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Back to School and Year Round Shopping Miles & Points tips Last Updated: August 10, 2015


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With less than a month left before school starting it is time to kick your back to school shopping into high gear! Whether it’s online or in store there are many ways to maximize the miles and points you earn for back to school shopping. Ultimately you can make those travel reward dreams come closer by following one or more of Reward Canada’s tips.

Pay for everything with your rewards credit card

Whenever you can, use your miles/points earning credit card to pay for your purchases. As long as you are financially responsible there is no reason you should be using cash or debit for your purchases. It should always be on a rewards credit card so that you earn your coveted miles and points. It's doesn't matter if it is $1.00 or $1,000, put it on your credit card. Even that last $1.99 pen you forgot to buy and have to pick up at 7-11 on your way to dropping kids off at school! Not financially responsible? As in you only pay the minimum required amount each month on your card? Then don't use your card. The interest you pay is not worth the extra miles or points.

For students this may mean putting the purchases on your parents rewards card to maximize the miles/points if you don't have one yourself (or have a supplementary card from your parents) or putting it on your own card if it earns rewards. Of course using a debit card with rewards like the Scotia's with SCENE points works as well.

Double Dip & Triple Dip

Double dipping is the term coined for earning miles twice in one purchase or transaction. This basically involves your mileage earning credit card being used for a purchase where you also earn miles in the same program as the credit card. Shopping online? Using your airline or hotel branded credit card and shopping via that same program’s online shopping mall ensures you are double dipping.

Triple dipping involves the above but then adding in any bonuses available. Look for emails, coupons or other promotions offering even more miles. For example, both Aeroplan and AIR MILES have bonuses for shopping online which means the first dip is the base miles earned on the purchase, the second is the miles earned on your rewards credit card and the third is the bonus miles from the promotion. See the next section on some specific online shopping bonuses that can let you hit that triple dip.

Double and Triple dipping does not have to involve the same program. You can always use a credit card that earns in one program while collecting the actual miles from another program for your flights, hotels, shopping or anything else you can earn miles on.

Online shopping tips

I’ll focus first on online shopping since you really need to get orders in soon to ensure delivery before school starts. Many loyalty programs, whether travel based or not, now have online shopping malls where you can earn miles or points for shopping at hundreds of online retailers. Currently some of them are not running bonus offers over and above the base miles/points they award for the online purchase while some others are. Whether or not there is a bonus, you are best off using the online shopping mall of your program(s) of choice as moving your shopping to a program that may be offering 5x miles on purchases but is a program you rarely use may leave you with some stranded miles that you’ll never redeem. In many cases you can also combine coupons/free shipping offers to these orders to not only ensure you are earning miles but are also saving money wherever you can.

Here are the current online shopping mall bonuses that cover purchases from all of their respective retailers. Many of the malls also have individual retailer bonuses, too many of which to list here but include retailers like Lands End, Staples and more. (This list was last updated: August 11, 2015)

MeliaRewards Shopping Double MeliaRewards Points when you shop online via the MeliaRewards Shopping portal. Full details Until Sep 16, 18
Marriott Bonvoy More 1,000 bonus Rewards points when you complete your first purchase of $25 or more via Marriott Bonvoy More online shopping portal. Full details Until ?

Another option for the online shopping is route to use a Mileage Shopping Tool/Search bar. Some programs are offering a bonus for downloading and/or shopping with their downloadable shopping tools. AIR MILES is just one example, see here for details. These tools allow you to forego visiting the program’s online shopping mall first before going to the retailer’s site to shop. Be careful however with these tools bars as they may override your attempts to shop at an online retailer via another travel program. You may have to uninstall or disable any downloaded shopping tools before using another program’s online shopping site.

Don't like points or miles then go the cash back route. Exactly like the mileage shopping malls are online portals that pay you a rebate for shopping at online retailers. The two big ones in Canada are GreatCanadianRebates and eBates. Both will give you a percentage of your purchase back to you as cash and typically run increased percentage bonus offers for various online retailers. Remember you should still tie in your mileage earning credit card for the purchase or a cash back credit card like the BMO CashBack World Elite Mastercard or Scotia Momentum Visa Infinite card for these purchases!

A great site to see what stores participate in the various programs is called Used by Rewards Canada for many years the site also lists some coupons offers and the amount of miles/points per dollar earned.

In-store shopping

The main tips given at the beginning of this article of putting everything on your credit card and double/triple dipping also apply for in-store shopping. There are however some not-so-well-known tips that I have heralded in past interviews that can ensure you earn even more miles and points for your in-store shopping. These tips rely on you using a credit card that offers a category spend bonus at places like Grocery Stores, Gas Stations, or Drug Stores. Credit cards with category bonuses include but are not limited to American Express Gold Rewards Card, TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Card and the Scotia American Express Gold Card.

This first tip takes a bit more time out of your schedule because it requires multiple stops and purchases but if you have the time and want the extra miles then go for it! Whether it is for school supplies from places like Staples or Wal-Mart or clothing from the Gap or Old Navy this method will ensure you earn more miles. You could always go directly to these or other stores and earn your base miles on your credit card but by going to a grocery store, drug store or even a gas station that sells gift cards you can buy a gift card for anyone of those retailers and earn the category bonuses of 1.5 or 2x or more miles/points/cashback on the purchase. Then you simply go to that start and use your gift card for the purchase and swipe your loyalty card if the store happens to partnered with a program (ie Staples and Old Navy with Air Miles) There is only one downside to this method other than the extra time required and that is you will not be able to take advantage of the purchase protection, price protection or extended warranty offered by many of the reward credit cards if you are buying electronics or other higher priced items for school.

Here is a comparison of the credit card category bonuses:

Drug Store
American Express Gold Rewards Card 2 Miles per dollar 2 Miles per dollar 2 Miles per dollar
American Express Platinum Air Miles Credit Card 1 Mile per $10 1 Mile per $10 1 Mile per $10
American Express Air Miles Reserve Credit Card 1 Mile per $10 1 Mile per $10 1 Mile per $10
ATB Platinum Cash Rewards Mastercard 3% Cashback 3% Cashback
3% Cashback
BMO CashBack Mastercard 1% Cashback 3% at Shell Stations only 1% Cashback
CIBC Aerogold Visa Infinite 1.5 Miles per dollar 1.5 Miles per dollar 1.5 Miles per dollar
CIBC Aventura Visa/Mastercard 1.5 Points per dollar 1.5 Points per dollar
1.5 Points per dollar
MBNA Smart Cash Mastercard 5% for the first 6 months, 2% thereafter 5% for the first 6 months, 2% thereafter
1% Cashback
RBC Cash Back Mastercard 2% Cashback 1% Cashback
1% Cashback
Scotia Momentum VISA Infinite card 4% Cashback 4% Cashback
2% Cashback
Scotiabank Gold American Express Card 4 Points per dollar 4 Points per dollar
1 Point per dollar
Scotiabank American Express Card 2 Points per dollar 2 Points per dollar
1 Point per dollar
Sears Voyage Mastercard 1.5 Points per dollar 1.5 Points per dollar 1.5 Points per dollar
SimplyCash™ Card from American Express® 5% for the first 6 months, 1.25% thereafter* 5% for the first 6 months, 1.25% thereafter* 1.25% Cashback
TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite 1.5 Miles per dollar 1.5 Miles per dollar 1.5 Miles per dollar

The second tip ties in the one above and that is shopping for supplies at places that have the category bonus. For example, London Drugs carries tons of stationary, lunch kits, thermos' etc. that are required for school. Any card that has a drug store multiplier will earn those extra points/miles without going for the gift card route. Same goes for other drug stores although those tend not to be as competitive on price like London Drugs does.

The third tip strictly revolves around Staples since they are the go to place for many school supplies. Whether or not you get yourself gift cards elsewhere for Staples when you actually go to the store look for bonus AIR MILES offers. Sign up to receive emails from them and even create an account with a company name (real or fake) as you'll get coupons sent to you in the mail. The latest for our company included $25 off, 25 Bonus Air Miles or a free VW Van Blue Tooth speaker. Of course on the other end you can even use AIR MILES Cash to help offset the costs at Staples, 95 AIR MILES will bring you $10 in savings.

4. Use bonus offers to your advantage when buying groceries for that student who is moving away from home

This one ties into the Double or Triple Dip outlined in the first tip. Always check your emails for bonus coupons or offers or even when you first enter a store. Doing your grocery shopping and expecting to buy lots of food for that starving student of yours? Always look at the flyer stand when you first enter Safeway, Sobeys or whatever grocery store as long as they are part of a loyalty program. We have found that Sobeys tends to be hit and miss at letting people know about bonus Air Miles offers via email so I always check the flyer stand to see if there is a bonus coupon and more times then not there is. Safeway is better at letting people know by email and sometimes it is only via email that the best offers come.

5. Always remember to swipe your Loyalty Card and/or use your miles/points earning credit card

Remember to always collect your points and miles when you shop. Did you know you can earn Cineplex SCENE points at Sport Chek? Air Miles at Michaels? Always think ahead and bring your loyalty card to swipe/scan when you shop. Don't want to carry around that much plastic? Most programs now have smart phone apps that also double as your loyalty card. This is a good way to always have your card on hand, especially for forgetful people.

By following some or all of these steps you will be making sure that you are maximizing the miles and points you earn for Back to School shopping whether it is in August or in April to refill on items. The mileage or point balances in your accounts will escalate and then those reward flights, nights or merchandise will come to you sooner!

Care to comment on Rewards Canada Guide to Points & Miles for Students? Which of these cards do you use yourself? Share you views and experiences by commenting below or join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

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