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Earning points and miles is the surprisingly easy part of award travel; it’s learning how to maximize value when redeeming that takes practice. In this post, TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Jason Steele explains how to use your Aeroplan miles to book the flights you want.
Our neighbors to the north are nothing if not friendly, and Air Canada offers its Aeroplan frequent flyer program with a uniquely Canadian twist. But even if you’re not planning on visiting the country — or even flying on Air Canada anytime soon — you’ll find plenty of reasons to participate in the Aeroplan program, which is actually independent from the airline itself.
Earning Miles with Air Canada Aeroplan
The miles you earn when flying on Air Canada will vary based on the fare class purchased. Although Air Canada doesn’t have a strictly revenue-based program like Delta and United, the results are somewhat similar, as discounted fares earn just a quarter of the miles flown, while full fare and business class tickets earn 125%-150% of the distance traveled.
Air Canada is part of the Star Alliance, which includes United, Lufthansa, Singapore and other global carriers. You could fly any Star Alliance carrier and choose to credit the flight to Air Canada, however, the miles credited will still depend on fare class purchased. For example, United flights in discounted fare classes S, T, L, K, G and N receive only 50% of the miles flown, although all other fare classes receive at least 100% of the miles flown. For more information, read my post on Where Should You Credit United Flights After March 1st?.
Aeroplan also has several non-alliance airline partners where you can earn miles, but these are small, regional Canadian carriers, including Air Creebec and Calm Air. The program has numerous other retail, banking and mileage-earning partners, but most are geared toward Canadian residents. But like other airlines, it offers plenty of rental car and hotel partners that offer miles to travelers of any nationality.
Credit Cards, Transfers and Other Partners
Air Canada is a transfer partner of both American Express Membership Rewards and the Starwood Preferred Guest programs. Both of these programs have been known to offer transfer bonuses, such as this summer’s Air Canada promotion for transferring miles from select partners, including the Starwood Preferred Guest program.
Air Canada has several credit cards for Canadian residents, but it also offers the TD Aeroplan Visa Signature card to American citizens and residents through its partner, TD Bank. The current offer features 25,000 bonus miles after spending $1,000 within three months. There’s a $95 annual fee (waived the first year), and points earned from spending count toward Aeroplan’s Distinction status. For more information on this card, read my review of Air Canada’s New TD Aeroplan Visa for US Cardholders.
Award Chart and Sweet Spots
Make no mistake, the Air Canada award chart is not as great as it once was, but it still can offer terrific value — and it’s still published, unlike the award charts of some carriers. Here are some of the best options for redeeming your miles, along with some tips for planning your award travel:
1. Short-haul flights on Air Canada — Aeroplan offers dozens of short-haul routes that cost only 7,500 each way in economy class. And unlike many other airlines that feature reduced-mileage awards for flights that are heavily discounted anyway, these quick flights to and from Canada can normally be quite expensive. Eligible destinations to/from Toronto and Montreal include cities in Connecticut, Georgia, New York, Pennsylvania and more.
2. Western Europe in business class — The Aeroplan award chart divides Europe into two zones: Europe 1 (countries in western Europe) and Europe 2 (countries in eastern and southeastern Europe). A round-trip business class award to Europe 1 is only 90,000 miles. Among the countries in this category, Italy really stands out as a great award travel destination — I was able to use Aeroplan miles, in part, for my family’s award trip there last summer.
At 105,000 miles, round-trip business class awards to Europe 2 are still pretty reasonable, especially when you consider that United charges 120,000 miles for the same awards, and 140,000 for award flights on its partners (depending on the carrier for the transatlantic segment).
3. Partner awards with no fuel surcharges — It’s sad that most carriers now impose fuel surcharges on their award flights, but Air Canada is one one of the rare holdouts (along with United and Avianca/TACA), at least when it comes to certain partners. You’ll pay fuel surcharges on international award flights operated by Air Canada, but you can still book awards with no fuel surcharges so long as the flights are operated by Air China, Brussels, EgyptAir, Ethiopian, EVA Air, Scandinavian, Singapore, Swiss, Turkish or United. Plus, fuel surcharges on LOT Polish are very low.
4. First class awards with no fuel surcharges — There aren’t many airlines that still offer first class, and even fewer don’t incur fuel surcharges on Aeroplan awards. Air China, Swiss and Singapore each have a first class, but Singapore rarely releases awards (to its partners) in first, and Swiss never does. This leaves Air China as your best option for international first class awards with no added fuel surcharges. Awards to Asia are 210,000 and 215,000 miles for the Asia 1 and Asia 2 regions, respectively. United also has first class, but its product isn’t in the same league as the Asian carriers, and the cabin is only available on select flights. There are also some opportunities to use Aeroplan to book Lufthansa first-class seats, which is a great redemption option. For more information, read my post on How to Avoid Fuel Surcharges on Award Travel
5. Lap child awards — I’ve done more research on infant award travel than anyone else I know, ever since I wrote this extensive post on the subject three years ago. That’s how I discovered Aeroplan is one the best programs to use to book infant lap child awards, as it charges a flat fee of $50 or 5,000 miles for awards in economy; $100 or 10,000 miles for business; and $125 or 12,500 miles for first. This compares favorably to the customary (and outrageous) practice of charging 10% of the airfare, which is often based on a full-fare ticket. Since Aeroplan miles are worth about 1.6 cents each, according to TPG’s latest valuations, I’d likely pay cash if given the choice. And if I was transferring points from Membership Rewards (valued at 2 cents apiece) or Starwood (2.5 cents), the cash price becomes a bargain.
First, make sure you go to Aeroplan.com to book awards, as you won’t find this option on AirCanada.com. Next, you’ll notice that while Aeroplan’s award booking engine can be useful, it’s quite clunky and not terribly accurate. For example, searches begin with about 10-20 seconds of waiting, which can be incredibly frustrating when you’re exhaustively searching many different options. This occurs when you select a different date or even a different fare class, so the time spent staring at your screen can really add up. In fact, the website only shows one class of service at a time, so you have to separately select another class such as business or first if you want to see that option. In contrast, United’s website has a column for each available class, and there’s no waiting time if you pick another date on the calendar.
The Aeroplan site also offers far fewer options with connecting flights than United’s site does. For example, on a sample search for flights from Denver to Toronto, it wasn’t uncommon for Aeroplan to offer less than five options with connecting flights, while United’s site showed 20 or more. Furthermore, when searching for business class awards, the Aeroplan website will display itineraries that have the longest segment in economy and only the shorter connecting flights in business or first class. Although there’s an option to only display flights in business/first class, other sites will only show itineraries with long-haul flights in business and the short-haul segments in economy (when that’s all that’s available).
If you’re willing to consider awards with connecting flights, you should search on United’s website first, and then call to book the flights if they doesn’t appear on Aeroplan’s site. ANA’s website is another effective way to search for Star Alliance award space, but it also displays limited options that include connections. In my experience, Aeroplan’s telephone representatives are friendly, but they’ll rarely waive the telephone booking fee of $30 CAD (~$22.64 USD), even when you’re unable to ticket your award online.
Another quirk of the Aeroplan program: You can book one-way awards for half the mileage, but only when traveling to or from Canada and the continental United States. So if you’re originating from Hawaii, Alaska or any country other than the US or Canada, you’ll have to book a full round-trip award.
Aeroplan is also one of the few airlines that offers awards in premium economy class, which is a separate class of service, not the additional legroom “Economy Plus” seats offered by United and some other airlines. But while both LOT and Lufthansa now offer premium economy seats, I couldn’t find any of these awards when searching Aeroplan’s site.
1. Watch out for “sour spots” — Although there are some good values in the Aeroplan award chart, there are also some instances where it’s best to use your miles elsewhere, or to use miles from another program. For example, flights to India and South Africa are pretty reasonably priced, at 150,000 miles round-trip in business class, yet Aeroplan charges 165,000 miles for awards from Canada and the continental US to the Middle East and North Africa despite those being much shorter flights. In fact, even flights to Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific are only 160,000 miles, making the Middle East and North Africa the most expensive destinations on the award chart.
Travelers to North African destinations like Morocco could save 75,000 miles booking a Europe 1 award to Spain in business class for only 90,000 miles, and then booking a separate ticket to their destination (or by taking the ferry across the Straits of Gibraltar). You can also save 60,000 miles by flying into European cities like Istanbul, Athens or even Larnaca, Cyprus, before continuing on a short flight to Tel Aviv, Cairo or other Middle Eastern destinations.
2. Book round-trip flights with infants — The infant award tickets are a great value compared to other carriers, but you’ll be charged twice if you book two one way awards, so be sure to combine your itineraries if possible.
3. Utilize one-way, stopover and open jaw policies — Air Canada’s stopover and routing policies aren’t as generous as they once were, but they’re still more flexible than policies at some other airlines. A stopover or an open jaw is permitted on flights within North America (not including Puerto Rico and Hawaii). One open jaw and one stopover or two stopovers in addition to your destination are permitted on round-trip flights. For more information, read Nick Ewen’s post on Maximizing Stopovers and Open Jaws.
Aeroplan miles are readily available, easy to use and often quite valuable. So long as you utilize another carrier’s website to search for award travel and avoid the carriers with fuel surcharges, your Aeroplan miles can take you far.
What’s your favorite use of Aeroplan miles?