Aeroplan award bookings made with Swiss First Class are being cancelled. Here’s what you need to know.
What’s going on?
On November 30, 2017, Swiss released First Class award space into the Star Alliance award system, known as StarNet. For a short period of time, First Class award space could be booked by Star Alliance partner loyalty programs, including Aeroplan, United, and ANA.
Swiss First Class is not usually bookable by Aeroplan or Star Alliance partners. Indeed, Swiss’s own loyalty program, Miles&More, only releases First Class award availability to their most elite frequent flyer members. In this case, any Miles&More member was able to book these seats.
I booked three tickets on Swiss First Class using Aeroplan:
- Montreal to Istanbul with a segment on Turkish
- Naples to Montreal on Swiss
- Geneva to Montreal on Swiss
To make these bookings, I had to pay over $600 in change/cancellation fees to existing reservations.
On December 1, 2017, reports emerged online that Swiss was cancelling Aeroplan tickets. While reservations appear intact on Aeroplan and Air Canada’s websites, when trying to pull reservations on Swiss’s website, a message appears saying that the booking is deleted.
As of today, Aeroplan has not communicated with members. Tickets remain valid, and flights appear properly booked on Aeroplan and Air Canada. However, since the reservation has been deleted from Swiss’s system, passengers cannot fly on these tickets.
According to what I’ve seen online, it appears that only flights booked using Aeroplan miles have been cancelled. I have not seen any reports of passengers who used United or Miles&More having received a cancellation. Aeroplan has NOT contacted members.
On December 1, 2017, Aeroplan’s Public Relations department emailed a number of bloggers with a statement:
I can assure you that we are not pleased with the situation.
Our members are our priority and Aeroplan will assist affected passengers. We are investigating the situation as to what exactly happened and why these reservations were cancelled. Working with Swiss and Air Canada, we should know more about that early next week.
Since then, reports have not been positive. All I’ve seen is passengers contacting Aeroplan only to be told that they’d be accommodated on other flights or receive a full refund. So far, Aeroplan is refusing to accommodate passengers on revenue or award seats in Swiss First Class. It appears that most bookings containing Swiss First Class flights are being cancelled, regardless as to whether they were booked online, with an Aeroplan phone agent, or paired with other airlines.
(I am not a lawyer and this is my personal opinion.)
Aeroplan is a Quebec-based corporation, and the contract between passengers and Aeroplan is subject to Quebec law if the passenger was in Quebec when the ticket was booked. For residents outside Quebec, Ontario law applies pursuant to s. 33 of the Aeroplan General Terms and Conditions.
Under both Quebec and Ontario law, Aeroplan has little protection. There was a valid contract pursuant to s. 1388 of the Civil Code of Quebec. Aeroplan may attempt to rely on s. 1400 of the Code, which protects them in cases of error, but they simply don’t meet the bar for a s. 1400 defence. That defence requires an extreme and obvious error AND requires a clause in the contract that allows them to cancel for error (Faucher v. Costco Wholesale Canada Ltd.). This was not an extreme and obvious error, nor was the alleged error a fundamental aspect to the contract. Aeroplan has a clause in their Terms and Conditions that allows them to cancel a booking if there was an error as to price, but not as to the booking of a flight (that they didn’t intend to book).
Under Ontario law, Aeroplan may attempt to argue unilateral mistake. The rule on unilateral mistake would allow Aeroplan to void the contract if there was a mistake as to something fundamental to the contract, and the buyer knew or ought to have known it was a mistake.
Aeroplan was given Swiss First Class award space through StarNet, and put it out on their distribution platform. Perhaps Swiss made a mistake in releasing that award space, but Aeroplan did not. Aeroplan clearly did not make a mistake in the legal sense. Further, any alleged mistake is not fundamental to the contract – fundamental mistake refers to something like price, not stocking something on your shelf that the manufacturer (Swiss) didn’t intend to offer.
So either under Quebec or Ontario law, Aeroplan is vulnerable to legal claims for breach of contract. Further, they are vulnerable to claims made to the Office de la protection du consuommateur (Quebec’s consumer protection agency).
If you contact Aeroplan right now with an impacted booking, they’ll tell you that Swiss has cancelled the ticket due to mistake. They will either rebook your ticket on something else that is currently available or refund your booking. They are not re-booking Swiss First Class in award or revenue space. However, if you decline these options, they are not changing your booking.
I’m in close contact with Aeroplan regarding these developments. This is the most recent message I’ve received (December 5, 2017):
We are still investigating the situation and working with our partners. For now the protocol is for agents to look for first class/J class redemption on another Star Alliance carrier or offer to reinstate miles free of charge as first class on LX is not currently an option.
I think Aeroplan is trying to make things right, and Swiss is screwing them over. But at the end of the day, Aeroplan is a travel agent and my contract for the flight is with them. Legally speaking, I don’t believe Aeroplan has a shot at defending any claims made against it. Historically, Aeroplan has been good about honouring bookings and making their customers whole. I remain confident that Aeroplan will make things right.