The Future of Loyalty According to AIR MILES’ Shawn Stewart


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In Canada, loyalty rewards programs have grown to be a massive industry, providing Canadians with more and more opportunities to stretch their dollars across all verticals and channels, with no signs of slowing down. AIR MILES Reward Program has certainly led the pack over the past several decades, and with both new ownership and leadership over the last few years, has plans to continue to grow and innovate to provide the best experience for its collectors and partners alike. 


In April 2022, AIR MILES announced that Shawn Stewart would take the reigns of the company as President, citing his experience in loyalty programs and customer analytics at some of the nation’s top organizations spanning the last three decades as a major factor for his appointment. Since then, the company has seen several large and positive business changes, the paramount being its acquisition by BMO earlier this year. 


“BMO is what I would say is AIR MILES’ rightful home,” Stewart says about the acquisition. “They were a huge part of our business on the credit card side, and so for them to be not just owners, but investing in growth, has been a night and day change in our business. Now we can operate with confidence – it gives us stability.”

Shawn Stewart in a white button up shirt and navy jacket and jeans reclining on a couch and smiling off to the side of the camera.
Shawn Stewart | Courtesy of AIR MILES

With this newfound sense of confidence, the company has begun implementing new areas for growth, including partnerships, as well as a travel platform that Stewart says will give the company a stronger footing to continue to innovate. These changes have set up the foundation for strong growth to come, which the company is already starting to see signs of. 


“As of recent,, we’re starting to see our brand metrics turn around, and we’re starting to see our collector activity turn around, inspiring more confidence and positive excitement toward the future of the program,” Stewart notes. “We have to ride that momentum.” 


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Momentum is the name of the game for Stewart, with strategic investments bringing a sense of sustained, long-term interest within the company and its partners, and allowing leaders to plan for 10-15 years in the future as opposed to working day by day. Under Shawn’s leadership, the company now can look deeper into its processes and rethink its operations to continue to be more agile and more personalized akin to the ever-changing business world. 


“When I came in, it was about inspiring action and entrepreneurial spirit within the organization,” Stewart explains. “While we’re not that big – 500 corporate employees – over the years, there’s a ton of big company processes that have been built up. My first order of business was to knock all that down and say, ‘We are holding ourselves back, and we have to take action.’”

Shawn Stewart in a white button up shirt and navy jacket smiling against a white background.
Shawn Stewart | Courtesy of AIR MILES

Timely processes and lengthy operations were initially a concern when thinking about their new ownership under BMO, but is something they have maintained integrity over. The company continues to work at a fast pace to bring clients what they desire, and what they need out of the rewards program. 


In terms of the future of the company, Stewart is excited. One example of this is his passion for integration as an open-source platform. 


“I want our program to be available to any brand; whether you’re a big national brand or you’re a local mom-and-pop shop down the street, you can incorporate and benefit from this program,” he says. “When you start to think about integrating rewards into payment, you’re taking away a ton of complexity in terms of streamlining technology integration.” 


Removing barriers for both collectors and partners remains a primary focus for Stewart as he continues to find new ways to reach Canadians and retail partners. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that the company is incredibly well-loved and respected by Canadians. Research shows that over 95% of Canadians want AIR MILES to continue to thrive as an iconic Canadian brand – but how does the company pay the same loyalty back? 


Stewart innately understands the importance that loyalty programs hold in tough economic times like these, where collectors are relying on their dollar stretching as far as possible to help maximize their spending value. This remains a key priority for the company. 

Shawn Stewart in a white button up shirt and navy jacket and jeans standing and smiling in front of an AIR MILES sign.
Shawn Stewart | Courtesy of AIR MILES

His view is that Canadians “should be able to earn AIR MILES anytime they shop, anywhere they shop. Whether it’s online or in-person; with the credit card, without the credit card.” And he’s on the right track. With over 300 brands affiliated with AIR MILES – including retailers like lululemon, Amazon and even Dollarama – Canadians are now able to earn more miles than ever that can be redeemed at more stores than ever, saving them money they desperately need back in their pockets. 



And the best person to keep Stewart on track? His own mother. 



“We’ve had criticism. I mean, my mom gives me the criticism. ‘Why did it previously take me 20 years to get a toaster?’ We hear that and that’s why we’re so focused on value.” 



While it is not as difficult as many think to earn and redeem great rewards, Stewart admits that the company has room for improvement when it comes to communication with its collectors about ongoing program updates and capabilities. While the average customer doesn’t know much about earning and using their miles, the company needs to focus on engaging those collectors and educating them on how to reap the rewards they are missing out on. While many companies would not place such a strong emphasis this, Stewart sees education as a top priority for consumers in order to feel like they are getting the most out of the program and keep them coming back for more. 



While there is always an opportunity to learn from the past, Stewart has shifted his focus on the future, hinting at big plans to come in 2024. With the focus on stability and flexibility both internally for the company and externally for collectors continuing to anchor the AIR MILES Reward Program, there is a lot to be excited about looking ahead.