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Air Miles Announces New Flight Redemptions & Other Enhancements

Air Miles has announced a number of upcoming improvements to their rewards program. These changes will be rolled out over the next few months as they refresh their brand.

While we don’t have full details yet, let’s take an early look at some key highlights and their ramifications, as well as a few immediate promotions to hype up the new program.

Air Miles Flights: More Flexibility

Perhaps the most intriuging new development, Air Miles is completely revamping their flight redemption system.

Launching in November 2021, Air Miles Flights will give members much more flexibility than ever before. You’ll be able to search by airline, class of service, origin and destination, and payment method.

Notably, Air Miles has announced that they will be offering Air Miles redemptions on business class flights. Without premium cabins available, aspirational travellers have often ignored Air Miles in favour of more full-featured programs like Aeroplan, but this change should certainly garner some interest.

The rates for award tickets in business class are yet to be seen, and there’s no indication whether Air Miles will use a fixed-points regional chart, or dynamic pricing which tracks the underlying cash fare. Flexibility and competition are always a good thing, but we’ll have to reserve judgment until the value of these new redemption options is revealed.

If I had to guess, I’d expect a dynamic pricing model, which is pretty standard for a program that isn’t partnered with a particular airline or alliance.

Air Miles already has a FlexFly benefit, unique to American Express Air Miles Reserve Credit Card holders. With FlexFly, you can redeem Air Miles towards premium cabin airline tickets, at a fixed rate of 770 Dream Rewards = $100.

When Air Miles begins offering business class redemptions more widely, we might simply see them extend the FlexFly rate to all members.

As for another inspiring change, members will be able to book flights from any origin to any destination. Until now, all Air Miles flights had to originate or terminate in Canada. Going forward, any city pair will be searchable and bookable.

Currently, while there are unique pockets of value for Air Miles flights, it’s incredibly hard to actually use your rewards. Points prices often don’t follow the award chart, and you can’t even see flight search results unless you have enough Air Miles to book the available routes.

Hopefully the new search engine and booking platform will fix those issues. An engaged member is a loyal member, and I look forward to being able to explore the Air Miles program more fully.

Credit Card Benefits: Mastercard Partnership & Onyx Status

Air Miles is launching Card Linked Offers. Collectors can link any Canadian Mastercard to their Air Miles account, and they’ll be able to earn additional Air Miles at specific brands.

This sounds a lot like merchant-level Amex Offers, and we’ve already seen RBC and Aeroplan roll out similar features. Of course, the value here depends on how appealing the offers are to cardholders, and Amex has set a high standard by aggressively forging valuable partnerships.

BMO Air Miles®† World Elite®* Mastercard®*
Welcome Bonus
2,000 Air Miles
Annual Fee
First Year Free
First-Year Value
$265

Furthermore, they’re adding perks to the BMO Air Miles World Elite Mastercard. Effective immediately, all cardholders will automatically receive Air Miles Onyx status, which you can normally achieve by earning 6,000 Air Miles in a year.

Onyx status grants you priority service at the call centre, a wider variety of redemption options through your Personal Shopper, and access to exclusive events.

If Onyx is something you’d find useful, this change should bump the BMO Air Miles World Elite Mastercard up your list, especially since it often has a first-year annual fee waiver.

Other Improvements: New Ways to Earn & Cheaper Redemptions

Air Miles’s specialty has long been their individual partnerships. Swipe your Air Miles card at a store, and you’ll earn more points on your purchase.

With online shopping on the rise, Air Miles is expanding their opportunities in that space as well. In addition to brick-and-mortar stores, you’ll be able to earn Air Miles with online purchases from their primary partners, including Sobeys and Staples.

Plus, you can keep earning more at additional online retailers via airmilesshops.ca, an alternative to the Aeroplan eStore.

Air Miles has also been gradually offering better rates for merchandise redemptions. With most rewards programs, these are poor value compared to travel redemptions.

The good news is that those redemptions have gotten slightly better. However, with improved flight options, maybe we won’t be so cavalier with our Dream Rewards, so I wouldn’t consider improved merchandise options a significant selling point.

New Promotions: Bonus Boom & More

To kick things off, Air Miles is running three promotions for Fall 2021:

  • Bonus Boom: Until October 13, you can earn up to 95 Air Miles for completing three offers with partner merchants.
  • Flight-a-Day Giveaway: From October 21 to November 10, every time you scan your Air Miles card with partner merchants, you’ll be entered into a daily draw for a $5,000 flight voucher, and a grand prize draw for a $25,000 flight voucher.
  • Bonus Boom Boost: Details are thin so far, but from November 18 to December 27, you’ll be able to complete offers with partner merchants to earn entries into a grand prize draw for 1,000,000 Air Miles plus secondary prize draws for 250,000 Air Miles.

To be completely honest, none of these are hugely appealing in my opinion. Bonus Boom gets worse every year, now offering a $10 value for completing three chores.

As for the other two, I’ll continue to swipe my Air Miles card as often as I would normally. But I never go out of my way for contest entries where the odds of winning are minuscule – there are simply too many guaranteed ways to earn rewards beyond our wildest dreams already. 

While it’s nice that Air Miles has made these announcements with an immediate promotion available today, I’m much more excited by the potential of things to come on the travel redemption side.

First Impressions of the New Air Miles Program

As I’ve discussed, it’s hard to say how useful or valuable the new program will be until we can start using its features.

While business class fares are very appealing, I’ll probably keep using airline programs such as Aeroplan for those flights, especially for overseas flights on partner carriers. Between the ease of earning points quickly and the value proposition, I don’t anticipate that the Air Miles redemption options will be significantly better, although I hope to be pleasantly surprised.

One area where I do think the new Air Miles program will shine, however, is short-haul flights. The program is already strong in that regard domestically, filling the void left by WestJet’s old Members Exclusive fares.

It’s getting harder to find good value on short-haul flights all over the world, too. For example, British Airways has been silently devaluing their award chart for short-haul flights in regions where they were once a strong choice.

With any city pair now bookable with Air Miles, I’ll be keeping an eye out for good opportunities to use those points for filler flights, to close open-jaws, or to position to a major hub for a more desirable long-haul redemption. Air Miles could be worth a look for some unconventional routes abroad.

One potential downside of the new program is the implicit devaluation of the American Express Air Miles Reserve Credit Card.

With business class redemptions extended to all members, FlexFly will no longer be an exclusive benefit. And with Air Miles Onyx status now offered to World Elite cardholders, the Air Miles Reserve Card will no longer be the only way to fast-track Onyx status as a co-branded cardholder.

The Air Miles Reserve Card still has the annual Companion Flight, which can be quite valuable. But that will be the card’s only unique selling point, whereas before it had many.

American Express may yet improve the card to make up for this, but I wouldn’t count on it. As one of Aeroplan’s primary partners, they’ve been strongly pushing the Aeroplan Reserve Card this year, with sky-high welcome bonuses and top-tier kickbacks for cardholders.

Instead, Air Miles appears to be forging a tighter bond with Mastercard, with bonus Air Miles available on all Mastercards, not just Air Miles credit cards. As far as I can tell, that partnership will only grow, while the Amex Air Miles Reserve Card may fade into relative obscurity.

Finally, there’s no word on changes to the Cash Rewards/Dream Rewards structure. If you ask me, this is one of the most challenging aspects of the Air Miles program, and I see it as a major deterrent to member engagement.

Basically, rewards have to be designated for a cash redemption or a travel redemption at the time of earning. This creates extra chores for users, and it makes it harder to forecast redemption values when you earn points.

It’s simply unnecessary and confusing, and I’d urge Air Miles to take this opportunity to merge the two.

Conclusion

Air Miles is unveiling a variety of improvements as they seek to modernize their loyalty program.

Ranging from business class flights to stronger merchant partnerships, from deeper credit card integration to cheaper redemptions, they’re covering all their bases. Competitors such as American Express and Aeroplan have long been doing these things, and it’s high time that Air Miles steps up to the plate.

Ultimately, most of these changes strike me as reactive, with an emphasis on the brand instead of the substance. While everything here appears to be mildly positive, I haven’t seen anything truly innovative or creative.

Unless Air Miles surprises with an unbeatable redemption value under Air Miles Flights, the program may remain a follower rather than a leader, filling a useful but secondary role in the loyalty landscape.

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