Airmiles was the original UK multi retailer loyalty scheme. It is chiefly owned by British Airways but has a complicated structure and operates in many different countries often under different names. The US operation has failed but the Canadian one seems much better than the UK. Many Canadian products are sold in special Airmiles packs that in some way boost your balance. The idea seems to be to get you to buy your normal products in larger quantities because most offers only come on stream if you buy five packs at a time. Nevertheless some of them are very good value and you can be paid airmiles three times on the same transaction- once with your credit card, once with your supermarket card and once with the multi buy deal.
Many readers will recall that British Airways is the outfit that will not allow men to fly with children they are not related to and will hold this against the Airmiles scheme. This would be wrong- because a free flight is a free flight and does nothing to feed this particular PC monster.
The Airmiles scheme has suffered a great deal from the advent of cheap flight from Ryanair. Why should we save our airmiles for half a year simply to get a free flight that now costs only five pounds? One solution is to spend the airmiles on wine instead. A free airline ticket within Europe translates as a case of twelve very good wines. Everyone should try a case of fine wine once in their life. It is an education. Wonderful.
Airmiles has declined in popularity in the UK and has been replaced by the more nimble 'Nectar' programme. One reason is that there are fewer places to collect airmiles and fewer places to spend them. Unlike Nectar it is impossible to enter a shop and spend your miles like cash. The scheme wants you to buy flights and holidays with them (they are run by an airline after all) but refuses to give an attractive exchange rate to encourage you to do so.
The economics of airmiles are extremely interesting. It costs an airline only a few pounds to sell you a seat in exchange for airmiles if this seat would otherwise fly empty. This means that airlines (and supermarkets, credit cards and so on) can offer something of value to the customer at almost no cost to itself. This is a sort of marketing alchemy by which value is created out of nothing. This should logically mean that airline flights should be far cheaper than wine if purchased with airmiles but the opposite is true.
Airmiles are also morally doubtful because some see them as a bribe to encourage executives to use the expensive BA in preference to cheaper carriers that do not issue miles.
Despite all this I would advise you to join if you can. One advantage of the recession is that there are more empty seats than there used to be and therefore you can actually spend your miles if you earn sufficient numbers. I would still go for the wine though.
Cautionary note- According to the normally reliable Martin Lewis of money saving expert, Airmiles expire if not used within two years. Furthermore there is a charge of �30 if you decide to use them when you have not added to your account in the last 12 months.
I cannot see this information on the Airmiles website but it may be hidden in the small print. Dam sneaky.