There are many keen collectors of points and miles in the Maritimes. However, I suspect lots more people are either casual collectors or pay no attention whatsoever to loyalty programs. Learning how to effectively earn and redeem points is a chore and may not seem like it’s worth the effort. So, I thought I’d attempt to lay out a strategy that might help someone become more active in the points and miles world. The focus will be on Air Miles and PC Optimum as those are the most accessible programs for everyday purchases in Canada.
[2021 UPDATE: if you find any of this helpful or interesting, you might also wish to read another more recent post, Starting From Scratch – Earning Points For A Low Cost Trip]
It’s very slow going for someone who collects points and miles passively – you hand the card over when asked, but nothing more. Your account grows at a snail’s pace. When a big promotion comes along like the upcoming Mega Miles, you’re either unaware of it or you are aware and know you could benefit if you felt inclined to follow through with it – but you don’t. How do you overcome that hurdle?
Free Your Mind
I’m no psychologist, but I know that people tend to be creatures are habit. We’re generally resistant to change. We’re also influenced to some degree by the opinions of others within our circle and our own longstanding engrained notions. You hear people say that points and miles are too difficult to redeem and not worth the bother. It can be hard to start fresh based on independent objective information. It’s also important not to sell yourself short on your ability to get a good handle on something unfamiliar, and then decide if it’s for you.
Find Some Motivation
Why should you pay any attention to points? Free stuff. Free travel. The only cost is your time. Unfortunately, this is the one that presents the biggest obstacle. For many folks, getting something for free or at a low cost is only nice if it takes little to no effort.
Ask yourself, if you won a free gift card and could choose anything, what would it be? The answer will be different for everyone. Free groceries doesn’t do it for some people because they’re going to buy groceries anyway. It doesn’t produce the level of enthusiasm required to alter one’s behaviour.
Consider that you can redeem Air Miles (in the Cash category) or PC Optimum points for free groceries, but turn around and use that saved cash to buy a gift card for something more exciting – books, clothes, travel, whatever. Focus on the most motivating incentive. In addition to redeeming Cash miles in-store for things like gas or groceries, you can redeem miles for eVouchers at certain partners.
For Dream miles, check the Air Miles website for all the various redemption options. There are so many possibilities. Find something that can provide that needed spark. It really helps though if there are multiple appealing choices so you don’t pin all your hopes on one item that could possibly be unavailable in the future.
We’ve redeemed Air Miles for flights, hotel, event tickets and theme park passes. They’ve made trips possible that otherwise wouldn’t have happened.
Make a List
I like checklists. They help me feel like I’ve made some headway toward a goal. The objective here is to become an engaged points and miles collector.
Start with these:
- Sign-up for an Air Miles account online if you don’t already have one
- Get a 4 digit pin number to access your Air Miles account online if you’ve forgotten it or don’t have one
- Opt-in to receive emails from Air Miles (and get 25 bonus miles)
- Sign-up for a PC Optimum account if you don’t already have one
- Set-up the online account if you already have a PC Optimum card
- Opt-in to receive emails from PC Optimum
Once you have those tasks out of the way, you can do the following on an ongoing basis:
- Load your weekly Air Miles offers for Sobeys/Foodland
- Load your weekly PC Optimum offers for Superstore
- Check the online flyers for bonus offers at participating retailers when they come out
- Watch for good promotions
Air Miles Decision – Cash or Dream?
Collecting points is just half the battle. You also need to know how best to redeem them. This is especially important for Air Miles because you must designate your account to earn either Dream miles or Cash miles or some combination of both. If you like to keep things as straightforward as possible, go with Cash miles. You can redeem 95 miles for $10 worth of free merchandise.
If, for example, you complete 5 offers in the Mega Miles promotion that begins March 19th, you will have more than enough to redeem for $100 worth of of groceries.
Note that you cannot transfer pre-existing Air Miles from one category to another.
Monitor Your Accounts
After a while it will become second nature to check your receipts and monitor your accounts to make sure the points or miles have posted correctly. You don’t want to miss out on any bonuses to which you are entitled. Always pay close attention to the terms and conditions of promotions. And if you have a question or concern about a promo or missing miles, follow up with either the retailer or Air Miles to get clarification or make things right.
Consider Credit Cards
After you’re up to speed with Air Miles and PC Optimum and comfortable with the programs, consider whether you want to earn additional miles through credit card spending.
If you’re a responsible user, rewards credit cards are a great way to accumulate points and miles. In keeping with the theme of this post and a simple approach, maybe sign-up for the no-fee BMO Air Miles MasterCard or one of the no-fee PC Optimum MasterCards. If the latter, watch for a targeted offer to receive an elevated sign-up bonus.
There are many other rewards credit cards out there that have better earning rates and higher sign-up bonuses, but they require at least a moderate amount of dedication to adequately sort out the various options depending on your goals. If you’re good with Air Miles and PC Optimum, you might be interested in managing more loyalty accounts to expand your points portfolio.
I guess some passive collectors reading this might still consider it to be a chore. I’m not saying it’s hassle-free. But the reality is that you can extract significant value from loyalty programs without spending any extra money if you set your mind to it. Becoming an engaged points and miles collector is an attitude shift that can happen with sufficient motivation.
Once you get familiar with the nuances of the programs, it becomes much easier and you’ll be able to sort the wheat from the chaff in terms of promotions and bonus offers. You’ll also be better equipped to deal with the inevitable snafus and frustrations.
Using Canadian loyalty programs to your advantage is not about being loyal to a store or a points program – it’s about being loyal to your wallet.