Best Air Miles Rewards

I’ve written before about how I redeem Air Miles for gas gift certificates.  I think that the best Air Miles rewards are items that will help subsidize my monthly budget, rather than using them for expensive flights and hotels.

In just the past 5 months I have earned 1050 Air Miles and redeemed them for six $20 gas gift certificates from Shell ($120).  But are we maximizing our Air Miles by purchasing the gas gift cards?  Let’s take a look at some of the different categories available on their website and see what the best rewards are:

Related: The AirMiles rewards program has significantly changed since the writing of this post.  For a complete up-to-date article about the new Air Miles rewards program, including how to redeem your Air Miles for the best rewards, click here – Air Miles Cash vs. Air Miles Dream – What You Need To Know

Air Miles Rewards

Music & Movies

  • Blockbuster Video Rental – 30 Air Miles
  • CD or DVD – Between 120 and 190 Air Miles
  • Cineplex or Empire Movie Night for Two – 175 Air Miles
  • iTunes $25 Gift Card – 210 Air Miles

Dining & Entertainment

  • Toronto Blue Jays Baseball Ticket – from 50 Air Miles
  • Earl’s $25 Gift Card – 195 Air Miles
  • Boston Pizza $50 Gift Card – 395 Air Miles
  • Toronto Raptors Basketball Ticket – from 410 Air Miles

Fashion Gift Cards

  • Roots $20 Gift Card – 120 Air Miles
  • The Gap $25 Gift Card – 185 Air Miles
  • HBC $50 Gift Card – 400 Air Miles

Home & Renovations

  • Rona $20 Gift Card – 150 Air Miles
  • Pier 1 $25 Gift Card – 185 Air Miles
  • Staples $25 Gift Card – 225 Air Miles

Subscriptions & Reading

  • MoneySense Magazine (7 issues) – 110 Air Miles
  • Canadian Business Magazine (22 issues) – 150 Air Miles
  • Readers Digest (12 issues) – 180 Air Miles
  • MacLean’s Magazine (52 issues) – 275 Air Miles
  • Chapters $50 Gift Card – 365 Air Miles

It’s difficult to determine what the best Air Miles rewards are for your specific needs.  As you can see, the gas gift card is certainly not giving me the best value.

However we are living on a single income and one of my goals is to reduce our monthly expenses.  Since we have to fill up our vehicles to get around, if we can subsidize this expense by even $20 per month it is worth it to me.

I’ve come to realize that, while I’m not maximizing my rewards cards, I’ve at least selected the most practical option for redeeming my rewards.  There isn’t really another alternative that would accomplish my goal of reducing monthly expenses, since everything else basically falls into the entertainment category.  I do the same thing with my Aeroplan miles.

The other thing that I’ve clued in on is that the Air Miles rewards program is not a very lucrative system and is probably best used to supplement your main rewards credit card.  I use the MBNA Smart Cash MasterCard, which offers a 2% rebate on groceries and gas, and 1% back on all purchases.

The gas certificates work out to about a 0.75% rebate (using the ratio of $15 spent = 1 Air Mile).  Taking advantage of bonus Air Miles events at sponsor locations will definitely help you maximize your rebate.

Just for fun, if I had to choose the best rewards in terms of value for money spent I would consider the following alternatives to the gas gift cards:

  1. Cineplex or Empire Theatres Movie Package – To get 2 free tickets plus two regular soft drinks and one regular popcorn for 175 miles is pretty good value.  That package has to be worth $30 and you’re getting it for $20.
  2. Earl’s $25 Gift Card – My wife and I love going to Earl’s and for 195 miles we would be getting slightly better value for our rewards by getting this gift card instead of the gas gift card from Shell.
  3. Rona $20 Gift Card – Anyone who knows me would laugh at this choice since I am Canada’s worst handyman, but for 150 Air Miles you can’t beat this value for redeeming your points.

The reward that I didn’t mention that appeared to have the best value was the $20 Roots gift card for 120 miles.  I just don’t think Roots sells anything for less than $100, so the reward would be more like a gift that keeps on taking.

Do you use Air Miles for travel or for something else?  What are some of your favourite rewards?

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  1. Paul on March 14, 2011 at 7:40 am

    I agree 100%, Air Miles rewards are best for subsidizing everyday purchases or for the little indulgences in life like going out for dinner @ Earls or a fancy coffee from Starbucks. They are also good for birthday and Christmas presents which allows your budget to go further.

    • Echo on March 14, 2011 at 9:05 am

      Hi Paul, I’m starting to think I need to expand my rewards redemptions to include some of those little indulgences. A night at the movie’s would be a treat for the parents of a toddler 🙂

  2. SophieW on March 14, 2011 at 6:06 pm

    I use my points for Sobey’s gift certificates – not sure whether there are any of the grocery store chain out your way though…

    350 points for a $50.00 gift certificate is right up my alley! That $50 saved goes right onto my car loan, so it’s an even bigger savings 🙂 and I manage to get a certificate about every other month because I pay most of my regular bills with my AMEX Airmiles card.

    • Echo on March 14, 2011 at 7:48 pm

      Hi Sophie, unfortunately there are no options for grocery redemptions out West or else that would be my first choice too. I think Sobeys (Atlantic) and Metro are the only grocery store options.

      Not sure why Safeway is a sponsor for collecting Air Miles but doesn’t offer redemptions?

      And good for you for maximizing your rewards by using your credit card (and paying it off every month!).

  3. SophieW on March 14, 2011 at 6:07 pm

    Oh, and I should mention that I pay the card off every month, so I have NEVER paid ANY interest in the 3 years I’ve had the card 😉

  4. josh on March 15, 2011 at 11:50 pm

    i find myself redeeming for short haul airmile rewards. between calgary and vancouver, it normally costs 1025 airmiles. twice in the last month, i was forced to book last minute trips for personal reasons. for these trips, i’ve managed to get a return of about 45c/mile. airmiles taxes are higher than regular taxes on air canada/westjet, but once you calculate the amount of money “saved” (total on a regular ticket – total asked for by airmiles) divided by the mileage required, it turned out to be this high. if you compared airmiles vs regular airline sale prices, i can still average about a 20c/mile return.

    in my mind, that beats out shell’s 20$/175 AM redemption ratio. that being said, i also have the luxury of earning airmiles in bulk from safeway and can therefore easily rack up those 1025 miles …

    • Echo on March 16, 2011 at 12:06 am

      Hi Josh, thanks for your comments. That sounds like a good use of your Air Miles, and it’s good to hear from someone who is actually redeeming them for flights. If I flew more frequently perhaps I would change my approach, but for now I don’t see anything other than the gas cards that will help subsidize my budget.

  5. Wally Sandrin on May 3, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    It is very hard to find any rewards re; various sports tools,equipment,tech tools, clothing etc.

  6. Spiggsy on June 1, 2011 at 9:06 am

    Good article, but I must disagree about airmiles not being more lucrative than a cashbach rewards c/c.

    The thing with airmiles is that I can frequently earn a bonus 20 – 100 miles every week by purchasing a few qualifying items. Between my four favourite airmiles stores of shell, metro, rexall, and LCBO I know I’m guaranteed a bonus.
    My comparison is a cashback card I tried which I averaged just under $20/month for my average monthly spend. In comparison, I would be making 245 airmiles a month on average.

    Typically I’ve spent the last few years cashing in miles for Shell gas, averaging $600/year in certificates. Considering that I can earn airmiles on the redeemed certificates too, I actually come out ahead by another 30 miles from it too.

    • Echo on June 1, 2011 at 9:15 am

      I agree that if you can find the bonus Air Miles offers (at Safeway there are plenty) then Air Miles becomes a lot more lucrative. Considering a 100 bonus Air Miles offer is worth about $12 (and it’s a product that you would normally buy), these offers are great to take advantage of.

      For normal spending though, the 1 Air Mile earned per every $20 spent is not very attractive.

  7. Ron on August 19, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    Wow, thanks for the tips, I have lots of Air Miles (200K) and I am alaways looking for the best way to spend them.

  8. Stocksicity on August 20, 2011 at 3:01 pm

    My father is always using his miles to purchase gadgets and other electronics. I haven’t flown in almost 10 years, otherwise, I’d probably spend on similar items. The last thing he got is a Nikon Digital Camera. Pretty sweet.

  9. Paula @ on September 16, 2011 at 12:01 pm

    Wow, this is really interesting. I try to collect as many air miles as possible and I spend them on international flights, which generally gets you the best return (about 2 cents per mile for Saver Airfare International, vs. 1 cent per mile for Saver Airfare Domestic.) But a $25 gift card for 195 Air Miles sounds like a better deal.

  10. johnnyboy on November 7, 2011 at 7:29 am

    I have been an active collector of air miles for about a year now
    miles redeem in most instances i find travel gives me more buck for mile. if you travel in the off season, and use the bmo gold card it comes out about 4 air miles to the dollar for travel, if not it is 6-7 am to the dollar.

  11. canada goose on December 6, 2011 at 4:42 pm

    What’s with that totally wrong definition? “a computer connected to the internet that maintains a series of web pages on the World Wide Web.” A website isn’t a computer.

  12. Happy Slob Housecleaner on December 27, 2011 at 2:32 pm

    Oh, how I miss the Starbucks cards for redemption with Airmiles! 🙂 It was a great bargain, and I love to treat myself to a latte (too often, I must admit…) I read that Airmiles got rid of any gift cards for redemption if they weren’t sponsors – and since Starbucks obviously isn’t, bye bye free lattes. 🙁

    Love hearing how everyone else redeems their Airmiles! I have to admit that since both the Keg and Starbucks were removed as rewards, I barely worry about collecting Air miles anymore.

  13. Judy on January 5, 2012 at 10:06 pm

    I purchase expensive prescriptions at Safeway. My work and government healthcare cover the full cost of the Rx. but I get the airmiles for the full cost! This is an amazing bargain. I also can donate airmiles to a charity I support. Theatre tickets make great gifts and it’s nice to come through Christmas with money in the bank!!

  14. Kris on January 12, 2012 at 7:40 pm

    I always redeem for Metro ($20 for 175 points, though it used to cost less points and seems to go up every year or so). Then, since I don’t really like shopping at Metro that much and they don’t always have much I need (I shop at a local health food store or The Real Canadian Superstore/Loblaws for better/healthier selections), I sell the certificate to my mother for $20 cash. I know not everyone has that option, but, yeah…converting 175 airmiles into $20 cash to put toward my monthly TD Rebate Rewards Visa card seems to be the most cost-effective option for me. Though now I’m considering a Roots trade-in. 120 for $20 is pretty awesome and I need some clothes. Roots should have some good stuff on the clearance rack after the holidays now. Got an organic cotton toque last year for $16, maybe a t-shirt or some shorts this year.

    The easiest/fastest way to gain miles locally is through buying gas at Shell…though I’d support independant gas stations if they were closer, or go car-free if my job were closer to home, and simply not worry about earning miles fast through buying enough of the right kind of gas at Shell (plus a few organic granola bars in the Shell store when you need to hit one of the tiers of spending $20, $40–$40 is for special multiplier deals–$50, $80, $110, etc).

    Wouldn’t buy crap I don’t need or that is unhealthy at Metro just to get the multipliers on airmiles. I DO like how you can spend $10 one day and $10 another, within a Sunday to Saturday period, and have that earn you an Air Miles, no having to spend $20 in one visit. Dunno if many other grocery stores that take Air Miles cards allow that.

  15. Jeff on February 20, 2012 at 8:47 pm

    The only problem with using airmiles to purchase gas and restaurant gift cards is that both of those types of businesses never have sales.
    I prefer to use my points to get gift cards at places like the Bay and Chapters, and then look to further extend my savings by shopping for items that are on sale.
    For instance, at Chapters there are always shelves of recent best selling hardcovers that were initially $30+ each, but now on sale for under $8. Focusing on those, I can easily use my $50 gift card to pick up 6 to 8 books that would have originally cost over $240!Same thing applies to other retailers that frequently have sales such as the Bay/Zellers.

  16. Janet on March 5, 2012 at 8:48 pm

    Excellent comparison, especially as they’ve now announced a huge jump in their redemption ratio and my lovely fat balance isn’t looking so fat anymore. I think I’ll cash them in on gasoline (or maybe a Kindle, using Chapter’s gift cards.. hrm…) cards or something instead of saving up for that ‘dream’ vacation. It’s never gonna happen the way Air Miles is going. The closer I get, the farther away they move the finish line.

  17. SE Book on March 7, 2012 at 2:57 pm

    wow I didn’t realize you could use your rewards for all those different things. That is pretty cool.

  18. tthomson on April 15, 2012 at 1:26 am

    Obviously You don’t live in a northern town. It costs $600 for a return trip to Vancouver, or 850 air miles. Last Christmas, my son went to UVic, it was 1100 airmiles or $1100. Everyone here sucks airmiles out of Safeway like crazy here. We collect them by the 1000’s, it is either a flight or 20 hours drive to get to the big city. It is a topic covered in staffrooms all the time in the north.

  19. Annette on May 14, 2012 at 12:27 pm

    I got an offer from BMO and I redeemed 4750 Air Miles for a $500 investment voucher. I put it straight into an Investorline account so it’s as good as cash. For 950 AirMiles you get $100

  20. Luticia on May 16, 2012 at 8:01 pm

    We use our airmiles for our annual family ‘Vacation.’ With 3 kids under 6, we don’t plan on doing anything too extraneous – a 2 night getaway is great! So we redeem our Airmiles for Shell gift certificates which get us to Edmonton, arm ourselves with plenty of Boston Pizza gift certificates for meals, get a great deal for a family day passes at West Edmonton Mall (great value per mile,) and even use Airmiles for our hotel room! Bonus – free continential breakfast from the hotel;)

    Though I don’t regularly shop at Safeway, I do take advantage of periodic Airmiles events, as well as prescriptions for 7 times the airmiles! They are calculated on the total value of the prescription, not just the portion you pay after your drug benefits:D

  21. Retirees on September 10, 2012 at 4:36 pm

    Have collected air miles for years to cash in for gas certificates helps when your on a fixed income.Without notification this was dropped one does not need as much in later years but always need gas.We are cashing in our miles as soon as we can before they drop more rewards also considering changing cards to some other program have tried cash back programs not too keen on these.any ideas

  22. Veronica on November 18, 2012 at 9:06 pm

    My bf has redeemed his air miles, but mostly for other flights. We do get a great choice of products to choose from with international travel club card but typically try to save up for more flights. Gotta see the entire world.

  23. Rosemary Wells on December 10, 2012 at 3:36 pm

    Just got back from a two week trip to Nicaragua out of Toronto with my sister. She has a BMO Gold Airmiles card and I am a regular collector. I paid about 5,000 points for my trip and she paid at least 25% less than me. Still, we had to pay taxes and fees which irk me. I used to have Amex points that paid the entire bill, flight or vacation package, taxes, surcharges, everything. I sure liked that a lot better. So we ended up paying about $260 each to cover the charges. I ONLY use air Miles for flights so that I can travel. Maybe when I am retired on a fixed income, I will look at the gas or gift certificate options as adventure travel may be too costly.

  24. arturo on June 12, 2013 at 9:38 am

    Hey guys what are the trusted websites that you guys use to redeem air miles? I think I need to start doing this rather than using for plane trips only. Such a hassel.


  25. David on July 3, 2013 at 11:45 am

    You almost need a manual how to best “spend” your Air Miles 🙂 I’ve not optimized them.

    I’ve near given up redeeming for flights with taxes, fees, etc. coupled with goofy routes or brutal flight times and multiple extra hours of stop overs.

    Think I should just spend the miles on goods and services and enjoy the benefits as that’s the point right.

  26. The Passive Income Earner on July 13, 2013 at 8:23 pm

    I like the cash air miles for gas. I am not a big user of air miles but I am starting to prefer the hassle free usage of air miles compared with other gas station programs.

    It’s like cash back for me 🙂

    • mel on July 22, 2013 at 12:44 am

      Air Miles screwed me over with their ‘cash rewards’ and ‘dream rewards’. I used to always redeem Air Miles for $20 certificates for use at Shell or Rona. After painstakingly amassing 1200 airmiles to use at Rona, I can’t because they have my air miles in the ‘dream rewards’ account. Absolute bs. Can only use those air miles to buy overpriced crap they have on their site. Basically, they keep changing their policy so you get less. Suggest you find another ‘reward’ card.

      Suggest Rona and Shell and other signees to Air Miles reconsider, as this loyalty program has left a bitter taste in my mouth, and every time I visit a business with the Air Miles logo, I want to leave the store.

  27. Dividend Tactics on September 1, 2013 at 3:48 pm

    As soon as they switched to the “Cash” rewards and “Dream” rewards system I completely lost interest in Air Miles. We still accumulate and use them for free gas every now and then, but I switched my Air Miles Credit Card to a Cash Back Card. Nothing beats cash.

  28. Marie on March 7, 2016 at 12:07 pm

    I want to find out how I can get fuel cards for points?

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