Swiss Cancels Aeroplan First Class Tickets

Early last week Swiss first class award availability was bookable using Star Alliance miles. While Swiss released a ton of first class award availability until 2013, starting then they began restricting first class award availability to elite members of the Miles & More program, which makes it one of the most restrictive first class products out there to score on miles — but not impossible.

Some people started having issues with their tickets displaying on the Swiss site, which led to speculation that Swiss might be trying to cancel the tickets. This put partner programs like Aeroplan in a tough spot, as clearly they acted in good faith when issuing the tickets, but are somewhat limited in what they can do to fix this if Swiss decides to violate their agreements.

Today Aeroplan has released a further statement:

A small number of first class bookings were made using Aeroplan miles on SWISS; those bookings should not have been possible, as we know SWISS policy does not make its first class seats available to Star Alliance partners.

Those bookings were subsequently cancelled, though not by Aeroplan. However, we and our partner Air Canada are working to quickly assist our affected members in line with our regular process.

Over the next few days, our agents will be contacting each member to personally arrange first or business class redemptions on another Star Alliance carrier or to reinstate miles free of charge.

We apologize for the inconvenience that this has caused, and will work with Air Canada and SWISS to ensure that our members do not encounter similar issues in the future.

I have (more than) a few issues with this statement

Firstly, it seems to only be Aeroplan bookings that are impacted. These flights were bookable through other Star Alliance partners as well, and I haven’t heard of any of those tickets being canceled (though if yours have, please let us know).

Secondly, I absolutely contest the thought that “those bookings should not have been possible”. The key issue here, and what differentiates this from “mistake fares” is that Aeroplan publishes a price for first class award tickets, Swiss released inventory into that bucket, taxes were collected and tickets were properly issued at the published rates.

It’s also worth reiterating that Swiss similarly released award availability last year, and both Ben and I managed to book and fly (separately) on those tickets. It’s not like Swiss first was available at the economy price, or that any shenanigans were involved in booking, or really anything that would suggest this was an error to a consumer.

Sometimes Singapore releases premium cabin space to Star Alliance partners on random routes or dates. Occasionally Lufthansa will make first class available to partners more than 14 days in advance. If those carriers are making that inventory available, is it really the responsibility of the partner programs to confirm the carrier in question actually intended to follow the participation agreements?

It seems a bit like not getting a birthday card for your partner for a few years, and then showing up with balloons one year. It’d be suspicious, but would it be a mistake?

So I’m sure someone at Aeroplan was told that these bookings “should not have been possible,” but that really shouldn’t be the company line here.

The communication from Aeroplan is sorely lacking

If there were potential issues with these tickets, Aeroplan should have let passengers know immediately. Instead Aeroplan is making statements through their PR people, and many passengers still haven’t been notified.

Ben booked one of these tickets for himself and Ford, and there hasn’t been so much as a pop-up announcement that there might be an issue with the flights, much less an email or phone call. But if I take it upon myself to pull up the PNR, their first class flights now show in economy:

That really seems like something that might merit some information sharing, doesn’t it?

The proposed alternatives are unacceptable

Aeroplan’s statement suggests two options for their impacted passengers:

  1. Alternative “first or business class redemptions on another Star Alliance carrier”
  2. Miles reinstated free of charge

Neither of those are going to work.

Unless Aeroplan has some amazing leverage, I don’t see how they’re going to get United and Lufthansa to open up first class award space. They might be able to get Air Canada to help them out with business class options, but Air Canada business class is a far, far, far, far, far, far, far cry from first.

Reinstating the miles hardly makes up for not having flights, especially as it’s been well over a week, and people have reasonably made hotel reservations and such. And people may have transferred points over from American Express, which further complicates the refund situation.

Aeroplan has policies for handling this correctly, and should follow them

Despite everyone’s best efforts, sometimes partner airlines don’t fully confirm tickets. This used to be a constant problem with Air China tickets issued by Aeroplan — miles would be deducted, fees would be paid, eTickets would be issued, and then a few hours later Air China’s computers would bounce the request back. (Note, that didn’t happen in this case).

But whenever that would happen, Aeroplan was amazing at pushing back with Air China until the inventory that had been published was restored, and the tickets were fully confirmed. In cases where Air China wouldn’t honor the ticket, Aeroplan would still honor their tickets. I know of several instances where Aeroplan purchased first and business class tickets on Air China for their members, so they could fly as agreed to.

Now, that’s a solution that obviously sucks for Aeroplan, but that is what would be customary and reasonable in this situation.

Bottom line

I don’t have a ticket booked this time, so don’t have a dog in the fight other than thinking it’s reasonable for consumers to be able to purchase available inventory at normally published prices. And I don’t follow the logic being used by Swiss here.

I also think Aeroplan needs to seriously re-evaluate their communication strategy on this, as it’s not the responsibility of miles and points blogs to inform Aeroplan customers about changes to their tickets.

If you have one of these tickets, I would prepare to file a DOT complaint (we’ll have more information about that tomorrow), and continue holding off on making non-refundable plans just in case.

Has anyone who booked Swiss F through a non-Aeroplan partner heard anything?

Comments

  1. Have not heard anything directly from them. Called them a few times over the past few times and each time they offered me to book something else or refund. I let them know neither was acceptable. Filed a DOT claim yesterday, however my flight was scheduled for 3 weeks from now which means it likely wont be resolved by then.

  2. You and Ben and all the other bloggers should stop giving free coverage to swiss until they stop their childish behavior and at least have a F award policy like LH.

  3. Aeroplan lawyers are going to say that the footnote at the bottom of the award chart indicates that there is no award pricing for Swiss F and that whatever miles were collected were not fair market value price.

    Aeroplan seems to have been steamrolled by Swiss here. They are in every right to push back and tell them to either honor these tickets or deal with the customers themselves (and subsequent DOT complaints, etc) but for some reason they are rolling over. I’m suspecting that there is some language within the star alliance agreements that Swiss is pointing to saying the marketing carrier is responsible for not displaying F awards.

  4. Come on, everybody should have seen this coming from far, far, far, far, far, far, far away.

    It was said from the git-go this May or May not be a mistake fare. Initial issues the day of should’ve been another clear indicator that this was going to happen.

    Sure it’s disappoitning but they’re not keeping the miles, or going through the trouble to find a substitute (which nobody is obligated to take.) There’s really no harm done.

  5. Aeroplan is very clear that Swiss F is not available for redemption. While not a mistake fare in the sense of being priced correctly, it was still a mistake that partner program had access to F inventory, and, barring the inexcusably long delay in notifying those with cancelled tickets, it’s perfectly reasonable that for LX to cancel them

  6. I know that Singapore Airlines’ award chart actually does prohibit LX F awards and explicitly writes it, as well. I don’t know of other Star Alliance members that have written policies like that, though.

  7. Pathetic response by Aeroplan and Swiss. Could they have really booked that many award tickets that they couldn’t have honoured these? Funny enough, I was planning a trip to Beijing two nights ago when I noticed first class availability from JFK to PEK via ZRH on Swiss through Aeroplan. Clearly someone didn’t get the memo..

  8. If it is only a few customers who booked these tickets as per Aeroplan, they should give those 70K points to everyone as a compensation as people have booked other travel plans. even if it is 100 customers, it is 7 million AP points only. AP boasts of billions of points in bank! this will be a drop in the bucket and AP comes out as a nice company helping their image and stock price!

    Not honouring the ticket, no communication for a almost a week and just washing your hands off is actually hurting AP’ brand image. They offered me 2500 points as a compensation!!

    This is where a truly customer focused company differentiates themselves from others.

  9. I don’t know where the blocking is done to implement the asterisk that these awards should not be bookable outside of Swiss but it apparently failed (maybe some code migration wiped out the block). In any case, since the policy is documented that it is not allowed (in the award chart), just because the system was in error to allow it does not mean you have a right to keep it. The error was detected quickly and is being resolved fairly I think.

  10. Love how when the customer makes a mistake they pay a penalty with no waiver no favors
    When the airlines and their partners make a mistake the customer pays with the loss of their entire travel plans and related time and expense
    I didn’t book a ticket but will stay far away from Swiss revenue or award

  11. I received a call from Areoplane supervisor today regarding my 2 first class tickets. They pretty much gave me the same options you mentioned above. They blamed the agent that booked the ticket for me saying “ he should have known better” the options they gave me either business on swiss, Turkish business or Air China First!! Pretty much what’s available online. She said there is no way they will buy me a revenue First class ticket on Swiss. Personally I dont have time to go out and fight them.

  12. We need better policies for mistakes whether it is mistake fares or mistake fare buckets. The DOT policy of allowing airlines to cancel tickets booked after the fact is not fair to consumers and not working.

  13. As of now my Aeroplan STILL shows the tickets as TICKETED and First Class (O). I’m assuming that will change (since the itinerary was cancelled by Swiss when I check their site). How has this still not been communicated a full week later?

    Assuming I’m out of luck, what can we reasonably ask of them. Is it reasonable to expect them to get Lufthansa or Singapore to open up first (with change of departure airport)? Or booking a revenue ticket (first)? Or at very least negotiating BIZ award space with Swiss (on more ideal flight that DOESNT show availability)? Or a Biz revenue ticket?

    Would love to know what luck others are having.

    What is the value proposition of using a program that has zero leverage with partners? Is anyone at Aeroplan thinking about that?

  14. Tiffany, nice article and I do like your emphatic tone. But “those bookings should not have been possible” legally says quite a bit. It says: “We are nice Canadians and there was a glitch.” And one suspects (as read elsewhere) DOT has nothing to do with this if the booking was made via a Canadian airline on a non-US airline. So they are furiously backpedaling and scrambling for time in order to assuage angry ppl who aren’t going to fly free first class flights on Swiss.

  15. Don’t see why you all annoyed. Swiss has a good policy to keep all the credit card churning free loaders out of first and let real flyers use miles to book flights. Good on Swiss I say

  16. @Steven M – They weren’t free. People didn’t get to book these for 0 miles. By the way I didn’t book one of these so I have no skin in the game.

  17. Air China First? No thanks. I wonder if Aeroplan will just reverse transfer from AMEX MR. No need for these games with Aeroplan/Swiss. Waste of time.

  18. so nice that swiss air can blame aeroplan for their own mistake: aeroplan, you shld hv known better
    …we do not release first class tickets..to you.

    then aeroplan, now says – you shld hv known better. there is no swiss air F award. its a mistake all along.

    this is what happens when airlines know they can get away with any mistakes they make, after the DoT rule change.

    swiss air is more than happy to exploit it. it is now everyone else fault but theirs.

  19. @Bill Landry – Yes, you are right. Having an award ticket cancelled is exactly like being sexually harassed. Wait, what?!

    Even as a joke that is in poor taste and is completely insensitive to all the people that have been harassed.

  20. with respect to whether the DOT has anything to do about this, since the flights touch US soil I would expect that is enough for them to have some say, even though it is Aeroplan/Swiss

  21. what bothers me more than anything else is the typical arrogance of Swiss in this entire fiasco. Yes, a mistake occurred. Can they not display a better attitude from a PR standpoint toward the Alliance and the Alliance partner involved in helping assuage disgruntled loyal customers and promoting their own brand? Obviously not!

    However, this is not surprising. I don’t fly on award miles; I fly in F on revenue tickets; I am an LH HON member, and yet Swiss could not care less whenever I end up flying LX and not LH! This arrogance is consistent with their attitude in the way they treat guests at their lounges, during Elite Status Pre-boarding of flights and in terms of recognizing one’s loyalty or status on the flight!

    Good luck all.

  22. Legally, Aeroplan wouldn’t be able to enforce these reservations unless they paid for the seats. Following the last Swiss F award ‘mistake’ I understand that Swiss reinforced this with all the star alliance partners – any F award space will be a glitch and shouldn’t be offered, booked or confirmed. They don’t have any leverage with Swiss and they’ll be out of business when the AC program starts in a couple of years. They simply can’t afford to buy the seats, and I don’t see that they have any other option (except for going broke two years earlier) than to apologize and do their best to find alternatives and offer refunds. AC will probably help them out, but you’re correct that it’s not Swiss F (other than the lounges, AC J is so much better)

  23. LMAO about all that whining! Everyone here knew what he/she was doing when booking these tickets. About every single travel blog trumpetted the glitch, often advising its readers to “act quick” or similar. Why would one need to “act quick” if all was regular, no mistake involved then?

    Maybe I have mercy with John Doe, who isn’t much into miles and points, and was coincidentally searching for an award-flight while the glitch lasted. But readers of this and other frequent flyer blogs, they knew and know better. Just admit you lost this time, so what? Life goes on. I bet Aeroplan won’t give a **** about it, as it will disband with AC anyway. Also SWISS won’t care about a few pax that were not supposed to be on board for the price paid anyway.

  24. I only found out by accident that my first class ticket was cancelled…it was for Dec 19 and now im stuck not able to get where I need to be, and have a return ticket from a place that i can’t get to. Some of you say it’s whining – well, when your ailing mother lives half-way across the world and has a heart condition and I need to get there for her operation and suddenly no other possibility but spending thousands of dollars to get there i don’t see that as whining. This is a real life problem that impacts real people. I had a contract with Aeroplan and they broke it – they need to fix it. None of the options they gave me works and a simple refund doesnt begin to address the harm that they caused. So before you go an laugh at those of us who booked a seat in good faith and paid for it in full – ask yourself how would you react in my situation? I’m now stuck thousands of dollars for having been proactive and planned ahead and Aeroplan didnt have the courtesy to even let me know that they cancelled a portion of my ticket. Instead of going to ZRH im now stuck in SFO, thousands of miles from home, and they don’t give a F about it or anyone else.

  25. There is a lot of misplaced outrage here. Swiss has a well-known policy. For whatever reason, that policy was not followed, setting off a frenzy of speculation and booking activity that was all caveated with “it might not be honored” language. The fact that what was essentially a gamble was not honored, disappointing a bunch of folks who thought they had a sure winner, does not justify all of the righteousness. Aeroplan did a poor job of communicating with its customers. Aeropan failed to query Swiss about what was going on when the availability started showing up. If folks are truly out of pocket with other non-refundable costs incurred in reliance on this gamble, then Aeroplan should make them whole — and establish a mechanism to flag odd availability that does not appear to comply with its partners’ policies, in order to avoid this kind of a situation in the future. Everyone should have expected this outcome from Swiss, which does not want award travelers (other than its own vaunted HON Circle fliers) rubbing elbows with paying passengers in F. Perhaps it’s that elitist approach that offends everyone so much….

  26. In addition to a DOT complaint, I wonder how the EU regulations about cancelled flights might apply here as well?

    Particularly for people with flights in the next couple of weeks, I would think that Swiss would be obligated to honor the tickets or pay compensation under EU law.

  27. Hasn’t Lucky been posting on this topic as well? I’m confused on the two authors on the same subject approach. He most certainly has a dog in the fight here, is he going to continue giving his play by play on how his tickets turn out?

  28. @Mike
    this is Lucky’s blog with guest bloggers posting & Tiffany (this is her article) is a “household” name on here. It’s always nice and refreshing to read her opinions, even if they look similar to what was already said 🙂

    I bet there will be updates on this subject on here as soon as any news are available.

    On this matter, you may want to also follow Matt’s blog (Lucky’s friend; http://liveandletsfly.boardingarea.com/). If you wish to of course.

    He actually “purchased” these tickets and is about to file a complaint to DOT. His latest Tweet: “I’m outraged by Aeroplan’s latest statement on the canceled SWISS first class award tickets. Full coverage tomorrow on the blog including a guide to filing a DOT complaint.”

  29. A contract is a contract and I don’t think Aeroplan should be allowed to unilaterally cancel the contract. Problem is, who’s willing to fight it. Maybe Matt at LALF is…
    I’d be careful to blame Swiss though – none of us know what happened. Maybe Swiss released it by mistake, told the partners, but Aeroplan failed to respond and update their inventory, resulting in bookings after Swiss told them about the mistake. From other blogs it sounds like tickets booked via UAMP/LHMM have not been cancelled, so this might be an Aeroplan problem. Ultimately, who ever is in this unfortunate situation has a contract with Aeroplan and that’s who they need to deal with…

  30. I’m Senator member with Swiss, so I can book award flights in first.
    However, I cannot book them using the Miles & More site, I have to call to do so.
    I wonder how the inventory ended up on other booking sites and who made the error.

    As for people claiming it should be reimbursed under EU261: this applies only if the flight has been cancelled or delayed or if boarding has been denied. It’s not in effect when the ticket has been cancelled in advance.

  31. SWISS are the most pig-headed airline around.
    I arrived (according to them) late for check in.
    They claimed it was ‘late’.
    The fact was, the agent handed us the boarding passes.
    When we asked him, what about the check in luggage, which he had not noticed, he had to type around on his computer for a few minutes, and then decided it was now too late.
    SWISS claim minimum check in time at LHR is 45 minutes, we were in the queue (Business class) at least an hour before, perhaps 5 minutes passed queueing, another 5 while he handed us the boarding passes the first time, and another five when he typed around, trying to add bags which he did not notice.
    They then claim, we were late!
    They denied us boarding.
    3x Business class tickets down the drain.
    Had to rebook on EK.
    We are now suing them in UK court.
    The other airlines I’ve had issues with (BA,EK,EY) have not behaved in this way. They at least want to offer a solution.
    SWISS are in cloud 9

  32. Just read on FT that at least two people have had their complaints acknowledged by the DOT. One filed against AC and one filed against SWISS, both complaints were expanded by the DOT to include BOTH airlines.

  33. And will I have the privilege of paying AC’s high taxes on my rebooked flights as well? I’m going to have to buy ad least one revenue C ticket to replace one of my F bookings…

  34. @AE, your whining is pretty unbelievable given that Aeroplan is offering solutions (flights on alternate airlines) that will get you where you need to go. I understand people being upset that this isn’t being honored, but the claim that it’s preventing you from seeing your sick mother is a load of nonsense – if that’s what you were really concerned about, then the level of quality of the premium class product that would take you to see her probably wouldn’t be your first concern.

  35. @David, you wrote what I was thinking. I don’t get why AE has to fly first on points to get to his ailing mother. Perhaps there’s a good reason for this which AE didn’t mention but surely there are other flights Aeroplan could arrange for out of SFO to get where he needs to go…

  36. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve made an award booking with UA only to have the flights come back “unconfirmed” some time later, and UA being unwilling to resolve my issue. I’m a 17 year, 2mm 1K BTW, and until recently they’ve taken the approach of “good luck with that, not our fault” every time it happened.

    Most recently, we obtained a biz award NYC-BRU-KGL for a safari we’re taking in December. After 4 months of being ticketed, I randomly checked my flights and found that the BRU-KGL flight was missing. UA was adamant that they couldn’t do anything (including telling me the flight was no longer operating), but with an escalation I found the supervisors now much more willing to go the extra mile to resolve my issue and not strand us without transport.

    So I’m happy with the result (original flights restored), but it took weeks of work and multiple calls. Had I not been as persistent or knowledgeable, I think this would have ended differently.

    Summary: airlines can weasel out of just about anything when they want to and award snafus are unfortunately quite common.

  37. O class bookings always show up as “Economy” when you pull up the PNR on AC.com. That’s not a sign of anything.

  38. K9, they were much the same in their Swissair days. I remember going through Heathrow en route to Zurich and the check in help were, in a word, incompetent. They didn’t know what an E-ticket was and sent me to another desk, where the agent said that they were being “bad boys,” and sent me back. Where I had to cut into line. And tick off the other customers. And educate those toads on what an E-ticket was, which they knew. Ugh. The only saving grace was that the plane was an hour late departing so I didn’t miss it.

    Sorry to see that little has changed from those days.

  39. Aeroplan is definitely one of the worst. For this and also they blocked redemption availability from 4 airlines with no or low surcharges and force you to book with the partners charge you a lot more. Took them long time to fix what they called system glitch, Avianca is still not bookable, almost 9 months, really take that long to fix. They deserved to be dumped by Air Canada.

  40. For folks like Matt from Live and Let’s Fly, there are great reasons to legally follow up on all his available options, but for the average Joe reader it will be incredibly difficult to gain anything from this fiasco without in the end losing money.

    I think the biggest lessons we can learn are 1) Earn and redeem on the same airline to maximize stability (at the cost of availability) and 2) Earn and redeem on partner airlines at pricing and patterns that have a long history of stability and follow-through.

    Sorry to hear about the folks who got burned.

  41. @David, your level of understanding of how life works is quite sad. I never said that this Aeroplan debacle will prevent me from going to see my mother who needs a heart operation – said it will now cost me thousands of dollars more because of this. Whether you believe this or not isnt my problem – clearly you’re just heartless troll who gets kicks of kicking people when their down.
    I did rebook today, going one day earlier, travelling with two more stops, new hotels reservations, and leaving from a city far away from home to which I needed to buy a separate ticket. In all it cost me well in excess of $1000 more because Aeroplan failed to notify and rebook me right away – instead they waited a week until my original options were all gone, including taking that same flight in economy. At the end ill take my lumps because I have no choice – but the worst part about this experience is knowing there are people like you out there who troll the web looking to insult and denigrate people for no reason.

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