The Essential Guide to

AIR MILES

Last updated: December 1, 2023
Best ways to earn:
BMO Air Miles World Elite MasterCard
Offers available through the app/website
Trip bundles through AIR MILES Travel
Best ways to redeem:
In-store rebates for groceries and gas
Gift cards from a wide variety of merchants
Hotels and flights

AIR MILES is one of Canada’s most ubiquitous loyalty programs. While the name suggests that it’s a frequent flyer program of some sort, the reality is that AIR MILES is more of a multifaceted rewards program with a vast network of in-store and online partners throughout Canada.

While AIR MILES won’t necessarily fuel your aspirational travel dreams, its flexibility will help you with other expenses, even ones outside of travel. Hence, the program should definitely be on your radar.

Earning AIR MILES

There are more ways to earn with AIR MILES these days than ever before, with some of them introduced only recently. AIR MILES classifies its means of earning into:

  • Credit Cards
  • In-store
  • Online
  • Linked Loyalty
  • Travel

Before delve into the methods of earning AIR MILES, it’s important to note that there are really two different types of AIR MILES you can earn: Cash Miles and Dream Miles. Collectively, they’re also known as Reward Miles.

Cash Miles are easily redeemed at partner retailers or as gift cards at a fixed ratio of 95 Miles = $10 in value, while Dream Miles are redeemed towards other types of rewards, such as merchandise, attraction tickets, and travel.

You can specify your preference between Cash and Dream Miles in your AIR MILES account, and you can even choose how to split your earnings between the two categories by assigning percentages.

Credit Cards

Currently, BMO is the sole issuer of AIR MILES credit cards. While there used to be an American Express variants of AIR MILES credit cards, the current lineup is issued exclusively under the Mastercard network.

BMO’s AIR MILES flagship offering is the BMO AIR MILES®† World Elite®* Mastercard®*, which comes with a generous welcome bonus of AIR MILES upon meeting a spend requirement, along with the annual fee waived on the first year.

To further increase the value of this card, it also comes with the following benefits:

  • Travel and medical insurance with 15 days out-of-province/country emergency medical protection
  • Mastercard Travel Pass by DragonPass membership
  • Access to Boingo hotspots, including on flights
  • Extended warranty and purchase protection insurance

Note that the card comes with a minimum annual income requirement of $80,000 (CAD) for individuals, or $150,000 (CAD) for households.

BMO also offers the entry-level BMO AIR MILES®† Mastercard®*, which is a no-fee card. Its welcome bonus is much more modest than its World Elite counterpart, but with no stated income requirement, the card is easier to attain.

Aside from elevated AIR MILES earning on groceries, the card features the following:

  • Free additional cardholders
  • Extended warranty and purchase protection

In-Store

AIR MILES has partnered with retailers and other establishments to allow its users to earn Reward Miles directly in-store. Among the program’s biggest in-store partners and their respective default earn rates are:

  • Shell (retail gas stations): 1 Mile per 10/20 litres of gas, depending on grade
  • Metro (Ontario grocery stores): 1 Mile per $20 spent
  • IHG Hotels and Resorts: 1 Mile per $5 spent
  • National and Alamo Car Rental: 1 Mile per $10 spent
  • Budget Car Rental: 1 Mile per $15 spent
  • Samsung (in-store and online): 1 Mile per $20 spent

In addition to your base Reward Miles earning, you’ll earn Bonus Miles on offers that you’ll find on the AIR MILES app, wesbite, or in-store. Most of these offers require you to opt in through the AIR MILES app or website.

You’ll also find bonus offers on the weekly flyer, as well as the mobile app for Metro grocery stores in Ontario.

Lastly, a recent addition to earning in-store is AIR MILES Receipts. This sub-program offers AIR MILES with purchase of featured grocery products at participating stores. Basically, all you need to do is scan your paper receipt after your purchase.

Online

Online earning of Reward Miles is mainly through AIR MILES Shops, an online shopping portal rivaling Aeroplan eStore and Rakuten.

To earn AIR MILES through AIR MILES Shops, you’ll need to log into your account, search for the shop you’re intending to make a purchase at, and click “Shop Now”.

With shopping portals, it’s important for you to check-out and finish your shopping in the same window that popped up after clicking the “Shop Now” button. This way, your browser will accurately track your purchase.

Moreover, you’ll want to take note of the terms and conditions, as well as the exclusions applicable to a specific store. For instance, Apple and Amazon.ca usually have a list of excluded products or categories.

For more AIR MILES Shops offers, be sure to periodically check the AIR MILES app, where there might be special promotions or “flash offers” for Bonus Miles.

Linked Loyalty

AIR MILES Card Linked Offers allows you to earn AIR MILES by using your registered Mastercard at participating retailers, without having to present your AIR MILES number. As its name suggests, offers are automatically linked to your credit card, and your miles are awarded based on your card transactions.

To participate, you must register the number of your Canadian-issued Mastercard, along with your AIR MILES collector number. Keep in mind that supplementary cards must be registered separately, either to your AIR MILES account or to another account to qualify for card-linked offers as well. You may link more than one Mastercard per account.

Again, with card-linked offers, you won’t need to quote your AIR MILES collector number, nor will you be asked for it. Simply pay directly with your registered Mastercard, and your Reward Miles will be issued accordingly.

Travel

AIR MILES recently revamped its travel portal, implementing changes that include how you can earn Reward Miles.

Currently, the earning rates for booking travel through the portal depend on your status tier, and are structured as follows:

  • Blue: 1 Reward Mile per $15 spent
  • Gold: 1 Reward Mile per $10 spent
  • Onyx: 1 Reward Mile per $5 spent

You’ll earn more miles by bundling trip items together under a single booking. An example of a bundle is a flight and a hotel.

The earning multipliers on bundles also depend on your status tier, and are structured as follows:

  • Blue: 3x Reward Miles on bundles
  • Gold: 4x Reward Miles on bundles
  • Onyx: 5x Reward Miles on bundles

Redeeming AIR MILES

As mentioned, AIR MILES are subclassified as Cash Miles and Dream Miles. Accordingly, what you can redeem them for are Cash Rewards and Dream Rewards.

Cash Rewards can be in-store rebates or gift cards, while Dream Rewards can be travel, merchandise, events, and attractions.

In-Store Partners

You can use your Cash Miles at Shell gas stations nationwide and at Metro grocery stores in Ontario. With either partner, you can redeem at the rate of 95 Cash Miles = $10 in value, as an instant rebate against your bill.

Make sure to redeem your Cash Miles before finalizing your transaction by informing the cashier that you’d like to redeem your AIR MILES. At self-checkout, you’ll be offered the option to do so.

Occasionally, Shell and Metro offer promotions on redemptions. For instance, Metro might offer 25 AIR MILES back when you redeem 95 Cash Miles. These offers can be found on the AIR MILES app or other promotional materials, such as flyers.

Gift Cards

AIR MILES lets you redeem your Cash Miles for a wide variety of e-vouchers or gift cards. Unlike other loyalty programs, you won’t lose value redeeming this way — you’ll still get the standard redemption rate of 95 Cash Miles = $10 in value.

Gift cards on offer include Uber Eats, Doordash, Sephora, Lululemon, Cineplex, VIA Rail, and more.

Redemptions may be made on the AIR MILES website or app. Since you’ll be getting e-vouchers, delivery is digital and instant.

Travel

The primary use of Dream Miles is for travel. Through the revamped AIR MILES Travel portal, you can redeem your Dream Miles for flights, accommodations, car rentals, vacation packages, cruises, and extras. The redemption rate you’ll be getting is roughly around 95 Dream Miles = $10 in value.

The new travel portal also now allows you to pay for flights with a sliding amount of Dream Miles, whereas previously, you needed to have the entire amount of Dream Miles available to use the Cash + Miles feature. The minimum Dream Miles required depends on your AIR MILES tier, and is structured as follows:

  • Blue: minimum 50% Dream Miles to use Cash + Miles
  • Gold: minimum 25% Dream Miles to use Cash + Miles
  • Onyx: no minimum to use Cash + Miles

Merchandise

AIR MILES has an extensive catalogue of merchandise you can redeem with Dream Miles. Products range from electronics to sports and fitness.

The value you’ll get redeeming merchandise largely varies, though you’ll generally get poor value, compared to other means of redemption. Hence, you should compare the price of the product with another merchant, such as Amazon or Best Buy, and use the standard redemption rate of 95 Reward Miles = $10 in value as a benchmark.

Also, keep an eye on products being offered for fewer Dream Miles. You’ll see them being offered on the AIR MILES Merchandise landing page.

Events and Attractions

AIR MILES allows you to redeem your Dream Miles for cinema and attraction tickets. Like merchandise, you should compare the retail value of what you’re redeeming against its value in Dream Miles.

AIR MILES Status and Benefits

AIR MILES has three status tiers, namely Blue, Gold, and Onyx. Blue is the starting point for most AIR MILES “collectors”.

However, holding the BMO AIR MILES®† World Elite®* Mastercard®* propels you to Onyx status, while the no-fee BMO AIR MILES®† Mastercard®* automatically qualifies you for Gold status.

Alternatively, without a credit card, you’ll qualify for Gold status upon accumulating 500 Reward Miles in a calendar year, or for Onyx status upon accumulating 5,000 Reward Miles per year.

In terms of benefits, they’re mostly for AIR MILES Travel. For one, you’ll receive more Reward Miles on your travel bookings as a Gold or Onyx member. As mentioned above, the earn rate on travel is structured as follows:

  • Blue: 1 Reward Mile per $15 spent or 3x Reward Miles on bundles
  • Gold: 1 Reward Mile per $10 spent or 4x Reward Miles on bundles
  • Onyx: 1 Reward Mile per $5 spent or 5x Reward Miles on bundles

Likewise, you’ll need fewer Dream Miles to book select flights with AIR MILES — you’ll get up to a 30% discount as a Gold member, or up to 40% as an Onyx member.

With merchandise, you’ll also need fewer miles to redeem. As a Gold member, you’ll get up to 5% discount, while as an Onyx member, you’ll get up to 10%.

In addition, as an Onyx member, you may, rather uniquely, enlist the help of a personal shopper, who can quote you in Dream Miles for items not in the AIR MILES catalogue.

A full list of Gold and Onyx benefits can be found on the AIR MILES website.

Conclusion

With BMO’s acquisition of AIR MILES, we’re seeing what seems to be the program’s renaissance. There are more options to earn and redeem Reward Miles now than ever, and even better, AIR MILES is putting out many lucrative offers these days to attract Canadians back into the program.

Thus, while AIR MILES won’t necessarily fly you in business class, it can help with other expenses. With the inflation we’re experiencing these days, you just might find the program valuable.