Angry Air Miles collectors demand back points they rushed to use on 'junk'
Air Miles parent company estimates nixing expiry plan could cost up to $250 million US
On Thursday, Air Miles cancelled its controversial expiry policy. But the move is only fuelling the fury for many collectors who used their points on stuff they didn't really want to beat the clock.
Now, some members who hastily redeemed their miles for what they consider mediocre rewards are demanding that Air Miles return their points.
"It's the right thing to do," says Alex Bielak in Waterloo, Ont.
- Air Miles nixes expiry policy
- Air Miles customers complain they can't get their hands on their rewards
Since the loyalty program launched in 1992, Bielak had been saving up his miles so that he and his wife, Roberta, could take a "trip of a lifetime" to Southeast Asia or Japan.
But that dream died when Bielak realized he was set to lose about 20,000 miles on Jan. 1 when a new five-year expiry rule would kick in for points.
So, over the last couple of months, he used the miles on a blender and an espresso maker that he "really could have done without."
Then, on Thursday, Bielak learned that Air Miles was nixing its expiry policy because of customer outcry, and the threat of pending Ontario legislation that would ban loyalty programs from expiring points.
That means if Bielak hadn't cashed in, he could still be saving for his dream vacation.
"It's horrible. I regret having signed up."
Items ordered under duress
Bielak hasn't received his items yet, so he called Air Miles on Friday to try to cancel his orders and get his miles back. The customer service representative couldn't help him, so he fired off an email to the program's owner, Toronto-based LoyaltyOne.
Bielak believes he won't be the only one making this request.
"They'll be hearing from a lot of people like me who feel they were pushed at the end of a sharp stick to order stuff they really didn't want or need," he said.
Joining the fray is Corey Rogers in Bridgewater, N.S. He had been hoarding his miles for more than a decade so he could take his family to Disney World.
But to beat the expiry date, Rogers and his wife, Amanda, recently cashed in 15,000 miles on a vacuum cleaner and three other items he can't even recall.
"It was basically junk," said Rogers.
Then he learned he didn't need to buy anything after all. "It really ticks me off. It's very upsetting."
So Rogers, too, sent LoyaltyOne an email on Friday.
"We feel we should get those miles back," he told the company. "This is not fair."
Air Miles declined to comment to CBC News on Friday.
Bielak also tweeted the program on Friday, requesting his miles back. Air Miles responded late that evening, stating: "We are not accepting returns, cancellations, or exchanges due to the cancellation of the expiry policy."
<a href="https://twitter.com/AlexBielak">@AlexBielak</a> We are not accepting returns, cancellations, or exchanges due to the cancellation of the expiry policy, once booked.—@AIRMILES
'Not going to forget'
Financial writer Robb Engen says the brewing anger over wasted points shows that the program has not solved its problems by simply scrapping the expiry rule.
Many customers complained about a poor selection of rewards leading up to the looming expiry date. They also complained about endless waits to speak to Air Miles customer service by phone and difficulty using the program's website to shop for rewards.
"For a lot of people, they're not going to forget about this," said Engen, who lives in Lethbridge, Alta.
"There's hours and days people won't get back, let alone their points, waiting on the phone, trying to navigate the website and just being generally frustrated."
It's not over
There's also the added issue of how LoyaltyOne will recoup its losses.
In a financial disclosure filed Thursday to the SEC, LoyaltyOne's parent company, Texas-based Alliance Data Systems, estimated that the expiry policy reversal will cost the company up to $250 million US. That was money the company determined it would gain from collectors who let their miles expire.
To recoup its losses, Data Alliance stated that LoyaltyOne will have to "adjust" its rewards program. That could mean anything from devaluing miles to changing the types of rewards offered to members.
Engen says any program adjustments could spark more customer anger.
"If the next move is, 'Oh, by the way, it costs more miles now to get stuff,' well, there's another black eye," he said. "So, they've got a long road to recovery here."
Bielak says he'll no longer go out of his way to collect Air Miles. Rogers says he probably won't continue with the program — unless he gets his points back.
"We've gone through all this big hassle of the expiry, now they've changed their mind, and left a lot of us hanging high and dry."