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With the Aeroplan/Air Canada devaluation coming up in a few weeks, TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen takes a look at the awards you should book before the changes go into effect.
In September, Aeroplan, the mileage program of Air Canada, announced yet another devaluation to its award chart that will go into effect December 15, 2015. So if you’re thinking about booking some awards using Aeroplan miles (or transferring Amex or Starwood points to your Aeroplan account), now’s the time to do so!
Luckily, this devaluation is relatively minor and affects just a few regions. There were actually some positive changes as well, including the fact that you will be able to book one-way awards between any regions, not just on flights originating or terminating in North America. Some redemptions are also going down in price, including those from Mexico to Africa and from India to the Middle East.
However, the major changes to note are that business- and first-class redemptions from the US/Canada to both Europe and South America will be increasing, as will economy awards to Australia/New Zealand/South Pacific.
Here’s the short version, though. Numbers quoted are round-trip:
US/Canada to Australia/New Zealand/South Pacific – 80,000 increasing to 90,000
US/Canada to Europe 1 — 90,000 increasing to 110,000
US/Canada to Europe 2 — 105,000 increasing to 115,000
US/Canada to Southern South America — 95,000 increasing to 110,000
US/Canada to Europe 1 — 125,000 increasing to 140,000
US/Canada to Europe 2 — 145,000 increasing to 160,000
US/Canada to Southern South America increasing to 135,000 to 140,000
For reference, here are the countries included in each of the affected regions.
Europe 1: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Poland*, Portugal, Spain (including Balearic Islands; excluding Canary Islands), Sweden, Switzerland and the UK.
* As of December 15, 2015, Poland will be part of the travel zone Europe 2.
Europe 2: Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Greece, Greenland, Hungary, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg*, Macedonia, Malta, Moldova, Montenegro, Romania, Russia (Western), Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Turkey and Ukraine.
* As of December 15, 2015, Luxembourg will be part of the travel zone Europe 1.
Southern South America: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay.
South Pacific: Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Norfolk Island, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu.
Just beware that Aeroplan levies sky-high surcharges on certain awards, including many on Air Canada itself and Lufthansa (unfortunately). Still, there are other great options, and even paying a few hundred dollars in taxes and fees on a ticket might be worth it if you’re getting to fly a product like Lufthansa first class. Here are the awards you should consider booking now, if possible, before the award prices go up.
If you need tips and strategies to help you do so, check out our post, How to Book Award Flights with Air Canada Aeroplan.
1. Lufthansa First and Business Class
Lufthansa’s first class is one of the best premium experiences in the skies, so if you have a chance to book it using your miles, you should go for it. Especially because, as TPG noted, it’s one of the best Aeroplan redemptions … for now. Until December 15, it’ll cost you 62,500 miles each way from the US or Canada, but after that, it’ll be 70,000 miles. That’s not too bad considering United would charge you the same amount of miles to fly Lufthansa business class, but you might as well score a lower redemption if possible. Seats usually open up between a week and a day before departure, or very far in advance.
Check out the flight below from Washington Dulles to Frankfurt from over the weekend. Just 62,500 miles each way, but around $456 in taxes/fees!
If you’re interested in a first-class redemption, you might have to book it right up to the deadline because these seats usually only open up at the last minute. However, look for less well-known routes like Munich to Charlotte or Chicago.
The airline’s transition from old to new business class aboard its long-haul fleet has also been completed, so that might be a good option for getting to Europe as well.
Here’s a sample award from Boston (BOS) to Frankfurt (FRA) in February.
It’s just 45,000 miles for now and will be 55,000 after the deadline, but those taxes and fees are very high. You might want to try one of the other options below.
2. Singapore Airlines Business Class to Europe
Awards to Asia aren’t changing in price, but Singapore operates two routes from the US to Europe that you might want to consider: New York (JFK) to Frankfurt (FRA) and Houston (IAH) to Moscow (DME).
While Singapore blocks its famous First Class Suites from partner award bookings, you can still snag business-class awards from time to time. The Houston-Moscow route actually looks like it has pretty decent availability, but that New York-Frankfurt route is a lot harder to find seats on. In my experience, you either have to do it at the last minute or very far in advance.
The other consideration is that you won’t be able to search for Singapore awards on Aeroplan. However, ANA’s search engine still does a good job at pulling in Singapore award space. For a primer on how to use it, check out this recent post. Once you’re logged in, just put in your city pairs and dates, and I’d suggest using the “+/- 3 Day” option just to see all your choices.
Click on a date with an “OK” below it to see the flights for your dates.
As you can see from the options below, you could fly on either Lufthansa or Singapore on the outbound.
And Singapore on the return.
Just note that ANA’s site still seems to have some glitches. The first is that the availability calendar might say “OK” on a certain date, but when you select it, no flights are available. That tends to be the true test of availability. However, if flights show up and you select them, sometimes when you click “Next,” the following message pops up.
It says that either the flights you selected were unavailable, or the class of service. However, I called Aeroplan about these flights and they were showing as available to the phone rep, so if you find space on ANA in the first place, you should be good to go. You might just have to call in to book it.
3. Turkish Airlines Business Class
Turkish Airlines has really expanded its global reach in recent years and fields a huge fleet with tons of destinations not just in North America and Europe, but around the world. Right now, you can fly its business class from North America to Istanbul for 52,500 miles each way, but that will go up by 5,000 miles in December, so think about booking now. Here’s a sample award from San Francisco (SFO) – Istanbul (IST) in January for just 52,500 miles and $5.60 in taxes/fees.
The security situation in Turkey has obviously been a bit unstable lately, so before planning any travel, I’d suggest consulting the State Department site for advisories.
4. SWISS Business Class to Europe
Unfortunately, SWISS blocks its first-class awards from partner miles, so you’re out of luck there. But you can use your Aeroplan miles to fly business class, and the airline announced a revamp of its cabins aboard its new 777-300ERs, which will go into service this spring. Check out this post for more information, but the new planes should be flying from Zurich to New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Montreal by the end of summer.
Before then, think about taking a late-winter ski trip to Switzerland. There seems to be a bit of business-class availability from various US cities to Zurich in February. Here’s a sample flight from Chicago (ORD) to Zurich (ZRH) on February 3 for just 45,000 miles and $5.60!
As a heads up, I also found quite a lot of business-class award availability on SWISS’s Boston (BOS)–Zurich (ZRH) flight this spring, so that might be a good bet, too.
5. SAS Business Class to Europe
SAS is currently rolling out a new business class on its long-haul fleet, and though routes are still limited, you can find it flying from Newark (EWR) to Copenhagen (CPH) and Oslo (OSL), as well as Chicago (ORD) to Stockhom (ARN). Book it now, while it will just cost 45,000 miles each way instead of 55,000.
Best of all, taxes are just $5.60!
6. United Business Class to South America
It might seem silly to use Aeroplan miles to fly United to South America, but on December 15, both United and Aeroplan will charge you the same amount of miles to do so: 55,000 each way. Until then, though, Aeroplan will cost just 47,500 miles, and that’s a fair bit of savings.
United doesn’t field a huge amount of fights to Southern South America, but it does fly from Houston to a few spots including Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro, and that Rio flight is aboard a 787-9 Dreamliner. Surprisingly enough, there’s actually a decent amount of availability in the direction from Rio (GIG) up to Houston (IAH), though it’s a bit tighter to find a ticket on the way down.
Here’s a sample award in January for 47,500 miles and about $54 in taxes/fees.
7. Air Canada Business Class to Europe
Yes, another option to Europe! I might actually avoid this one because Air Canada tends to levy high fuel surcharges on its own flights, but if you want to try its new 787 Dreamliner business class, your best bet might be on flights from Toronto to Copenhagen, London, Paris, Istanbul or Zurich this spring.
In fact, here’s a sample flight from Toronto (YYZ) to Istanbul (IST) on a 787-8 in September that would cost you 52,500 miles now, but 57,500 after December 15. Plus $373 in taxes/fees, that is!
8. LOT Polish Airlines Business Class to Europe
Poland might not be top of your list, but the country does have a lot of popular attractions and beautiful cities like Warsaw and Krakow, not to mention the fact that LOT offers quite a few connections throughout the rest of Europe. You might want to consider it because not only are business- and first-class redemptions increasing, but the switchover of Poland from Europe 1 to Europe 2 in Aeroplan’s regional definitions on December 15 means that awards to/from Poland and beyond in Eastern Europe will get substantially more expensive (about 15,000 miles round-trip in most cases).
The airline flies its 787-8 Dreamliners to the US, and award availability to Chicago (ORD) and New York (JFK) tends to be pretty good. Here’s a date in June with two flights with business-class availability.
And the taxes and fees on this would be just $87.80.
9. Air New Zealand Economy
One of the economy awards that’s going up is actually from North America to the South Pacific, including New Zealand. It’ll cost you 45,000 miles instead of 40,000 miles each way after December 15. So if you want to fly Air New Zealand from Los Angeles, San Francisco or Houston to Auckland, book now!
Here’s a sample award from San Francisco (SFO) to Auckland (AKL) in June for 40,000 miles and $17.50.
If you need to stock up on Aeroplan miles in a hurry, you’ve got a few great options. The program is a 1:1 transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards (and transfers are nearly instantaneous), which you can earn with cards like the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express and The Platinum Card® from American Express.
Aeroplan is also a 1:1 transfer partner of Starwood Preferred Guest — you can earn 25,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 within the first three months with the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card and 25,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 within the first three months with the Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card — transfers to Aeroplan can take up to a week.
Also note that Aeroplan is offering a conversion bonus through December 21 where you can earn up to 40,000 bonus miles when you transfer in points from any of the program’s 13 transfer partners (including Starwood Preferred Guest, but excluding Amex Membership Rewards), so that’s also something to consider.