Oct 11 2017

Your loyalty is legislated — Protecting Rewards Points Act

Many businesses offer reward programs to thank customers for their loyalty. One of the most annoying aspects of any loyalty program is the possibility, or actualization, of losing some or all of the points that are in your account. Nothing says “FU” more than a company wiping away the loyalty rewards that you have amassed. For some companies, those measly points could represent years of slow and painful accumulation.

This is what happened to me with the Hudson Bay Company (HBC). No notice that my points were in jeopardy, then one day the thousands were reduced to a zero. Sadly, I had reached out to HBC via Twitter and their website before this clean sweep had happened, but they did not respond. When the points were removed, I reached out again. Still no response. What was my recourse? Personally, I’ve boycotted all HBC owned stores. Yes, I did. Why? Becuase they have shown me that my loyalty to them means nothing. Not even the decency of a response to inquiries.

Ontario legislators apparently have experienced similar disappointment or had heard so many complaints they decided to do something about it. Enter the Protecting Rewards Points Act. Obviously they need to work on their PR. I just recently stumbled across its existence, however, it came about on December 5, 2016. Yes — 2016, approximately 11 months ago. Friends and colleagues I’ve spoken with didn’t know about the Act, but all responded along the lines of “It’s about bloody time!”

Existence though does not mean enforcement. Enforcement is slated to begin in 2018, with a retroactive period to October 1, 2016. This means that any points you may have lost since October 1, 2016 should be reinstated into your account once the Act comes into its enforcement period.

So, what do you need to know about this Act, and how does it affect you as a loyalty club consumer? Below are some answers for you.

How do Reward Points typically work?

Through these programs, you can:

  • earn reward points based on purchases, redemption activities, or company-specific custom interactions (such as Twitter contests)
  • accumulate the points over time
  • exchange these points for goods or services at a later date

The points’ set-up, calculation, awards, redemption rules, redemption values or items, retention terms, and expiry stipulations are all determined by the company. They should clearly explain how things function for the program when you sign up and have that information available at your disposal afterward. This can be on their website, a website specifically for the loyalty program, or within their brick and mortar stores.

Prior to this legislation, the company could make up any rules, or change those rules, at their whim and desire. The consumer had no say. This is why Aeroplan was able to decide that if you didn’t use your points within X number of years, you lost them. That Hawaii vacation you were saving up for with cash and points, had to be redeemed within their timeframe or you were SOL. “Thanks for being loyal to Aeroplan; you mean nothing to us.”

What change is being implemented by the Act?

The Protecting Rewards Points Act, in Ontario, will eliminate expiry dates on reward points programs based on time alone. Translated into reality, the company can base expiry by time AND another means test. An example would be that you must earn X number of points every Y times per day/week/month/year to protect your points value. So Aeroplan can’t take away your points that are older than 5 years just because they want to unless you also failed the activity means test they have implemented — your points are protected. This is a nice change.

Does the Act restrict the secondary means test criteria allowed?

Nope. It just can’t be time-based alone. So, if HBC decides that you must earn at least one point each week of the year to not lose your balance, they can do that. Will they be so unreasonable in their criteria? I would hope not, but you never know.

Does the Act restrict the frequency of stipulations, or how they are implemented, or when/how notice is provided to consumers?

No again. Petro-Canada can decide to change their terms every month and only advise consumers by a sign in their store at the cash register. This is allowed. Any profit-respecting company wouldn’t be so silly to do such a thing and annoy consumers, but it is not covered by the Act.

loyalty cards

Before you sign up for a loyalty program….

Even though this Act is being implemented, you still need to look out for your own interests. Make sure you read the loyalty program agreement and understand:

  • what you need to do to earn points
  • what you can use them for
  • any limits or conditions – for example, some programs have blackout periods when you cannot use your points
  • what you need to do to retain the points you do accumulate

The governing body of the Act has suggested “In the meantime, be sure to keep statements that show your points balance.” but that is going to be difficult for many consumers.
Firstly, most people don’t know this change is coming.
Secondly, most people no longer receive a paper statement for their loyalty program in the mail on a regular basis. For me, the way I found out that my HBC points disappeared was from a third-party email telling me the points value had changed. Typically this third-party tells me my Air Miles balance increased by a few points. This time it told me my HBC balance had been reduced by THOUSANDS of points to zero. Nice.
Thirdly, and this is probably the biggest problem for some, a lot of people don’t know 100% of the loyalty programs they are a part of (such as less frequently used programs for hotels, smaller airlines, restaurants, and non-franchised stores) or do not know how to access those accounts. Personally, I was surprised to find out I was a participant of somewhat large hotel chain’s loyalty program. When did I join originally? Oh, sometime around the period when Hubby and I were first in our long-distance relationship… which was prior to 2007. Loyalty number? No idea. Login information? No idea. Points value? Apparently it was enough for a free night at the hotel. Which they told me about, and then honoured. Sweet!

The province of Ontario has a website with more details at https://www.ontario.ca/page/reward-points

If you have any questions about reward points or the new rules you can contact them here

If you want to file a complaint, there are various steps you must take for that process. They are detailed here

If you are the type of person that likes to know every little tiny detail, or enjoy reading legislation, it is available online for you. Enjoy!

May The Points Be With You Always.

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