Last week Swiss made first class award space broadly available. Many people made their bookings via Aeroplan, and Swiss unilaterally cancelled the reservations.
This was not a mistake fare, members booked award tickets at the correct published price for the route and cabin.
Swiss doesn’t usually make inventory for these awards available to partner programs. However they sometimes do. For instance they offered the space to partner airlines in summer 2016 and again during winter 2017. In both cases they fully honored the bookings, as expected.
What Swiss seems to be saying is “we offered seats at regular price, but below the price we wanted to.” We didn’t mean to offer our least expensive saver award bucket, we only wanted to offer paid inventory. It’s like when hotels in Oregon were cancelling regular price reservations during the eclipse figuring they could re-sell the rooms for more money.
Last week Aeroplan said they weren’t pleased with the situation. Now they’ve offered a new statement which is basically “tough luck” or “Swiss is sticking it to us and there’s nothing we can do.”
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’ve asked why this time is different, and why Aeroplan seems to be singled out. I’ve also asked to confirm what seems to be the case, that they’ll simply waive change fees to rebook other awards or cancel free of charge rather than making additional award space available. I’ll update if they provide any additional information.
For US itineraries, the Department of Transportation no longer enforces its rules which are still in place requiring airlines to honor mistake fares. However this wasn’t a mistake fare and their guidelines do require an airline not honoring a fare to cover costs a passenger incurred in reliance on the fare. Any non-refundable bookings made should certainly be submitted for reimbursement.
However this case would make an interesting test of the new DOT. Award tickets are no different than paid tickets under DOT rules, though DOT itself admits it improperly ignores complaints involving frequent flyer programs.
As I say, these awards were not sold below their published price. They were sold at regular price. And consumers can’t know whether this was intentional or not because even know Aeroplan lets members know that Swiss doesn’t usually make these seats available, sometimes they do, and in the past when they have they’ve been honored. I don’t think this is quite over at least for some.