Long before every retailer, it seems, began offering points for purchases, there was AirMiles. This versatile rewards program was launched in 1992 and lets you rack up points when you buy stuff at a wide array of places — both in-person and online — and redeem them for kitchen gadgets, event tickets and vacations. AirMiles points work on a points card, or as part of an AirMiles credit card program. The system has worked for years for many people, but now the program has some new offerings. Here’s what’s up.

Cash Rewards

Under the new system, AirMiles lets you rack up points as a so-called cash balance. You can redeem your points and get money at retailers that collect AirMiles. This is not that different from some of the points cards offered at retailers. For instance, at my grocery store, I’m often asked if I want to cash in my points and get $5 off my groceries. I almost always say yes: I’m too lazy to keep track of my points and redeem them myself. Under this new program, you have to take an active role, however. You need to go online and let AirMiles know you’re interested in moving your points into cash.

The “Dream” Option

AirMiles still lets you collect points that you can redeem for travel and other things. They’re calling this the dream account now. When you go online to change your preferences, you’re telling AirMiles how many of your points you want to go into cash, and how many into dream. If you’re lazy like me, you might go for 100% cash. Or if you’ve had some good free purchases in the past you might want to keep everything in dream, or find a 50/50 balance. Totally up to you.

Take Action

What’s really different about this card now is you must take action to set up your preferences. (You can change them anytime if you change your mind, which is good news.) If you do nothing, all your points will go into the dream side, and you can keep redeeming your points for purchases. As the points credit cards pile up in your wallet, best thing to do is make sure you’re getting the most out of the ones you have. (After all, these companies are collecting consumer data on you.) So take a moment to ditch the cards that do nothing for you and customize those, like AirMiles, that can give you perks that suit your spending habits.

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