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What you need to know about COVID-19: September 18, 2020
As airlines struggle amid flight and travel restrictions and a significant loss of customers due to the coronavirus pandemic, Canada’s largest carrier is relaunching its loyalty program with shared benefits between family members, waived fees and other perks aimed at winning over wary customers starting this winter.
Air Canada’s new Aeroplan points system will be rolled out Nov. 8. And although the overhaul was contemplated before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in March, chief executive Calin Rovinescu said in a statement Tuesday that the new program — which replaces Aeroplan Miles — is “more important than ever as airlines compete to earn and retain customer loyalty in a rapidly changing environment.”
Under the new program, members will be able to redeem points to purchase any Air Canada seat that is available for sale — with no restrictions and no cash charges for traditional add-ons such as fuel surcharges, though taxes and third-party fees will still apply.
Another feature of the new program is the option to combine points with up to eight family members for free.
Members of the current loyalty program will be switched to the new points program with all miles earned automatically honoured as points on a one-to-one basis. The number of points needed for rewards under the new program will be based on actual prices in the market, the airline said, with a Points Predictor Tool giving an estimated range of Aeroplan points needed for flight rewards on Air Canada. It will generate a fixed amount of points needed for rewards with the Canadian carrier’s airline partners.
Another feature of the new program is the option to combine points with up to eight family members for free, and if there is one credit-card holder or Elite Status member in the group, all family members in that group benefit from their preferred pricing. Under the current program, according to Aeroplan’s website, miles can be transferred from one member’s account to another for two cents per mile.
Air Canada said the latest iteration of the rewards program will be more personalized and flexible and easier to use. In addition to promising improvements in the predictability of pricing, it is beefing up credit card benefits, adding partners and improving redemptions for travel extras such as upgrades and in-flight wi-fi. Merchandise rewards will be expanded to include electronics and housewares.
In addition, a more “integrated experience” will allow members to search and redeem flight rewards on Air Canada and its 35 partner airlines through its website or mobile app, the company said in Tuesday’s statement.
The Canadian carrier said it benchmarked perks of the new program — billed as the first such scheme “built for families, with points and benefits sharing” — against loyalty and frequent flyer programs from around the world, and also believes it offers “better value for Aeroplan credit card holders redeeming flights on Air Canada than the value provided by major Canadian bank travel programs.”
Air Canada has a long and convoluted history with its rewards program, first launched in 1984. Management of the program was spun off to a separate company in 2008 and the airline later announced plans to cut ties and launch its own rewards program in 2017. But in 2018, Air Canada instead bought Aeroplan back in partnership with two large Canadian banks, Toronto-Dominion Bank and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, and Visa Canada. American Express Canada also has a credit card partnership with Air Canada and Aeroplan.
“Air Canada promised an outstanding new Aeroplan that would be among the best travel loyalty programs in the world, and we are fulfilling that promise,” Rovinescu said in Tuesday’s statement.
During the pandemic, Air Canada and its CEO have ruffled some feathers. The airline faced a backlash from some customers when it offered time-limited vouchers for non-refundable tickets on flights cancelled due to the pandemic, rather than cashing in tickets as some international airlines have done. The Montreal-based carrier ultimately offered vouchers that can be used without time restriction, and also offered to exchange tickets for Aeroplan rewards miles.
In late June, it was reported that the U.S. Department of Transportation had received more refund complaints from Air Canada customers in April than any other non-U.S. airline.
Rovinescu has been vocal in calling on the federal government to loosen pandemic-related travel restrictions to improve “catastrophic” financial conditions faced by the airlines. In an exclusive interview with the Financial Post in June, he called for the creation of “safe corridors” with countries that have controlled the spread of COVID-19, as well as an end to mandatory 14-day quarantine periods for returning travellers, which he referred to as “the cold shower” on business travel.
Doug Taylor, managing director of technology and aerospace in the equity research department of Canaccord Genuity, said he doesn’t expect much impact from the re-launched loyalty program, which has long been in the works.
“I think loyalty is likely far down the list of reasons people are making decisions about flying at this point,” Taylor told the Post.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020