One of the many irritants of travel-rewards programs is expiring miles. Typically, miles or points expire if there’s no account activity during a two- or three-year period. It’s a policy that’s irrelevant to high-frequency travelers, because they’re constantly on the go, pushing the expiration date forward with every trip. But for the great majority of travelers, who fly infrequently, the danger of allowing hard-earned miles to disappear is clear and present.
Sure, it’s easy enough to extend the life of miles, by making the occasional qualifying transaction or using a program-affiliated credit card. But such tactics aren’t widely understood or embraced by many of the travelers who stand to benefit from them the most.
And of course, airlines will restore expired miles to your account. But the cost to reinstate lost miles borders on the extortionate.
Not surprisingly then, there’s at least one legislative initiative in the pipeline that would outlaw expiring miles and points.
The Legislative Assembly of Ontario, Canada, is currently considering Bill 47, a proposed amendment to the Consumer Protection Act of 2002. The bill would prohibit loyalty programs from expiring members’ miles, except when the program is terminated, and require that programs reinstate all miles expired since October 1, 2016.
In presenting the bill, its author, MPP Arthur Potts, makes the following argument, likening loyalty points to gift cards:
We changed the Consumer Protection Act in 2007 to protect the investments that consumers made in gift cards so that they would not expire. We’re essentially doing the same here now, by recognizing that loyalty reward points are pretty much the same thing as a gift card. They’re the same, because they do have currency. When someone goes out and purchases goods or services and receives rewards, there’s an expectation that they could be transferred for value-added goods or services. And that’s no different than a gift card.
It’s a compelling argument, that’s sure to resonate with anyone whose miles have disappeared. It would be vigorously contested by the airlines, however, which have famously reserved for themselves the right to impose whatever rules and procedures they deem commercially advantageous.
And as a practical matter, if passed, the bill would only apply to residents of the province of Ontario. Rather than carve out special policies for Ontario citizens, loyalty-program operators would be more likely to prohibit them from participating in the programs altogether.
Given the choice between programs with expiring miles and no programs at all, it’s a safe bet that a majority of consumers would choose the former.
Reader Reality Check
Bill 47: Aye or nay?
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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.