Last Comment – Aeroplan Swiss First Class Cancellation Ordeal

Swiss First Class was briefly available on Aeroplan using miles. Hundreds of reservations were made, and Swiss unilaterally cancelled them. This is my final comment on the situation.


Aeroplan’s recent statement essentially reads: “We’re not honouring Swiss First Class, not our fault. We’ll be calling to rebook or refund.” I was not pleased. Indeed, I was poised to sue.

I spoke with my Aeroplan PR contact, and asked several questions, some of which were specific to my three cancelled tickets. I explained to the representative what would be acceptable. It was indicated that it was forwarded to the Customer Service team and a call would be made.

No call was received after ~ 24H. However, as an eager person, I proactively called Aeroplan to deal with the problem.

The situation was complicated – ~ $650 in refund fees were paid for previously booked itineraries to change to Swiss First Class. A refund was owed. I had a second booking where the previously booked flights (that I had cancelled for Swiss First) were still available. Finally, I had a booking right in the holiday high-season. There was nothing in terms of alternate award availability.

I asked for a specific set of flights: Italy – Frankfurt – Toronto – Montreal (LH/AC/AC). There was no award space. The expectation was for Aeroplan to buy the first intra-European segment on Lufthansa, and then open up award space on Air Canada (something ticketing agents can do with reasonable justification). I was told a supervisor would get back to me the next day.

On the same phone call, the agent arranged for the refund of all my fees, and rebooked the reservation with available award inventory. No fees, and a return of the difference between First Class and Business Class mileage, of course. And much to my surprise, all ~ $650 of my refund fees to free up points to book Swiss First Class were easily refunded.

The next day, I called Aeroplan. I spoke with an agent and the original supervisor working my “case,” and she said that Air Canada came back “unconfirmed.” I found a suitable itinerary using award space, and was rebooked into Austrian Business Class. I’ve never flown Austrian due to high fuel surcharges when using Aeroplan. Unfortunately, I now had a “forced” overnight in Vienna. I used Marriott points to stay at a hotel in Vienna.

I asked for $150 to compensate for the value of the miles for the hotel night. The agent said “no cash, only miles.” I wanted to be flexible, so I said 8,000 Aeroplan (which I value at $120-130). She said “that’s too high.” She indicated that 2,500 was the “standard amount.” I had my cost, the inconvenience, and the three bookings subject to cancellation. We agreed on 5,000 miles.


I believe that Aeroplan is legally in the wrong, especially under Quebec law. Even in the law of other provinces, I think they’d be liable. However, there’s a question as to moral blameworthiness. Historically, Aeroplan has acted honourably in support of customers. During a number of well-publicised but long-dead “too-good-to-be-true” deals, Aeroplan completely honoured those bookings. In my award booking service, I’ve frequently come across situations where a technical glitch occurred, and Aeroplan competently handled it, even buying revenue seats or upgrading passengers without additional collection of miles.

Aeroplan is one of the most competent, well-trained, and professional frequent flyer programs in North America. That’s not a high-bar, but Aeroplan does a good job. Obviously they have numerous problems, but there’s a good deal of competency in the company and call centre. 

I’ve researched how folks are being treated by Aeroplan. Reports are that some people are getting phone calls proactively offering to help, some are receiving unilateral changes to their booking (not good), and some are hearing nothing at all and are waiting it out or proactively calling (hey, Aeroplan, you need to tell people ASAP!).

But it appears folks who actually end up speaking with an agent are finding knowledgeable, helpful, and empowered employees. There are other reports of people receiving:

  • refunds for paid cancellation/refund fees to get the miles to actually book Swiss First Class;
  • some agents buying revenue seats;
  • some agents opening award space on Air Canada; and
  • some agents saying “award space or refund. Take it or leave it.”

The last option is bad, but rarely reported. Aeroplan, put out a memo setting clear and liberal guidelines for ALL agents.

In speaking with agents, they appear frustrated. Their talking point is “well Swiss doesn’t even let their own members book Swiss First Class!” That’s not entirely correct – Lufthansa Group Senator members and above are able to book Swiss First Class using miles.

It’s notable that there aren’t any reports of someone having booked Swiss First Class at the “mistaken time” using United miles or Miles&More (non Senator/HON members), both of which had Swiss First Class availability, having had their ticket cancelled. Is Swiss only targeting Aeroplan? 


Anyways, here’s my thinking. Aeroplan normally honours mistakes. They sent out a press release clearly showing frustration with Swiss. It took them days to release a final press release (through the blogs). If they weren’t fighting for their customers, it would have been a swift decision, since Swiss started cancelling tickets the day after booking. I believe they were seriously negotiating with Swiss and Air Canada to confirm the bookings.

I don’t know why things didn’t work out. I’ve read some intriguing conjecture. Perhaps it didn’t work out because Swiss absolutely refused to budge on allowing First Class award bookings (“O” space in nerd-speak). At the end of the day, if Swiss was refusing to even discount revenue seats, Aeroplan may have to dish out for full revenue First Class seats. That’d cost a ton.

From an intelligent business perspective, Aeroplan would be in a financially better position to let the lawsuits come in. Folks would be suing for the value difference between what they paid and what they would have to pay to get the same Swiss First Class flights. And many will give up or settle. From a shareholder-focused perspective, this strategy makes sense.

I think many folks at the time of booking knew that this was something at least unusual. And if not, you would have likely seen the rumours of cancellation on the blogs the day after booking. But if you didn’t, that’s certainly a stronger moral (and perhaps legal) claim.

I’m not pursuing this any more. I think something legitimately went wrong with the booking system. And at the end of the day, do you really want to travel with an airline that doesn’t want “folks like us”? Lufthansa First Class is way better anyways, and available using miles.

Swiss can go ahead and lose the financial opportunities offered by loyalty programs. They have a tendency to bankruptcy anyways.


I have a lot of problems with Aeroplan. I think they pursued a fundamentally flawed business strategy (that lost them their Air Canada relationship), they can be inflexible at times, and some agents are rude and ineffective. However, I often find, in my literal hundreds of transactions with them, the large majority of things are easily fixed, they have some of the most competent agents in the loyalty world, and besides the sometimes long wait and hold times, offer a generally pleasant experience. I believe that Aeroplan honoured their obligation of doing good by their customers while maintaining financial stability at a precarious time for their business. But each to his or her own I suppose.

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Comments

  1. I am one of the people who got “ take it or leave it” from Aeroplan agent. The thing is – I would have taken it if they downgraded me to business class on a DIRECT flight (like the one I booked on Swiss and like the one I cancelled unfortunately too soon – when I got ticketed on Swiss). But despite availability for direct business class flight on my date and my route showing on MilesandMore, Aeroplan said they could not book it. “Take it or leave it.” So my problem is with Aeroplan even more than with Swiss. Btw, in my back and forth tweets with Swiss they said that “Aeroplan issued tickets the wrong way” and that they are honoring F booked on Swiss via MilesandMore or United. If it’s true, it’s very fishy what Aeroplan is doing.

  2. @T — miles and more shows much more availability for flights operated by Lufthansa Group airlines, such as Swiss — so Aeroplan usually can’t access all of that availability, they are getting a smaller amount of award space from Swiss to book into.

  3. Avery, first of all, great post. Very well balanced.

    Question: What’s your experience with BA and Avios call centers? I called twice the Manchester call center, and both times had really pleasant experience booking AA/JAL flights, and both times they offered to wave the call charge since the routing I wanted was not bookable through the web site. So curious if this was an outlayer or not.

  4. Maybe the blogs are to blame here, they advertised the trick of transferring miles to Aeroplan and booking the tickets at an incredible price. So I’m assuming very few people (relatively) booked via United or Lufthansa and most booked through Aeroplan, including buying three or four tickets! And the bloggers who made money when people clicked, read, commented on their blogs are now upset that their tickets are cancelled.

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