Learning to navigate new world of reward miles
Expiration policies force collectors to be savvy with their points
Canada’s two major airline loyalty programs shook things up recently when they announced that they would be enforcing expiry dates for reward miles.
Those hanging onto modest caches or hoarding mega points for future trips have been forced to make some decisions sooner rather than later. Aeroplan Miles will begin to expire at the end of 2013 and Air Miles at the end of 2016.
Linda Strevens, 59, of Toronto has been collecting Air Miles since1995. She regularly redeems her rewards, including giving her son Matthew eight round-trip tickets to Halifax while he attended Dalhousie University, as well as trips to Florida and Myrtle Beach.
“You have to be organized about it,” says Strevens, who at one time had more than 16,000 Air Miles.
Under the new rules, travel loyalty plans include date-stamps when points are accrued and set periods by which they must be used: seven years for the Aeroplan policy, which began in 2006, and a five-year lifespan for Air Miles, beginning last December.
But there are greater opportunities to collect and spend points.
“We want people to redeem, to get the most out of the program,” says Jeff Fredericks, a spokesman for Air Miles, which has 10 million active collectors. He recommends members set a goal that maximizes their earning and award potential by dealing with the 500-agent Air Miles call centre, one of the largest travel agencies in the country.
Collectors can use their points to buy merchandise, “experiences” and cash.
But so-called super-collectors, such as Strevens, say the best deal is in travel. Those who calculate the value per point or mile redeemed, factoring in fees and taxes in the case of flights, say it’s best to book first-class and business travel, which can also be easier to find at the last minute, although competition for all bookings will mount as the 2013 Aeroplan expiries loom.
“It’s dog-eat-dog at the moment,” says one major collector who belongs to Flyertalk , one of a number of online forums and blogs where road warriors exchange information and discuss strategies, such as which airlines among Star Alliance partners have better flight search tools, more generous award charts and lower fuel surcharges. David Klein, Aeroplan’s VP of marketing, says the program’s expiry policy brings it in line with many others and will bring all of the 4.6 million Aeroplan collectors up to speed. “We are looking for an engaged and active member base,” he says, adding that most members today “are burning [using up rewards] on a fairly frequent basis.” Matthew Klint, a law student in Los Angeles who runs a consulting business (www.awardexpert.com) where he helps members of Aeroplan and other programs redeem points, says people looking for award flights should get creative in terms of routings, stopovers, airlines, timing and destinations. “The key is to be persistent and keep looking. Award space is dynamic.” Klint, 25, who also writes a travel blog, says it’s best to deal with an agent, who can often find things you can’t see online and can offer bonuses like a second stopover on an intercontinental trip. Collectors should also be prepared to jump at a good deal.
“When you see it, you can’t really [take the time to] think,” he says. But, he adds, those with Aeroplan Miles expiring at the end of next year “should not be in a panic to burn them immediately. There’s still time left.”
Klein says he doesn’t expect a run on Aeroplan bookings. There’s still time to spread out redemptions, he says, adding that members should either plan in advance or look at last-minute travel awards Aeroplan added in 2011.
“A number of members are quite flexible about where they go. They just want to go somewhere,” he says.