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How to Accumulate Serious Air Mile Points

I’ve never been much of an Air Miles collector, but lately, it’s been all the rage at the office.

What are Air Miles?   Air Miles rewards program is a popular loyalty program in Canada.  A number of mainstream retailers like Sobeys/Lawtons, Metro, Irving, Staples, Rona and Old Navy, offer air miles points when making purchases – typically 1 mile for every $10-$20 spent.  In terms of rewards, the program offers travel, gifts and cash type rewards.

From my initial research, redeeming points for flights offers the best value, but requires a significant points collection.  For example, travelling from St. John’s to Toronto requires 1,700 air miles in low season (and still need to pay taxes).   The further the travel distance, the more points required.  Collecting at a rate of 1 mile/$20 spent would require spending $34,000 ($20 x 1,700).  In other words, serious spending at Air Miles retailers – in fact, more than we spend on our credit cards in a year!

As you can see, my experience with Air Miles was that it is challenging to collect enough miles to make it worth while.  However, a friend of mine, we’ll call him Stuart, recently became serious about the program.  He started in January 2015 with 1,500 air miles and now, in May 2015, he has almost 15,000 miles.  In less than half a year, he has collected enough points for a family of four to travel to Orlando from Newfoundland.  With the possibility of reduced-cost annual family vacations,  I started to dig a little deeper into the program.

Stuart is the analytical Engineer type, when he commits to something, he goes all in.  I’ve had a number of conversations with him about his Air Miles progress, and he is more than happy to share his tips and tricks on the program thus far.  Here is how he has accumulated so many points in a few short months.

Accumulating Air Miles Tips

1. Change your Shopping Habits

Depending on where you shop now, you may or may not need to change your shopping habits.  For example, for us, we shop primarily at Loblaws and Costco for groceries and Costco gas station or Esso for gasoline.

As groceries are our largest budget item, to make the Air Miles program work , we would need to switch our grocery shopping to Sobeys (or Metro if you are in Ontario).  Air Miles grocery sponsors will offer point bonuses on different products on a weekly basis and typically requires you to purchase multiple items in order to obtain the extra points.  With a bit of strategy prior to grocery store visits, it is not uncommon for Stuart to accumulate over 100 Air Miles during his weekly grocery store visit.

2. Avoid Overpaying

While some of you may picture Stuart’s pantry full of ketchup bottles and corn flakes purchased during Air Mile promotions, he has a number of rules that he follows.  First, he will only purchase a product that has an Air Miles promotion if it is first, on sale, and second, something that he would buy anyway.

In addition, he suggests to purchase items that will result in 1 Mile/$1 spent.  For example, Sobey’s will often offer extra air miles on a product if you purchase more than one.   Following Stuart’s rule, if the bonus is 5 Miles for buying 2 bottles of his favorite pasta sauce, he will only buy if the total cost of the 2 bottles are less than $5.

3. Get an Air Miles Credit Card

In addition to focusing on Air Miles retailers, signing up for an Air Miles credit card will help boost your points balance.  He has done a few calculations based on travel from NL, and has calculated that an Air Mile is worth between $0.13 to $0.20.  Lets assume a value $0.15/mile to keep it simple.

Annual fee based credit cards offer 1 mile for every $10 spent (1.5% return) while the free ones will offer around 1 mile/$20 spent (0.75% return).  In addition, some of the fee based cards offer a discount on the Air Miles required on a redemption.  In my opinion, while these cards will boost your Air Miles balance, there are better returns to be found elsewhere.  For example, the Scotia Momentum card that offers 4% return on groceries.

4. Watch Out for Promotions and Coupon Books

Perhaps one of the bigger contributors to Stuart’s points balance is keeping a close eye on promotions and, more importantly, taking advantage of them.  Air Miles recently released their “mega bonus” where if you use 5 of their Air Miles coupons at 5 different retailers, they will gift you with 1,200 miles.  This is enough for a flight to a neighboring province.

Another promotion that I have found is with the local drug store affiliated with Sobeys offered 95 miles when purchasing a $50 gift card.  While I may not do much shopping at that particular drug store, Sobey’s will accept the gift card in their stores.

Finally, you can sometimes double dip on grocery promotions.  Grocery sponsors will offer points on a specific item, but then extra points if you purchase items from a particular brand.  For example, a few weeks ago, there was a promotion where you would receive 50 bonus points if you purchased $25 worth Nestle products.  At the same time, they were offering 5 bonus points for every 3 boxes of Lean Cuisine microwave dinners (a Nestle product) purchased.  To top it off, they were on sale for $2/box.  Purchasing 13 boxes, or $26 worth, resulted in 70 Air Miles – over 2.5 miles for every $1 spent!

5. Credit Card Churning

This strategy is a little more aggressive, but it’s where you sign up for credit cards for the Air Miles bonus, cancel before the annual fee comes due, then repeat.  This can result in thousands of extra Air Miles a year, but likely not a strategy that I would follow due to the impact on my credit score.

6. Go for Gold (and Onyx)

Once you get serious about collecting Air Miles, the more you collect, the better it gets.  Once you hit 1,000 miles in a calendar year, Air Miles will put you in their Gold program.  If you reach 6,000 miles in a calendar year, you will reach the Onyx level.  These levels offer 20%-30% discounts on specific flights throughout the year (among other benefits).

While I have not completely jumped on the Air Miles wagon yet, these are the tips that I have accumulated thus far.  For Air Miles collectors reading this, what are your tips?

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FT About the author: FT is the founder and editor of Million Dollar Journey (est. 2006). Through various financial strategies outlined on this site, he grew his net worth from $200,000 in 2006 to $1,000,000 by 2014. You can read more about him here.

{ 16 comments… add one }
  • Len May 25, 2015, 9:40 am

    Hey Everyone!! Great article.. so I would definitely consider myself something of an air miles expert as I met my wife back in August of 2012 whom lived in Philadelphia.. using Air Miles, we saw each other at least once every single month traveling back and forth and sometimes to other destinations (Florida, etc.) Nothing beats the redemptions for flights, and we fly a lot. Over the last 12 months I’ve accumulated over 14000 air miles which is pretty good I think! Anyhow I have a ‘PEI Money Savers’ Facebook group and would invite all the maritimers that read this great blog to join. It’s always great to share the tips for the program which is what I created the group to do :)

    https://www.facebook.com/groups/1535340016718251/

    PS: That lean cuisine trick I missed! Dammit! ;-)

    • FT FrugalTrader May 25, 2015, 12:04 pm

      Len, what are some of your tricks for accumulating air miles?

      • Len May 25, 2015, 12:13 pm

        Well.. I accumulated a lot of air miles by referring the platinum american express. That was a big one. Simply posted on Facebook how many I was accumulating and away I went.

        I also make sure I purchase anything online via airmilesshops.ca. They had a 25X bonus and I bought an iPad and I think my macbook both times during that event. I haven’t seen that bonus in awhile, thinking the most recent promo that you explained has taken it’s place.

        Buying gift cards at Sobeys at the “Buy $200 get 95 air miles” is a great way to earn miles.. you purchase the gift card using the AMEX which is another 20 air miles, then use the gift card to purchase groceries using the ways above, and you’re really starting to get a bunch.

  • nobleea May 25, 2015, 12:00 pm

    Generally the stores that offer air miles are not the cheapest ones. Even if you’re buying something on sale at these stores, it’s likely that you can buy it cheaper elsewhere. You’ll find the rare deal that is comparable to a costco or superstore that also comes with airmiles.

    • FT FrugalTrader May 25, 2015, 12:06 pm

      I’ve noticed that in some instances, but not all. But yes, around here, Sobey’s is generally a little more expensive than Loblaws/Dominion.

  • Robb Engen May 25, 2015, 12:34 pm

    We do most of our grocery shopping at Costco but shop at Safeway also for convenience. We’ll take advantage of the bonus miles offers in-store as well as the coupons in the mail. The nice thing (although some might find this intrusive) is that Air MIles sends us coupons for bonus miles on items that we regularly buy, so they’re really targeted offers.

    I have it set up so that 100% of the miles collected go to my Air Miles Cash account and then I use the new e-Voucher feature to redeem them for $10 and $20 off groceries at Safeway. http://www.rewardscardscanada.com/air-miles-evoucher-breathes-new-life-rewards-program/

    I don’t collect enough Air Miles to consider them useful to save up for travel, plus I prefer a more flexible travel program that lets me book and redeem points however I want.

  • krackerjack121 May 25, 2015, 12:50 pm

    Hey Frugal,

    One that you forgot to mention was Safeway out in Western Canada. They offer Airmiles on many items. The are often offered in conjunction with other sales. So you can buy some stuff and stock up on items that you use anyways and get lots of bonus airmiles.

    One of the tricks I use is to double dip. I buy gas at Shell and use my airmiles card and then I use my airmiles credit card to pay for it. So I get two sets of airmiles on the same purchase.

    Cheers,

    krackerjack121

  • Justin May 25, 2015, 1:06 pm

    Great post. BMO recently released their new card for airmiles http://www.bmo.com/main/personal/credit-cards/bmo-air-miles-world-elite-mastercard?ecid=va-25345CC4-SMBMO16#AMWE1

    To be honest I was always on the fence for what to get for a card that my wife and I could use. I shop at Sobeys and usually walk out of there with 100 Airmiles per trip using the suggestions above. They usually have a “spend $100, and get 100 miles” promo going on in Manitoba. Since I use the BMO Airmiles card I double dip and the points accumulate and when we want to make a trip, we have the miles to do it.

    I noticed that you get more bang for your buck if you fly to the US. The last time I looked it up it cost 1,400 miles to get to Saskatoon from Winnipeg, but only 900 to St. Louis.

  • Anon May 29, 2015, 11:22 am

    I have a few thoughts to share too, one is that you get a way higher value per mile by traveling within your air miles zone, especially in the States. Here in NL, it costs the exact same amount to to travel to New York, Boston, Washington DC, Philadelphia, and as far west as Chicago. You can find the map on the website for your area. I have gotten up to $0.40+/mile in value this way (with BMO discount see below), since its expensive to travel from here.

    BMO Air Miles Mastercards are another way to get more value out of your miles. They offer a flat 30% discount on all fares in North America, its automatically applied to your Air Miles account while you hold the card.

    Also, BMO just released a new Air Miles World Elite Mastercard that’s $120 annual fee, but gives you a 1mile/$10 spent on anything. Compounding that with gift certificates others have mentioned and regular Sobey’s 1/$20 + in store offers is quite powerful.

  • JP May 31, 2015, 4:17 pm

    After planning to redeem a large chunk of our airmiles on a holiday flight, my husband and I discovered we could get a much better deal by simply searching for flight deals and paying for the tickets directly on our BMO Mastercard… which gave us more airmiles! Instead, we redeemed our air miles for BMO Investorline Certificates.
    https://www.airmiles.ca/arrow/RewardsProductDetails?maxOptions=5&qty=true&productId=prod1644310&skuId=1330660240&_requestid=1958556
    You have to have an Investorline self-directed brokerage account but it is as good as putting cash in your TFSA or whatever account you have. Therefore your airmiles are effectively earning interest instead of just sitting there while you plan a vacation. A $100 voucher costs 950 airmiles.

  • Marcin June 18, 2015, 1:01 pm

    Another air miles tip:
    There are online surveys that you can do that pay in air miles for your efforts.
    They may not seem like much (2-20 AM per survey), but they quickly add up.
    When I look at my total points earned, for a given period, about half of them come from these surveys.
    https://www.airmiles.ca/m/SponsorDetails?sponsorId=1120774220623

  • Zack June 18, 2015, 2:11 pm

    Good ideas. One not mentioned which I felt the need to share.
    Rexall. Just signing up for their emails earns airmiles for free. Last week by email I received a coupon that if I spent $50 I would get 80 airmiles. Lowering the 1:1 ratio above to 1 airmile per $0.63. Two weeks ago it was 120 airmiles for $50, or 1 airmile per $0.42. And every week they have numerous extra airmiles on various products. I have a one year old so diapers, formula, and tylenol help reach the $ limits easily. I am never buying anything I do not need, nor multiples of infrequently used products.
    And also for Ontario residents, the LCBO has numerous weekly extra points on various products.

  • Duane June 19, 2015, 2:41 pm

    Airmiles has been stealing my miles for 20 years. I signed up before there were passwords. Now when I try to collect, they say I have left my points too long.( I am still actively collecting.) And I need a password to access any information. There is no satisfactory way to resolve this issue. It is very difficult contact them. When I have gotten through to someone they, say to write a letter to some address from which I haven’t gotten any response. I suspect this is part of their normal operations to increase their profit levels. Has anyone else had similar situations?
    – Duane

  • brian September 25, 2015, 12:24 am

    buy coins from the mint with free shipping with your airmiles credit card then deposit them into your bank account to pay your credit card statement.

    • FT FrugalTrader September 25, 2015, 9:07 am

      Brian, do you ever have issues depositing the coins back into your account? I’ve heard stories of banks not accepting the coins as currency.

  • Alicia October 30, 2015, 2:15 pm

    When shopping and for example using a spend $50 get 50 bonus Airmiles you need to spend that amount only per transaction. So if buying $200 of groceries then ring it through in as close to just over $50 as you can four times. This way you can earn 200 Airmiles. I also only shop when there are these bonuses. Safeway has 20 times the Airmiles on the 1st Tuesday of the month. That is equivalent. So 1 Airmile per dollar spent. Then use an Airmiles earning credit card too. I also look for the bonus Airmiles on products. Rexall Drugs has the same bonus deals. They often have ones like spend $50 get 100 Airmiles along with product bonuses. My husband & I signed up individually for 3 credit cards with no annual fee & Airmiles bonuses. After we received the bonuses we cancelled the cards. Then repeated it the next year.

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