WestJet’s (WJA.TO) CEO says Air Canada’s decision to launch its own loyalty program in 2020 represents “perhaps the biggest opportunity” for his airline.

In an interview with BNN, Gregg Saretsky suggested that Aeroplan members may become “fearful” and redeem their points en masse before the upcoming transition.

“All of a sudden the 30-year head start that Air Canada has had gets neutralized overnight,” he said.

Air Canada revealed in May it will not renew its contract with Aimia, which runs the Aeroplan rewards program, when their current contract expires.

Shares of Aimia (AIM.TO) plunged more than 60 per cent after the news broke, as investors questioned the future of the loyalty company without its exclusive flight partner.

The Montreal-based firm has stated it is in talks with new potential partners to replace Air Canada, but Saretsky told BNN the loss of the airline contract could hypothetically put Aimia’s survival at risk.

“If Air Canada is no longer a partner and they don’t have another partner to redeem on, they have this huge liability that they’re unable to fulfill,” he said. “Usually, when that happens there’s a bankruptcy involved and usually in bankruptcy bad things happen.”

In a statement to BNN, Aimia CEO David Johnston called Saretsky’s comments “speculative and inaccurate.”

“Aimia is financially strong with $670 million of cash and investments on our balance sheet,” he wrote in an email. “We stand by our stated intention that we will provide a multi-airline redemption offering to our members.”

Aimia said there was an initial surge in point redemptions in the weeks after the May announcement. But on a Nov. 9 conference call, Johnston told analysts redemptions have returned to relatively normal levels.

A spokesperson for Air Canada told BNN it will be “business as usual” for Aeroplan members until the contract expires.

According to an Air Canada press release, any miles earned on Air Canada and Star Alliance flights after June, 2020 will be credited to the airline’s new program.

The airline has also stated it intends to continue to make Air Canada flights available for Aeroplan redemption after 2020 at market rates.

For Saretsky, its chief rival’s new loyalty strategy represents a great opportunity for the airline’s seven-year-old program, WestJet Rewards.

“We’re not being bold or complacent about it, but I think it opens up tremendous avenues, new opportunities for us to really take our rewards program in a different and more aggressive direction,” he told BNN.

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