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Let’s Recap This Air Miles Fiasco

Air Miles made headlines for all the wrong reasons as major media and financial blogs expose shocking details about the loyalty program’s new expiry policy that kicks-in at the end of this year. Let’s recap what we know about this Air Miles fiasco:

Air Miles expiry announcement

Air Miles first announced changes to its program in late 2011 when it launched the Air Miles Cash program where collectors could earn miles and redeem them instantly at participating retailers (while quietly reducing the value of a redeemed reward mile).

Then, as I reported here at Rewards Cards Canada, the Air Miles loyalty program said that starting December 31, 2011 all reward miles will be time-stamped and expire if unused in five years. That means any reward miles earned prior to December 31st, 2011 will expire at the end of this year.

Don’t worry, Air Miles said, “No action is required by Air Miles collectors at this time.”

Air Miles Cash vs. Air Miles Dream

After these announcements Air Miles collectors now had two rewards buckets with which to earn and redeem their reward miles; Air Miles Cash and Air Miles Dream.

If you were the type of collector who liked to redeem their miles instantly for things like free groceries, gas, and movie tickets, then you’d set your earnings allocation to 100% Air Miles Cash. If you preferred saving up your Air Miles for flights, hotels, and rental cars, then you’d just continue collecting Dream Miles.

**Note that any reward miles earned prior to December 31, 2011 were defaulted automatically into your Dream Miles balance. There was and is no option to transfer existing reward miles from Dream to Cash, or vice-versa.**

Air Miles speaks (sort of)

Air Miles collectors didn’t hear much about the upcoming expiry dates for the next few years. In March, 2016 I posted on the Boomer & Echo blog an interview with Air Miles about its expiry policy to help inform readers and let them know their options for redeeming miles. Here’s what I learned:

The Air Miles expiry policy states that beginning December 31, 2016, reward miles older than five years will begin to expire on a quarterly basis. Quarters are set up as the following:

  • March 31
  • June 30
  • September 30
  • December 31

For example, a mile you earned in January 2014 would expire, if unused, after March 30, 2019. Collectors who engage, get and use miles regularly, will be least affected by expiry.

You can request a personalized expiry statement to show you how many miles are due to expire each quarter, for the next 12 months. To request an expiry statement, sign into www.airmiles.ca using your collector number and PIN.

Once you’re signed in, click on Your Profile on the top right corner of the screen, from there you can click on Request Expiry Statement, which you’ll receive in an email within 24 hours. For a shortcut to the page, visit: https://www.airmiles.ca/expiry

It was also revealed that collectors who have ONYX status (i.e. those who collect 6,000 reward miles in a calendar year) would not be affected by the expiry policy so long as they remain ONYX each year.

Judging by reader comments, many collectors were unaware of the expiry policy and of the short window they had to use their miles. One despondent reader said:

“We have over 22,000 Air Miles. We cannot travel by air because of health. Any ideas what is the best way for two seniors to get the most bang for our reward miles, as we’ll lose the majority of them in 2017?”

Media Frenzy and Consumer Outrage

A CBC reporter contacted me in July after reading my interview and the subsequent reader comments. She featured me in a CBC news story about Air Miles expiring and what collectors could do to cash-in before the deadline. The article went viral – over 25,000 shares – and people went ballistic.

Air Miles fiasco

In the aftermath of this article I appeared on half a dozen CBC radio shows across the country to talk about Air Miles and the upcoming expiry date. What amazed me was how few people knew of these changes and how upset they became once they found out.

But that was nothing compared to what happened next.

One week later, CBC wrote that frustrated Air Miles customers were struggling to redeem their points because the Air Miles website was down intermittently, and the phone wait time for customer service was two hours or more.

When customers did connect with Air Miles online or by phone they discovered that the catalog of ‘Dream Rewards’ left much to be desired. Gone were items such as gift cards for groceries and gas – those options had been moved over to the ‘Cash’ side years ago – or subscriptions for magazines such as MoneySense.

Instead, customers found overpriced merchandise and gift cards that cost more than they were worth ($95 cash, plus 50 Air Miles for a $100 gift card), and sweepstakes, which collectors could spend miles for the chance to win various prizes.

**Even the option to donate your reward miles to charity no longer exists inside the Air Miles Dream Rewards bucket. It’s on the Cash Rewards side.**

An open letter to Air Miles

Frustrated, and feeling the pain not only of my readers but of the many Air Miles collectors across the country, I wrote an open letter to Air Miles asking the loyalty company to allow its collectors to make a one-time transfer from Air Miles Dream to Air Miles Cash before the end of the year.

Other bloggers, such as Stephen Weyman from How To Save Money, wrote a helpful guide that showed the five best ways to redeem your Air Miles Dream Rewards (Spoiler: Hotels provide the best value).

Patrick Sojka from Rewards Canada offered three ways to keep your Air Miles reward miles from expiring:

  1. Earn enough miles to get ONYX status
  2. Get the American Express Air Miles Reserve credit card, which automatically gives you ONYX status
  3. Request an expiry statement and spend your miles

Jonathan Bishop from the Public Interest Advocacy Centre said Air Miles could have foreseen this spike in redemption demand based on a previous experience with Aeroplan.

Even Maclean’s got in on the action with an article by Chris Sorensen about why Air Miles is the worst.

Personalization or Deception?

Rewards Canada readers revealed something strange when searching for rewards on the Air Miles website. Customers were seeing different rewards based on their mileage levels, recent activity in the program, location, and whether or not they had logged-in with their PIN.

Apparently Air Miles is hiding certain merchandise from collectors who have enough reward miles to buy it. Air Miles disagrees, however, stating that, “it offers a personalized experience where members’ online access to products is streamlined according to their tastes and engagement with the program.

Final thoughts

Some collectors have called for a class action lawsuit against the loyalty program, similar to when Aeroplan collectors threatened a class action lawsuit and managed to successfully overturn its seven-year mileage expiry policy.

What’s clear is that this is just the beginning of the story for Air Miles and its collectors as the first expiry date draws near and consumer outrage continues to grow. Stay tuned for more on the Air Miles fiasco.

17 Comments

  1. mary ellis on July 30, 2016 at 12:12 pm

    air miles did the same thing to me gave me dream miles i never asked for —air miles are full of themselves considering an air miles is only worth a dime

    not being honest is not going to help air miles now when i shop i dont pay attention to those frickin annoying air miles anymore its not worth my time. one time i asked to switch my points to my daughter they wanted to charge me more than the air miles were worth

    you go to their site and you get no answer like they are verry busy like they are such an important company if it wouldnt be so annoying it would be funny

    the bottom line they stole less than 10 dollars from me by giving me dreams miles i never asked for. now for me they have zero credibility
    how can you be so cheap and at the same time be so pretentious
    it is no big deal for me if they went bankrupt air miles is more annoying than anything else not to mention that if it wouldnt be airmiles it probably would be replaced by something better for the consumers …and much less complicated



  2. Tanya on July 30, 2016 at 12:30 pm

    I’m done with Air Miles. This latest move is just another in a long list of affronts to their clients. They have the worst service, and that was the case long before members started tying up the phone lines. The air miles are basically valueless, so it’s only a matter of time until everyone gives up on them.



    • Garthm on July 30, 2016 at 12:45 pm

      I’m with you, Tanya. We earned the miles. They’re ours. They belong to us. There is no rational justification for expiring them.
      They are making it more and more difficult to redeeem. The trouble is not worth it. I’ve started switching over to a cash back card.
      So long, AM.



  3. Sam on July 30, 2016 at 12:36 pm

    Robb,
    I had over 15,000 miles in my Dream miles account. I was so disgusted with this whole process of Bait and Switch customers mid stream of their dream trip, that in a huff we decided to redeem all the points and wipe the slate clean. Bye bye Airmiles!
    Sam



  4. Dave on July 30, 2016 at 3:19 pm

    A Dyson vacuum they had on there western was 5200 air miles 2 weeks ago. Now it’s 5800. What a bunch of crooks.



  5. JA on July 30, 2016 at 5:02 pm

    Did anyone notice that if you redeem miles for an airline ticket ONLINE, (not by phone) they charge you $20 administrative fee? That’s outrageous.



    • Marie Anne Delia on July 31, 2016 at 12:37 pm

      How do you do that? I’ll gladly pay the $20 if I could see what I could book. I asked what trips/flights would be available within my points and they asked my where I wanted to go. I gave them a general area and they said I didn’t have enough points. So I said you tell me then where world I go. But they can’t tell me. Big crazy circle.. Drive me crazy… Hung up without booking anything.



      • JA on August 2, 2016 at 10:48 am

        Go to the AirMiles web site in the Dream Rewards section & look for “Where Can I Fly”.

        https://www.airmiles.ca/arrow/WhereCanIFlyEn

        There is a map where you can see the miles needed. I believe 600 is the minimum for a one way flight.



  6. Marilyn on July 30, 2016 at 5:41 pm

    I am totally furious with air miles. I have never heard of this expiry until recently. I have over 23,000 dream miles and there is nothing there to buy. It is such a joke! If I had known, I would have bought many gift cards with my points. I was planning to do that this Christmas for gifts. If there is a class action law suit, I will be one of the first to sign up! Marilyn



  7. Star on July 31, 2016 at 1:11 pm

    I have stopped using retailers that give out AirMiles.

    The only problem is with the LCBO, which has a monopoly on some alcohol sales. I will buy wines from merchants’ stores and websites and beer from the Beer Store strictly.

    Goodbye, Shell!
    Goodbye, BMO!
    Goodbye, Metro!
    Goodbye, IGA!
    Goodbye, RONA!
    Goodbye, Rexall~



  8. Ron McKay on August 1, 2016 at 12:27 pm

    Bring back the gift cards so that I can redeem my so-called Dream miles.
    When you go into the Dream reward section they want you to put out money as well as your dream miles. Good bye Air Miles.



  9. Sheldon on August 2, 2016 at 8:37 pm

    Thanks very much for following up on this. I’m sure most of us will agree this is the WORST loyalty program going and has never encouraged me to make a purchase because of it.

    I just use it because its free and some stupid companies that I frequent (lcbo) offer it.

    Worst rewards I’ve ever seen. Can’t transfer to cash. Please keep us updated on this fiasco.



  10. Wayne Roy on August 10, 2016 at 11:47 am

    I have been an air miles member since 1998 – my wife and I just found out if we don’t redeem by December we will lose over 15,500 air miles. Checked last week in the catalogue – had more options – this week cost associated with all items on top of the air miles – no deals – no gift cards – this is a rip off – very unfair business practice – the sad thing is they probably will get away with it – I’m saying good by to all companies associated with this rip off.



  11. k on September 8, 2016 at 11:53 am

    This is one good reason why I don’t take “loyalty programs” very seriously. I buy my things based on where I get the best value & service, not based on air miles.



  12. Bill on September 11, 2016 at 1:24 pm

    The Amex card idea is good except its a $299 dollar a year fee card if it was a no annual fee card it would be the way to go…….

    For the Love of God Somebody Get the Class Action Law suite Going !!!!!



  13. danBurnett on September 29, 2016 at 9:41 pm

    I only use the miles for travel…the only way to get suitable rewards is to keep collecting miles for many many years…like so many of us have done…now our loyalty for 20 yrs…tells me 15 of those years of loyalty were for nothing.



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