Big news is coming for Canadian points collectors.
Empire, the parent company of neighbourhood grocery chains such as Sobeys, FreshCo, and the Western Canada-exclusive Safeway, has announced that it is acquiring a stake in the Scene+ loyalty program and putting out to pasture their long time loyalty partner Air Miles.
With grocery costs on the rise in the face of inflation, this change comes at an auspicious time. Let’s take a look at what we know so far.
Farewell, Air Miles
Let’s face it: the Air Miles program has definitely seen better days. Even a seasoned maximizer can have a hard time squeezing value out of the tired program, which also recently lost its partnerships with huge clients such as Lowe’s and the LCBO.
The confusing split between Dream Miles and Cash Miles, shrinking pool of redemption partners, and byzantine redemption regulations and controls, along with multiple successive rounds of devaluations, has done much to damage the Air Miles brand image.
Only time can tell if the program will recover, but the fact that Sobeys’ownership has decided to ditch them completely come early 2023 and invest their own money into Scene+, does not bode well.
Why would Sobeys choose Scene+ as a program, though?
According to the The Globe and Mail’s business column, 53% of Canadians use Scene+ at least once a week, which is a surprise even to me. Apparently, in the wake of pandemic reopening, Canadians have truly taken to classic pastimes such as moviegoing.
If you, like me, have been tolerating (if not enjoying) the switchover from Scotia Rewards to the new Scene+ program, then you’ll note that at the very least the new IT infrastructure has gotten a facelift and improved functionality, even if points don’t always record properly.
Unlike the dated Air Miles app and its clunky coupons, it seems clear that the updated Scene+ app is in line with the corporate vision espoused by Empire.
No doubt Sobeys will use this opportunity to track consumer spending patterns and loyalty – big data appears to finally be coming to Canadian supermarkets not owned by Loblaws.
Sobeys & Scene+ Rollout Plan
Thus far, Sobeys executives are tight-lipped about the exact method or pace at which they’ll be expanding the program. What we do know is that they’ve invested their money, so the deal is done and Air Miles is definitely on its way out. However, this doesn’t mean you’ll see Scene+ at supermarkets in your location prior to 2023.
This is because the first rollout will be conducted in the trial market of Atlantic Canada in August 2022, with the new program then being gradually introduced in a westward direction over the ensuing months until it is concluded in early 2023. So don’t junk your Air Miles card yet, even if it contains only $10 in Cash Miles.
Good news does come to those who wait, though: in Western Canada, there are often Sobeys- or Safeway-branded private liquor stores. These will now be eligible to earn Scene+ points. While perhaps not quite as lucrative as Aeroplan’s partnership with the LCBO, this does offer a much better value for us Westerners than Air Miles did.
What Does Scene+ Mean For Sobeys Customers?
The transition to Scene+ is coming rapidly, which means that there might be technical hiccups. I know of many Miles & Points enthusiasts who personally experienced points not posting properly on the Scene+ program from the switchover in November 2021 up until very recently, so let’s hope that this plan doesn’t turn into an IT nightmare.
Still, at least we have a road map from Sobeys leadership, which leads us to the question: what will the Scene+ program look like at Sobeys, and how can customers maximize their grocery spend?
To answer this first question, the only indicator we have so far are from the brands that currently fall under Scene+ umbrella: Cineplex, select Recipe Unlimited restaurants such as Swiss Chalet and Harvey’s, and retail partners like Apple.
Thus far, I’ve received maybe a handful of coupons to to the restaurants and the occasional offer for a discounted movie ticket. Unsurprisingly, I’ve received no discount offers from Apple or Best Buy, but can at least earn some points when purchasing their goods via the Scene+ web portal.
On the other hand, grocery businesses such as Sobeys are in the habit of getting you to spend more in stores, especially on impulse buys. I suspect there will be plenty of coupons or points-based incentives (e.g., buy three packs of cookies, get 500 Scene+ points) appearing on an app near you come August.
When it comes to earning, this would be an excellent opportunity to double dip. As I mentioned earlier, the Scotiabank Gold American Express Card earns 5x points at all stores which code as grocery.
Therefore, you can easily double dip when offered the option of presenting your Scene+ card at the counter. With coupons on the table, I imagine this can help offset the pain of rising food prices in the near future.
When it comes to redeeming, Scene+ is one of the most flexible programs out there.You can book travel via their proprietary portal made in partnership with Expedia and apply your points at 1 cent per point (cpp).
Alternatively, you can “bring your own travel” and redeem points (again at 1cpp) on the Scene+ app. In order to do this, you’ll need to be have already paid for your chosen travel purchase and will need to have enough points to cover the entire transaction in order to finish the redemption electronically.
This means that if the refundable hotel you just booked cost you $300 and you have 40,000 points, you can complete your redemption online or via the app.
However, if your chosen travel had cost you $500, you’d have to give Scene+ a call in order to get them to apply your 40,000 points for a partial credit of $400.
Lastly – and you can excommunicate me for Miles & Points heresy – I think that select movie tickets can be a good choice for spending your points. For example, $20+ IMAX tickets cost a flat 2,000 Scene+ points, giving you a hair more than 1cpp in redemption.
I recently flew my points into the danger zone to watch Top Gun: Maverick. It was worth it.
Taking into consideration the transfer of Scotia Rewards to Scene+, the revamp of Scotiabank’s American Express cards, and now this announcement by Sobeys, it’s clear that the Scene+ loyalty program is aspiring to be one of the top dogs in Canada.
Competition such as this usually fuels innovation in the industry, so I hope that this motivates the other banks to get their in-house programs into line, and continues to reward Canadians who have to put up with the current prices of groceries and gasoline.
Until next time, don’t go along the trajectory of Air Miles.