air berlin’s topbonus Program Asks Frequent Flyers Not to Sue Them

oneworld member air berlin filed for bankruptcy two weeks ago after Etihad withdrew its support. The German government extended a loan guarantee (subsidy) to keep the airline flying while a sale of assets was arranged. The airline has cumulatively lost several billion dollars.

The airline’s topbonus frequent flyer program — which is a separate company majority-owned by Etihad — has filed for bankruptcy as well.

Travel Codex shares an email from the topbonus program. They aren’t exactly reassuring, suggesting that “ideally” you will not “lose any of your miles at all.”

Flying air berlin won’t earn you miles. Flying partner airlines won’t earn you miles for now but if the program re-opens they might credit you with the miles you’ve earned with partners in the meantime.

Using the air berlin co-brand credit card won’t earn you any miles. And your accumulated miles can’t be used for now. The program is in bankruptcy, but it’s an independent company and the member list has value.

Perhaps it will be sold for parts (the consumer data) or perhaps they’ll begin life anew as a non-aligned rewards program but it’s difficult to see how they have a strong future with accumulated liability (points) many of which they won’t be paid for by air berlin.

The program explains that since they’ve suspended redemptions, they cannot credit you with any miles which is somewhat absurd.

We will reopen the mileage credits in the programme as soon as we have found a viable way of being able to offer redemption options to you again… As collecting and redeeming presuppose each other, we can only reopen mileage credits as soon as we can also offer you options of redeeming them.

Obviously there’s no point in collecting miles that can never be redeemed. But they say they’re working on new redemption options. When Virgin America launched the Elevate program in 2007 they told everyone to sign up right away and they’d become a ‘Founding Member’ (which turned out to get you nothing). You could earn points but they hadn’t yet introduced redemptions.

And they ask you to please, please not file any claims against them.

As long as the insolvency proceedings have not been opened, which is expected to start at the beginning of November 2017, we kindly ask you to refrain from making any claims.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Has there ever been a situation where the frequent flyer program of an airline effectively shut down before the airline? Weird situation, obviously. I’m sure that if I had miles with Air Berlin, I’d be pretty frosted right now.

  2. @iahphx well travel providers have ended one program and replaced it with another for instance Howard Johnson Supermiles and Travelodge Miles were replaced by TripRewards which was replaced by Wyndham Rewards, Aer Lingus Golden Circle Club was replaced with Aer Club (a devaluation)

  3. @Gary Leff — well, yeah, but that’s obviously not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about frequent flyers “losing their miles” while the carrier remained in business. This the first time, right?

    From a consumer perspective, my “favorite” shutdown still has to be the much-troubled and long-gone Eastern Airlines. Due to the fact that their “sister airline” Continental stayed in business, not only did consumers not lose their miles, but even the “lifetime” lounge card holders made out. And I’m betting for those old enough, their miles on Eastern still count toward United’s “million miler” program!

  4. Technically, you can’t sue topbonus yet, as the insolvency isn’t on the record yet, so this is actually good advice. And a law suit is not going to be worth it – there balance sheet is very weak…
    German media reported that there is interest in selling the program, maybe a bank, merchant or similar will buy the address book. So, with a little luck, your 200,000 topbonus miles will get you a gently used toaster!

  5. “Obviously there’s no point in collecting miles that can never be redeemed”

    Are you sure that’s not a disAAdvantage email?

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