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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.
Wait, isn’t Aeroplan going away?
Let’s first address the elephant in the room. No, Aeroplan isn’t going away, nor is it breaking up with Air Canada. You’ve might have heard a little about the recent drama surrounding the program’s future, which is actually a separate company that was spun off of Air Canada back in 2002. The carrier had announced in May of 2017 that it would no longer partner with Aeroplan and instead launch its own loyalty program. This led many to wonder how this frequent flyer program could exist without an airline. There was talk of partnership with other carriers, but in an abrupt reversal, Air Canada announced in August 2018 that it would buy back Aeroplan. However, the airline maintains that it will still launch a new frequent flyer program and Aeroplan points will transfer to it at a 1:1 ratio. Lots of drama, but for travelers it looks like it will all amount to a mere re-branding a few years down the road.
Earning Aeroplan miles when traveling on Air Canada
For now, the miles you earn when flying on Air Canada will vary based on the miles flown and the fare class purchased. Although Air Canada doesn’t have a strictly revenue-based mileage earning program like American, Delta and United, the end result is somewhat similar. Basic economy fares earn just 25% of the miles flown, while full fare and business class tickets earn 125%-150% of the distance traveled. Other fare classes offer mileage based on the distance traveled.
Since Air Canada/Aeroplan is also 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 guide on “Where Should You Credit United Flights.”
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. Though a bit more niche than other partners, these carriers do allow you to reach some of the most remote destinations you can visit with points and miles. Aeroplan also has numerous other retail, banking and mileage-earning partners, but most are geared toward Canadian residents. However, like other most other frequent flyer programs, Aeroplan features plenty of rental car and hotel partners that offer miles to travelers of any nationality.
Credit Cards, Transfers and Other Partners
Air Canada has been a long-time transfer partner of both American Express Membership Rewards and the Marriott Rewards programs and was just announced as a partner of Capital One. The former two programs have even been known to offer transfer bonuses in the past, with Aeroplan occasionally featuring bonuses when you transfer miles from hotel programs and American Express offering periodic transfer bonuses. And with the 2:1.5 transfer ratio through Capital One, you could use the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card (and the 2x miles it offers on all purchases) to effectively earn 1.5 Aeroplan miles for every dollar you spend.
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 TD Aeroplan Visa for US Cardholders.
Award Chart and Sweet Spots
Make no mistake: the Air Canada round trip award chart (one-way awards are available for half the published miles) is not as great as it once was. However, it can still offer terrific value — and it’s still published, unlike Delta’s award chart. 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 require just 7,500 miles each way in economy class. And unlike many other airlines that feature reduced-mileage awards for flights that are heavily discounted anyway, 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 Europe). A round-trip business class award to Europe 1 is only 110,000 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.
At 115,000 miles, round-trip business class awards to Europe 2 are still pretty reasonable, especially when you consider that United charges 120,000 miles for round-trip business class awards to Europe on its own metal and 140,000 for long-haul award flights to Europe on its partners. However, you’ll definitely want to pay careful attention to the next sweet spot.
3. Partner awards with no fuel surcharges
It’s sad that most carriers now impose fuel surcharges on their award flights, and while Aeroplan is guilty of this for certain partners, there are many Star Alliance carriers that won’t incur these extra fees (note that United and Avianca are the two programs that still avoid these on all partner flights). You’ll pay fuel surcharges on international award flights operated by Air Canada along with select partners like Austrian Airlines, but you can still book awards with no fuel surcharges for flights operated by Aegean, Air China, Air India, Air New Zealand, Avianca, Brussels Airlines, COPA, Croatia Airlines, EVA Airlines, Egypt Air, Ethiopian, GOL, Juneyao Airlines, SAS, SWISS, Shenzhen Airlines, Singapore Airlines, South African Airways, Turkish Airlines and United Airlines. In addition, fuel surcharges on LOT Polish, Thai and Cathay Pacific are very low (Aeroplan miles can only be redeemed for select short-haul flights on Cathay).
4. First class awards on Air China with no fuel surcharges
There aren’t many airlines that still offer first class, and just a handful of those carriers don’t incur fuel surcharges on Aeroplan awards. Air China, Swiss and Singapore each have a first class, but Singapore and Swiss almost never release first class award seats to partners. 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. 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, culminating in this extensive post on the subject. That’s how I discovered that Aeroplan is one the best programs to use for 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. I have a colleague who was forced to cough up nearly $800 for an infant-in-arms ticket on a business class flight to Europe to cover 10% of the full-priced ticket plus government-imposed taxes and fees.
Since Aeroplan miles are worth about 1.5 cents each based on TPG’s latest valuations, I’d likely pay cash if given the choice. And if I was transferring points from Membership Rewards (valued at 1.9 cents apiece) or Marriott Rewards, 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. In order to search, you’ll need to create an account and login. Unfortuntately, you’ll notice that while Aeroplan’s award booking engine can be useful, it’s quite clunky and isn’t always accurate. For example, while the website does have a calendar functionality, it takes quite some time to switch from one date to another. It also only shows you one class at a time (economy/premium economy and business/first); you’ll need to use the drop-down to switch between the two. In contrast, United’s website has a column for each available class, and there’s a much shorter 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; United’s site showed 20 or more for the exact same search parameters. 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 not show mixed cabin itineraries, the default is to display them. 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):
For all of these reasons, I like to search on United’s website first and then call to book the flights if they don’t appear on Aeroplan’s site. However, United MileagePlus cardholders should be careful not to sign into United.com when searching, as they may see flights available exclusively to them as cardholders that are not bookable as an Aeroplan partner award. For more information on this cool feature, read my post on Unlocking United Award Availability with MileagePlus Cards.
ANA’s website is another effective way to search for Star Alliance award space, but it also displays limited connecting options. 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.
Aeroplan is also one of the few airlines that offers awards in premium economy class, which is a separate class of service, not like the additional legroom “Economy Plus” seats offered by United or Delta’s Comfort Plus. This can be a good option if you’re looking to have a slightly more comfortable long-haul flight.
1. Avoid “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, round-trip award flights to India and South Africa are pretty reasonably priced at 150,000 miles in business class. However, Aeroplan charges 165,000 miles for round-trip 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 round-trip, making the Middle East and North Africa the most expensive first and business class destinations on the award chart for North American travelers.
Travelers to North African destinations like Morocco could save 55,000 miles by booking a Europe 1 round-trip award to Spain in business class for only 110,000 miles, and then booking a separate ticket to their destination (or by taking the ferry across the Straits of Gibraltar). You could also save 50,000 miles by flying into Eastern 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 award flights. This allows you to add additional cities to your Aeroplan award tickets without spending any additional miles. For more information, read Nick Ewen’s post on Maximizing Stopovers and Open Jaws.
Aeroplan miles are readily available (and will become more so in December once the program is added as a Capital One transfer partner), easy to use and often quite valuable. While the online award search engine isn’t the greatest, you should be able to redeem your miles for partner flights found on other websites. As long as you stay away from the program’s partner carriers that impose fuel surcharges on award tickets, your Aeroplan miles can take you far.
Know before you go.
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