What’s in your wallet?

Many of us hang on to gift cards or loyalty cards, hoping to use them one day. But instead of freebies, we get frustration.

Readers are telling me about card games that retailers are playing, such as not honouring a gift card because of a rule that can’t be broken or a policy never disclosed to the consumer.

Here are two stories below, where Sears and Petro Canada reversed their refusals once I called them on it. Also, here are two complaints, not yet resolved, about loyalty programs denying points or rewards to members.

Author: Ellen Roseman

Consumer advocate and personal finance author and instructor.

13 thoughts on “What’s in your wallet?”

  1. Hi Ellen. I am pleased to let you know that I was contacted by the Assistant Store manager of the Sears store at the Promenade Mall, where my gift cards had been denied.

    She graciously offered to exchange my cards for a current one, which will have no expiry date. The value will be for the amount of the previous cards, totalling $350. I have agreed to accept their offer.

    I would like to offer my heartfelt thanks to you for your efforts on my behalf.

    Here’s my story:

    I traditionally receive gift cards from clients as Christmas gifts purchased from Sears Canada. Over the past two years I had been accumulating these cards for purchase of a big ticket item.

    I started this project in 2008 when I was made aware, through the media and by word of mouth, that the gift cards would have no expiry dates regardless of the actual purchase date.

    I distinctly remember asking a sales representative at one Sears store in 2008 about this policy and he confirmed it to me. He assured me that if I brought the gift cards that were given prior to 2008, all I had to do was present them at the store and they would be validated at any time.

    I went to Sears on July 4th with the intent of purchasing a vacuum cleaner with my gift cards. When the cashier tried to scan some of the cards into the system, they were rejected as invalid.

    The Manager on duty refused to honour the cards and remarked that “the company cannot absorb such a huge loss”.

    I was told to call a toll free number (1-800-265-3675) for a resolution. But they had nothing to do with ‘expired’ gift cards and told me to call 1-800-265-3675. They too claimed to have no authority to deal with the matter and directed me to another number, 1-800-400-1000.

    A representative took my call at this number and proceeded to lecture me on Ontario’s gift card law. She said it came into effect in 2008, when it was actually Oct. 1, 2007.

    I told her that the cards were given to me in December 2007 as Christmas presents and that on the back of the cards it said 24 months. She said that meant it was 24 months from the date of purchase and I should have asked the giver when they purchased these cards.

    This is totally unacceptable. I don’t think it is good manners to ask someone when and where the cards were purchased since they were given to us as gifts.

    I had six cards that were not redeemed and the total value was $350. I feel that I have been shafted with this whole incident.

    At the time the gift cards were purchased, Sears was given the money in advance. By not redeeming the gift cards, the company is in violation of the simple rules of the card agreement as well as the basic rules of contract, which was for the exchange of goods and/or services to be provided at a later date.

    I hope you will be able to assist me in getting this matter resolved, as I am making no headway through the regular channels.

  2. On Oct. 10, 2008, I purchased a Home Depot gift card in the amount of $100 from a Petro-Canada station in Toronto.

    I tried to redeem the gift card at the Home Depot store in April 2009 and was told by the clerk that the card had never been activated and that it had no balance.

    I contacted the Petro-Canada station and explained the problem a number of times. Finally, I got someone who told me that without the receipt they can’t do anything.

    My credit card bill does show the date, the location and the charge. However, I don’t have a copy of the original sales receipt. A clerk said she would speak to her manager about it, but didn’t even take my contact information.

    I called Petro-Canada’s corporate customer service number and was advised to contact Home Depot about problems with gift cards.

    I called Home Depot customer service and though they took my information and assigned a case number and looked into the problem, they were unable to resolve the issue.

    I even called the credit card company (Petro-Canada MasterCard) but they are unable to address the problem.

    I would really appreciate your help.


    From Tiziana Baccega, spokeswoman for Home Depot:

    When 3rd party companies sell our gift cards, they are the ones that are responsible for activating the gift cards at point of purchase.

    As you know, these cards are merchandise where anyone can pick one up, so the receipt is your proof of purchase. Without a receipt, the purchase cannot be tracked.

    Because the card was purchased through Petro-Canada, they would have the customer information, not us.


    From Jon Hamilton, spokesman for Petro Canada:

    Why I love my BlackBerry, reason #423…

    I sent the Category Manager your email when I touched down at Winnipeg airport, then turned off the BlackBerry for the trip to Calgary.

    Turned on my berry after landing and had a note back with a resolution.

    As it appears the card was never activated at the point of sale, we don’t have any information on the gift card. However, while this is very rare, it can happen.

    Unfortunately it wasn’t resolved through the normal channels. We regularly sell gift cards for many prominent vendors without issue.

    To apologize for any inconvenience, Petro-Canada will be sending an activated $100 Home Depot replacement gift card and a $25 Petro-Canada gift card to use as she sees fit.

    Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  3. I’m wondering if you can help me out… I’m sure this is one line you read every day!

    Anyways, I’m having some issues with Cineplex’s Scene rewards program. On their website (www.scene.ca), it clearly states “Earn 100 points every time you buy a movie ticket” and this is not happening.

    I’ve written to them many times, only to get a generic reply, and then they asked to give me information for every single transaction. They have these details but want me to run through hoops to get me to leave them alone…sadly no help so I’m turning to you.

    I just checked their website again and they updated the language to be more vague (very sneaky).

    I’ve been using this program for over a year now and they are cheating thousands of Canadian moviegoers out of points every day.

    I’ve been told by friends of employees that there is an issue when you buy two passes because you only get credit for one of them, even if you give both cards.

    But I can’t seem to get any help from them. They told me afterward that the only way to get the points you deserve is if you purchase 2 tickets in separate transactions.

    This is crazy. If I’m going out, I’m not going to say “I’d like two tickets, but put them on separate bills”. This is nowhere in the Scene Agreement…it was simply “Earn 100 points every time you buy a movie ticket”.

    Right now, if you buy two tickets you should be getting 200 points and not 100!

    Let’s say 500,000 Canadians have cards (and see movies in couples). If they go to movies once a month and every 100 points is worth $1 (1,000 Points = 1 Free Movie = $10/ticket..), that means they are costing Canadians $600,000+ a year in rewards that they are not paying out.

    Is there anything you can do to help? Not all Canadians are aware this is happening. I only found out when I checked my points balance.

    In times like these, more people are looking to spend “rewards points” rather than paying out from their savings.

  4. Shoppers Drug Mart has an Optimum card, in which you can build up to 75,000 points and then be rewarded with a $150 credit on your next purchase.

    So you would work to that level (despite the many entreaties to ‘use your points’ instead of accumulating them).

    Then they stopped asking you to ‘use your points’ and when you reached the quota (75,000), you would no longer receive a credit for $150, but you would receive a partial credit, and pay the balance in cash.

    The back of all Shoppers Drug Mart’s invoices states:

    75,000 points required – receive $150 (up to).

    One has to assume they have now decided to invoke the ‘up to’ part of the agreement. This despite the fact that on two occasions I have previously achieved the 75,000 points level and received $150 of merchandise, at no additional cost.


    30/06/09 purchase $105.38. Optimum Discount $75. Balance $30.38, cash-points redeemed 40,000.

    04/07/09 purchase $23.12. Optimum Discount $10. Balance 13.12, cash-points redeemed 7,000.

    11/07/09 purchase $13.45. Optimum Discount $10. Balance $3.45, cash-points redeemed 7,000.

    Shoppers promote their points incentive zealously — buy $50 worth of merchandise, receive 20 times the points, etc.

    Is it just me who thinks they are misleading the troops on their Optimum promo?

    (According to a clerk on my last purchase, he is getting a lot of flak from the customers on the new ‘payment’ approach.)

    Did they previously award full credit when you reached the 75,000 level, in error? If so, they took a long time to change the rules.

  5. MM, I have no affiliation with SDM, but for my own curiosity I can’t find where you ran into a problem. Did you try to buy $150+ of merchandise (not including prescriptions and lottery, etc) and redeem 75k points, and they wouldn’t let you take a $150 credit?

    AFIAK, the “up to” is to cover their ass in the event you try to buy $140 worth of stuff, so they don’t give you $10 “change”… i.e.: “points have no cash value.”

    What happened in your most recent case?

  6. MM, thanks for the clarification.

    That’s messed up… and let alone signs, it’s not spelled out in the terms and conditions they have online for Optimum!

    “22. (a) Shoppers Optimum Points may be redeemed for rewards consisting of a predetermined percentage discount reward”

    but while they spell out the maximum amount each points level is worth (i.e.: 75k points is good for $150 off), they don’t specify that “predetermined percentage”, so how can you possibly know in advance (and did they even tell you when you ran into the problem in the checkout line?).

    I just passed the 80k mark myself, so next time I have to do a big restocking trip I’ll try to redeem my points for $150 and see how it goes…

  7. I’m still not clear on the problem with Optimum points – if I have enough points to get say $75 worth of merchandise and I buy $78 worth, would I have to pay only $3 of it in cash or not?

  8. “I’m still not clear on the problem with Optimum points ‘

    MM seems to be confused…

    Nothing has changed wrt redeeming points. The last revision to the TOS was a few months back when they stopped awarding points on stamps an a few other things.

    MM’s examples are all correct. He chose to redeem points on small purchases so the most appropriate redemption level was used so that points weren’t wasted (it doesn’t make any sense, at all, to redeem points on a $13 purchase as the loss of value of the points when redeeming at the lower levels is tremendous)

    If you ever think something improper has happened, just call their 1-800, customer service is pretty good (unlike the huge inconsistencies in stores from dealer to dealer).

    SDM optimum points is by FAR the best loyalty program out there if one makes the effort to understand it and jump through the hoops to take maximum advantage of it.

  9. Jamie is correct. MM does seem to be confused.

    I work at a SDM store and there have been no changes like that. If you come in to Shoppers and you have 75,000 points, if you try to purchase something that is $152 (plus tax), you can redeem your 75,000 points and only have to pay $2 (plus tax).

    However, if you have 150,000 points you cannot redeem them for $300. The most you can redeem at a time is 75,000. You could do your $300 purchase in two transactions.

    Also, as someone else said, if you have 75,000 points and you try to redeem them on a purchase of $132, all 75,000 points will be taken off of the card and you will not be given $18 back. It is best to redeem the full $150. The cashier should remind you of this before they take the points off the card.

  10. To SW – In my experience with Cineplex and Scene points, the cashier has always entered each ticket separately and scanned each card separately.

    But when paying, I’d just give them cash and they’d work out the total themselves.

    When paying with the automated machine, there’s always the option to scan more than one card. You cannot put the points for both tickets on the same card.

    You’re only allowed to collect points for one ticket each time. That’s just the way their point system works, so you can’t complain about it.

    The only problem I’ve ever had with Scene points is when their computer gives or takes the wrong amount of points. In such cases, I’ve written to their customer service department and they took care of it.

  11. Hi Ellen,
    I have a $25 Shoppers Drug Mart gift certificate that I have attempted to redeem on numerous occassions. Because it will not scan I have been asked to call their 1-800 number, fax it in and have a store manager call it in. I have done all of this and stil have the gift certificate. It is a lot of work and frustration for a measly 25 buck but I figure “hey its my 25 bucks. The gift certificate has all the markings of a CIBC cheque. Should I try to redeem it at the bank? I am tempted to put up a “Shoppers not Honouring Gift Certificates” page on Facebook. What do you think?

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