SWISS Tells Air Canada Frequent Flyers to Pound Sand on Award Bookings

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.

Credit: Swiss

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.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Every blogger out there says this was not a mistake fare, and I find it really annoying because it’s just their opinion and they are claiming they are right.
    My opinion is that this was a mistake fare.
    Btw I also have a Swiss F ticket booked through Aeroplan that got cancelled just like others, so I’m not saying this because I missed out.

  2. “This was not a mistake fare” -Gary

    “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” -Inigo Montoya

    That quote could apply both to the words “mistake” and “fare”. Regardless of your decree by fiat, award tickets ARE treated differently than paid tickets. They are governed by their T&Cs that give them wide latitude, so to call it a “fare” if a stretch.

    It was against their stated policy to make that space available. You all knew it when booking.
    They are saying it was a “mistake” to release that space.

    So yes it was a “mistake”, and unclear if it was a “fare”, so you have a pretty weak case. Don’t waste your time or energy. Move on.

  3. I thought a “fare” was a published price(cash or mileage currency) that was in accordance with published airline rules?
    Just because an airline doesn’t offer this particular “fare” very often does not make it a “mistake”.
    The only possible mistake was some coding knucklehead freeing up a bit of saver space when she’he should likely not have. Maybe eating this glitch might generate some, gasp, goodwill for Swiss/Aeroplan?
    I have no skin in this matter but it’s fun watching so many get bunched up over it:)

  4. The DOT has explicitly dealt with the issue of mistaken price award redemptions in the past (United HKG) and said that the award chart governs for determining a mistake.

    These tickets were booked at the correct fare and under the correct fare rules. Saying that Swiss didn’t intend to offer the space makes no sense either, since they’ve offered and honored it in the past. The DOT looks to whether consumers knew or should have known something was a mistake, and in this case consumers — even knowledgeable ones — had reason to believe this space would be offered on the same terms as the space Swiss offered in February and last June.

  5. What about the language that IS in the Aeroplan’s award information that LX F is NOT bookable?

    So the mistake is not in the “fare” but is in the “available” which is indeed a mistake and you all know that at booking…

    May be y’all should join and fund Matthew to sue Aeroplan….

  6. I can’t with this outrage over Swiss cancelling tickets that people booked , with most of them fully knowing they don’t offer first class award redemptions. People knew it was a glitch and just looking to pounce

  7. @FLL they say it’s not available, which is putting members on reasonable notice that it is not usually available, nowhere does it say it isn’t permitted — and in fact recently there are multiple times where it was both available and permitted.

  8. Such a way to twist words. Again, time to join Matthew to sue Aeroplan and get the award that is “permitted” to book despite the chart said it is not available to book…

    A glitch that you and other bloggers sent out big notice to pounce, knowing fully that should not have been. When things go back to what they SHOULD have been, you guys are just mincing words.

    Take some action, demand your right. May be you would finally get what you want despite not rightfully.

  9. I think people are lost on one fact. Wether or not it was a mistake fare or even if it should of not been able to of been booked doesn’t matter. The issue is with airlines CANCELLING tickets. It is setting a precedent that airlines can cancel tickets without merit. This whole argument isn’t about flying in Swiss F, its about the power airlines have with cancelling flights. There needs to be some regulation on how and when an airline cancel a flight. Im not a big fan of regulation but there needs to be something here to protect consumers. If airlines can cancel tickets without cause, then EVERYONE should be concerned. Wether you agree this was a mistake or not, you should agree that airlines need some rules in place about when and how they can cancel tickets.

  10. Well, I’ll never buy another first class ticket from Swiss again.

    No, really, I won’t

  11. It seems to me that it might be helpful to quote the actual language of the DOT’s decision with respect to abstaining from prosecution efforts of mistaken fares. It defines them as fares which are “substantially lower than the intended ticket price.” Whether or not this applies here depends on from whose perspective one asks the question. I think probably the correct answer is Aeroplan’s. Clearly, that seems like an easy answer, and the correct result would be to require Aeroplan to purchase the tickets and then seek relief from Swiss. But that ain’t going to happen. If the DOT were to take the position that the tickets were offered for less than SWISS intended, and thus decline to enforce section 399.88, that would undoubtedly not be an abuse of its discretion.

    But the other part of the DOT’s guidance that is arguably important is that the airline bears the burden of establishing that this is a mistake fare. It seems to me that Swiss is in potentially perilous position given that it does not appear to be cancelling tickets booked through other star alliance carriers. That makes it hard for Swiss to carry its burden with respect to a claim that the price was lower than intended. This is not legal advice but this would probably be something that I would focus on if I personally were in position to bring a DOT complaint. That said, I would have low expectations. I expect that DOT will roll over, and in fact I would think the issue of more importance to us all is whether we actually want DOT to rule here. I think there’s a good chance of making more bad precedent. The footnote that disclaims first class Swiss availability on Aeroplan’s website creates a potential problem. While there are lawyerly ways to get around it, in the end it is just the kind of thing for DOT to latch on to (like it did with respect to those who tried to buy United tickets from the US by saying they were in Denmark) to make more bad law that none of us wants.

  12. @Gary

    Other than what Swiss/Aeroplan “should” do, what is the bare minimum they are allowed to do? Keep in mind, these flights WILL be flown, we are essentially being denied boarding.

    Does cancelling award tickets (which haven’t yet been flown) fit into the category of EU261 (or another regulatory rule)? Does Aeroplan have any leverage to get partners to open up Business Class space?

    I still haven’t been contacted by Aeroplan, but assuming I will, I’d like to know what to expect other than whatever I can find on expertflyer.

  13. @FLL is spot on….

    “SWISS First Class is not available for reward travel.”

    It doesn’t say “not often available” or “not usually available” or “capacity restricted” – it plainly means you can’t book it.

    Also from the Aeroplan T&CS:

    “Aeroplan assumes no liability with respect to rewards claimed, and in particular, shall have no responsibility for the delay or failure to deliver rewards or for their cancellation, damage or defects. You agree that Aeroplan and any of its affiliates, subsidiaries or representatives are not responsible for, and you release us and them from any and all liability arising as a result of, any accident, loss, injury or damage caused by any rewards supplied or requested in connection with the Aeroplan Program.

    Aeroplan or its partners may refuse reward redemptions, reverse reward redemptions already claimed, or deduct miles from a member’s account where the redemption is based on an error in the mileage required for the redemption or an error in the amount of miles credited to an account, whether that error occurred through an act or omission of Aeroplan or one of its partners or suppliers. Each Aeroplan Member consents to the disclosure of the account information that is necessary or useful to achieve the reversal.”

    You win some, you lose some – suck it up and move on.

  14. Cool. Don’t fight it if you don’t want to. Personally I love a good fight. Just submitted an EU261 complaint form. 2 minutes work. We’ll see what they say and will proceed based on that.

  15. It doesn’t matter what USDOT says. The issue is whether EU Regulation 261/2004 applies to require compensation for denied boarding. Is Swiss an EU carrier? I’m not sure of the status of Switzerland in the EU, but I think they are covered. If so, the Regulation applies, as it covers the time after the reservation is accepted by the carrier.

    I would contact both the Swiss consumer protection authority, as well as Transport Canada.

    Any time you fly across the pond to an EU country, or anywhere within the EU, the EU regulation applies, regardless of the carrier. And any time you fly an EU carrier, the regulation applies. It requires significant compensation for denied boarding, for significant delay in a flight, and for misdirected luggage.

  16. The facts disprove the statement that Swiss first is not available, since it has been available multiple times in the past 18 months and bookable without issue. One might even argue they’re estopped from arguing otherwise..

  17. 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.

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