Air Canada Offers More Frequent Flyer Award Seats

The headline of the latest Air Canada news release is an attention-getter: "Air Canada Offers 250,000 More Seats for Aeroplan Members."

More award seats for frequent flyer program members, great! That's what I have been expecting (because airlines have more empty seats), and calling for (because it's good for consumers).

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But there may be less to this act of purported generosity than meets the eye.

The additional seats will be dispersed between mid-April and December 13, a period of about eight months. We know Air Canada operates roughly 1,400 flights per day. So during that eight-month period, there will be around 336,000 flights on which Aeroplan members might want to book award travel.

Bottom line: If the 250,000 additional award seats were spread evenly over those 336,000 flights, it would amount to about three-quarters of one seat per flight.

Another way to look at it: In 2008, according to Air Canada's release, Aeroplan gave away "more than 1.5 million round-trip flights on Air Canada and Star Alliance carriers." Let's assume the great majority of those award trips comprised two flights, in which case those 1.5 million round-trips amounted to giving away 3 million seats. So during eight months, they would have given away approximately 2 million seats. And if 90 percent of the awards were on Air Canada, rather than Aeroplan's other airline partners, that would be 1.8 million seats.

Adding 250,000 seats would be a 14 percent increase over last year's 1.8 million. That certainly seems more impressive than an improvement of less than one award seat per flight.

So, is this a cheap publicity stunt, or a significant (albeit temporary) program enhancement? Unfortunately, the numbers alone don't settle the matter definitively. The true benefit to Aeroplan members will depend on how those extra seats are divvied up. Adding seats to flights that are flying half empty makes for good PR spin but does program members little good. If, on the other hand, the extra seats make it measurably easier to book more popular flights, then the promotion could be a real win for consumers.

For a final verdict, we'll check back with Aeroplan members in a few months.

Read comments or add your own insight!
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