores who they’ve struck direct deals with.

The bottom line

Air Miles continues to be a formidable rewards program for those who do regularly shop at its in-store Partners. In particular, Miles collectors who live in Atlantic Canada do seem to have a bit of an advantage over the rest of the country with in-store Partners like Pharmasave, Lawton Drugs, and Irving Gas Stations in addition to Staples, Shell, and Sobeys.

Whether the loss in Air Miles in-store Partners has broader implications on the program is yet to be determined. The increase in e-commerce Partners at does hint at how Air Miles may be shifting its focus to consumers who are shopping online.

If you do prefer greater flexibility in a loyalty program, opting to collect rewards on a cash back card, PC Financial Card, Canadian Tire Mastercard, or a bank-run points program could net you higher returns and greater bonuses at more locations.

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