Nova Scotia

Air Miles collector who rushed to use points to meet expiry deadline gets some reimbursed

At least one Air Miles collector who cashed in points before its controversial expiry policy was changed has been partially reimbursed after CBC News contacted the company on the Canadian man's behalf.

Controversial expiry policy cancelled 3 days after George Thomas of Nova Scotia cashed in expiring points

George Thomas of Harmony, N.S., spent six hours on the phone trying to get reimbursed for Air Miles he rushed to use before they expired just 3 days before the company cancelled its controversial expiry policy. (Hayley Thomas)

At least one Air Miles collector who cashed in points before its controversial expiry policy was changed has been partially reimbursed after CBC News contacted the company.

George Thomas of Harmony, N.S., has been collecting Air Miles since 1993, so he and his wife were disappointed to hear about the policy, which would have rendered worthless all the unused miles he earned before 2012.

"We just sort of kept our fingers crossed, thinking it won't happen," Thomas said.

As time passed, the couple realized a reprieve was unlikely so they tried to cash in their points for a trip, but blackout periods meant they were unable to find anything that interested them.

"We felt we had to use them. Our backs were to the wall," Thomas said.

The trip no one wanted 

As a result, the couple paid for their flights themselves and used Air Miles to cover a car rental.

CBC News contacted Air Miles after Thomas couldn't get satisfaction from the company after cashing in his points. (CBC)

Three days later, Air Miles announced it was cancelling the controversial expiry policy.

Thomas knew the loyalty program would be inundated with unhappy customers so he waited a couple of weeks before calling to complain.

"To try to contact Air Miles on the telephone is quite daunting," Thomas said. "The whole procedure of 'press this button,' 'press that button' leads to dead ends. It's not user friendly."

It didn't take him long to find out just how unfriendly it was, after spending more than six hours on the phone without speaking to anyone.

"They announced it was closing time and for me to call back the next day."

While trying to book a callback, Thomas said he was booted out and sent back into the queue.

Representative runaround

In the end, he spoke with four or five different customer service representatives. 

One told him he would get 500 Air Miles for his inconvenience, but another representative later said there was no record of that call. Thomas was offered 25 Air Miles instead.

It's just designed to be so discouraging.- George Thomas

He never received those, either. He said another representative agreed he should be reimbursed and transferred him, but again, he was sent back to recorded messages and never reached a person.

"The whole thing just seems so intended for you just to hang up and give up. It's just designed to be so discouraging," Thomas said.

"Even listening to the tape itself, the music, it's all so redundant and repetitive. It's designed to bore people or drive them nuts."

Frustrated with the situation, Thomas contacted CBC News, which relayed his plight to Air Miles.

The next day, he received a call from the president's office, saying Air Miles would reimburse him 40 per cent of the points he used, as well as the other 500 previously promised for his lengthy wait times and inconvenience.

'Is there a standard policy?'

Thomas said he's pleased to get those miles back, but wonders what would have happened had he been less accepting of the offer.

"Maybe if I had dickered with her she might have gone to 50 per cent," he said.

Air Miles says it has dealt with its dispute with Thomas. (Air Miles)

"Is there a standard policy? Maybe she might have given me 100 per cent return. Do certain customers get better deals than others? It doesn't seem to make sense."

Air Miles spokeswoman Natasha Lasiuk contacted CBC News to say the matter had been resolved.

"Regarding returns in general, we are not accepting returns, cancellations or exchanges due to the cancellation of the expiry policy once booked," she said in an email.

As for Thomas, he still questions the program's interest in helping customers.

"I don't think we would have ever had any luck no matter how many times we called if it hadn't been for you folks intervening," he said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Yvonne Colbert

Consumer Watchdog

Yvonne Colbert has been a journalist for nearly 35 years, covering everything from human interest stories to the provincial legislature. These days she helps consumers navigate an increasingly complex marketplace and avoid getting ripped off. She invites story ideas at yvonne.colbert@cbc.ca

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