Award availability has been the Achilles’ heel of frequent flyer programs for some time. But in a remarkable change of pace, Air Canada announced this week that it would open *all* available seats on its flights to its Aeroplan members for point redemption by the end of the year. Already the airline claims to leave 15% of its seats open for frequent flyer redemptions.
The catch? As the flight date approaches, the number of miles required goes up, too. (Alternatively, I could imagine the price going up even earlier for heavily booked flights, but this is not part of the plan…) This parallels American and (soon) United, which both charge a fee for short-term redemptions. Air Canada has not announced the rates it will use for the short-term redemptions, but it claims that the Classic Rewards base schedule will remain as-is.
An all-seats-are-available-for-mileage-redemption policy already exists at the major US airlines, but at elevated (usually doubled) redemption rates. This is the “standard” award. So if Air Canada is allowing unlimited redemptions at “classic” award prices, then this is a HUGE enhancement.
This proves that airlines — even legacy carriers — *can* come up with innovative changes to their frequent flyer programs that don’t destroy the value of points. (And I’m not talking about United’s “Choices,” even though it’s gotten some tepidly positive press…) Joe Brancatelli’s interview with Steve Grosvald, one of the founding fathers of frequent flyer programs, suggests that rethinking of programs is afoot — but not always for the best. Grosvald advocates a program based on fare paid, not miles flown. But this would destroy the appeal of the frequent flyer game for me. Read the whole thing…
I hope Air Canada’s changes are real and positive. If they are for the better, then I hope they get some positive press south of the border. Other airlines might learn a thing or two about using their programs to increase customer satisfaction, and thus loyalty.