Air Canada is launching Altitude as a revamp of its frequent flyer program starting in 2013. This move marks the first significant changes since the Top Tier program was introduced a decade ago. The new program takes effect March 1, 2013 when the new program year begins. Qualification for the initial program year will be based on activity in the 2012 calendar year. That means the announced changes affect customers who have been flying with Air Canada the past 9.5 months. At least they have 2.5 months left to change their behavior if the new program isn’t to their liking. Not ideal, but better than nothing. And better than what most programs have offered recently.
As for what the changes are, there are many. For starters, the move adds new tiers to the program. There will now be five elite levels:
Perhaps the most significant change is that the Elite 35K level will no longer receive Star Alliance Gold status. That means no more free lounge access on all trips, no more extra baggage allowance, no more priority baggage handling and other benefits being lost. Members at this level will retain access to "select Maple Leaf Lounges located in the domestic and transborder departure zones of Canadian airports, along with those in Los Angeles and New York, LaGuardia." In their FAQ the company states that the change brings the carrier in line with "most other global frequent flyer programs" at the 50K qualification level for full lounge access. They also indicate that they simply have too many elites at the 35K level to be able to provide the service to manageable standards.
The 50K level effectively replaces the 35K level from previous years. The 75K level is similar to 50K but with the option to receive more eUpgrade credits and higher bonus flight miles, among other things. The bundles of options available are nice, allowing members to pick and choose the benefits which matter most to them, though compared to other carriers the total number of options available is rather lower in many cases.
As for upgrade credits, the earning rates appear to have dropped a bit for top-tier members. That’s not going to be a particularly welcome change (the chart is much taller but I can only capture so much on screen; click it to see more):
That said, for customers who fly 200,000 status miles or more the number of upgrade certs appears to be increasing. Similar to the lounge issue at 35K, the company appears to be focused on rewarding the passengers who fly more with greater benefits.
In some ways this is a classic example of the "rich getting richer" in terms of loyalty program benefits. There are definitely drawbacks, particularly at the 35K level. Although they haven’t had a C-level executive come out and say it, the changes seem to mesh with those made by United in the 2012 program year where the CFO suggested some elites were "over entitled" in terms of benefits being delivered. Not what the person who flew 35K miles on AC wants to hear, but it is likely the answer the business has to the situation.
There are a couple small positive changes mixed in with mostly negative ones, particularly at the 35K level and, to a lesser extent, at the 100K level. It could have been worse. Could have been better, too, but definitely could have been worse.
- Yet another "not all elites really are" moment
- Broader fuel surcharges coming to Aeroplan
- Aeroplan to require Air Canada travel for status
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