Your Air Miles points could soon be protected — if you live in Ontario
Air Miles is against the bill, which one expert says could spur other provinces to act
An Ontario bill that would ban expiry dates for loyalty programs could become law by early December.
Ontario private member's Bill 47, the Protecting Rewards Points Act, would make it illegal for programs like Air Miles to let customers' points expire without their permission.
The Ontario bill also states that any points that expired on or after Oct. 1, 2016, would be credited back to the customer.
- Air Miles collectors locked out of cash rewards
- Air Miles customers complain they can't get their hands on rewards
That means, if the legislation passes, Ontario collectors won't lose any points when a new Air Miles five-year expiry rule kicks in on Jan. 1, 2017. On that date, all unused miles earned before 2012 are set to become worthless.
Many Air Miles collectors have complained about difficulties redeeming their expiring miles for adequate rewards like travel and merchandise. CBC's Marketplace will air a show this Friday investigating how frustrating the process has been for some customers.
The end of expiring points?
The bill is set to go a final vote on Monday.
Liberal MPP Arthur Potts, who introduced the Ontario legislation, said he thinks "this is huge" because it would free Ontario residents from any concerns about their expiring Air Miles.
Potts is confident the bill will pass, claiming it has full support of the Ontario Liberal caucus. Liberals hold a majority of seats in the provincial legislature.
LoyaltyOne, owner of the Air Miles program, is staunchly opposed to the legislation. The Toronto-based company claims Ontario collectors would be worse off because of added costs to rewards programs that would trickle down to the customer.
But rewards expert, Patrick Sojka believes if Bill 47 becomes law, it could be good news across Canada.
LoyaltyOne may reason that it makes more sense to abolish the expiry rule nationwide, rather than take on the logistical nightmare of exempting only Ontario customers, suggested Sojka who is founder of Calgary-based resource site Rewards Canada.
Eleven million Canadian households collect Air Miles.
One big problem LoyaltyOne would have to grapple with is customers lying about their address to pretend they live in Ontario, said Sojka. "People find a way to work the system."
He adds that a regional exemption would also hurt the company because customers outside Ontario would become even more upset about the looming expiry date.
"It's just going to create more of an uproar."
Sojka also believes if Ontario bans expiry rules for loyalty programs, other provinces will follow. "It's very similar to the gift card thing."
Ontario moved first on banning expiry dates for gift cards in 2007, inspiring other provinces to adopt similar legislation.
"Hopefully we'll see this whole expiry rule just be done with," Sojka said of Canadian rewards programs.
Air Miles against the bill
Most Canadian loyalty programs currently don't have an expiry rule for points unless customers are inactive for a specified period of time.
In 2013, Aeroplan backtracked on a plan to implement a seven-year expiry rule following customer backlash and the threat of a class action lawsuit.
LoyaltyOne also faces a proposed class action lawsuit because of its expiry plans.
But the company asserts the proposed legislation is not a pro-consumer move.
"It would add a significant burden to all loyalty programs in Ontario," said Air Miles spokeswoman Natasha Lasiuk in an email to CBC News. She said customers would somehow wind up paying the price.
Lasiuk also warned that international rewards programs might opt out of Ontario due to the province's different regulations.
She added that Air Miles implemented an expiry rule to deal with the problem of absentee collectors who've been sitting on their miles for years.
By getting those miles off the books, said Lasiuk, "This in turn helps build a more robust program for our [engaged] collectors."
'Desperately hopeful' collector
But some Air Miles customers believe the legislation is their best bet.
That's the way Toronto collector, Jim Allen felt Monday when he spoke with CBC News.
"I'm desperately hopeful. That's all I've got left," he said.
Allen had 20,000 miles, a good chunk of which would expire on Jan. 1. So in October, he tried to redeem them for a package vacation. Those trips must be booked by phone.
Allen said Air Miles twice arranged an appointment where a customer service rep would call him back to book the trip. But no one ever called, he said.
In desperation, Allen called the program again on Monday. He said this time, the rep told him that Air Miles was no longer making appointments to book vacation packages until the new year.
"I just exploded, I don't think I've been so angry in my life," said Allen, who figured his miles were doomed.
Air Miles confirmed to CBC News that due to high demand, the program is now booking appointments in the new year.
"We realize that not all collectors will be able to get an appointment before miles in their account expire," said Lasiuk.
But she added that Air Miles will offer four vacation package and cruise deals that customers can book online come December.
As for Allen, after much protesting, on Tuesday he finally succeeded in booking a trip to Cuba.
But he still hopes the bill passes to help everyone else still struggling to redeem their miles.
"To me, it's theft," he said about the pending Air Miles expiry rule.