Aeroplan Canada plans to issue consumer alerts on its website in 2011 to notify members that thousands of their reward miles are in danger of expiring within three years.
In the past, Aeroplan members have been able to take as many years as they wished to diligently save up for their dream trips on Air Canada or one of its Star Alliance partners, knowing their points would never expire.
But Aeroplan's website states "general terms and conditions" for continued membership, including a warning that mileage piled up in an account will lapse seven years after accumulation.
Unfortunately, the caution is buried in the fine print, said Patrick Sojka, chief executive officer at rewardscanada.ca, which tracks a wide range of loyalty programs. He is encouraged, however, that Aeroplan will be sounding the alarm in 2011 for members to cash in their points to obtain reward flights.
For Aeroplan members who have been hoarding, it means that the clock is ticking down on their points because any mileage earned before 2007 carries a "date stamp," a reference to the seven-year expiry rule that will cancel pre-2007 miles on Dec. 31, 2013. "Use them or lose them" is Aeroplan's mantra.
Mr. Sojka said that since consumers face a flood of restrictions on an array of loyalty programs, it's understandable that many members would have only a vague memory about an important Aeroplan decision back in 2006 - points accumulated prior to 2007 expire on Dec. 31, 2013. And starting Jan. 1, 2007, miles automatically have a seven-year expiry from the month that those miles are collected.
"Some people will be mad and aggravated about the seven-year expiry rule," Mr. Sojka said. "There will be some consumers who will learn about this in 2011 for the first time."
Aeroplan is considering disclosing the number of vanishing miles in individual accounts, a move that would alert members who log onto the Aeroplan website, subject to software compatibility bugs being ironed out, industry officials say.
Aeroplan spokeswoman Isabelle Troitzky said no decision has been made yet on the precise method to notify consumers, but the loyalty company is committed to ensuring its members "have more options to access information on the status of their miles."
She added that Aeroplan is still studying the option of developing software for its website to incorporate the expiry data, but "unfortunately, we are not at the stage when we can provide information on the strategy or implementation."
Aeroplan is owned by Aeroplan , which became a publicly traded company in 2005 after being spun off from ACE Aviation Holdings Inc., which owns 11 per cent of Air Canada. The Montreal-based airline founded Aeroplan in 1984, and there are now more than five million active members of the frequent flier program. Air Canada and Aeroplan now operate at arm's-length.
Many Aeroplan members book their flights months in advance, locking up seats on flights during the most popular travel times. For spring break of 2011, for example, key routes are already booked up for "classic rewards," or bookings that require the least number of points to redeem reward flights.
Careful planning is crucial, especially for families seeking to secure three or more seats on Aeroplan points on the same flight. Mr. Sojka notes that Aeroplan releases seats 355 days in advance of Air Canada departures, seats that will be especially coveted from 2011 through 2013 as points get closer to lapsing.
Mr. Sojka said Aeroplan is striving to avert a consumer backlash like the one the company witnessed when some travellers discovered in mid-2008 that they lost their all points because they violated a separate rule that requires members to either earn or redeem points at least once over a 12-month period. Over the past couple of years, he said he has heard a stream of complaints from consumers angry about their points being wiped out due to accounts that were inactive for 12 months.
Aeroplan is aware of such criticisms, and deserves praise for taking early steps to remind members about the seven-year expiry rule and the need to begin planning trips now, Mr. Sojka said.
He noted that consumers who can't find an appropriate flight to book should look at redeeming points for merchandise instead of being left with nothing to show for their saved miles.
After the online alerts are introduced, Aeroplan should send notification letters about expiring points to members who haven't signed up for an account on the company's website, Mr. Sojka suggested.