BMO completes US$160M deal to purchase Air Miles loyalty rewards program

BMO buys Air Miles

BMO Financial Group closed its acquisition of the Air Miles loyalty rewards program in Canada on Thursday, saying it plans to expand the program with new ways to earn and redeem points.

"Going forward, BMO ownership gives the program stability, but more importantly, the opportunity for us to invest in the program," said Air Miles president Shawn Stewart.

BMO announced in March it would purchase Air Miles after the program's U.S. parent company filed for bankruptcy. The bank's so-called stalking horse offer for LoyaltyOne Co. was US$160 million, subject to certain adjustments, according to court documents.

With the bank's ownership, Stewart says he's excited for the program's new chapter.

"We wanted to come out of the gate strong and reinvigorate what is a Canadian leading loyalty program. And what you'll see over the summer is a continued release of of new products, and new opportunities for collectors to earn."

Air Miles is one of the oldest and largest loyalty programs in Canada, with nearly 10 million active users, but the program has lagged in recent years as numerous companies dropped out of the program.

Last summer, Sobeys and Safeway owner Empire Co. Ltd. and office supply retailer Staples said they would be scrapping the program, a year after the Liquor Control Board of Ontario and Lowe's Canada pulled out.

BMO said it plans to introduce enhancements to the program including an improved travel booking platform and a new way for collectors to earn Bonus Miles through receipt scanning. The latter will be available first for collectors in Atlantic Canada, followed by those in other regions.

Stewart said the main complaint coming from program partners was a lack of investment in the Air Miles program, an issue the acquisition is expected to address.

"When partners see our investment, our hope and our plan is that they'll see the growth in the program, the opportunity for them to speak to 10 million Canadians, to understand and use the data and analytics the program provides," he said. 

The Air Miles program is re-introducing itself to Canadians in a market that's seen more stores launching loyalty programs in recent years, but Stewart said that Air Miles stands out as a longtime brand with a broad catalogue for points redemption.

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