Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Introducing the American Express AIR MILES Reserve Credit Card

Air Miles, Canada’s largest loyalty program has long had credit cards that earn Air Miles Rewards Miles which also offered some standard credit card benefits but none like those found on some of the higher end premium travel cards. Enter the latest offering from American Express and Air Miles, the American Express AIR MILES Reserve Credit Card which is the first premium Air Miles card in the market. After discussions with sophisticated travelers (I would hope some of you were included since I like to believe the Rewards Canada fan base is quite sophisticated) and avid Air Miles collectors, American Express determined that there was a niche for a higher end card to be co-branded with Air Miles.

The card will be officially released tomorrow (Feb 14) but I have been provided with an early preview of what the card will be like.

The American Express AIR MILES Reserve Credit Card will offer 1,000 Air Miles Reward Miles as the standard sign up bonus although like almost every other card out on the market today we could expect to see even higher sign up bonuses in the future. The sign up or welcome bonus as Amex refers to it is awarded after spending $3,000 in the first three months of cardmembership.

Once you get the card you will be awarded with an annual short haul companion ticket (up to 1,450 Reward Miles) that can be used when booking another Air Miles reward ticket.

On regular spending you can expect to earn:

  • -One Air Miles Reward Mile per $10 spent at Air Miles sponsors

  • One Air Miles Reward Mile per $10 spent at all other Gas, Grocery and Drug Store locations

  • One Air Miles Reward Mile per $15 spent on all other eligible spending

The  redemption and benefits side is where some of the big changes and enhancements come in when compared to other Air Miles credit cards and pulls ideas from The Platinum Card from American Express.

Cardmembers will continue to redeem Air Miles at the set Air Miles Reward Chart rates for tickets that fall into that category but where this card jumps ahead of the others is as follows:
the administration/booking fee charged by Air Miles is waived
you’ll be able to use your Reward Miles to pay for the taxes and fees

  • the introduction of Air Miles FlexFly which lets you book any seat on any flight at a rate of 770 Air Miles for every $100 of travel booked when you cannot get a flight via the reward chart. This is similar to the booking options allowed to all Air Miles members where you can book any flight but it will cost you more miles depending on the cost of the flight but the rate this card has should be better.
and the big one….. cardmembers will be able to redeem for Business Class flights! While Air Miles has occasionally run promotions for Business Class redemptions, this will be available all the time for Air Miles Reserve cardmembers. Apparently Air Miles will be able to book business class seats instead of economy from their existing inventory provided to them from their airline partners and if there is no availability then once again cardmembers can take advantage of the Air Miles FlexFly option of redeeming 770 points for every $100 spent on flights.

The benefits side will see some great options that are only seen on Amex Platinum cards, insurances similar to most premium cards and lounge access like some of the higher end travel cards:

  • Priority Pass Membership with 4 annual lounge passes (all other lounge access will be at the standard Priority Pass rate of US$27 per visit once passes are used up)
Access to the Toronto Pearson Priority Security lanes in Terminal and Terminal 3

  • Access to Priority Limo and Taxi Lanes at Toronto Pearson
Access to an exclusive AIR MILES concierge service, which will have a dedicated phone number, which for anyone who has called the main AIR MILES line to redeem can attest to being a great advantage. 

  • American Express Front of the Line Access to concerts and events

  • Insurances include Emergency Medical, Flight delay, car rental, lost baggage, hotel burglary and more

So what will this cost you to get all these benefits and enhancements? The primary card is $299 per year with supplementary cards coming in at $50. When I first heard $299 I can admit I was a little shocked, not because I haven’t seen prices like that (the Platinum Card from Amex is $699) but when I associate anything with Air Miles, I see people wanting to get a good deal at a good value . But then again this card is not targeting the general Air Miles populous, its targeting avid collectors who do redeem most of their Air Miles for travel and those wanting enhanced travel benefits. One can look at the companion fare as almost being covered by the $299 but I still feel this is high. The WestJet World Elite MasterCard has a $99 companion fare which can take you farther and that card only costs $99. Granted it has less travel benefits attached but it’s not too far off. The BMO World Elite which offers similar Priority Pass benefits is only $150, the American Express AeroplanPlus Platinum is $200 more with a companion fare, a better insurance package and very good lounge access plus it also has the Toronto Pearson benefits and comes out stronger for business class tickets. In my mind this card should have come in with a $199 annual fee to make it more attractive and competitive with cards that offer similar benefits.

Ultimately I think this card is a great step for the American Express Air Miles partnership. The majority of Air Miles credit cards have lacked on the benefits side and this card steps up to the plate to fill that void.  While I won’t be getting the card since I am not a big Air Miles collector anymore, I know of many who will and those people will be the ones who do use their Air Miles primarily for travel. When you take into account the benefits, the earn ratio and even the small things like waiving the booking fee, this card is the best Air Miles Reward Miles card to date and you should jump on it if you fall into that category. If you don’t travel much and/or don’t use your Air Miles Reward Miles for travel you are probably better off saving the money spent on the larger annual fee by going with one of the other American Express or BMO Air Miles credit cards.

Be sure to keep an eye out in the near future here on Rewards Canada as I give the card the standard unbiased “Rewards Canada Review”, the addition of the card to my famous credit card comparison charts and to see where it ranks in Rewards Canada’s 5th Annual Top Travel Rewards Credit Card feature later this year!

As always I would love to hear your thoughts, comments etc. Just leave a comment below!


  1. Certainly it depends for me on what the award chart looks like for business class.

  2. I'll pass. Not big on Air Miles either and $299 fee is indeed high

    I did consider RBC WestJet CC for its companion ticket

  3. Great blog, been following for a few months, you have gotten me a bunch of free hotel nights already, thanks.
    Question for you that has nothing to do with this particular card...
    How long do you normally wait after cancelling a credit card with great sign-up bonuses and points to sign-up again?
    Example Capital One Aspire with the 35,000 points...that in itself is worth getting as much as possible, but when do they say "too soon" or "enough is enough"
    Thanks again, Jay

    1. Hi Jay!

      Thanks for the kind words. I'm not much of churner so I can't say from experience as to when to reapply. I know from others that it can be between 6 and 18 months but some issuers won't let you get another sign up bonus no matter what if you had the card before. I can check with Capital One as to what their time period is to reapply and get the bonus.


  4. Ya, I read some US blogs and they say it averages a month or so! The sign up bonuses are better as well, with more choice to boot. One AMEX had a 100,000 point sign up bonus last month for a day! Wish we Canadians could get those options, or at least be able to apply for their cards. Thanks again!

  5. Hi Patrick,

    I'll pass on this one as I have the regular green AMEX card, and the Mrs. has both the Air Miles BMO and AMEX free cards, so for us that's enough for now.

    However!!! Please let us know when, and if ever, the Hilton Reserve card ever makes its way north of the border. $95 (U.S.) fee and some good perks, and I'd jump at it if it ever came to Canada.



  6. I'll take a pass on this one unless they up the ante. 1000 air miles is worth about $150 max, or only half the sign up fee. No thanks, there are better deals to be had. And I only use Air Miles for hotel stays since I use airline miles so I can get business class seats, particularly on overseas flights. It would be interesting to see how much Air Miles will want for business class seats--I'm guessing probably 5x to 10x the regular miles.

  7. I agree. It depends on the amount of airmiles needed for business class.
    It is much easier to get AmEx reward points and transfer them to Air Canada then to try getting enough Airmiles for anything worthwhile.

  8. I'm considering getting this. For the companion flight, if the air miles required is more than the max, do you just get credited the max?

    Also, you mentioned that Air Mile users can book other flights not offered through air miles... Do you details on that?? That was my main reason for wanting this card. I have over 20k miles I need to start using

    1. Hi Phil,

      I will have to check with Air Miles on your first question, but I honestly think that if you are redeeming for flights beyond 'short-haul' you won't be able to use the companion benefit.

      For the other flights, essentially all you have to do is call the Air Miles Concierge and they can get you onto any flight that has an open seat for sale. Since it does not fall under the regular Air Miles Reward chart this is where you would pay the 770 Air Miles for every $100 of ticket value.

      Hope this helps!

    2. @Phil, here is the response from Amex/Air Miles on your first question:

      "The answer is no, you will not get credited 1,450 reward miles to apply towards a flight of higher value. The Basic Cardmember’s flight must be 1,450 or less to take advantage of the Companion Flight Benefit. For example, if the Basic Cardmember booked a flight for 1,600 miles, they won’t be able to use the Companion Flight Benefit to bring along their spouse. They are not unfortunately able to top-up the remaining amount beyond 1,450. However, flights from Toronto to New York, for example, start as low as 1,150 miles, so there are still lots of great flight you can use the Companion Flight Benefit towards!"

  9. Hi there I am a regular flyer and use our family Airmiles almost exclusively for travel so this card looks appealing to me, however the $350 price tag (including supplementary card) is very high compared to the American Express airmiles platinum card I currently have ($65 a year I think with free supplementary card).

    I consider the major perks of this card to be the companion ticket, waiving of booking fee and lounge pass. But I'm not convinced hat even these benefits are worth the fee. I agree that $199 seems more reasonable and considering that the supplementary card does not afford any extra benefits such as extra lounge passes, I think the $50 supplementary card fee is excessive.

    One question: if booking a fare using the short haul companion benefit, do you still need to pay all the taxes and airmiles fees as when booking a regular flight through airmiles? Fr short haul flights it's not unusual for the taxes and fees to be more expensive than the cost of the ticket itself!

    1. Yes I would believe that you have to pay the taxes and fees on the short haul companion ticket. I will email Amex/Air Miles to confirm and post the answer here.

    2. Here is the answer from Amex:

      No, taxes are not covered on the short haul companion flight. When the Basic is booking their flight (for example from Toronto to New York), they can absolutely use their miles to cover the taxes and fees. When booking the Companion portion of the Companion ticket (for the same itinerary- Toronto to New York), we do encourage the Cardmember to pay for the taxes and fees on their Reserve Card, but if they don’t want to, the option is available to use miles for the taxes and fees for the companion portion as well.

    3. Thanks for clarifying. To me, this card isn't worth the $350 annual fee (including supplementary card) despite me being a frequent traveler and I'll stick to my Amex Airmiles Platinum card for now.

  10. This credit card information is very useful for me.I rally thank you.

  11. Does anyone know how many airmiles need to cover taxes? IE if taxes were $150, how many airmiles do i need to cover the taxes.

    1. Don't know the exact amount but I would figure it would be near the 770 Air Miles for every $100 that is seen in the FlexFly option.

    2. I asked airmiles this question and they did not seem to know. They said they wouldn't know unless i was booking with the card. All she could say was it would probably be around the 95 for $10 amount like AM cash, but did admit she had no idea.