Air Miles

July 6th, 2006 by Potato

As far as customer loyalty programs go, I like Air Miles. It’s used across a number of stores (so I don’t have to carry a separate Shopper’s Optimum or Bay Rewards card), and the rewards actually rack up at a perceptable rate (partly due to the fact that you get them from a number of stores, and partly because they don’t suck as hard as Shopper’s Optimum points). Almost every year, I’ve redeemed for three or four “Night Out” passes for the movies, so it’s very easy to see the benefits.

However lately I’ve seen some concerning things happening lately that I just want to briefly mention. First is that they’re starting to depreciate the points by making rewards cost more. I had thought that it was a good system since it was pretty much inflation-proof: you get a certain number of Air Miles per $20 spent, and 125 points gets you a $20 gift certificate. As inflation occurs, you spend more in dollars, getting more Air Miles, but they’re automatically worth less as a $20 gift certificate buys you less. In simpler terms, an Air Mile was worth about 16 cents. It was also a handy measure for determining if you were better off paying cash for one of their merchandise rewards and using the miles on something else. Now, however, the cost of the gift certificates is going up, and thus the value of the miles is coming down… not by much, though, just to about 14 cents, but it makes me a little worried, remembering my Dad having accumulated enough Aeroplan miles from travelling to Edmonton for work every other week that he boasted he could travel around the world three times; then they depreciated the points and he couldn’t even get 4 seats to PEI in the winter. What’s strange is that $20 gift cards to different stores cost different amounts. It seems like the stores where you might give the certificate to someone as a gift (such as clothing stores) come with a significant premium relative to gift certificates for grocery stores, even though it’s all $20 in the end. This either arrogantly speaks about how they measure the intelligence of their customers, or is a brilliant marketing scam. Either way, I’m just a little bit frightened.

Speaking of scams, I decided to see what it would be like to actually use some Air Miles for… well… air travel, rather than movie popcorn. It would be a bit better to find a student rate and pay cash, but even with the peak season premium it wasn’t a huge waste of my accumulated rewards. What was scary though was that if I didn’t have enough reward miles to cover the whole flight, I could use cash to make up the difference… at a rate of 30 cents per Air Mile. That strikes me as nearly criminal, since the value of the rewards (particularly for the gift certificates, where it’s patently obvious) is less than half that when you redeem them. You can take that “option” if you have at least half of the required miles: at that exchange rate, you would pay the entire cash value of the ticket, plus lose a bunch of air miles in the deal.

The last thing that’s been concerning me is how much more slowly I earn the points now. For a few years there, A&P/Dominion was really pushing the bonus Air Miles. I’d earn about ten times as much as I would from their normal 1/$20 spent offer from the bonus miles, and it would (almost) all be on stuff I would buy anyway. Buy a cucumber and get 2 points; three packs of toilet paper would get you 15 (hey, it keeps); two blocks of cheese for 5; five cases of water could get you 25. There have been a few of those around still, but not nearly as many, and they’re a little more ridiculous (buy four canteloupes and get 2 bonus points — the sort of thing that it’s hard to stock up on without wastage, and without much incentive).

All that said, it’s still a better program than Shoppers’ Optimum, which I’m thinking of dropping out of once I get to the next points level and redeem. I’ve carried that stupid card in my wallet for almost 8 years now, and I still haven’t redeemed anything. While it is only one store, I shop there all the time (and it’s been 8 years!). I’m still a few months away from the $55 reward level (at least now they let you actually just get $55 of stuff for free; the first incarnation would have required something like a $140 purchace that you would get 40% off of).

As much as I wish I could shop at Pharma Plus more (by far the best Air Miles sponsor), Shoppers is just such a good store in its own right: they’re close to me (actually, Pharma Plus isn’t much further, it’s just in the opposite direction, away from the grocery store and everything else), they have excellent candy selection (Resse’s pieces and mini cups; they used to be the only place to get Allan sour fruits; and all kinds of other goodies), they’re open late (24 hours in the case of the one by me), and have all kinds of cool seasonal stuff for Halloween and Potatomas. While their prices have been rising faster than inflation lately ($3 for Skittles?!), they also have decent sales on a fairly regular basis, particularly on Coke. In fact, aside from a great sale at Sobeys two months ago, I haven’t bought pop anywhere other than Shoppers in the last year. At least 2 weeks out of every month it’s on for 3×12’s for $11, and at least one week it’ll go down to 3 for $10; last week even saw 4 for $12. For comparison, I used to buy pop in cases of 24 (what the heck happened to two-fours for pop anyway?) for $6 each, then briefly at about $7 each before they stopped selling them in that format (and these are prices from 4 years ago or so). Now, the A&P sells pop at $4.50 for a 12-pack, and hardly ever puts on a sale. Price Chopper still sells 24 packs, but in the old school flat cases (not the “cubes”), and that’s still $8/case.

Anyway, I don’t really have a point, so I’d like to conclude by saying that I really like turning in Air Miles for the Night Out passes, because they let me go to the movies without having to pay cash so I don’t sit there the whole time thinking about how I’m being ripped off to watch a glorified video game. Oh, and how I wish I could keep earning Air Miles so the flow of passes can keep up with the flow of movies (not too hard this last year…).

Oh, and never bother redeeming for the alternative Cineplex/Air Miles 2-for-1 passes: while the Night Out ones count as cash when getting your tickets, the 2-for-1 deals count as passes/coupons, so you can’t use them for any new movies, and moreover, can’t use them on Tuesdays, matinees, or weekends (never mind that Tuesdays are no longer cheap days, or that the free ticket would have also cost less). I redeemed for 4 of them last year, and only ever got to use 1 before they expired, they’re so restrictive!

Comments are closed.