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Ban on expiry of loyalty points passes in Ontario

A ban on the expiry of loyalty programs' points has passed in Ontario.

On Monday, Bill 47 passed on third reading in the Ontario legislature with a vote of 77-0, and will now become law in the form of an amendment to the province's Consumer Protection Act.

The private member's bill was put forward in October by MPP Arthur Potts (Beaches-East York), and proposed that "a consumer agreement under which rewards points are provided shall not allow for the expiry of rewards points." Last week, the bill was amended to specify that expiry will not be allowed "due to the passage of time alone." That means companies will not be able to do what is known in the industry as "date stamping" – setting a length of time after which points expire.

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The legislation was inspired by the backlash from some consumers to an approaching expiry deadline for members of the Air Miles loyalty program. Beginning Dec. 31, the program's parent company LoyaltyOne, had planned to void any miles five years or older. Late last week, after LoyaltyOne executives appeared at Queen's Park to object to the bill, the company announced it was backing away from that plan and would allow members to keep any miles they had not already spent in preparation for the deadline. In a statement last week, the company said it hoped "that cancelling the expiry policy will lead to more meaningful conversations between government and industry" going forward.

In 2007, Ontario also banned expiration dates on gift cards.

In a statement on Monday, Mr. Potts said the legislation was still necessary despite the company's decision. "It will set some ground rules about how a consumer's points are treated by suppliers over time," the statement said. "Because there are so many different reward programs, it's important that consumers are able to expect some basic standards."

Before the law takes effect, the provincial government will have to work on developing regulations to provide more details, such as exceptions to the policy. Mr. Potts has said in past that a period of inactivity in a rewards account, and an inability to contact the account holder, could be one example of a reasonable exception where points expiry could be allowed.

To develop those regulations, "we will consult with stakeholders to ensure it doesn't present an undue burden on business or create unintended consequences," Mr. Potts said in a statement on Monday.

The legislation does not affect Air Miles members who redeemed their miles for rewards in anticipation of the expiry date.

In an interview last week, LoyaltyOne chief executive officer Bryan Pearson suggested that the legislation would be a burden on companies that operate rewards programs, noting that it would be costly to have to cope with a separate regulatory environment in Ontario as in the rest of the country. He speculated that some of those companies – including airlines, coffee chains, or others that offer loyalty rewards – might choose not to offer those programs in Ontario.

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"If there's one thing companies need to create value, it's a level of consistency and a clear understanding of what the playing field will be for industry," Mr. Pearson said at the time.

In 2007, Aeroplan, which is owned by Montreal-based Aimia Inc., attempted to expire miles older than seven years in its program. It also faced negative consumer feedback, and abandoned the plan in 2013. However, the program does stipulate that members must be active in their account at least once per year to hold on to their points – for example by redeeming them for rewards or earning some in-store.

People are becoming more aware that companies make money from gathering consumers' personal information. A global survey released by Aimia last month saw a 10-per-cent jump in the number of people who rated their information as highly valuable, compared with last year. In Canada, 42 per cent of people rated their data at 9 or 10 on a 10-point scale of how valuable they think it is to companies.

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