Air Canada has confirmed that they will be migrating their current back-end reservations platform to the Amadeus Altea Passenger Service System. While there is no official set date for this change, many sources report that Air Canada is aiming to debut its new Amadeus system sometime in November 2019.
And since Air Canada has taken over the Aeroplan loyalty program and will be launching a brand-new program in 2020, this news potentially has implications for the way that Aeroplan bookings are handled as well.
What Is a Passenger Service System?
Passenger service systems (PSS) refer to the complex series of systems that an airline uses in managing their operations, including the tools they use to make and track bookings, control their flight inventory, and handle a passenger’s journey from check-in, to checked baggage, to boarding.
As travellers, we have very little direct interface with passenger service systems, and we mostly only deal with their various outputs on a regular basis – things like booking references and e-ticket numbers, as well as more abstract concepts like fare buckets and award availability. But on the back-end, passenger service systems are crucial to airlines’ day-to-day functioning and to the travel industry as a whole.
Airlines can either choose to use their own in-house passenger service system, or adopt a ready-made solution from one of the world’s leading technology providers for the travel industry. Of these companies, Sabre, Amadeus, and Navitaire are probably the biggest names, and it is Amadeus’s Altea Suite product that Air Canada has chosen to adopt in the run-up to launching their new loyalty program in 2020.
Air Canada’s old in-house PSS is 22 years old, and so the airline expects to see efficiency gains across many areas of their operations as a result of the migration to Amadeus.
What Does This Mean for Aeroplan Bookings?
Aeroplan has existed as a separate company from Air Canada for most of the past 15 years, but Air Canada moved to reacquire the company last year in a $450 million deal, and will be transforming Aeroplan into their very own brand-new loyalty program in 2020.
As a first step towards that new program’s launch, both Air Canada and Aeroplan will be switching over to the Amadeus Altea passenger service system, and Aeroplan agents will be switching over to using this platform as well.
Currently, Aeroplan redemptions follow the below rules:
The Aeroplan Reward Chart governs how many miles you’ll pay for an itinerary between your chosen geographic zones in your chosen class of service
You’re allowed to have either one stopover or one open-jaw as part of a round-trip intercontinental redemption
If the flights you want aren’t showing up on the Aeroplan search engine, you can book a custom-built trip using available flights on Air Canada and Star Alliance partner via the contact centre, as long as the following requirements are met:
No layover is more than 24 hours in duration
No more than 16 flight segments are on the ticket
The overall distance flown between your origin and destination falls within Aeroplan’s proprietary maximum permitted mileage (MPM) figure
Air Canada has confirmed that these rules will not be changing with the migration to the Amadeus booking system. For at least the foreseeable future after the migration is complete, Aeroplan members will continue to be able to manually piece together itineraries over the phone with the contact centre, as well as build 24-hour layovers and complex routings that fall within the MPM.
Specifically, the statement from Air Canada, in response to my questions on the matter, reads as follows:
Aeroplan Agents Have Been Saying Otherwise
That second part of the statement may be why we’ve been hearing a few disconcerting stories of Aeroplan contact centre agents telling members that the rules will be changing as of mid-November and that the agents will no longer be able to book custom-built itineraries over the phone.
For example, take the below post in the Prince of Travel Elites Facebook group by Todd S.:
This post specifically talks about married segments, which refers to a situation such as when an airline makes A–B–C available for award redemptions, but not A–B or B–C individually. Aeroplan agents have historically been able to work around this issue by taking A–B–C from the inventory and “breaking it up” into the specific desired flight itself.
However, I’ve heard through the grapevine about other members who have called Aeroplan and have been told that custom-built itineraries in general won’t be supported under the new system, and that the agents will basically only be able to book what shows up on the online search engine.
Based on Air Canada’s statement above, it’s my understanding that this is false: Aeroplan agents will indeed continue to have the ability to piece together itineraries over the phone once they start using the Amadeus reservations platform.
After all, imagine that you needed to make a change to your complex three-stop Aeroplan Mini-RTW that you had booked before September 1 – your new itinerary would still have to respect the old rules under which you had booked, so the reservations platform must still be able to handle that process for a more complex trip than what shows up online.
However, since agents are “encouraged” to book itineraries that are returned by the shopping tool, it may well be the case that many Aeroplan agents will be mostly accustomed to using that tool, and won’t be well-informed or savvy enough to piece together a custom-built trip on behalf of the member.
Indeed, it’s already the case right now that some Aeroplan agents simply can’t be bothered to book complex itineraries – they’ll just tell you “nope, it can’t be done”, so you’ll have to hang up and call again to find the right agent.
I suspect that after the transition to Amadeus, a platform that may well prioritize the “sensible” itineraries over complex round-the-world routings with long layovers, members might find themselves having to hang up and call again a few more times to find the Aeroplan agents who are competent and willing enough to handle the complex itineraries.
Speaking candidly, though, in the long run, after the 2020 launch of the new Air Canada loyalty program, I wouldn’t be surprised if the ability to piece together your own custom itineraries does eventually get phased out, and members may be limited to the online search engine for what they can book as part of a single award (with anything more complex requiring separate awards).
However, I could only see this happening if Air Canada takes steps to significantly improve their online search tool (which I believe they will).
The current search engine and its many well-known limitations, such as the limited number of routing options it presents and its propensity to favour surcharge-heavy Air Canada flights over no-surcharge Star Alliance alternatives, would leave the program drastically bereft of value if Air Canada were to also eliminate the option to build custom itineraries over the phone.
Air Canada will be migrating their decades-old in-house passenger service system over to the Amadeus Altea product sometime very soon. This new tool will be adopted by the Aeroplan contact centre agents, but there will be no changes to the rules that govern Aeroplan bookings for the time being, despite several rumours to the contrary swirling about, which seem to have originated with what Aeroplan agents have been saying to members.
Since agents are “encouraged” to book what’s returned by the online search tool, though, there’s a chance that the actual booking process for these complex itineraries might become less streamlined once Amadeus kicks in – we’ll have to wait and see.