Swiss Responds To My DOT Complaint

On December 7, 2017, I filed a complaint with the DOT regarding an Aeroplan award ticket for travel in Swiss first class that was canceled. As a reminder, on November 30, 2017, Swiss made some first class award seats available through partner programs. This isn’t the first time something like this has happened — for example, last year a similar thing occurred, and Swiss honored all those tickets (I even flew them in first class from Zurich to Los Angeles).

While Aeroplan issued the tickets, Swiss unilaterally decided to cancel them.

I had never filed a DOT complaint before, but figured this was an occasion on which it would be interesting to do so. What makes this different than other situations is that this wasn’t a mistake fare — this was an award ticket sold at the published cost.

Well, two weeks after my complaint with Swiss was filed, I got an email from Rosemary at Swiss, who is an “Expert.” On the email she CCed the DOT. Here’s the email, in its entirety:

Dear Mr. Schlappig:

We received your correspondence from the Department of Transportation, in regard to your booking using your Aeroplan miles for travel on SWISS.

The reservation you purchased on November 30, 2017 was an erroneously published fare that was not calculated, published, or sold by SWISS. The affected itineraries were all mileage award tickets booked via Aeroplan on Air Canada ticket stock for one-way and round-trip travel in first class, despite the fact that award bookings are not permitted in First Class by SWISS as evidenced on the Aeroplan Miles Flight Reward Chart attached hereto.

Your ticket was issued without SWISS’ knowledge or approval. Swiss did not make any changes in our reservation system or have any procedural changes that would have authorized the bookings. The fare you purchased was clearly made available by Aeroplan in error. Pursuant to Rule 005(F) of SWISS’ tariff, which is part of the contract of carriage between SWISS and its passengers, “SWISS reserves the right to cancel reservations and/or tickets issued with an erroneously quoted fare . . .” and “void the purchased ticket . . .” please see attached SWISS tariff.

As soon as SWISS became aware of the erroneous fare, SWISS cancelled those tickets, and promptly contacted Aeroplan. Unfortunately, SWISS has no control over tickets issued by its interline partners. We are happy to see that Aeroplan has contacted the passengers affected by this to personally arrange first or business class redemption on another Star Alliance carrier or reinstate miles free of charge.

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.

Sincerely,

Rosemary
Expert

What I find most interesting about this letter is how Swiss claims they literally have no responsibility in having made this made inventory available:

  • “An erroneously published fare that was not calculated, published, or sold by SWISS”
  • “Pursuant to Rule 005(F) of SWISS’ tariff, which is part of the contract of carriage between SWISS and its passengers, ‘SWISS reserves the right to cancel reservations and/or tickets issued with an erroneously quoted fare . . .'”

It’s clear that Swiss is completely throwing Aeroplan and Air Canada under the bus here. They make it sound as if Aeroplan somehow opened up these award seats, though it’s not my understanding that this is what happened (after all, partner airlines can’t offer more seats than the operating airline directly makes available).

To suggest that this is being canceled on the grounds of this being an “erroneously quoted fare” is simply untrue. The ticket was booked at the published fare.

Anyway, this makes for an unfortunate situation. I think Swiss is really the airline responsible here, since it’s my understanding that they’re the ones who made the award space available, and they’re also the ones who canceled the tickets. They’re just refusing to take any accountability here. At the same time, they’re not completely off base in shifting blame, since ultimately my contract was with Aeroplan, since they issued my ticket.

What do you make of Swiss’ response to this situation?

Comments

  1. It would be interesting to know how many tickets were booked. They must have had a huge influx of tickets booked to explain them not caring about cancelling tickets and receiving a bunch of bad publicity as a result.

  2. How does that line up with the fact that many people were able to redeem UA MileagePlus for the product, and, from what I gather, *their* tickets haven’t been cancelled? What distinguishes the two situations?

  3. It’s clear. Their inventory management system opened up space (I believe O class if I remember *A award space correctly) that was visible to other airline GDS systems. It was valid space to be sold. This is not Aeroplan’s fault; their system was merely exposing what Swiss’ made available to it.

    If Swiss intends not to make space available on partner programs it is their responsibility to block this out of their system; it’s certainly not the responsibility of the partner carrier to do so.

  4. Hey Ben,

    Big fan, but have to say, the rules were published and everyone knew this was an error.

    Time to move on. It’s not worth playing the wounded victim in this instance.

    Otherwise, keep up your good work. I do enjoy reading.

    Marc

  5. did you also file a DoT complaint against Aeroplan?

    Well, she is an “expert” after all, so I suppose you can’t argue with her. 🙂 I like how they acknowledge you will never fly them again.

    Did you respond to her with the points you noted here…that Aeroplan couldn’t have issued the ticket without Swiss making the seats available?

  6. How often do airlines have to deal with this kind of situation? Meaning, where they will not honor an award ticket and have the customer go to the lengths to try to rectify? Seems there would be more value to SWISS if they acknowledged they were not liable, but honored the ticket anyway, in order to build customer loyalty. If they did honor the ticket, would there be a huge risk to their revenue on these seats?

  7. Also curious to know if Air France will be honoring First Class mistake tickets for $1,174 that posted on Dec 19? (fare was missing $10,000. Should have been $11,174). I didn’t buy bc I knew fare was erroneous and likely to be retracted. Any updates? Keep us posted! Thx.

  8. Wow, I would not have expected Swiss to lie so openly here. I have been in the ‘let it go, move on’ camp from the beginning on this one, but their response is SO bad. From a technology standpoint, Swiss is hosted on one of the most advanced inventory systems in the world, Amadeus. Aeroplan/Air Canada would have ZERO possibility of forcing a sell in an award class if Swiss had not made it available. There are only two ways O class could have been opened to partners: by human intervention, or by their revenue management system. Either way this falls completely on Swiss and if the DOT weren’t such spineless paycheck collectors, I’d expect them to step up and go after Swiss in this case. Alas, it will probably make no difference and they will just take Swiss at their word, as untruthful as it may be.

  9. @Marc:

    Anymore I think it’s less about the rules for awards and now about how Swiss is denying all culpability. The fact that space opened up across *A shows that this wasn’t just an Aeroplan problem. As mentioned elsewhere, Aeroplan was just showing availability that popped into their system – from Swiss’ system – and was bookable. Even though this appears to have been a software glitch that went counter to Swiss’ booking rules, it’s still on Swiss to say, “Hey, yeah…you shouldn’t have been able to book that but human/computer error made it available anyway. That’s why we cancelled. Sorry.” But they’re refusing to do so and deflecting blame.

    Swiss needs to be held accountable, even if it’s just owning the mistake. I was late to the party and wasn’t able to take part in the fare, but as a disinterested third party, I’d be upset that Swiss is playing the “not our pig, not our farm” game when it very clearly is their pig and farm.

  10. “We realize there is no guarantee of continued patronage”, as in, bugger off and don’t come back, Lucky? Looks like they fulfilled the DOT requirements to address the issue. What’s the next step, if any?

  11. Par for the course with SWISS. They do not give a flying F#%k about bad publicity or goodwill. They will fight tooth and nail irrespective of cost to them. Was the same story with the RGN situation a few years back.

  12. Another big fan of this blog here but I agree with Marc, especially in light of the lack of uproar about AF cancelling F tickets. In my view there’s a huge world of difference between paying hundreds (or thousands) of dollars for an error fare in F directly with the carrier versus attempting to obtain one using miles with a codeshare partner and continuing to carp about the carrier not honoring its codeshare partner’s “erroneously published fare that was not calculated, published, or sold by SWISS.”

    Since there would seem to be a better potential for a case with AF the lack of outrage underscores something problematic here. But I do appreciate your sharing this Swiss reply, Ben.

  13. Sorry – have to say part of the responsibility lies on you. It’s nice to get a break and a fare/ticket that isn’t normally released, and the rules say you should. But as I’ve read your blogs, you’re completely trying to scam the airlines – You write about travel and know Swiss 1st isn’t available through partners. Accept your loss or change of tickets and move on. Not trying to be cruel, but voicing another side of this.

  14. My quick two cents:

    1. Agreed (as I have all along opined) that the contract was between Aeroplan and the passenger only, and not SWISS, which was just a non-contracting party flight operator so far as that contract (air ticket) is concerned.

    2. However, on the face of it, it is intriguing for me to note that, against the firm assertion that It was not a contracting party, SWISS then alleged that:

    “Pursuant to Rule 005(F) of SWISS’ tariff, which is part of the contract of carriage between SWISS and its passengers, “SWISS reserves the right to cancel reservations and/or tickets issued with an erroneously quoted fare . . .” and “void the purchased ticket . . .” please see attached SWISS tariff.”

    Obviously, you cannot have it both ways: either SWISS was a contracting party or (as on its own case) it was not. If (as It had just asserted) it was not a contracting party, I completely fail to see how there could have been ANY contract between it and the passenger, namely “the contract of carriage between SWISS and its passengers”, of which its Tariff was said to form part. In any event, if (as expressly admitted by SWISS) the air ticket was issued by Aeroplan in Aeroplan’s own mileage currency, then how could that ever have constituted an erroneously quoted fare (when SWISS did not even publish or had any say or control over the Aeroplan mileage fare in question, and in any event did NOT publish such fare itself), thereby triggering the right under SWISS’s Tariff to void the purchased ticket (which, as said, was not even issued by it – and SWISS obviously had no right or power to cancel the ticket as such (as opposed to the relevant SWISS flight reservations) – and I understand the ticket was intact)? And of course it just confers the right to void the purchased ticket, not the reservations as such.

    Overall, a disappointing experience for many, I understand.

  15. What a BS response from Swiss. I’m also in the camp of “it was a mistake, oh well, move on,” but Swiss is just lying to your face here and dumping blame on Aeroplan, which has no responsibility in this matter, and has otherwise acted quite well in reaccomodating the miles or bookings.

  16. Aside from armchair lawyering, I think we can reasonably find it safe to assume that if circumstances like these aren’t covered by the current FF program T&C’s, they soon will be.

  17. IMO, the whole error fare thing is the least interesting part of the whole travel game. I couldn’t care less, really. It was an error fare, and they aren’t honoring it. Big deal. If you don’t like it, boytcott Swiss

  18. Typical response from an airline. They will make it seem that you are in the wrong and deny all responsibility. In a situation like this, where it is obvious the airline is in the wrong or partly in the wrong, it is important to keep pushing for what you want or is right. SWISS is purposely denying everything and claiming they will possibly not continue patronage as they want to force you to give up or stop trying. Those are their tactics for a situation like this. If you really want to get what you think is right you just have to keep being a pain in the ass to them and do the opposite of what they want you to do.
    For example, I had a similar altercation with China Eastern. I wanted to cancel a ticket they said I couldn’t due to miles and what not. I exchanged contact with them for over 5 months. They kept telling me that it is impossible, against terms, etc. I knew it obviously wasn’t so kept pushing. I went all they way up to a conference call with some directors in Shanghi and also US before they happily cancelled my ticket and issued a refund, agreeing that I was right all along.

    Not all fights are worth it obviously. And if you are fighting in the wrong you just sound idiotic. But if it’s something credible like this that’s the only way you can get things done.

  19. Why should they honor it? Is there really any loyalty amongst the ‘hackers and bloggers’ who booked this fare? Are they suddenly going to stop flying Swiss? Is there really any bad publicity here? Swiss obviously markets this product as exclusive and aspirational, so it seems like a smart move on their part to protect its exclusivity.

    Exactly the same logic behind Air France not honoring their cheap first class fares. They aren’t angering loyal customers. In fact, they are protecting their actual revenue paying customers who appreciate the exclusivity that they market.

  20. @lucky – I’m not sure I understand the complaint. Aeroplan’s terms explicitly state that Swiss First Class cannot be booked as an award ticket through their mileage plan, right? If that’s the case it would seem to me that Aeroplan (or Air Canada, in this case) would be to blame, and the ticket should be cancelled. No? What am I missing?

  21. The fact that they do not apologize and acknowledge that you may never fly with them again seems to be a veiled reference more in line with, “we won’t miss your business.”

    Having lived and worked in Switzerland from 2009-2011, the tone of this response is in keeping with their general disdain for all foreigners, even those propping up their economy.

    There are better products to fly.

  22. @mark f.

    This is not hacking and this is not the same as the af fare. The af fare was 10k off, thats obvious.

    Swiss publishing fares for the normal price, then people paying said price, then swiss canceling is a totaly different thing. I dont know canadian law, but in holland they wouldnt get away with this crap.

    My aegean page doesnt speak of a restriction to swiss btw.

  23. As far as we know, Swiss is still honoring bookings made with MileagePlus and Miles & More (non-elite) miles even though those F bookings also were technically not permitted, right?

    Might an issue here be that Swiss has little incentive to play nice with Aeroplan because Air Canada is dumping it soon?

  24. Love this

    “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”

    So basically eff off.

  25. Okay, just as a reminder to people here:

    1) This is not a mistake fare. It was ‘charged’ at the fixed standard fare for a First Class ticket on Aeroplan (and other rewards programs). This is not the AF thing of a couple of days ago (where there are clear rules and precedent to cancel for tickets originating in the US for clear mistake fares, as it clearly was). The ticket was made available and the proper fare for the ticket was charged, as the ‘marketplace’ of the rewards programs define it.

    2) Contrary to what SWISS says, and what people are saying here, award space for SWISS First has been made available on programs like Aeroplan and it has been honoured in the past. This, despite what their rules say. There was every reason to believe that this was simply another one of those rare instances.

    3) SWISS’ system is clearly in the wrong here, since multiple rewards programs showed availability. Aeroplan (and others) show what they’re given by the airlines, and it seems impossible that all of these rewards programs could just magically created award space on the same days on the same airline on the same flights on the same day. This is SWISS’ fault.

    SWISS deserves to be held accountable.

  26. U hv no rights with swiss air. U hv to pursue your case with aeroplan. If you think aeroplan is not at fault, close the case. Else go after aeroplan, who will in turn have to go after swiss air.

  27. But as I’ve read your blogs, you’re completely trying to scam the airlines

    It works both ways. Airline seats, like hotel rooms, are perishable products. If Nordstrom doesn’t sell a pair a jeans today, it may very well sell them tomorrow. But for airlines and hotels, once the plane has left or the night is over, that revenue is lost forever. Points and miles are a way for hotels and airlines to try and capture some of that revenue. It becomes a scam when they market their programs and related credit cards as if they offer access to certain products, when in reality they never make any award space available. They are capturing revenue via point sales under false pretenses. As an example, I’ll offer up American Airlines, where they publish an award chart that says it’s X miles to Y geographic area but they never release any awards space.

    IIRC in the past Swiss did release first class award space and Lucky took advantage of that. Presumably, Swiss’s revenue management system said our first class bookings are very weak but we can realize some revenue by offering them up as award space. In this case they released award space, Lucky took advantage of it, and they said, “Nah, never mind.” There was never any reason, as far as I know, for Lucky to think Swiss wasn’t just trying to convert some unsold inventory into revenue.

  28. We get it! You get a commission from Aeroplan and not from Swiss! If you got your ticket for that rate on Aeroplan, it should be responsible and should try to fix its mistake by talking with Swiss and compensating Swiss for the amount. Failing to do so, Swiss canceled the tickets. Fair enough. What is all the fuss? Why are you trying to blame Swiss for an Aeroplan mistake and not Aeroplan? Commissions?

  29. Sorry. I side with SWISS here and I like their response (even though yes of course they are an arrogant airline). Inventory mistakenly made available as award seats (especially by a partner) are functionally equivalent to an incorrectly published mistake fare (if I’m the sitting judge) and if the rule is that mistake fares do not have to be honored, then these should not have to be honored either. Nice if they are but everyone knew it was a mistake so you roll the dice with only upside and nothing lost it it’s not honored.

  30. Yet again when all goes well airline co’s are perfect, but when something goes wrong they fight tooth and nail to get out of it by denying responsibility. I don’t know who is right or wrong here but I do know only Senators in Lufthansa’s Miles and More Programme can now get award tickets in F. Perhaps this is where the system let you down? If you are a Senator then you can book the tickets directly with Swiss and they will honour them. I know from experience.

  31. (if I’m the sitting judge)

    IIRC the regulation as written is that they have to honor all mistake fares. As a matter of “prosecutorial discretion” this regulation isn’t enforced.

  32. SWISS/ Last April, Swiss FLR to ZRH. Swiss cancelled flight bc PILOT overflew inbound to WRONG AIRPORT (PSA instead). Ended up on last available flight out of FLR on LH to FRA. Messed up the trip. Missed connection to US. Had to fly thru 2 more cities to get home. Lost great seats and time. Demanded compensation via EC-261-2004 for Swiss, FLR/ZRH but Swiss Emailed a refusal, saying it was ‘beyond our control’. Eventually prevailed w/ refund via United bc I was ticketed on 016 tix stock (TG) and have 1K. / LH owns LX & yet they have different (refund) approaches. Wonder why?

  33. Keep going….I will support you even if you start a GoFundMe page(even through you are loaded) to hire a lawyer!

  34. Hmmm…I wonder if I can file my DOT complaint against Aeroplan/Air Canada using Swiss’ word. Will that force Air Canada to get Swiss to come back and play ball if they are going to get beat up for no reason?

  35. Maybe copy Air Canada and Aeroplan on this matter to see what they have to say? (Hopefully, they will bolster your case.)

  36. As was noted above by one writer, “….. 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.”

    That has got to be smoothest & most eloquent brush-off. I’m a good speller, but have zero English language skills at that level. Rosemary is truly an Expert !!

  37. What is interesting here is that, whatever the arrogance, whenever they face a legally penalizing situation, they do not just comply, they CREEP like worms. This happened to me x years ago when they “erroneously” sold me online a Business Class tickets at ridiculously low price. They tried to cancel it until they received a NY Small Claims Court summons for a $ 4,999 claim, at the time maybe twice their potential loss by honoring the reservation. The way they relented and immediately got flat on their stomach was nothing short of repulsive.

    Redacted on my attorney’s advice: Does anybody remember how a now defunct airline’s flight in the middle of an emergency between Boston and the Canadian coast was advised by a passing British Airways crew in the vicinity that “This looks extremely serious and maybe you should return for an emergency landing in Boston” ? To which a cockpit crewmember was said to have replied “Thank you but nobody asked you”. Didn’t that airline make headlines that night ?

  38. What I don’t understand is, even if Swiss released inventory – by mistake or otherwise – and Aeroplan clearly states that Swiss First is not bookable with miles, how is it that this was a published fare? It’s no different to saying a particular revenue fare is valid only if purchased from a specific country of origin. There are seats available but it doesn’t mean they are accessible to everyone in the same way. If Aeroplan clearly states that you can’t book Swiss First, then they made a mistake in booking it, surely?

  39. all other discussions aside……………how about the arrogance of SWISS
    They don’t even treat HON circle LH members with common courtesy!
    don’t expect them to treat others any better
    They have an exalted sense of importance that is far from justified
    AND in their premium cabin……………..its not even worth fighting for

    EVERY CHANCE I GET (as a regular purchaser of F tickets) I WILL AVOID THEM LIKE THE PLAGUE

  40. What other consumer business is legally allowed to force customers into this one-sided agreements, where they, and only they, can decide if there’s an “error” and literally leave the person behind with zero impunity?

    This is so very, very sad.

  41. As much as Swiss is a pretty good product on board (but not the best IMO) their customer service is awful. I had to exchange 70+ emails for an issue they eventually kind of took care of. My favorite airlines for USA-Europe travel in business are (favorite first): Turkish, Aeroflot, LOT, Swiss, Lufthansa.

  42. Lucky, you knew that that Swiss First is not available via Aeroplan!
    Aeroplan knew that Swiss First is not available via them!

    Still they made tickets available!

    How is this Swiss’ fault?

    You gambled, you lost – end of story!

  43. @windswd: I am LH HON, I fly Swiss, I use their Zürich installations quite a bit: I always received excellent service and recognition.

    Either your expectations are wrong or your attitude. You know the German saying: “Wie man in den Wald ruft, so schallt es zurück”.

  44. This is Typical for Swiss. Remember this the next time you don’t buy a really expensive, premium cabin ticket from them. Send the receipt from the carrier you do buy it from and a copy of their nonsense response.

  45. I think you are all missing the point that Swiss have chosen to use ‘alternative facts’, in their reply. After all, enough of you voted for Trump, so please don’t complain when others dealing with you lot embrace concepts from a parallel universe to justify the unjustifiable. Okay?

  46. @Alex,

    “Wie man in den Wald ruft, so schallt es zurück”. I agree. We should treat other as we would like to be treated. That is why Swiss should most certainly be more diplomatic and polite to its customers. I don’t think anyone gambled and lost. They took advantage of a validly published fare released by Swiss. Whether they released those tickets to Aeroplan in error or not is something that Swiss needs to determine internally. However, they did release them. Passengers did purchase them in good faith. Money changed hands. And then, Swiss cancelled them with barely a word. That isn’t a case of gambling. That’s poor customer service. Since Swiss has done this, treating their customers poorly, I predict they’ll be treated the same way – by a number of customers not flying with them. I’m currently researching a family trip to Germany and perhaps Switzerland late in 2018. If this is how Swiss treats its customers, then we will be buying tickets on different airlines.

    However, this line was most egregious: “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.” Basically, Swiss is saying that they don’t care, that they know that they’ve likely alienated a customer and just. Do. Not. Care. Period. If that’s how Swiss treats paying customers, then they should be expectant of similar treatment from the flying public, and not patronizing them is the best way of ensuring that of all.

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