19 things you need to know about redeeming with the new Aeroplan
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Air Canada's new loyalty program launches later this year and although the airline is maintaining the "Aeroplan" brand, there's a lot of change on the way.
We've detailed several elements of the new program — Family Sharing, the new stopover policy and why higher rates don't necessarily represent a devaluation. Here, I'm going to dig into some of the biggest changes when it comes to redemptions so you have an idea of what to expect when the new Aeroplan launches on Nov. 8, 2020.
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You can book a whole bunch of airlines
All Star Alliance members and Connecting Partners are fair game, of course, but Air Canada also partners with several carriers outside of its alliance, such as Azul and Etihad, with even more opportunities to earn and redeem points. Better yet, you can mix and match partners as you see fit — fly Swiss from Los Angeles (LAX) to Zurich (ZRH), Lufthansa to Frankfurt (FRA) and Etihad on to Abu Dhabi (AUH) – all on a single ticket. All in, travelers can redeem Aeroplan points for flights to more than 1,300 destinations on more than 35 partners worldwide.
Redemption rates are going up
Fortunately, it isn't all bad news. While some awards are going up, others are virtually unchanged. For redemptions that are becoming more expensive, the airline is offsetting that additional mileage cost with the elimination of carrier surcharges (more on that below).
No more surcharges
This one's huge. While Aeroplan members can book most carriers without sky-high cash co-pays, in certain cases — flights operated by Air Canada, Air China, ANA, Austrian Airlines, LOT, Lufthansa and Thai, for example — customers redeeming points could end up paying significant amounts in fuel surcharges.
Some business or first-class tickets between the U.S. and Europe previously came with carrier surcharges in excess of $1,000 round-trip — under the new Aeroplan, they're being eliminated altogether, matching policies in place with some other Star Alliance carriers, including Avianca LifeMiles and United MileagePlus.
There's a $39 CAD partner booking fee
While there's a lot of secrecy when it comes to the numbers, frequent flyer programs typically "purchase" flights when you choose to redeem points for partners — albeit at a far lower rate than you'd be paying yourself when booking with cash.
Still, airlines prefer that frequent flyers travel on their own metal — in this case, Air Canada would rather you redeem Aeroplan points to book its own flights to Europe, rather than, say, a Lufthansa or United award. To motivate you to do just that, and offset some of the partner booking cost, Aeroplan is adding a $39 CAD ($29 USD) per-person booking fee.
Stopovers are a great deal
I'm so excited about this addition that I'm digging in with more detail in a dedicated post. Stopovers give you the ability to build multiple trips into one award. You could fly from New York to Tokyo via Paris, for example, and work in a week or two in France. Better yet, you'll need to redeem just 5,000 additional points for the privilege. You can add two stopovers on round-trip itineraries for 5,000 points each way, or one on a one-way trip, though they aren't permitted within North America.
No penalty for open-jaws
This may seem like a minor detail, but it's important to note. Since round-trip awards are priced as two one-ways, you can easily work in an open-jaw. You could fly from Chicago (ORD) to London (LHR) on the outbound, for example, and Nice (NCE) to Chicago on the return, without redeeming additional points.
And since you can work in two free stopovers, you could even stop in, say, Munich (MUC), in one direction and Geneva (GVA) in the other. You could build in trips to Munich, London, Nice and Geneva all on one round-trip award, plus a total of 10,000 in stopover fees. You'd just need to get between London and Nice, an easy and cheap low-cost carrier hop.
There's flexible routing
Previously, you may have encountered routing restrictions, based on the "Maximum Permitted Mileage" (MPM) for a certain route. With the new Aeroplan, those limits are gone, making it easier to piece together flights to take advantage of award availability. Need to connect in Australia to get between New York and Cambodia? That's allowed! Thanks to the stopover program, you can even work in a side trip to Sydney along the way.
You'll have "last seat" availability
If you can book a seat on Air Canada using cash, you can also redeem points for it. That's right — every single economy, premium-economy and business-class seat is up for grabs with Aeroplan. It's worth noting that on certain flights (especially those with limited availability), you'll pay a hefty premium to redeem points.
Air Canada flights have variable pricing
Given that every seat is available for award booking, you'll need to use more points for some cabins on certain flights. Using a flight between Canada and the U.S., for example, most economy awards will be priced between 12,500 and 17,500 points each way; between 20,000 and 35,000 for premium economy; and 25,000 to 60,000 for business class.
In rare cases, you could be on the hook for many more points — most one-way business-class tickets to Europe will top out at 160,000 points, for example. But on certain flights, you may need to redeem more.
Partners have fixed pricing
While Aeroplan members have access to every Air Canada seat, the same doesn't apply to partners. Low-level awards need to be available in order to book through Aeroplan — generally the X fare class for economy, I for business class and O for first class. Partner awards have a fixed price based on a chart, bucking the trend with some U.S. programs such as United.
Mix points and cash
We're still awaiting more details here, but Aeroplan's new Points + Cash feature sounds great on the surface. You'll be able to choose a variable mix of both, between 60% and 100% of the points required, with the balance covered in cash, and you'll be able to use points to cover taxes and fees as well, just as you can now. Redemption values will likely vary, but should fall somewhere between 1.5 and 2 CAD cents (1.13 and 1.51 USD cents) per point.
There are three Air Canada award types
Aeroplan members will be able to book three categories of Air Canada redemptions. Standard, the lowest-cost awards, will carry a change fee and a-la-carte services. Flex, the next tier, offers at least 50% off award redeposit fees, plus access to Air Canada's Signature Suite on business-class awards. Meanwhile, Latitude includes Signature Suite access, plus no-fee changes and refunds.
Expect big call center improvements
Air Canada has already made investments to improve its often disgraceful call center performance. The airline has significantly reduced hold times and pledged comprehensive training for all agents, so they should have a pretty good idea of how to book awards and manage your account by the time the new program launches. That's especially good news for anyone looking to book a trip with a complex routing that will need to be booked by phone — at launch, at least.
Change and cancel fees apply
While award flights remain far more flexible than most paid fares — your points go back into your account when you cancel a redemption — there are some fees to be aware of.
First, if you choose to change your flight, most tickets come along with a $75 CAD ($56 USD) fee when you change at least 60 days before departure, or $100 CAD ($75 USD) within 60 days of your flight. As for most cancellations, you'll be on the hook for $150 CAD ($113 USD) when you cancel online, or $175 CAD ($132 USD) if you cancel with an Air Canada phone agent.
Points do expire
Aeroplan points do expire, but there are plenty of workarounds, even if you don't often fly. Points will expire after 18 months of inactivity, but any earning and redemption will count. Worst case, you could burn a few points for a gift card or make a donation. All members of a Family Sharing plan can also reset their expiration when a single member earns or redeems points— more on how that works below.
You can share your points
This is certainly an exciting addition! Aeroplan members will be able to join a group plan with up to eight members each. Once enrolled, everyone earns within their individual accounts, but balances are pooled, with each redemption pulling proportionally from all members. There are a few terms and conditions to keep in mind, as we'll explain in a detailed post. But overall it's a boon for families or even groups of friends who want to pool their points together.
Expect more reward options
Non-travel redemptions have come to the spotlight during the coronavirus pandemic and they're a priority for the Aeroplan relaunch too. Customers will have a variety of redemption opportunities, including many more products, gift cards, merchandise, and full integration with the Aeroplan eStore. Air Canada will also let you use points to book rental cars and hotel rooms, with significantly more results. The airline is also promising "big developments" in 2021.
The airline is launching a program called "Micro Redemptions," giving you an opportunity to redeem for travel-related experiences with fewer points than you'd need for a full award. The carrier is adding the option to bid for upgrades right off the bat, with the ability to redeem points for in-flight Wi-Fi purchases coming in the final quarter of 2020. More redemptions will be added on an ongoing basis.
Save with Priority Rewards
This final section will only apply to Air Canada elites, but it does offer the potential for significant savings for eligible travelers. Frequent flyers can earn up to 11 "Priority Rewards" vouchers per year. Each of these offers 50% off award flights within certain zones and cabins, starting with Prestige 25K (50% off a North America economy award) running all the way up through Super Elite (50% off a worldwide business-class award) — and they're valid for partner travel, too.
Score preferred redemption rates
Air Canada will offer lower award redemption rates for certain customers, though the details are still a bit murky here. Essentially, elite members and co-branded credit cardholders will have access to more lower-cost award availability on Air Canada flights, similar to United's offering with MileagePlus.
Generally, the higher your status tier, the more often you'll see lower-cost awards, with that availability expanded further if you also have a co-branded credit card. Like Priority Rewards, this one's elite-specific, but it'll add value for many members, for sure.
Aeroplan's relaunch has been a long time coming. While some travelers surely expected a massive devaluation, fortunately, Air Canada has instead added redemption options and made the program even more appealing, with new features including Family Sharing, 5,000-mile stopovers, flexible routing and more.
It's always possible that Air Canada could increase redemption rates down the line, though the carrier has pledged to keep its award chart intact — essential for any carrier hoping to maintain some transparency.
Best yet, it's still as easy as ever to boost your Aeroplan balance, with several transfer options, including:
- American Express Membership Rewards: 1:1
- Capital One: 1:1
- Marriott Bonvoy: 3:1 (with a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 points transferred)
Meanwhile, if you don't yet have transferable points, several top options will help get you closer to an award (or two), such as:
- The Platinum Card® from American Express: Earn 100,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $6,000 on purchases in your first six months of card membership. Terms apply.
- The Business Platinum Card® from American Express: Earn 120,000 points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases within the first three months of card membership. Terms apply.
- Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
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