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Air Miles nixes expiry policy but some customers angry they rushed to spend miles

Air Miles customers no longer have to worry about using up their miles by the end of the year. On Wednesday, the loyalty program announced that it has cancelled its expiry policy, which was scheduled to kick in on Jan. 1, 2017.

On that date, all unused miles earned before 2012 would have become worthless. Miles earned from 2012 onward would also expire once they hit the five-year mark.

But now, customers can continue to hoard their miles for as long as they wish without any repercussions.

The announcement, however, is cold comfort for some customers who’ve already rushed to redeem their miles to beat the clock.

“It’s too insane,” said collector Katherine McLaughlin, who lives in Oakville, Ont. She redeemed about 6,000 miles for a high-end toaster and coffee maker she didn’t even want.

“I just did it because I needed to spend them on something and that was the least wasteful thing to get.”

Katherine McLaughlin Air Miles rewards

Katherine McLaughlin in Oakville, Ont. says she ended up wasting about 6,000 miles on items she didn’t want. (Katherine McLaughlin)

Numerous collectors have complained that Air Miles was providing them with poor rewards options leading up to the expiry date. Some customers alleged that the program planned it that way so that not everyone would cash in their expiring points.

The program’s owner, Toronto-based LoyaltyOne, said in a statement that it nixed the expiry rule due to “feedback from collectors” and an “uncertain legislative environment across Canada.”

The Ontario government is set to vote on Monday on a private member’s bill that would make it illegal for loyalty programs like Air Miles to impose an expiry date on points.

Industry experts had speculated that if the bill had passed, it would have created a logistical nightmare for the program to work with two different sets of rules for its members. Eleven million Canadian households collect Air Miles.

“We have decided to cancel the expiry policy so that all collectors, regardless of location, can be confident that their balances will be protected,” Bryan Pearson, president and CEO of LoyaltyOne, said in a statement.

MPP calls change a consumer ‘victory’

Ontario Liberal MPP Arthur Potts introduced the loyalty program bill and says the vote will still happen on Monday. “It’s important to have the regulatory authorities on the books.”

Arthur Potts air miles bill 47

Ontario Liberal MPP Arthur Potts introduced a private member’s Bill that would make it illegal for programs like Air Miles to make customers’ points expire without consent. (Ontario Government)

Potts says the legislation came about because of numerous constituents complaining about Air Miles and its expiry rule. 

“This is an incredible victory for consumers,” he adds about the policy reversal. “I am delighted they did the right thing here and gave people a reprieve.”

Rewards expert Patrick Sojka agrees. “It’s great news,” said the founder of Calgary-based resource site Rewards Canada.

Not so great news for some

However, Sojka adds that it’s not such great news for members who’ve already blown their points.

“It’s just unfortunate that it’s so late in the game and I know a lot of consumers have redeemed for things they didn’t want to redeem for.”

That includes McLaughlin and her unwanted kitchen appliances. “I wouldn’t have taken the merchandise if I hadn’t been forced to,” she said.

For her, the Air Miles change of plans does nothing to change her feelings about the program. McLaughlin’s frustrations began in August when she couldn’t redeem her points for something she really wanted — a Bose music system she had seen in an advertisement on the Air Miles website. 

At the time, a customer service rep told her she couldn’t get the product because collectors get a “tailored experience” when shopping for rewards which, for her, didn’t include the music system. 

Bose music system Air Miles

When McLaughlin tried to redeem her Air Miles for this Bose sound system, she was blocked from getting it. (CBC)

Numerous collectors have complained to CBC News that they believed Air Miles was hiding rewards from them when they had enough miles to get them. The program says it has since changed its policy and instead of offering a “tailored experience,” it now bases rewards access on how active a member is in the program. 

“Air Miles is not an organization that I hold in high esteem or that I feel loyalty to or trust towards,” McLaughlin said about her experience. 

Still a rocky road?

Sojka says the program’s expiry policy reversal won’t win back disgruntled customers overnight. “It’s going to take them a while to rebuild their trust.”

LoyaltyOne is also facing a proposed class-action lawsuit that came about following customer complaints.

“This reversal validates the complaints about Air Miles that we have received from the class members,” said lawyer Andrew Wilson, with the Calgary-based firm JSS Barristers, which filed the suit. 

He added that while the proposed case will continue for now, Wilson and his team will analyze the impact of the announcement and talk to class action members before making any final decisions. 

LoyatlyOne has not offered any comment on the suit. With the exception of now operating with no expiry policy, the company says it is business as usual as it continues its commitment “to building a [rewards] program that delivers value to collectors.”