Aeroplan's contract negotiations put the spotlight on Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, Toronto-Dominion Bank and Aimia Inc., the parent company of the rewards program.
But there's another key player that's tied to the drama by an all-important contract: Air Canada.
Currently, the airline is bound to Aeroplan by an agreement inked in 2004. However, its renewal comes due in 2020. That timing is especially important because the proposed contracts between CIBC, TD and Aimia are expected to run for 10 years, ending in 2023.
The nightmare scenario is that Air Canada and Aimia don't see eye-to-eye come 2020, creating all kinds of problems for the financial partners. Sound crazy, given the airline's history with the loyalty program? (Aeroplan used to be owned by Air Canada but was spun out in 2002 and taken public in 2005.) Yeah, it does. But remember that until this year, a rift between CIBC and Aeroplan seemed impossible, too, considering they were partners for 22 years.
Aimia is a public company now, and it must answer to its shareholders. The last time it inked a deal with Air Canada, the two had a very different relationship.
Of course, the renewal could go swimmingly. So let's not get carried away here. But it's certainly something to keep in mind after such drama during the current round of talks.
Under its existing contract with Air Canada, Aeroplan has access to 8 per cent of the airline's seats at a pre-determined fixed rate. Anything beyond that is bought at a variable discount, depending on the type of fare. However, Aeroplan must be charged the most favourable rate of any loyalty rewards program – so it gets to buy for cheaper than, say, Royal Bank of Canada's Avion card.
Air Canada pays a fee to participate in Aeroplan, but the rewards program must also purchase a minimum number of seats from the airline each year. The total value of its purchases in 2012 had to top $426-million, according to regulatory documents.
After signing their contract in 2004, the two partners have since renewed their redemption rates several times. If they continue to get along, their existing agreement will automatically renew for five years in 2020.
(Tim Kiladze is a Globe and Mail Capital Markets Reporter.)
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