Airberlin Topbonus Is Disintegrating Rapidly

Filed Under: Airberlin

Airberlin is screwed. Airberlin’s spun off topbonus program is screwed. And things are getting much worse by the minute. We’ve seen a lot of airline bankruptcies, restructuring, etc., though I’ve never seen an airline and loyalty program fall apart in quite this way.

With the latest update, airberlin’s co-branded credit card, which is issued by Landesbank Berlin, will no longer award miles. You can continue to use the credit card, but there’s no rewards structure associated with it for now. They just sent out an email to cardmembers in Germany which said the following (I’m translating here, since it was in German):

Unfortunately the situation has changed since our last email on 16 August 2017. As of this past weekend topbonus has been suspended, and until further notice you can no longer earn or redeem miles. Therefore no more miles will be issued with your credit card.

We are working closely with topbonus to clarify the situation. 

Given the uncertain conditions we ask you for your patience. You can continue to use your credit card within your credit line.

My guess is that within the coming days it will no longer be possible to earn or redeem partner airline miles for travel on airberlin. For what it’s worth, as of today airberlin award availability has been removed from American’s website. I’m not sure whether this is temporary or permanent, though I can certainly guess…

The AAdvantage earnings table for travel on airberlin hasn’t been adjusted to reflect that you can no longer earn miles, so something tells me that this is next. And I suspect that will be happening shortly for all of airberlin’s partners.

I understand the way things are is largely because of German insolvency law, though at the same time this is leading to so much consumer confidence being lost in the airline and loyalty program. Rather than communicating to members directly about topbonus falling apart, they’ve simply removed the navigation link top tobonus from the top of airberlin’s website.

To sum up the entire airberlin/topbonus situation in a gif:

  1. Ben, what would you do at this point if you have an upcoming tip booked? I booked a mileage run on AB to credit to AA that departs next week. Should I even bother? Would calling AA be likely to provide any helpful answers? I assume my ticket is safe, but what I really care about is my oneworld earnings.

  2. I have a return longhaul with etihad from Copenhagen to Sydney with etihad in Sept returning end of Oct. The first and last legs are with air Berlin on a dash 8 (Copenhagen to dusseldorf). Should I be worried?

  3. Personally i think AB did the right thing – removing tb from the website, the bank issuing the CC mailing about the stop of earning of miles.

    AirBerlin is a week after filling still flying

  4. This is kind of sad as ultimately a failure of German infrastructure planning (really shocking) led to the demise of this airline. Airberlin should have been the top carrier at a brand new Berlin airport. Berlin itself has gained international cachet as an fun destination. However the airport never got built, and now Airberlin is going under

  5. Lucky, when you write about customer confidence being lost, your assumption is that AirBerlin will continue to exist as a brand. That will not happen, the company will be dissolved, most of the planes and routes will be taken over by Lufthansa. They don’t give a about customer confidence in this situation.

  6. I was always told that European laws are focused on consumer rights. My Europeans friends are always touting that US laws are focusing on business rights and not on the consumers. Any explanation of how wrong these statements are always landed on deaf ears. – Grin –

  7. @Adam Kirk: when you booked your whole itinerary with Etihad, you shouldn’t be worried: it’s up to Etihad to get you from and to CPH. They have plenty of codeshares into CPH: SK to LHR, FRA; AF to CDG, KL to AMS. If AB folds before your flight, EY will simply reroute you.

    @Endre: why wouldn’t consumers be protected here? The airline is bankrupt but still flying on government money. And I think it’s a good thing that the government doesn’t sponsor secondary things like FF programs.

  8. @Endre
    Lol. The consumer is those who already paid the ticket for flying, not those who purchased points… having points never entitled you to fly, since you basically still needs to convert said points to ticket.

    You were trapped in points and mileage mindset as often promoted by bloggers. Either you forgot or the bloggers didn’t tell you, there’s always risk with gaming the system.

  9. If the airline is sold off in pieces, what happens to the tickets for flights that were booked. Is it safe to say the new owner of the Airberlin planes, flight paths, and flights, will honor those tickets or will they be lost when the company is sold off?

  10. Oh man, fingers crossed AA doesn’t axe earning on AB… I have a r/t LAX>DUS in a few weeks that I’m counting on to top me up for AA Plat this year.

  11. @Scott, I’m in the exact same place as you. My first flight is this Sunday (8/27), rtn 8/31. Hoping to use the ~18k EQM to hit EXP this year.

    I’ve submitted a request to American to see whether they plan to honor this (I’m sure I’ll get a response saying it’s up to airberlin to report the flight to AA). I’ll post an update here when American responds to me and when/if my miles from AB credit to AA.

  12. @sydney
    Well, in general booked means reserved – not yet purchased. Depends on the date, you may fly tough maybe not earning any points. But you may have no legal recourse if the cancelled your bookings. Why not contacting them directly for certainty?

  13. From my cursory understanding of the situation, I would guess that the cash behind the value of the miles was actually debt that airberlin owed to topbonus. So the separate topbonus now had miles outstanding and no value backing them. So it would make sense that topbonus stop issuing new miles for credit card spending when they know that Airberlin won’t honour redemption of those tickets.

    If topbonus hadn’t been spun out, then it would be the miles themselves that would be the old debt, and newly issued miles would still have value.

    As far as mileage running and crediting to AA. Isn’t AA responsible for crediting you the miles that they promised you and airberlin would owe AA for that crediting? Even if airberlin doesn’t hold their end of the bargain, that doesn’t necessarily release AA from their agreement with you.

  14. Actually, the consumers ARE protected: If you have a ticket for the next few weeks, the government loan should ensure flights are operated as scheduled.
    Beyond that, the way government and airberlin officials are describing the planned sale, the buyers (LH, others) will buy “packages” of planes, crews, routes and airport slots (which will pay back the government loan). I’d speculate that that includes buying the existing customers and honoring the tickets! As long as the routes continue, ticket holders are probably going to be safe.
    The airberlin CEO stated in a (German language) interview over the weekend that he doesn’t expect the brand to survive… he should know, he’s leading the negotiations…
    … and topbonus members are in trouble. According to airberlin corporate communications staff, Etihad (who is majority owner of topbonus) is not interested in keeping the program, none of the route buyers will be, so I don’t have high hopes for the points I still have…

  15. @Rupert: Totally agree. If Lufthansa gets so much of the cake that they can practically be seen as the successor of Air Berlin and if Lufthansa management has a very good day, they MIGHT do something like a mileage match into Miles&More, just for the sake of goodwill. Otherwise, I guess it’s time to kiss the miles good bye.

  16. Why would LH match a status where elite tiers don’t even need a single butt-in-seat mile to gain the status? They will maybe offer a match selectively to actual frequent, high value travellers, bit I personally think they cannot really be found in topbonus. Most of the Elite tier members either spent money on their CC or are doing a high number of shorthaul flights. This does not make for profitable customers.

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