If so, you are in the right place! I was debating on whether I should write a post on this incident. After all, it involves first-class award redemption, something very few of my readers would care about. However, I believe the lessons apply to anyone who redeems miles, period. It’s a fascinating study in what exactly constitutes a breach of contract and if using miles is somehow different than spending cash.
To those who have no clue on what I’m talking about, let me give you a short recap. So, last week I started seeing a bunch of blog posts telling readers to hurry and redeem Aeroplan miles (Air Canada program) on Swiss first-class. I had no idea why it was such a big deal, so didn’t really pay much attention to the whole thing. Turns out, few days later Aeroplan started canceling the tickets and rebooking passengers on alternate flights, mostly in business class.
Apparently, first-class Swiss flights are normally not bookable via Aeroplan program and there is even an asterisk under their award chart indicating this. Swiss has refused to honor the tickets, so Aeroplan issued a statement that they had no choice but to rebook the passengers on other Star Alliance carriers. You can follow the whole saga in detail on Live and lets fly blog.
Was there a breach of contract?
Absolutely! The miles were redeemed and the tickets were issued. End of story. Many have compared this redemption to a mistake fare, where airlines have the right to cancel tickets that are sold for an unusually low price. I don’t follow the logic. The award seats were available and bookable on Aeroplan website.
Let me give you an illustration. You want to buy a certain type of bread in the grocery store. You look for it, but it’s nowhere to be found. You talk to the manager and he says that they don’t sell this type of bread. He even points to a specific policy on why they refuse to carry that brand. Few days later you go back to the store and lo and behold, the bread is sitting on a shelf.
You go to a checkout, pay for it and go home. The next day you get a call from the manager who tells you the bread should not have been sold and that it was a mistake. He demands you bring it back to the store where they will refund the money or give you another type of bread as a consolation prize. When you refuse to do so, he comes to your home and takes it anyway. He then goes on to remind you that they don’t sell that type of bread and that you shouldn’t have bought it.
There is a certain irony in the argument that people should not have redeemed miles on Swiss first-class because they knew it wasn’t supposed to be bookable. The fact that it was indeed bookable nullifies that argument. The price quoted online was correct (70k miles one-way), so there was no deception involved on the part of customers.
There are few recurring themes in the comments that I find fascinating:
1) You are using miles for a free flight, not paying cash. Get over yourself.
Miles are not free. They take time, energy and yes, money to accumulate. Besides, most people ended up transferring Membership Rewards to Aeroplan. I can’t imagine anyone arguing that MR points are not a tangible form of currency. You can redeem them on gift cards at 100:1 rate or transfer them to Plenti program. Plenti points can be used in Winn-Dixie for grocery purchases. And everyone has to eat, right?
Miles are also a real form of currency. You pay with miles to acquire flights, just like you would with cash. The fact that redeeming miles is a great deal when it comes to first-class seats is irrelevant. Airline programs set those rates. If they don’t like it, they can simply adjust the award chart. Until then, it’s fair game as long as the seat is bookable.
2) Why do you have to fly first-class anyway? You sound like an entitled jerk.
The question on why someone wants to fly first-class is irrelevant. It’s their miles and their business. Some have health conditions, others just like to fly in comfort. Going back to the post I’ve linked to, apparently Aeroplan has rebooked the author in business class (with an overnight connection) without partially refunding the miles. That’s unacceptable.
3) What’s the big deal with having to make a connection?
It doesn’t bother me as much to connect on the way to Europe, but not the other way around. By that point, my kids are generally exhausted and arriving home at midnight is less than ideal. That’s why I always look for non-stop flights from Europe to Florida. So yes, for me having a connection would be a deal breaker. Plus, some people have very little vacation time, and need to be back at work the following day (usually the case with my husband).
What should Aeroplan do?
For one, I think they need to reach out to each customer affected by this debacle. So far, many report being automatically rebooked on less than ideal itinerary in business class. Speaking of, why are they not refunding the difference in miles? Do they really think the customers won’t notice? My guess is they count on the fact that some will simply let it go. I sure wouldn’t.
I don’t know how much leverage Aeroplan has with Swiss but surely, they can come up with some sort of a compromise. I think rebooking people in Swiss business class instead is reasonable. It goes without saying that they should also refund the difference in miles when doing so.
If this solution is not acceptable to the customer, Aeroplan should reverse the transfer to Membership Rewards. They can make it happen in extreme circumstances, and this one definitely falls in that category. Most people don’t have Aeroplan miles just sitting around. So, they chose to part with their highly valuable and flexible Membership Rewards points for the purpose of this redemption. The least Aeroplan can do is reverse the transfer.
Some are saying that Aeroplan should simply buy revenue first-class tickets on Swiss flights, which cost as much as $10k. I don’t know if punishment fits the crime in this case, but it’s their right to pursue this type of outcome. Remember, this is a business transaction. Miles are not free and airline programs are not doing you any favors by letting you redeem them.
Besides, some people have made non-refundable reservations after booking their Swiss tickets, which really puts them in a tough spot. Either way, I think Aeroplan and Swiss need to come up with an arrangement that would be acceptable to everyone who has been affected.
What should you do?
If you feel you’ve been wronged by an airline, bank or any other business entity, you have the right to pursue legal action. I had an issue where I felt there was a breach of contract, so I contacted a lawyer. I can’t really discuss any specifics of the case, but it was definitely the right course of action.
If you are in the same spot, I recommend you check with a lawyer as well. Initial consultation is free, and many will work out an arrangement where they get paid only when you get paid. I recommend Alex Darr and you can email him at darr
Readers, what do you think of this debacle? Who is in the right?
Leana is the founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.