You may have heard the recent news that Empire Company has become a co-owner of Scene+. Consequently, its stable of brands will no longer be participating in the Air Miles program as of August 11, 2022. So what does that mean for us here in the land of Sobeys and Lawtons? Should we redeem our stockpile or hold out for something new from Air Miles?
Air Miles in Atlantic Canada
There is a long history between Sobeys and Air Miles, especially here in Nova Scotia. There was even a promotion in the flyer last summer celebrating its long partnership with the popular Canadian loyalty program.
Air Miles went through a tumultuous period when a strict expiry policy announced years prior was set to drain the accounts of many collectors who had hoarded miles for a long time without redeeming. The mass expiry ultimately didn’t happen, but the program continued to have challenges.
Passive collectors were dismayed when they couldn’t redeem their Dream miles for free groceries long after the Cash/Dream category division was introduced, unaware they needed to change the earning settings on their account.
On the positive side, the introduction of Onyx status with its associated perks and discounts for members who collect 6000 miles in year was a nice bonus for the keeners. It also provided an incentive for people to get more active in the program.
I would say Air Miles’ popularity reached its height during the first several Shop The Block and Mega Miles promotions a few years ago. More non-members became interested and casual collectors became more engaged. In addition, periodic Blue Friday specials at Sobeys and Lawtons had members loading up on pasta and cereal to amass large amounts of miles in one shopping trip.
With so many stores such as Sobeys, Foodland, Lawtons, Pharmasave, Shell, Irving, Kent, Timber Mart, Staples, Global Pet Foods and so on, even the occasional loss of a partner, like Rona, didn’t have much of an impact around here. Bonus Boom promotions eventually took the place of Mega Miles and Shop The Block, but collectors familiar with the program’s nuances were still able to extract decent value.
There was however a recent significant change that was unsurprising considering the current loyalty landscape. I’m referring to the transition to dynamically priced reward flights. The sweet spots of old, as scarce as availability may have been, were gone for good. Add the loss of the two major annual promotions and the shine was starting to wear off the program, at least in my opinion.
The Future of Air Miles
So what to make of Sobeys et al. jumping ship to Scene+? Will Air Miles survive?
Sad to say, I am not overly optimistic. If it does carry on, it will be a shadow of its former self. According to representatives of the program, Sobeys’ departure opens up possibilities to partner with new retailers that were previously off limits due to contractual restrictions. But what stores out there could realistically fill the gap? It certainly would be nice to see new partners but Sobeys will be hard to match, especially here in Nova Scotia, Empire’s home province.
In recent times, the easiest way to accumulate miles was through Sobeys flyer promos like the recurring deal where you’d earn 100 miles for every $200 in gift cards purchased. You could then use those gift cards at Lawtons or Sobeys-owned Shell stations (Fast Fuel, Sobeys Express, Needs) in addition to Sobeys and Foodland. Without these Empire Company brands it will be slow going to earn miles and my motivation to keep up with the program will likely wane.
Any Urgency for Redeeming Miles?
My most recent Air Miles redemption was a hotel booking for an upcoming trip. The value was acceptable and I’m looking forward to the stay at accommodation I probably wouldn’t have chosen if it weren’t for the ability to use miles.
Now I have to decide what to do with the remainder. My initial gut reaction was to quickly unload my Dream miles on merchandise and redeem my Cash miles for eVouchers or in-store purchases. But maybe that’s a wee bit premature. After all, my main goal is to use points and miles for travel.
There is no indication that any other partners are set to pull the plug, but the news of this big change is a reminder that any of them could leave the program. That’s one reason it’s generally advisable to take an “earn and burn” approach to points. They’re not really worth anything until they’re redeemed and a nasty devaluation could be just around the corner.
So I will be pondering how best to use mine over the next couple of months. I suggest everyone give it some careful thought before going on a redemption spree. Although my outlook sounds rather bleak, the program is not dead. Wait and see what they come with up to generate interest in light of this huge blow. There was a time when Air Miles could be converted to certain hotel loyalty points including IHG (then called Priority Club). If somehow an opportunity like that were to return, it would be most welcome.
My family members and I have benefitted greatly from Air Miles over the years. Indeed it’s the loyalty program that got me into loyalty programs – it was the gateway drug so to speak. We’ve enjoyed many vacations with the help of Air Miles reward flights, hotel stays, theme park tickets and event tickets. And Sobeys played a big role in earning those miles.
Having held the Scotiabank Gold Amex for quite a while, I’m looking forward to ramping up my participation in the Scene+ program. Hopefully there will be some lucrative promotions for its launch at Sobeys stores and other Empire brands come August.
In the meantime, I’ll be assessing my options and discussing with family how best to redeem our Air Miles. Probably sooner than later. I’d also be very interested to hear how others plan to proceed.
(p.s I realize it’s actually called AIR MILES but I’m just not a fan of all upper or all lower case branding so please forgive me for taking liberties with the text in this little blog.)