German BGH: Airline bonus points

Germany Highest Court (BGH) ruled yesterday about the forfeiture of Airline bonus points (BGH 28.01.2010, Xa ZR 37/09): Plaintiff was a participant of the flight awards program of the defendant airline. Under this program, travelers were able to collect a number of bonus points dependent on the route booked that could be redeemed within five years after the flight for bonus tickets. In the conditions of the program (CoP), the defendant retained the right to terminate the program at any time. In September 2007 defendant announced the ending of the rewards program by 31 October 2007 and admitted to the participants the option to transfer the points collected to another airline’s program. At the same time defendant terminated plaintiff’s participation contract and informed the plaintiff that he may book flights on the bases of the current CoP until 30 April 2008 only and which shall take place until 31 October 2008. Plaintiff considered that defendant’s CoP shall be null and void in this regard and he claimed that he could still redeem the bonus points within five years after the flight date. Both, the district court and the court of appeal dismissed the action and considered the CoP of the defendant still to be in force and binding. The BGH did not follow this point of view. Defendant may terminate the flight rewards program at any time, however, in the case at hand the CoP providing a right to decrease the period of the initial validity of the bonus points of up to one tenth can not be justified. This may cause difficulties for the defendant when booking appropriate bonus flights only six months in advance. Bonus points are a not a voluntary service provided by the defendant, since the bonus points are a kind of discount agreed which is applicable for future flights. The defendant is obliged to grant bonus points for flights that have taken place after termination the program, unless they have been booked prior to its termination on the basis of the CoP. The offered transfer to another airline’s awards program is not an alternative, because it is not equivalent in every respect.

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