Air Canada Aeroplan Institutes Huge Fuel Surcharges
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.
Aeroplan used to be known as one of the top frequent flyer programs. They have generous routing rules and as a 1:1 transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest, they have been a solid option for Star Alliance awards (especially for mini-round the world trips).The key was to always avoid flying on Air Canada because they imposed fuel surcharges on Air Canada operated flights. However, if you kept it all Star Alliance partners, you'd escape such surcharges.
This July they became a lot less desirable because they increased most of their award levels. However, there were still some gems, like 90,000 miles roundtrip from North America to Western Europe.
Yesterday I received a disappointing email from TPG reader Dov bearing the bad news that Aeroplan tacked on a whopping $420 fuel surcharge to his Lufthansa JFK-Munich award. Ugh. I ignored it at first because I was busy doing my best to research British Airways' impending devaluation. Two major program devaluations in a day is too much to handle!
Lo and behold, several other bloggers also picked up on the story and as Lucky reports it's not only Lufthansa, but also ANA, Asiana and Thai as well. This is very bad news, especially if you have American Express Membership Rewards points.
A couple weeks ago I wrote that Continental leaving Membership Rewards wasn't the end of the world because Aeroplan was a great transfer partner for Star Alliance awards. However, with this new devaluation that option just got a lot less lucrative. Singapore and ANA are also transfer partners, but both also levy large surcharges and take 2+ days for the points to get transferred.
Personally, I think this just increases the value of Chase Ultimate Rewards points (the program of the Sapphire Preferred and Ink Bold cards). The same exact itineraries that will cost you $400+ with Amex points will only cost you a fraction by booking via Continental/United.
The only way I see Amex points increasing in value is if they run more lucrative transfer bonuses, but it's been pretty quiet there since October 1 and they haven't recently had any lucrative transfer promotions for Star Alliance partners.
That being said, I'm not recommending getting away from Amex points all together - there's still a lot of value in the program, but instead it's best to hedge your bets and also focus on building up your Ultimate Rewards account so you have maximum flexibility when it comes time to redeem your hard earned points.
So instead of just getting upset with the changes, I'd recommend emailing Aeroplan and American Express Membership Rewards (Tweeting works too: Aeroplan and American Express). If we don't express our frustration with these stealth devaluations, you can be sure more and more programs will follow in Aeroplan's lead.