Collecting Starbucks or WestJet rewards? They may never expire thanks to Ontario bill
Ontario MPP behind rule change touts bill as 'an incredible victory for consumers'
Ontario's new law banning loyalty programs from slapping an expiry date on points will benefit many consumers, not just Air Miles collectors.
All of these programs have policies that allow points to expire solely because a certain amount of time has passed. That practice will be illegal in Ontario when the province's new Protecting Rewards Points Act comes into effect in the next few months.
According to the legislation, affected programs will also have to return to Ontario collectors any expired points that were lost on or after Oct. 1.
"This is an incredible victory for consumers," said Liberal MPP Arthur Potts, who introduced the legislation after hearing numerous complaints from Air Miles collectors about its expiry policy.
Air Miles made headlines last week when it decided to scrap its five-year expiry rule for miles for collectors' right across the country.
The program's owner, Toronto-based LoyaltyOne, cited the Ontario legislation as a major factor in making its cross-Canada decision.
Industry experts speculate other affected companies may also end up cancelling their expiry policy nationwide. That's because of the challenges they would face by exempting only Ontario collectors.
"I think they'll make it blanket, Canada-wide," predicts rewards expert, Patrick Sojka
"Why go through the hassle and heartache of trying to run almost two separate programs?" says the founder of Calgary-based resource site Rewards Canada.
Starbucks to nix expiry policy
Once the legislation is enforced, Starbucks customers — at least in Ontario — will no longer have to worry about their rewards points, known as stars, expiring.
Currently, people who collect stars have six months to use them before they vanish.
CBC News asked the U.S. coffeehouse giant how it will deal with its expiry rule and returning to Ontario customers any points they lost since October.
Starbucks Canada confirmed it will have to change the rules. The company will offer further details "in the coming weeks/months," said spokeswoman Madeleine Löwenborg-Frick in an email.
She didn't say if Starbucks Canada will opt to cancel its expiry policy, nationwide.
WestJet says it 'will comply'
WestJet points — known as dollars — currently expire if they haven't been used up in five years. Collectors can extend their dollars for another year — for a fee of $50 to $57.50.
CBC News asked the Calgary-based airline its plans in light of the new Ontario legislation. It also replied that it would need more time to respond.
"We will comply, of course," said spokeswoman Lauren Stewart in an email. "But until we have all the details, we won't be able to provide more information about precisely how we will proceed."
CBC News also reached out to Germany's Lufthansa and Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific. Both airlines offer rewards programs where points expire if they haven't been used in three years.
Neither airline got back to us before the publication of this article.
CBC News also didn't hear back from U.S.-based Talbots. The women's clothing chain offers points as part of its Classic Awards program. They currently have a shelf-life of one year.
What about devaluing points?
Potts says while Ontario's no-expiry rule is a done deal, the government still has to iron-out other details in the bill. They include regulations for inactivity rules and devaluing points.
Many loyalty programs impose an expiry rule for points if a collector has been inactive for a period of time. For example, Air Miles members will still lose their miles if they don't collect or redeem any for two years.
Aeroplan wipes out miles after one year of inactivity. The rewards program is currently facing a class action lawsuit because of the policy.
Potts said inactivity rules will probably still be allowed under the new law.
"Loyalty is a two-way street. So if you're not participating in the program, you're not doing your own part as a consumer."
However, the legislation may specify the length of time inactive collectors get before their points disappear, said Potts.
The bill may also lay down rules for programs that devalue points. Many loyalty programs, including Air Miles and Aeroplan, have lowered the value of their points over time.
Shoppers Drug Mart is currently facing a class action lawsuit in Quebec for dropping the value of its Optimum rewards points in 2010.
Potts said he understands that it's difficult to control the value of something. The government will meet with industry and consumer groups to decide how the bill will address this issue, he said.
Ontario bill to spread?
Both Potts and rewards expert, Sojka said they think that the Ontario legislation will eventually make its way across Canada.
Potts points to previous gift card legislation as proof of how these types of pro-consumer bills can become infectious.
Ontario moved first on banning expiry dates for gift cards in 2007, inspiring other provinces to pass similar legislation.
"Every province in Canada adopted it right after us and I'm anticipating pretty much the same is going to happen right now," said Potts.