Skift Take

Elite frequent flyers have been pining over free Wi-Fi for some time and Air Canada finally delivered. But the free connectivity will come at a cost to other benefits.

Free in-flight amenities such as meals, booze and entertainment have always been among the perks for elite frequent flyers, but until now, all passengers have been asked to pay for Wi-Fi. Air Canada wants to change that by offering free in-flight Internet to top-tier elite members in its Altitude loyalty program.

The free service, which will be delivered through Gogo, won’t come on an ad-hoc basis. Instead, elite passengers will be allowed to select either six or 12 months of free access among a spectrum of other awards as a year-end loyalty bonus.

Air Canada and Gogo made the announcement together in a joint release last week.

Passengers who fly 75,000 miles a year will be given the option for six months of free access. Top-tier elite members of the Altitude loyalty program will be offered 12 months of service. Other awards available at the top tier statuses include free elite status for a friend and extra award credits; to get the free Wi-Fi access, Altitude members will have to give up another perk.

Still, Air Canada’s approach to free Wi-Fi is an attractive, initial perk for many travelers —especially in an age where many flyers value free connectivity more highly than other amenities. Monthly connectivity plans on Gogo (per airline) cost $49.99, making the annual option through Altitude worth just less than $600.

The new perks through Air Canada also come at a time when it’s in a bit of a transition with loyalty. Earlier this year, the airline announced that it would transition away from its Aeroplan loyalty program in 2020, leaving many to wonder about how their miles and status will be accrued in the future. In the interim, Air Canada is still using its Altitude program to help members earn and keep elite status.

Part of the reason that Air Canada is offering the new perk may also be because of the current state of its loyalty program ecosystem. Because of the current complexity around Aeroplan, Altitude and loyalty at the airline, plus the unknowns around the upcoming 2020 program, Air Canada needs to give passengers more reasons to stick around. And though free Wi-Fi may not be valuable for everyone, it’s a unique perk that some frequent travelers will really appreciate.

— Grant Martin

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Tags: airline innovation, loyalty

Photo credit: Air Canada is revamping its loyalty program to give free perks to frequent flyers. 217756

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