Hello Aeroplan, is anybody there?

Jan 28, 2020

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It’s no secret that Aeroplan is on the way out.

Aeroplan is Air Canada’s spun-off loyalty program. For years, you’ve been able to earn and redeem Aeroplan miles for Air Canada and Star Alliance flights. In fact, it’s often one of the best programs for booking reasonably priced biz- and first-class award tickets using Amex Membership Rewards points.

In 2017, Air Canada announced that it’d be launching its own frequent-flyer program, debuting this June. For a while, Aeroplan’s future was unclear, though the carrier made news when it decided to purchase the rewards program. Air Canada hasn’t announced exactly what’ll happen to Aeroplan come June, but based on my recent experience with the program’s call center, I hope its days are numbered.

(Photo by Ethan Steinberg / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Ethan Steinberg / The Points Guy)

Back in November, Air Canada transitioned to a new reservations system. Like most airline IT projects, it didn’t go well. The repercussions were still being felt a month later, when TPG staffers couldn’t complete award bookings or get in touch with phone agents.

The good news? The online booking engine has been operational for about a month. The bad? It’s still almost impossible to get hold of an agent.

While Aeroplan’s site is great for simple bookings, it struggles when things get more complex.

To book a mixed-cabin award ticket for a review of a new product, I proceeded to enter my departure and arrival airports on the site, but frustratingly, the site didn’t display the itinerary I wanted. This isn’t my first rodeo with the program’s search engine, so I immediately knew that I’d need to call an agent to book the itinerary manually.

So, I dialed Aeroplan and waited.

And waited.

And then I heard a ring. The agent chuckled when I answered with an audible “Oh my God!” After all, her computer showed that I’d waited three hours, two minutes and 23 seconds. With an average hold time of two to three hours, she’s used to callers being so excited to speak with her.

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When airlines have such long hold times, I usually try dialing an international call center. Unfortunately, the U.K. phone number just rings into the general queue, which routes calls to agents based in Montreal and Vancouver. I’ve also had luck dialing other airlines late at night or early in the morning, but Aeroplan’s only open for business between 7 a.m. and midnight ET.

As the agent proceeded to book my flights, she conceded that management’s definitely aware of the problem. Though employees typically work eight-hour shifts, she said they’ve been offered two to three times overtime pay to stay longer or work weekends. When asked if she feels more stressed, she said no. All agents still get their standard rest, she said: 40 minutes for lunch, and two 15-minute coffee breaks. (We have asked Air Canada for confirmation of those numbers. We have also asked what the airline foresees it will do with Aeroplan, but hadn’t heard back by publication time.)

After another 40 minutes on hold, it was time for me to (finally) give the credit card information. Instead of verbally giving the numbers, Aeroplan secures the phone line and asks customers to dial the card digits on the keypad. When the agent tried activating the secure line, she got an error — “request timed out” — since the line had been connected for too long. She needed to call me back, which scared me. What happened if she didn’t call back and I needed to wait another three hours?

Well, the return call came. Three hours and 50 minutes after first dialing, I finally had my flights booked. Before parting ways, I asked the agent about her perspective on Air Canada’s acquisition of Aeroplan. She’s planning on staying with the company, though looking forward to the sun setting on Aeroplan. I said I was, too.

Featured image by Zach Griff/The Points Guy

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