Dream Miles vs Cash Miles: Which One Is the Best Way to Redeem Your Air Miles?

One of the most popular loyalty programs is Air Miles. There’s no doubt that the loyalty program gets you a great bang for your buck. You can stack your Air Miles when you use an Air Miles credit card and simultaneously use your points card whenever you go shopping. Some products even let you earn extra points. Your Air Miles points are taking off at jet speed!

Actually, Air Miles has one of the highest dollar values per point out of any Canadian loyalty program. It really stretches your budget. Plus, the program offers two types of points: Dream Miles and Cash Miles. Wondering which system is best for you? It all depends on how you redeem or save your points.

What’s the difference between Dream Miles and Cash Miles?

When collecting your Air Miles, you can choose between Dream Miles, Cash Miles, or a combination of both. Dream Miles are the original Air Miles program: you can redeem them for flight tickets, hotel stays, merchandise on Air Miles’ website, and other similar rewards. However, Dream Miles expire after a period of five years so you have to keep an eye on your winnings and redeem them frequently. 

Cash Miles are a newer addition to the Air Miles program. You can use them in select stores for rebates, online for gift vouchers, or donated to a charity of your choice. Unlike Dream Miles, Cash Miles do not expire. However, they have a lower cash value equivalent. 

When selecting your Air Miles point type, keep in mind that you cannot convert Dream Miles to Cash Miles or vice versa. While you can change your point earning ratio at any time, the Air Miles that you have already earned are locked into their chosen category.

Which point type is best?

If you’re strictly looking to maximize your points’ dollar value, Dream Miles are the better option. However, the two points systems have considerable differences. You may find that Cash Miles are better aligned with your lifestyle and earning goals.

Choosing Dream Miles

Although Dream Miles can get you furniture, electronics, and flights, they have a 5 year expiration date. That can lead to major headaches. If you only occasionally swipe your loyalty card, you might find that you don’t have enough Dream Miles for any of the exciting prizes by their expiration date in year five. Instead, you may have to settle for smaller, less interesting prizes.

If you are not consciously saving up for a big reward, you should redeem rewards regularly. Otherwise, there is a good chance you’ll forget about them. Next thing you know, they will expire.

Dream Miles for travel

If you’re primarily looking to use Dream Miles for travel vouchers, beware of blackout dates and travel restrictions. This is really important to coordinate with your points expiration date. If your points are close to expiry, you may have to redeem your points for other rewards. Otherwise you’ll need to spend more Air Miles to book your flight. 

Dream Miles for merchandise

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A variety of Dream Miles merchandise rewards

Hoping to redeem Dream Miles for merchandise? There’s no guarantee that Air Miles will continue to stock a particular product that you hope to earn. With that being said, there are plenty of exciting options so you’ll probably find something you like. You just have to keep in mind that the rewards can change at any point, as can their value.

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A Dream Miles reward that offers 20 Bonus Miles

When dealing with merchandise rewards, you should also remember that not all redemption processes are created equal. Dream Miles products have two special categories: Bonus Miles and Featured Deals. That can drastically affect the redemption value of certain rewards. Bonus Miles rewards provide you with a certain number of Air Miles, generally around 15 to 20, when redeemed. Featured Deals are a selection of rewards that have discounted points requirements. According to Air Miles, the selection changes every week. When we reviewed this week’s offerings, most of the products had a 7% to 10% discount, though a few did go as high as 37%. Got your eyes on a particular reward? You might save some points and get a better deal by checking the Featured Deals section.

A smart way to spend Dream Miles

If you look through Air Miles’ Dream Miles catalogue, you’ll see that the big ticket items require quite a lot of points. Fortunately, Air Miles credit cards make it much easier to earn a lot of points. Most of these cards also come with a significant welcome bonus, so you can churn credit cards to earn lots of points and redeem higher rewards. Although this method isn’t for everyone, you can easily earn large amounts of Dream Miles and Cash Miles, making it particularly lucrative for those who put in the work.

If you don’t check on your Dream Miles on a semi-regular basis, they will eventually expire. Although redeemed Dream Miles have a higher dollar value than redeemed Cash Miles, expired Dream Miles are worthless. If you’re afraid that you’ll forget about the points, Cash Miles are probably the better option.

Cash Miles

If you’d prefer to take a simpler approach to Air Miles, Cash Miles might be for you. Although the points are worth slightly less money, you’ll know exactly how much each rebate costs, you won’t have to worry about points expiring, and you don’t have to deal with logistics concerns such as travel restrictions. 

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A standard Cash Miles reward

Cash Miles are also perfect if you’re on a tighter budget or saving towards a big goal. When every last penny counts, those $10 vouchers for 95 Cash Miles are a lot more valuable than the 1075 Dream Mile swing, especially since you’d get $110 worth of them! If you’re saving towards a big goal, those vouchers can be used for your normal grocery bill and then you can put the spare cash towards your goal. Although it is admittedly exciting to get a trip or new electronic device for free, it’s still very rewarding to watch your savings grow and know that your weekly grocery bill is lower than usual.

Enjoying the best of both worlds

Feel like you can’t possibly decide between Cash Miles and Dream Miles? You’re in luck! Air Miles allows you to earn both at the same time. You just have to tell them your preferred ratio of Cash Miles to Dream Miles. If your goals shift over time, it’s easy to change the allocation. Just be aware that you can’t convert existing points from one type to the other.

Before deciding to earn both Cash Miles and Dream Miles, you should ensure that you’ll be receiving enough Dream Miles to claim a reward every five years. As was mentioned before, this shouldn’t be a problem for those who use an Air Miles credit card. However, if you’re only earning a couple of hundred points per year, you probably won’t earn enough Dream Miles over a five-year period to get a good reward and may be left with expired points. You should only split your rewards type if you’re sure that you’ll earn lots of Air Miles over the next few years. After all, earning a fraction of the Dream Miles makes it even harder to redeem a prize.

If you do decide to split your points allocation, keep an eye on your Air Miles usage over the next few years. You might find that you earn more or less Air Miles than you expected, making it worthwhile to adjust your ratio. Although it’s a slightly more involved process, tweaking your Air Miles point type ratio allows you to ensure that you’re getting the best value out of the program based on your lifestyle.

Arthur Dubois is a personal finance writer at Hardbacon. Since relocating to Canada, he has successfully built his credit score from scratch and begun investing in the stock market. In addition to his work at Hardbacon, Arthur has contributed to Metro newspaper and several other publications