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Analyzing the New Air Miles Flight Redemptions

In early October, Air Miles announced a series of upcoming changes as part of an overall refresh of the program, including the relaunch of their Air Miles Flights product for redeeming Air Miles for air travel.

The new Air Miles Flights has now launched as of November 18, 2021. Let’s take a look at the new flight redemptions and how the value of your Air Miles are shaping up.

The New Air Miles Flights: How Does It Compare to Before?

As a reminder of a foundational principle in the Air Miles program: when you earn Air Miles, you have the option of choosing to earn Cash Rewards or Dream Rewards.

Cash Rewards can be used towards offsetting your grocery purchases at a fixed value of 95 Air Miles = $10 (equivalent to a valuation of 10.5 cents per mile or 10.5cpm), whereas Dream Rewards are used towards flights and other types of redemptions. 

Taking a look at the new Air Miles Flights, then, let’s first note that Air Miles has made a few key changes to their new flight redemptions compared to the older system. Some of them are decidedly positive:

  • You can now search for flight options using Dream Rewards and using cash side-by-side, and you can even make cash bookings directly through the Air Miles portal and be rewarded with bonus Air Miles. 
    • Until January 31, 2022, book a paid flight through the Air Miles portal and earn a bonus 200 Air Miles. 
  • You can now see Air Miles search results even if you don’t have enough Dream Rewards in your account, eliminating a big point of frustration in the old program.
  • You can now redeem Air Miles for flights in any class of service. 
  • You can now redeem Air Miles on flights between any two destinations, not just those with an origin or destination in Canada.
  • To facilitate Air Miles’s global expansion, there are dozens of partner airlines that can be booked with your Air Miles, ranging from Emirates to Lufthansa to Calm Air. 

Some key characteristics of the old Air Miles flight redemptions have carried over to the new system as well:

  • BMO Air Miles World Elite cardholders will continue to receive 15% off Air Miles flight redemptions within North America.
  • BMO Air Miles World Elite and American Express Air Miles Reserve cardholders will continue to receive Air Miles Onyx status, which grants additional discounts on Air Miles flight redemptions.
  • In addition, American Express Air Miles Reserve cardholders now have the option to redeem further Air Miles to offset their taxes and fees on a flight redemption. 

However, one of the most important changes that has taken place lies in how Air Miles flight redemptions are priced, and here, the situation looks less favourable.

Previously, Air Miles used a pseudo-distanced based pricing algorithm to determine how many Air Miles each flight would cost. As a result, the well-known sweet spots for redeeming Air Miles was found in certain short-haul flight redemptions that were disproportionately expensive if purchased with cash.

Under the new Air Miles Flights, pricing is tied to the retail cost of a flight across the board. Air Miles will have access to select further discounts on a flight’s retail cost based on what the airline partners make available, but the insane sweet spots of the old program have gone away, now that the pricing is tied to the underlying fare.

In other words… dread it, run from it, dynamic pricing is here.

The New Air Miles Flights: Running the Numbers

We’ve conducted a series of sample searches to take a closer look at how valuable the new Air Miles Flights program is shaping up to be upon its debut. 

The following table includes search results for a wide range of city pairs across all four classes of service on sample dates in August 2022 (with the exception of rows marked as “last-minute”). The searches were conducted as a regular Air Miles user without a co-branded credit card or Air Miles status. 

In each cell, you’ll see the number of Dream Rewards required to book the flight plus the taxes and fees, the corresponding cash fare, and the resultant value of your Air Miles from booking the ticket.

Redemption values of lower than 10.5cpm are marked in red. In these instances, you would’ve been better off collecting Cash Rewards for free groceries rather than redeeming Dream Rewards for this flight.

Economy Class

Premium Economy

Business Class

First Class

Toronto (YYZ)

Montreal (YUL)


Air Canada,
one-way

1,400 + $76.98
$218.23
10.09 cpm

-

3,600 + $76.98
$466.83
10.83 cpm

-

Toronto (YYZ)

Vancouver (YVR)


Air Canada,
one-way

3,560 + $92.79
$478.13
10.82 cpm

8,780 + $58.89
$1,034.09
11.11 cpm

10,900 + $92.80
$1,307.55
11.14 cpm

-

Toronto (YYZ)

Vancouver (YVR)


WestJet,
one-way

3,560 + $92.79
$478.13
10.82 cpm

8,560 + $92.80
$1,045.39
11.13 cpm

10,390 + $92.79
$1,249.92
11.14 cpm

-

Montreal (YUL)

Victoria (YYJ)


Air Canada,
round-trip,
last-minute

3,800 + $158.61
$1,561.30
36.91 cpm

18,802 + $122.66
$2,480.78
12.54 cpm

29,540 + $158.61
$3,873.44
12.58 cpm

-

Montreal (YUL)

Halifax (YHZ)


Air Canada,
one-way

1,630 + $92.12
$262.28
10.44 cpm

-

4,430 + $92.12
$584.21
11.11 cpm

-

Winnipeg (YWG)

Churchill (YYQ)


Calm Air,
one-way

6,490 + $96.60
$816.91
11.10 cpm

-

-

-

Vancouver (YVR)

London (LHR)


Air Canada,
round-trip

1,200 + $733.53
$843.53
 9.12 cpm

22,580 + $1,044.56
$3,287.58
 9.93 cpm

39,100 + $1,603.56
$5,498.58
 9.86 cpm

-

Toronto (YYZ)

São Paulo (GRU)


Air Canada,
round-trip

8,600 + $319.18
$1,164.20
9.83 cpm

13,640 + $379.18
$1,728.20
9.89 cpm

40,850 + $619.18
$4,689.20
9.96 cpm

-

Munich (MUC)

London (LHR)


British Airways,
one-way

1,200 + $95.28
$162.28
5.58 cpm

-

1,860 + $95.28
$366.28
9.48 cpm

-

Toronto (YYZ)

Dubai (DXB)


Emirates,
round-trip

33,900 + $242.85
$3,617.85
9.96 cpm

-

55,550 + $493.55
$6,033.55
9.97 cpm

106,000 + $493.55
$11,078.55
9.99 cpm

My Thoughts on the New Air Miles Flights

As you can see, the value of the new Air Miles Flights is… pretty bang average across the board. 

Redemption values are generally floating around 10–11cpm, and some of them are even lower than 10.5cpm, which means that you would’ve left money on the table by collecting Dream Rewards and redeeming for this particular flight, as you could’ve unlocked more value by pursuing Cash Rewards instead and getting free groceries instead.

Fortunately, there seems to be some exceptions with round-trip last-minute flights in particular, where it’s still possible to extract higher value, such as in the example of a last-minute Montreal–Victoria itinerary with a redemption value of 37cpm.

Frustratingly, but not unexpectedly, there isn’t much outsized value when it comes to premium cabin redemptions. Alas, as a non-airline loyalty program, Air Miles won’t have access to the airlines’ distressed inventory, which is what typically allows for spectacular redemption values on business class and First Class flights. 

(Interestingly, Amex Air Miles Reserve cardholders get to redeem Air Miles against taxes and fees at what appears to be a fixed value of 12cpm. This is unlike most other loyalty programs, who typically impose a much lower redemption value when using points currencies to offset against the fees.)

Now, it’s important to keep in mind that you’d get higher redemption values than what’s displayed in the chart above if you held an Air Miles co-branded credit card.

Whether through the BMO Air Miles World Elite’s 15% discount within North America or the Air Miles Onyx status from either BMO or Amex’s premium card, you’ll end up paying a meaningfully lower number of Air Miles as a result.

However, it’s indeed quite sad to see that the sweet spots of yore are no longer around with Air Miles. In the past, you’d get spectacular value from your Air Miles on routes like Winnipeg–Churchill on Calm Air.

Now, the value for your Air Miles is roughly the same no matter which flights you choose to book – unless you use them exclusively for last-minute flights.

In that sense, Air Miles is shaping up to be another fixed-value points program in the market akin to Expedia for TD or Scotia Scene+: points that you can collect to offset the cost of paid flights, but without much outsized value to speak of.

(Indeed, flights booked with Air Miles are now going to be eligible for earning miles and elite status qualification with the operating airline. For example, you’ll be able to earn Aeroplan points and Aeroplan Elite Status on Air Canada-operated flights booked with Air Miles, which is certainly a plus.)

Conclusion

There’s no doubt that the increased flexibility and optionality offered by the new Air Miles Flights will be appreciated by the broader membership base of Air Miles’s 10 million collectors in Canada, as the old booking engine was fairly outdated from a user-experience perspective.

This was a much-needed refresh of the program, particularly as Air Miles has been ceding ground to rival programs like Aeroplan in recent years in terms of its retail partnerships across Canada.

However, for those of us who previously collected Air Miles to maximize its value on short-haul travel and unique flights to remote destinations, the dynamic pricing model of the new Air Miles Flights represents a noteworthy devaluation. 

Of course, Air Miles will still be very easy to collect, given the program’s wide range of shopping and grocery partners and the frequency of bonus events.

And they’ll still be somewhat useful to collect, as they can act as a secondary loyalty currency to help you reduce your out-of-pocket costs on paid flights here and there – but the potential of outsized value will be dearly missed.