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One of the best things about redeeming points and miles is that you generally aren’t restricted to a single airline. Thanks to the three major alliances and a profusion of partnerships and joint ventures, you have a wealth of flexibility in booking award tickets. Of course, that only applies when programs actually allow you to book these award tickets. Along these lines, it’s worth noting that limitations in Air Canada’s Aeroplan program are currently preventing members from booking awards on certain Star Alliance carriers.
Unfortunately, this apparently isn’t anything new, but the most recent airline to fall victim is SWISS. For example, let’s say you were interested in flying from Zurich (ZRH) to Miami (MIA) on Monday, October 30. SWISS operates two daily flights on this route, and on that date, both are available for two award tickets in economy and business class through United:
And through ANA:
And on ExpertFlyer:
However, here are the business-class award ticket results on Aeroplan’s normally reliable online search engine:
And here’s the first set of economy award ticket results:
As you can see, you’re being forced into flights on other carriers despite SWISS clearly having award inventory in both coach and business class on both flights.
When I first encountered this a few weeks ago, I called Aeroplan, assuming it was simply a website glitch, but the phone agents weren’t able to see the award space either. A supervisor indicated that their systems were having trouble communicating with SWISS’ systems, and she tried an old-school method to book the ticket known as a long or manual sell. Unfortunately, the flight came back unconfirmed, and there was nothing else to do.
I started digging into the issue a bit more and soon came to find that while SWISS is the newest airline not available using Aeroplan miles, it’s also not possible (or exceedingly difficult) to book award tickets for travel on the following Star Alliance carriers:
- Air China
As a result, this is especially hard-hitting for those of you wanting to redeem Aeroplan miles to Central or South America, as Copa and Avianca are the two main Star Alliance carriers in those regions. For example, let’s look at flights from the New York area to Bogota, Columbia on Tuesday, September 5. Both nonstop flights from New York (JFK) to Bogota (BOG) have availability in economy and business class for two award tickets on United’s website:
And through ExpertFlyer:
Aeroplan, meanwhile, shows nothing in economy:
And nothing in business class:
Like with SWISS, calling will do nothing, as the agents aren’t able to book these award tickets over the phone. Despite the inventory clearly being available, Aeroplan can’t access it.
This flies directly in the face of the program’s terms and conditions, which include the following verbiage related to flight rewards (emphasis mine):
“Fixed Mileage Flight Rewards are available on all eligible scheduled flights operated by Air Canada, Air Canada Express, Air Canada Rouge, Air Creebec, Bearskin Airlines, Calm Air, Canadian North, First Air and the Star Alliance member airlines.”
I reached out to the media relations department at Aimia, the parent company of Aeroplan, and I received the following response:
“We are aware of the situation affecting the availability of certain airline rewards for Aeroplan members and understand the disadvantages arising from this. We are working with all stakeholders, including Air Canada and partner airlines, to ensure that the situation is resolved quickly. The cause is linked to technical difficulties between the different inventory systems. We thank our members for their patience in the meantime.”
This rings completely hollow to me, as the SWISS problem has been going on for nearly a month now, and Copa flights have been hit or miss with Aeroplan since as early as 2014. If this truly is an IT issue, it is simply unacceptable to go on for months (or even years). The whole point of belonging to an alliance is that you’re able to earn and redeem miles across all member airlines. When a program prevents its members from doing so, whether deliberately or due to a failure in its systems, that’s shady at best and downright fraud at worst.
What can you do?
If you’re like me and sitting on a stash of Aeroplan miles yet unable to use them on your desired carriers, the best thing you can do is call…and call…and call. When the first agent with whom you speak can’t get you the flights you want, escalate to a supervisor. Explain what you’re trying to do and ask them to call the operating carrier directly to confirm the space. Make them spend the time investigating. Aeroplan has no incentive to try to resolve this issue when it isn’t impacting the company directly. If its call center is suddenly inundated with calls, taking phone representatives away from supporting other customers, it may begin to deal with the matter more urgently.
Another avenue to pursue is with American Express. The partnership between Membership Rewards and Aeroplan is lucrative for both companies, and if Amex hears that valued cardholders have transferred points to Aeroplan but are being prevented from using them, that could again spur some action.
We’ve seen instances of IT issues preventing award tickets from being issued in the past, but this is a completely different animal. Four of the 27 Star Alliance carriers cannot be booked using Aeroplan miles. If you’re keeping score, that’s roughly 15% of the alliance’s member airlines. This defeats the purpose of belonging to an alliance. Here’s hoping that Aeroplan resolves these “technical difficulties” soon, as this inability to book awards is a huge detriment to its members.
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