Air Canada’s Aeroplan points program is partnering with BCE Inc. BCE-T to offer a suite of perks for travellers in a bid to strengthen the program’s offerings amid a turbulent period in Canada’s loyalty-points landscape.
The new partnership will give Aeroplan members access to in-flight internet messaging on platforms including Apple’s iMessage and Facebook Messenger, will expand Bell TV access to flights in the United States, and offer free Bell SIM cards for international arrivals on select flights. Air Canada also said it is finalizing details on how Aeroplan members can redeem points on purchases with Bell.
“This multifaceted partnership with Bell will allow Air Canada AC-T customers to keep in touch with friends, family, or colleagues wherever they travel,” said Mark Nasr, an Air Canada executive vice-president and president of Aeroplan, in a press release.
The deal with BCE comes as Air Canada looks to shore up customers in the competitive loyalty-program marketplace after the near collapse of a major rival and as it moves to make the airline a more attractive option for international travellers.
Aeroplan has steadily expanded its loyalty-program partners in recent months, adding Uber and a host of gas and EV charging brands, as its previously ubiquitous rival Air Miles struggled to retain partners. Air Miles was purchased by BMO in March after the program’s parent company filed for creditor protection.
Patrick Sojka, founder of the points-advice website Rewardscanada.ca, said Aeroplan and Scene+ currently offer the best value in reward-points options, and are competing for Canadian consumers in the wake of Air Miles’s troubles. Mr. Sojka said Aeroplan’s latest move gives it a notable edge for attracting frequent travellers.
“The fact that being a member gets you free in-flight messaging, will that sway a person from flying with WestJet or to not book via Air Miles? I think absolutely,” said Mr. Sojka, who is based in Calgary.
Mr. Sojka said the move was announced quickly in the aftermath of Air Miles’s sale to BMO in March, likely in an attempt to get consumers to choose Aeroplan over Scene+.
Last month, Aeroplan struck a points-program partnership with Calgary-based Parkland Corp. in April. The company owns fuel and convenience store brands including Chevron, Ultramar and Pioneer, and operates EV charging stations.
The Aeroplan and BCE partnership will also provide its airline perks to members of partner airline loyalty programs, such as United Airlines MileagePlus, Lufthansa Group Miles & More and Emirates Skywards.
Mr. Sojka said the fact that some of BCE’s services will be aimed at international flyers aligns with the airline’s recent strategy to attract more customers who use Toronto as a hub for connections, such as for flights between the U.S. and Europe or the Middle East.
“They’re very aggressive in marketing to countries outside of Canada,” Mr. Sojka said.
Air Canada will start offering free messaging on May 15 on all WiFi equipped aircraft. Live TV, which is already available in Canada, will be offered for flights to the U.S. later in the summer, the airline said.
Mr. Sojka said he hopes that Air Canada’s free WiFi messaging offering is a step toward offering free WiFi in general, which is already available to passengers on Delta Air Lines, Porter Airlines and a number of other European and North American carriers.
Full WiFi access is currently available for a fee on Air Canada flights.
“[Free WiFi] is starting to become more of a trend so I think that’ll be the next thing,” Mr. Sojka said.
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