The impact of banks on award routing – the case of Aeroplan

Last week reader David made this really interesting comment which highlights the role of the bank in the recent Aeroplan changes. A very interesting read and I think it deserves to have its own entry.

Well it's not all come out in the press, but the single largest contributor to miles in Canada, for Aeroplan, is the CIBC Visa card. Users, such as myself, have always complained about Aeroplan in terms of difficulty getting access to flights and awkward routings. When the discussion to move to another bank came up this spring it turned out that CIBC, which underwrites a lot of the cost of getting flights and other loyalty awards, purchases the awards from the parent company, Aimia, and then doles out the rewards. It appeared from the articles I read that CIBC was deliberately trying to spend less or purchase fewer miles from Aimia. Therefore the booking engine Aeroplan users log into would give less expensive options (e.g., a business class flight with a domestic leg in biz and the long haul in economy but the flier would have to ante up points as though the whole trip was business–this benefits CIBC and gouges the user, etc.). If online forums are anything to go by, many people were dumping Aeroplan for RBC Avion (which allows online booking or transfers to BA or Cathay). The CIBC Aeroplan credit card accounts for half of CIBC's credit card business, so it's a big deal. Aimia went ahead and made changes to the Aeroplan system to (in theory) better reward high mileage earners. Then they said to CIBC "meet these demands." The date for the contract with CIBC expired in early August, and Aimia announced a TDCT partnership, but CIBC wants to hang on to customers that have a non-credit card bank relationship, so as I write this today we're still in the dark how it will all play out.

Thanks David!