Thus far, Air Miles’s ripostes have been lackluster at best. While the Scene+ ship forges full steam ahead, Air Miles appears to be floundering to respond, as exemplified by their latest efforts to try and make the program more attractive: a reduction to the requirements needed to attain Air Miles Gold and Onyx elite status.
Air Miles Gold and Onyx: Cool Names, Limited Perks
The new qualification requirements for Air Miles collectors to attain Gold and Onyx status are effective immediately, as of August 2022:
As we can see, the requirements to reach the highest status, Air Miles Onyx, is granted after accumulating only 5,000 Air Miles in a calendar year, or by holding any of the following Air Miles co-branded credit cards:
On the other hand, in order to earn Air Miles Gold status, you’ll need to earn 500 Air Miles in a calendar year or hold one of the following cards:
Compared to before, this represents a reduction of 17.7% for the Air Miles needed to qualify for Onyx status (6,000 to 5,000), and a 50% drop from the previous requirement to earn Gold status (1,000 to 500).
This looks dramatic on the surface, but do the perks of these loftily-named collector statuses make them worth achieving?
Gold members can spend Cash Miles on hotel bookings, which is decent enough. Aside from that, it gets some discounts on Dream Miles redemption for merchandise, which is generally a poor value.
Both Gold and Onyx members get discounts on using Dream Miles toward flights… which would be great, if Air Miles were useful for booking air travel in the first place. Me, I’d rather just focus on Aeroplan and be done with it, so I can go anywhere Star Alliance does.
On the other hand, Onyx members get concierge services and a “Personal Shopper”, allowing them to redeem their miles at a rate of 95 per $10 on theoretically any item of the member’s choice. The company’s marketing materials details somebody who acquired a Mercedes-Benz this way, but that seems to be an outside case.
Onyx members also get a Shell Go+ account, which slightly accelerates the rate of earning Air Miles when fuelling at Shell Oil stations. Not a very impressive perk with oil prices as high as they are.
To sum up, these are weak benefits that only really matter to people who can accumulate large amounts of Air Miles, and even then, what is one supposed to spend them on for maximum value? Air Miles is hurting for retail partners, which is unfortunate for such an iconic brand.
Another in Installment in Air Miles vs. Scene+
Thus far, there’s no equivalent elite tiers at the Scene+ program to compete with programs like Air Miles’s Onyx status, and definitely nothing approaching hotel or airline frequent traveller benefits.
This does not mean that this well remain the case indefinitely; in fact, the rapid expansion of the Scene+ program and its overtaking of Air Miles’s traditional partners could portend a desire to release some sort of high-roller program by this up-and-comer.
We can only speculate on what a Scene+ elite program might look like, but this lowering of requirements for Gold and Onyx indicates that Air Miles’s leadership remains afraid of their main competitor and are attempting to deliberately undercut them whenever possible.
Sadly, it might be too little, too late. The Air Miles elite statuses are subject to the same issues as the rest of the program: uneven redemption options and spotty customer service.
Onyx members I’ve known trying to offload points via the Personal Shopper program have reported stories of waiting weeks at a time for their concierge to respond to their enquiries, during which time the items they had asked for went out of stock.
The problem with this switch-up is that the Air Miles elite statuses don’t really give the consumer greater value within the Air Miles program, nor does it disincentivize them for signing up for rival programs like Scene+.
This second option is far more versatile when linked with credit cards such as the Scotiabank Gold American Express Card because their points can be used to offset the cost of any travel purchase, unlike Air Miles, which can only be redeemed via their proprietary portal or their dwindling set of partners.
Is Air Miles Struggling for Relevance?
With Air Miles’s flight redemptions climbing further out of reach and retail partners dropping the program like it’s a hot potato, is it any wonder that Scene+, which can be used for any form of travel as well as movie tickets, is overtaking them?
Scene+ and its new partners at Sobeys understand that customers want to accumulate more points and extract more value from them. Hence, their promotional efforts are geared toward meaningfully increasing the quantity of points that their members can gain at daily-use essential retailers.
Overall, this gambit to make Onyx and Gold statuses easier to attain feels desperate and uninspired, much like the program’s decision to boost grocery multipliers on BMO-issued co-branded credit cards.
Air Miles’s parent company doesn’t sound like it’s healthy, and the sad thing is that companies suffering setbacks tend to have to lay off staff in order to cut costs.
This move could lead to a situation where there are more elite members than there are staff to handle their requests, thus cheapening the overall experience of being an Onyx or Gold collector, which is never a good look for a program that’s already looking wounded.
Air Miles looks confused right now. The program is trying to pre-empt a competitor whose product is more versatile by choosing to dilute their most exclusive membership tiers with yet more customers. The loss of retail partners hasn’t been addressed, despite this having been the main attraction for the program to begin with.
A lot of hard work will be needed to parry Scene+’s advances, and thus far, Air Miles doesn’t feel like it’s been up to the task.
Here’s hoping we can continue to have a competitive and vibrant Miles & Points market in Canada that puts consumers first, and let this be a lesson that devaluations never work in the long run.