Cash-strapped Air Canada has sold a 35-percent stake of Aeroplan to Onex Corp., the company of one Gerry Schwartz, who in 1999 headed a hard-fought and unsuccessful campaign to buy the airline.
Onex shelled out a reported $245 million in the deal, though sources indicated that the sale price could get as high as $350 million if the program meets predetermined earning goals.
The six-million-member Aeroplan program, one of the largest loyalty plans in Canada, earns a reported $600 million annually. As with most frequent flyer programs, only a relatively small portion of that income is generated through the airline itself (40 percent). The rest is earned in the form of miles purchased by hotels, car renters, credit card companies and retailers.
Recently, Air Canada announced that it will seek about $650 million in labor concessions, which could potentially result in the loss of 10,000 jobs. Reports have since indicated that the airline, struggling under heavy debt, may also sell off its regional Jazz carrier, though finding a buyer might be difficult, considering that the division loses about $90 million a year.
Editor’s Note: Four years ago there was a white paper produced from a Wall Street firm that suggested that several frequent flyer programs might consider the partial sale of their loyalty programs to the public market, and it’s likely that one or two of them would have done so if the bottom had not fallen out from the IPO and dot-com mania. However, this does indicate that airlines such as United and US Airways likely have unrecognized value, which may be monetized in the private and public market as a way to raise additional cash toward recovery. This had to be a difficult decision by Aeroplan — we don’t think they got the full value they might have gotten in better economic times. However, you have to do what you have to do to save the airline. Don’t be surprised to see more of this in the near and far future.