Air Miles customers are racing to redeem rewards before their aging miles expire. But many claim they're facing big hurdles as they try to beat the clock.

Due to a deluge of customers trying to access Air Miles' services, people are having trouble connecting to the loyalty program's website or reaching a customer service rep by phone.

"The phone wait time for customer care is 2+ hour[s]! My Air Miles are going to expire before I can cash them in," an angry customer posted this week on the program's Facebook site.

At the close of 2011, Air Miles introduced a five-year expiry date on rewards miles. That means on Jan.1, 2017, any unused miles collected before 2012 will expire. 

The popular rewards program launched way back in 1992. Since then, collectors have been piling up miles in numerous ways — from using a BMO Air Miles MasterCard to shopping at select stores.

Air Miles customers on hold

It's not the looming expiry date that bothers Calgary collector Amanda Cook. She's annoyed that she's had problems reaching customer service to redeem her rewards.

"Pretty disappointed," Cook told CBC News yesterday morning. "It's pretty sad to put an expiry date on something when you can't actually fulfil people's orders to let them use their points."

Cook joins many Air Miles collectors who are complaining about an unacceptably long wait to connect to a customer representative by phone.

She believes the phone lines are jammed because everyone is rushing to redeem their rewards before they expire. "They should have expected that and prepared a little better."

To beat the expiry date, Cook called Air Miles on Friday to book a package trip to the Dominican Republic. Vacation package deals must be booked by phone.

Cook said she was on hold for at least two hours before the call got disconnected. "That's, like, pathetic."

CBC News also called Air Miles customer service this week. An automated voice told us that, "due to higher than normal call volumes," the wait time may exceed two hours.

Other options that failed

Air Miles, which is owned by Toronto-based LoyaltyOne, says customers can request a call-back rather than endure the long wait.

Cook said she tried that option three to four times last week but was unable to book a call-back appointment.

CBC News also tried to request a return call and had no success. An automated voice told us, "I'm sorry, all time slots have been reserved."

Air Miles points out that many of its rewards options can be redeemed online, and if customers have questions, they can opt for its online chat option.

"Our goal is to make it very easy for collectors to 'self-serve' and find answers to their inquiries on our website,"  spokeswoman Natasha Lasiuk said in an email to CBC News.

Air Miles tech difficulties

Air Miles posted this message to users when the site crashed for a second time on Thursday. (airmiles.ca)

Technical problems

But a flood of collectors visiting the Air Miles site appears to be causing intermittent technical problems.

Along with angry comments about long wait times, people have also been posting gripes on the program's Facebook page about technical issues.

"What a friggin joke!!!" a customer wrote after trying to connect to the website and then with Air Miles by phone.

On Thursday morning, the site was down for at least 15 minutes. "Airmiles.ca needs a short break," a message on the site said.

When the site crashed again in the afternoon, the message stated, "With so many collectors visiting airmiles.ca we sure are feeling the love."

The program's says its website does experience problems "from time to time" due to heavy traffic, but it's on top of the problem.

"We have dedicated teams working on any issues that arise in order to get the site back up and running as soon as we can," Lasiuk said.

Mark Whelan said he hasn't experienced technical troubles, but found the Air Miles website in general difficult to navigate.

The Toronto resident is trying to use up his miles before they expire. With no current travel plans, Whelan said he's had problems trying to find an appealing rewards deal on the website.

"The choice I thought was really very poor."

So Whelan called Air Miles on Tuesday to fully understand his options. He wasn't able to request a callback and said he was informed it would be about a 2½-hour wait to speak with someone.

So Whelan hung up. "Two and a half hours of my life I'd never get back."

"They really better ramp up" their service, he said. "A lot of people are going to cash in. People have been saving for a long time."

Hope lies ahead

Whelan said he finally found a watch on the website that he'll consider if he can't find something better. 

"If push comes to shove, this is what I'm going to get."

As for Cook, she had a breakthrough yesterday. She called Air Miles again and was able to request a callback.

She later reported she never received a return call within the promised time frame.

"So ridiculous," said Cook.

Then, more than two hours later, Cook contacted CBC News again to say she did finally hear from Air Miles.

And, yes, she was finally able to book that trip.