Lucre and larceny

If ever a frequent flyer program has been rendered useless, it has to be Aeroplan. As a member since 1984, the year of the plan’s inception, I used to be able to save points for three or four years and use them for two business class seats that required 60,000, and later 80,000, points per person. In that way, over the years we’ve flown business class on Air Canada to Los Angeles, London and Florence via Frankfurt.

Compared to traveling in steerage, going business class really was a reward for my loyalty to the carrier. With wider seats, better service, quality food and wines, it was the good life.

Air Canada has changed the system so that you can’t possibly choose to use your points in anything like the same luxurious way. I’ve accumulated 234,000 points and set out last month to book two business class seats to Florence this fall. Aeroplan’s online system allows you to select flights in various levels of availability as well as scout alternate destinations in other countries. All this is just so much window dressing. After noodling around for a few hours on several occasions, I discovered that the only business class seats to any European destination in the three-month period September through November will cost at least 460,000 points for two tickets.

Aeroplan claims that more seats are being added all the time but you can’t prove it by me. I’ve been back to the site half a dozen times and nothing has changed.

Frequent flyer programs no longer exist to reward customer loyalty, they continue only because they’ve become a major source of revenue for the airlines. Air Canada spun off Aeroplan into an income trust with an initial valuation of $2 billion earned from selling points to credit card operators, phone companies and hotel chains who, in turn, hand them out to their customers. Since cashing in has become more problematic, those collected points tend to remain unused.

Add the cost of personal items pilfered from our luggage in recent years, and customer loyalty has been twisted into lucre for the airlines and larceny by baggage-handlers.

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