After receiving a disingenuous and dishonest response from SWISS earlier today over my DOT complaint, I’ve now composed a response that I hope will be addressed line-by-line. I won’t hold my breath…
It took self-discipline to refrain from being snarky in the response. For example, the final paragraph of the SWISS letter stated:
We realize, in light of the competitive nature of the airline industry, there is no guarantee of continued patronage and we are appreciative of your support.
The politest middle finger I’ve ever received…
I wanted to respond back:
I realize, in light of the competitive nature of the airline industry, there is no guarantee of stellar customer service. Even so, I am appreciative of your support in acknowledging that all parties woefully failed to contact me in a timely manner, giving me every indication the fare would be honored.
But I think you’ll agree I have kept the letter fairly non-emotional. Thanks to many people including Ben, Mitch, and Chris (in Ben’s comment section) for their perspectives on what to address in the letter.
Here it is:
Thank you for your earlier note, which requires significant clarification. I am CCing [redacted], who is looking into this matter on the DOT side.
First, you contend my cancelled first class ticket was an “erroneously published fare”. This implies the ticket was purchased at a price clearly below the ordinary or expected price range for the route and class ticketed. The published Aeroplan rate of 70,000 miles for Western Europe to North America is the “published fare” in terms of redeeming Aeroplan miles for first class partner award tickets. I paid 70,000 miles per ticket. Thus, it clearly was not an “erroneously published fare.”
Further, you assert that “award bookings are not permitted in First Class by SWISS as evidenced on the Aeroplan Miles Flight Reward Chart” but that is simply not the case. The award chart provision you cite simply says that first class awards are not “available” — but that general disclaimer was clearly incorrect as Aeroplan’s search engine returned this availability on November 30th. Indeed, I was able to ticket the flights, and SWISS.com permitted me to choose seat assignments. Plainly, the flights were in fact “available” at that time, even if generally speaking they are usually not. Airlines frequently manipulate award availability to limit access to premium cabins, and generally do not announce when they intend to make seats available. By your logic, any airline that makes an award seat available but later comes to regret it because it could sell the seat for cash to earn more revenue could simply claim the availability was in error and cancel the ticket. I also note that on other occasions in the previous years there has been availability to book SWISS first class via Aeroplan and other Star Alliance loyalty programs. I am aware of no prior instance where those tickets were cancelled.
Second, your assertion that “Swiss did not make any changes in our reservation system or have any procedural changes that would have authorized the bookings” misses the point. While SWISS uses Amadeus for its reservation system, a different system called StarNet is used to release award space to Star Alliance partners such as Aeroplan/Air Canada or United Airlines. Do you deny that first class (“O” class) award space was released through StarNet by SWISS to your Star Alliance partners? If so, how were the award tickets on United and Aeroplan issued? Do you contend that Aeroplan and United somehow opened up the space themselves?
Third, your explanation of the chain of events is inconsistent. You note, “SWISS cancelled those tickets, and promptly contacted Aeroplan. Unfortunately, SWISS has no control over tickets issued by its interline partners.” So which is it? Is SWISS able to cancel a ticket issued by an award partner or does it have “no control over tickets issued by its interline partners”? It can be one, or the other, but not both.
Fourth, please address why otherwise identical SWISS first class award tickets issued by United Airlines MileagePlus and Lufthansa Miles & More have not been cancelled. Why have only Aeroplan (Air Canada-issued) tickets been cancelled?
Finally, your suggestion that this cancellation was handled promptly is curious. I was not contacted in any way, by anyone, for over one week after booking. During that time the booking still showed as valid on Aeroplan’s website. And even then, I merely received an email with an altered itinerary downgrading me to business class and rerouting me on a different airline at a different time with an additional overnight connection of nearly 22 hours–all done without my knowledge or approval. Airlines frequently have draconian policies requiring customers cancel within 24 hours of booking to obtain a full refund. I didn’t receive any notice of cancellation for over a week. How is that fair to consumers?
[DOT official redacted], I hope that the DOT will appreciate that this was not a mistake fare, as I paid the full posted price for my tickets. When I booked late on November 29th, I knew that SWISS infrequently offers first class awards for sale but I had no basis to believe that the fares I booked would not be honored based upon the past practice of SWISS. It cannot be the case that airlines can wait days to notify customers that their purchased tickets are being rescinded and cancel tickets booked through some outlets but not others if this truly was an error. Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Let’s see if SWISS responds…
Anything I left out in my letter back?
For those of you who were initially on the side of SWISS, I hope you are starting to see the dangerous ramifications of allowing an airline to unilaterally cancel what it deems a mistake days or weeks after booking. It is bad public policy and leaves consumers with no reasonable basis upon which to plan travel.
If your SWISS First Class award trip has been canceled and you are contracted by DOT/SWISS, I encourage you to send a letter back like the one above.