The company that runs the Aeroplan loyalty points plan says it's prepared to accept an offer from Toronto-Dominion Bank to move its business over from rival Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce.
Aeroplan began as Air Canada's frequent flyer program but the company that runs the program changed its name to Aimia several years ago, to reflect the fact that the program has grown and diversified into a comprehensive customer loyalty program with hundreds of participating retailers.
Aimia has had a longstanding relationship with CIBC, where the bank is able to offer its credit card customers Aeroplan points every time they make purchases on their CIBC credit card. CIBC gets the benefit of offering the popular program as a feature on its cards, and Aimia gets a steady source of revenue from the bank for all those points.
Several weeks ago, CIBC CEO Gerry McCaughey revealed the bank was hinting at starting its own loyalty program, a sign the bank is dissatisfied with the financial arrangement. Then on Thursday, Aimia revealed it has an offer on the table from CIBC rival TD to become the program's official banking partner.
According to Aimia, TD would make a $100-million upfront payment in 2014 to help fund program enhancements as part of a 10-year deal that would start Jan. 1, 2014.
Under the terms of its current deal with Aimia, CIBC has the right to match any offer up until Aug. 9, 2013.
"While this is a possibility, we do not believe that it is probable as the relationship between the two organizations has likely become tarnished through these developments," Barclays analyst John Aiken said in a research note. Aiken covers both TD and CIBC.
CIBC isn't saying whether it will match the offer, but stressed Thursday that, for credit card users, it will be business as usual in the meantime.
Customers won't lose points
Should the deal go through, anyone who's been accruing points on their CIBC Aerogold card for years would maintain those points, a spokesman with Aimia confirmed to CBC News in an interview.
So an existing CIBC Aerogold customer wouldn't lose their points, they just wouldn't be earning any new ones, unless they switch to a credit card that offers Aeroplan points as a feature. But their existing points would still be there, in their Aeroplan account, available to use.
"No matter what the outcome, this is good news for Aeroplan members," the spokesperson said.
Aimia also announced it's preparing to make "groundbreaking" changes to the Aeroplan program, starting in 2014, including the launch of new co-branded financial credit cards with new features.
"The enhancements we're announcing today are the most significant changes we've made in the Aeroplan program's history," said Vince Timpano, Aimia's president and chief executive officer for Canada.
Among other things, Aimia is launching Distinction — a new recognition program that rewards top-accumulating members with exclusive privileges and cancellation of a policy that sees Aeroplan miles expire after seven years.
"Air Canada welcomes the significant program improvements Aeroplan is announcing today," said Craig Landry, the airline's vice-president of marketing.
"Enjoying travel is the most popular use for Aeroplan miles, and these enhancements will benefit all members by making redemptions more attractive while recognizing our shared best customers."
The negotiations are a fairly common occurrence in banking, as financial firms realize loyalty programs are big business. Other banks, card providers and lenders are constantly jockeying for position in the space.
David Barnes, vice-president of communications at American Express Canada, said his company welcomes the chance to compete amid the disruption.
"We’re excited by the opportunity," he told CBC News in an interview. "You’re going to have CIBC customers looking at this and weighing their options."
Barnes said Amex enjoys an ongoing relationship with Aeroplan, but also partners with Air Miles and other loyalty programs across many of their products. "We're in a sweet spot," he said. "We can win more customers on the back of this."