Expiring Air Miles? Here are tips on how to best redeem

Air Miles expiring? Here’s what you should do now

Hotels, car rentals, and flights have the most value

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The time left to use those old Air Miles is ticking down.

The loyalty reward program brought in a five-year expiry on reward miles at the end of 2011. That means your reward miles from before 2012 will begin expiring after December 31, 2016 and every five years after you earn them. If you’ve been hoarding your miles, waiting for the perfect reward, well, it might be time to let ’em go and cash ’em in before they’re totally worthless.

Problem is that plenty of people are complaining that there are extremely limited reward options. What’s more, if your Air Miles are expiring in December, you’ll only be able to use them in the Dream Rewards category, which allows you to just redeem merchandise and travel packages. That’s because back in 2012, when Air Miles announced the Cash Rewards category, they made it so that you could only start collecting Air Miles Cash from that point forward, and only if you specified by changing your preferences on the Air Miles website. Unfortunately, there’s no way to transfer reward miles between the Dream and Cash Rewards categories to get around this.

Many are upset at the options they’re being left with but there are a few things you can do to render the situation a little less frustrating. So what’re some strategies to make the most of your miles? We talk to an expert to find out.

1. Check how many of your miles are really expiring

Thankfully, Air Miles can provide a breakdown detailing how many of your points are expiring come December. When you sign in at airmiles.ca, you’ll see a banner at the top of the website that you can click to request your expiry statement. Air Miles promises that you’ll receive an email detailing the status of your reward miles within 12 to 24 hours.

 2. Don’t delay

As CBC News recently reported, Air Mile’s service centre is jammed with calls and its website has been facing some—shall we say—turbulence. Patrick Sojka, a rewards expert and founder of RewardsCanada.ca, predicts things should calm down as the beginning of the school year approaches. However, he advises against any delay, pointing out that while redeeming may be hard now, it’ll be worse at year’s end.

“Don’t leave this to the last minute,” says Sojka. “Come December, especially after Christmas, their website and call centre is going to be insane.”

3. Race to save your miles

According to Sojka, you can save your reward miles by achieving Onyx status. To do that, you have to earn 6,000 miles within a calendar year. If you’re already close to earning 6,000 points, this year, you may be able to push yourself past that mark in time to save them. Of course, if you’re nowhere near the 6,000-mark, it’s probably best just to redeem the ones that are expiring.

Another way to save your reward miles is to transfer them to another Air Miles account. When you do, it resets the expiry date back to five years. Of course, there’s a heavy cost of doing so, at 15 cents per mile. A calculator on the Air Miles site puts the cost of transferring 100 Dream Miles at a whooping $25, not including taxes.

 4. Pick rewards that’ll give you the most bang for your buck

Sojka says hotels, car rentals, and flights have the most value to them, at around 13 cents per Air Mile. Most merchandise averages between seven to 10 cents per Air Mile. If you do pick a flight, you’ll be relieved to know it doesn’t have to depart before the expiry date, it just has to be booked before December 31. One thing to note is that the rewards displayed could vary based on who’s looking at it. At MoneySense, we found that one staffer with a much higher number of reward miles saw two to three times more merchandise than a staffer with fewer reward miles. While this could be a one-off, don’t be surprised if you and your friends or family see different selections.

He thinks some of the merchandise, like recreation passes, have decent value too. But the most important thing to him is that Air Miles holders don’t just let their points go to waste.

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