First-Class Felon: 3 Aeroplan Tips From Canada’s Most Prolific Bank Robber

By Heidi Unrau | Published on 09 Feb 2024

A criminal wearing a disguise on an airplane

    He was the Houdini of heists, hitting over 60 banks nationwide and pocketing millions. But Gilbert Galvan was no amateur. The infamous ‘Flying Bandit’ planned his robberies like I plan my Netlifx marathons – meticulously and with first-class snacks. He also amassed 160,000 Aeroplan points and VIP treatment from Canada’s largest airline. Here’s how it all went down and what we can learn from it.

    Meet The Flying Bandit

    The 2022 comedy-thriller “Bandit” (now Streaming on Paramount+) flies into the life of Canada’s most prolific bank robber. But unlike the banal bank robber trope – this guy was a very unusual suspect. He snatched cash and travel rewards galore!

    Gil was a charming and witty career criminal with a flirtatious flair. I kid you not, he had bank tellers blushing and batting their eyelashes while pointing a gun in their face. With a penchant for special treatment, Gilbert discovered the magic of Aeroplan points, Canada’s premier travel loyalty program. 

    It was a match made in heaven. Gilbert’s unique modus operandi involved catching flights, not handcuffs. In the 80’s, checked bags bypassed security scanners on domestic flights. So he’d fly Air Canada with his Glock and ski mask in tow, robbing countless banks across the country.

    Hitting one bank after another, Gilbert was lining his pockets in more ways than one. He managed to earn a staggering 160,000 Aeroplan points. How? By flying frequently and almost always first class. His high-flying hijinks even helped him achieve Aeroplan Elite Status. Today, that translates to Super Elite Status, the highest tier of the program.

    The flight staff congratulated him with a special shout-out over the PA system followed by a free glass of celebratory champagne. While I don’t condone stealing as a career choice, you can’t tell me crime doesn’t pay.

    Also, no one is going to congratulate you over the PA system, they don’t do that anymore. But Aeroplan Super Elite Status does qualify you for a free alcoholic drink, to a total value of $8.95, and one free eligible snack. So there’s that. 

    1. The Importance Of a Good Credit Score

    Gilbert Galvan wasn’t Canadian. He was an American fugitive who illegally entered Canada after escaping from a Michigan jail. Upon arrival, he tried to get a legitimate job, but couldn’t without a Canadian government-issued ID. So he bought an Ontario health card from a homeless man named Robert Whiteman, which became Gil’s Canadian alias.

    On one of his Air Canada flights, an attendant asked Gil if he’d like to apply for an Aeroplan credit card. His fraudulent Ontario health card likely helped him get approved. And with a Canadian credit card in hand, he was then able to start building a Canadian credit score.

    In the movie, Gil and his girlfriend purchased a house together in Pembroke, Ontario. It’s fair to assume his Canadian credit score helped him get approved for a mortgage too. Clearly, the importance of building credit to achieve various milestones, like home ownership, cannot be overstated.

    2. The Value of Loyalty Programs

    Gil knew a good deal when he saw one. The story of the Flying Bandit demonstrates the incredible value that loyalty programs have to offer. While we don’t know the specific perks of the original Aeroplan program back in 1985, we do know what Aeroplan Elite Status offers us today. Based on his 160,000 points balance, the modern-day equivalent is Super Elite Status. Here are a few perks that the Flying Bandit would have loved:

    Free Checked Baggage

    Gil almost always flew with 2-3 checked bags for his guns, disguises, and bundles of stolen cash. Today, checked baggage is hella expensive. Gil would have been pissed to see those fees eat into his ill-begotten gains. But with today’s Aeroplan Super Elite Status, you get 3 free checked bags up to 32 kg each (70 lbs). That would have made The Flying Bandit very happy. It sure makes modern-day frequent flyers super happy!

    Dressing The Part

    The Flying Bandit eluded authorities for years because he was an absolute master of disguise. Underneath his bank-robbing costumes, he was impeccably dressed in gorgeous high-end suits. After a heist, he would immediately remove his disguise and blend into the crowd as a respectable businessman, evading suspicion as he waltzed past police with a briefcase full of stolen cash. 

    But luxury suits aren’t cheap. He knew he had to dress the part, because a knock-off could blow his cover. Today, his points could have been redeemed for name-brand merchandise through the Aeroplan eStore, like a gorgeous Canali or Hugo Boss slim-fit suit. At the very least, he could have earned 4 points per dollar spent at Bloomingdales through the Aeroplane eStore.

    Family Benefits

    The Flying Bandit was a gifted criminal, but he was also a dedicated family man. During his Canadian crime spree, he welcomed two children with his girlfriend, Janice. With Aeroplan Elite Status, Gil could have taken a break from his busy “stick-em-up!” schedule without losing status. He could have enjoyed extra time with his new baby and would have had more time at home to help his girlfriend through that exhausting newborn stage. 

    To maintain his Elite Status, he probably needed to hit minimum qualifying miles and expenditures each year. However, the Elite Status Extension for Parental Leave would have allowed him to put his status on pause during a time when he would be flying less frequently. His benefits would have resumed upon returning to full-time crime. That feature probably wasn’t available to him in the 80s, but it’s available to us now!

    3. Earning Points Faster

    Eventually, Gil grew tired of robbing banks. The proceeds of this particular crime weren’t worth the time and effort. So he partnered with Ottawa fence Tommy Craig (played by Mel Gibson in the movie), to rob jewelry stores and sell the stolen goods. High-end jewelry and diamonds fetched significantly more money than the typical holdings in a bank safe.

    The partners in crime frequently flew together, hitting various jewellery stores in cities across the country, and then flew home with their loot. If Gil also paid for Tommy Craig’s tickets with his Aeroplan credit card (or if his accomplice was added to an early version of Aeroplan Family Sharing), this would have helped him accumulate points faster. Of course, I don’t have proof, but it’s fun to speculate.

    Gil also used his credit card on other expenditures, which is how the police eventually caught him. His transaction history showed that he bought lunch across the street from a bank he robbed. Today, the best way to accumulate points is to use a co-branded credit card that rewards all your everyday purchases. 

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    The Flying Bandit: Closing Credits

    Intrigued? You can watch “Bandit” on Paramount+. The movie is a comedic juxtaposition that highlights the absurdity of Gilbert Gavlin’s situation. He’s chasing the normalcy and comfort of family life while running from the fuzz – and getting rewarded for it in the process.

    Today, Aeroplan Elite Status has tiered levels. Based on the Flying Bandit’s 160,000 points balance, that puts him in the top-tier Super Elite level. This tier unlocks premium perks for the most dedicated fliers, like free in-flight refreshments and 3 free checked bags. But most of the benefits mentioned in this article are accessible in the lower tiers too.

    So if you haven’t joined the Aeroplan program yet, this is your sign. Then start maximizing points with the right Aeroplan credit card and be your own Flying Bandit – no ski mask required.

    Heidi Unrau is a senior finance journalist at Hardbacon. She studied Economics at the University of Winnipeg, where she fell in love with all-things-finance. At 25, she kicked-off her financial career in retail banking as a teller. She quickly progressed to become a Credit Analyst and then Private Lender. This hands-on industry experience uniquely positions her to provide expert insight on loans, credit scores, credit cards, debt, and banking services. She has been featured in publications such as WealthRocket, Scary Mommy, Credello, and Plooto. When she's not chasing after her two little boys, you'll find her hiding in the car listening to the Freakonomics podcast, or binge-watching financial crime documentaries with a bowl of ice cream. Fun Fact: Heidi has lived in five different provinces across Canada and her blood type is coffee.