A young couple from Revelstoke, B.C., were hit with a staggering $4,600 bill when an Aeroplan booking mistake forced them to buy a last-minute Air Canada ticket to fly their two-year-old home from Europe.

“It just seemed absurd to pay that much for our son to come back with us,” said mom Emily Grady. “It was like paying for somebody else’s mistake.”

Grady booked her husband Scott and toddler Micah to fly with her — using Aeroplan points — when her employer paid to send her to France for an October conference.

Micah Grady

En route to France, Micah Grady was a toddler under two, which meant he could sit in his mother's lap. (CBC)

She said it was a once-in-a lifetime chance for the couple to take their son overseas and immerse him in French, which they couldn’t afford to do otherwise.

“We live simply … and we avoid spending money on big-ticket items unless it’s unavoidable or has a lot of benefit to us as a family,” said Grady.

Check-in shocker

The shock came when the couple checked in to fly home. Because Micah turned two during the trip, Air Canada told them the infant ticket Aeroplan issued for him to sit on his mother’s lap was invalid. Federal rules dictate that children over two must have their own seat.

“We had to lay down our credit card and buy him a ticket that we totally didn’t expect,” said Grady.

Micah Grady's birthday

Micah turned two during the family's stay in France, and under regulations he was required to have his own seat on the return flight. (CBC)

They were charged $4,643.39. That is seven times the $675 price quoted to Go Public by Air Canada for an infant fare to the same destination and a child fare back, booked in advance.

“It basically doubled our travel expenses, with that one purchase,” said Grady.

She had booked her family’s tickets six months in advance on the phone with Aeroplan. She said she gave the agent her baby’s birth date and passport information, which clearly showed he would turn two during the trip.

Credit card charge

Emily Grady charged the $4,643 plane ticket for Micah to her credit card. (CBC)

Aeroplan then issued her son infant tickets, there and back.

“Because when we booked he wasn’t two and when we left he wasn’t two I assumed we would be good to go. I do assume [Aeroplan] will make the right decisions — or book the right flights,” said Grady.

“We gave the information, they gave us the tickets, and away we went.”

Return trip delayed

Grady said the ticket shocker was only the worst part of a bigger ordeal, which began when they first arrived at the Geneva airport to go home. Lufthansa told them one of their connecting flights had been cancelled.

Grady on phone

Before the family left Canada, an Aeroplan agent issued the tickets after Grady called to book and gave her child's passport and birthdate information. (CBC)

Because Aeroplan doesn’t have a 24-hour call centre, they initially couldn’t get their flights rebooked.

“We were told to call the Aeroplan call centre, which I did, but of course they didn’t open for another [few] hours,” she said.

The family had to miss their first flight and wait two hours for the Air Canada counter to open to get new tickets. That is when they were told they had to pay full price for Micah.

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“We lost our [prepaid] preferred seating and ended up landing in Calgary about seven hours later than we’d expected,” said Grady. The family still faced several hours of driving to get home to Revelstoke.

“After travelling for about 24 hours with our two-year-old we just hunkered down at the Delta Hotel right at the Calgary airport so we could just walk across the street and sleep.”

Gray wrote a letter to Air Canada’s CEO about the whole ordeal. The airline responded by offering her family 15 per cent ticket discounts on a future flight, but no other compensation.

“It didn’t seem as though we were shown a lot of compassion through customer relations with Air Canada,” said Grady.

Aeroplan reacts with refund

Air Canada essentially told Go Public the infant ticketing issue was Aeroplan’s responsibility. As a result of our inquiries, Aeroplan said it will refund the full price of Micah’s one-way fare.

“After investigation among Aeroplan and Air Canada, Aeroplan found out that the date of birth of the child was incorrect in the passenger name record (PNR) in our system,” said Aeroplan spokeswoman Isabelle Troitzky.

Aeroplan website

Aeroplan is owned by Aimia and is no longer part of Air Canada. (Aeroplan)

“Your request for answers was the first Aeroplan heard about Mrs. Grady’s complaint … we welcome member feedback and take complaints from our members very seriously.”

Aeroplan also arranged for Air Canada to refund the $90 the Gradys paid for preferred seats on the return flights they were forced to miss.

This is just one of many complaints online, however, about lack of available seats and shoddy customer service by Aeroplan. Once part of Air Canada, it is now owned by Aimia, which calls itself a “global loyalty management company.”

A recent online poll of 1,300 people by Flyer Talk rated it the worst reward points program among 12 of the biggest programs in North America and Europe.

Other disillusioned customers

“I have clients who are ‘million milers’ on Air Canada, and over the years they have watched Aeroplan morph into this unmanageable, unlikable loyalty program,” said Vancouver travel agent Barry Chen, owner of Fairwind Travel.

He said he recently had his own frustrations with Aeroplan, when it repeatedly failed to confirm his bookings with the Air Canada partner airlines, long after it issued him the tickets.

Barry Chen

Vancouver travel agent Barry Chen tells reporter Kathy Tomlinson he's had his own hassles with Aeroplan. (CBC)

“Every time I called them, there’s a 15-minute hold to get the customer service. Then you explain your problem to customer service. Wait another three to five minutes. Then he passes on to the lead supervisor,” said Chen.

“It takes them 35 minutes on average to do that and I had to go through it three times … they never admitted fault.”

Chen said that in his experience Aeroplan puts little effort into customer service. He believes that’s because it makes its money from people who don’t use their reward points, not those who do.

“The more people that don’t use their points is money in their pocket. They love that. That’s enormous money. So when somebody does [use their points] it’s like ‘Oh somebody’s taking away a little of my profit,’” said Chen.

Grady, however, is thrilled with her refund.

"It was a huge relief to hear from Aeroplan today...the sincerity, thoughtfulness, and additional ‘goodwill points’ definitely won back our confidence in Aeroplan."

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