Dear Air Miles, we need to talk about your loyalty program and how you’re treating collectors. It was nearly five years ago when you announced major changes to your rewards program.

The introduction of Air Miles Cash, which gave collectors the ability to redeem rewards miles instantly at various retailers, was a welcome addition for collectors like me who preferred to redeem Air Miles for gift certificates but didn’t enjoy waiting 4-6 weeks for their reward to arrive in the mail.

Sure, there weren’t many sponsors participating in Air Miles Cash; just certain Shell locations, Rona hardware stores, and eventually Safeway grocery stores in western Canada, along with Sobeys, Rexall, Metro, and Jean Coutu out east.

But that was acceptable because you continued adding other features, such as the e-Voucher option, with dozens of new sponsors like Starbucks, Cineplex, and Gap, to name a few, accepting rewards.

You devalued your reward miles by almost 12 percent when you introduced Air Miles Cash. That’s right, a $20 Shell gift certificate used to cost 170 reward miles. Now it takes 190 miles to get the same reward. Still, I forgave you because I liked the instant redemption feature and the promise of more sponsors in the future.

Here’s the bigger issue I have with your loyalty program. Buried beneath your 2011 announcement about the Air Miles Cash program was another critically important notice for collectors:

Air Miles is also announcing that effective December 31, 2011 all Air Miles reward miles will have a date-stamp of five years. This means that all reward miles that were posted on or before December 31, 2011 will need to be redeemed by December 31, 2016, and all reward miles posted after December 31, 2011 will have a five-year timeline in which they will need to be redeemed.

Air Miles will expire if unused after five years. That’s kind of a big deal and yet you chose to announce this in a footnote under a press release about Air Miles Cash. This affects millions of Air Miles collectors!

You also said:

No action is required by collectors at this time, and more information will become available in 2014 to help collectors manage reward miles well in advance of expiration.

Really? What exactly happened in 2014 to help collectors manage their reward miles before they expired? Because if it weren’t for articles like this one on CBC, most Air Miles collectors would be completely in the dark about their reward miles expiring.

Here’s the great Air Miles deception. When you introduced Cash and Dream Rewards in March 2012, collectors had to declare which rewards bucket they wanted to earn future reward miles (i.e. 100 percent Cash or 100 percent Dream, or something in-between).

Not only were collectors automatically defaulted into earning 100 percent Dream Rewards, any reward miles earned prior to this change also sat in their Dream Balance.

Meanwhile, as you built-out the Air Miles Cash program, you slowly stripped away many of the rewards that used to be available under Dream Rewards, leaving over-priced merchandise and “member pricing” rewards such as this steal of a gift card:

Air Miles Dream Rewards

(A reward mile is worth 10.5 cents, so 50 reward miles is worth $5.26. Add $95 cash and you’re paying $100.26 for a $100 gift card. Seriously!)

The biggest pain point for Air Miles collectors is that all of their reward miles are probably still sitting in their Dream Balance. For millions of collectors who just found out about their points expiring and either don’t have enough to redeem for a flight, or simply won’t be able to book an itinerary before year-end, there’s little else of value available under the Dream Rewards category.

A Call to Action for Air Miles

Air Miles – the right thing to do would be to allow collectors to make a one-time transfer of reward miles from their Dream Balance to their Air Miles Cash balance before the end of the year.

Doing this would show a commitment to your collectors, to your loyalty program, and to your sponsors. If you believe in Air Miles Cash then wouldn’t you want your collectors to be more active in collecting and redeeming reward miles? Or is it your real goal to wipe millions of reward miles off the books at the end of the year?

By allowing reward miles to expire, you’re potentially alienating millions of Air Miles collectors and doing a disservice to your sponsors by not offering those members a chance to experience Air Miles Cash before they leave your program for good.

Please step-up and do the right thing for Air Miles collectors.

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