Aeroplan Will No Longer Include Domestic First Class with International Business Class Awards

I haven’t yet verified this myself, but via Matthew Klint, Aeroplan has a new devaluation (on top of the pretty brutal changes to their award chart in July).

Aeroplan will no longer book domestic (and US-Canada transborder) first class seats as part of an international business class award. If you include domestic first class, they will price the whole award as first class.

Most airlines will include domestic first class on a business class award. There are exceptions. British Midland treats first class as first class, business class as business class, even when the flight is just an hour-long ‘first class’ seat on a United Express regional jet. That’s how Aeroplan appears to be proceeding, as a way of cutting costs on their redemptions according to the memo that an Aeroplan supervisor read to Matthew.

It’s absolute silliness that United, US Airways, and Air China call their domestic two-class premium products ‘first class’ rather than business class. (The Aeroplan rule would apply to Air China domestic flights as well.) If they called the cabin business class, it wouldn’t be an issue, the seats would be included in an international business class award.

Continental, of course, calls their front cabin first class on domestic flights. But Continental loads their reward inventory as “I” class which is Star Alliance parlance for award business class. And that means you can include a domestic Continental flight in the forward cabin inside the US or between the US and Canada in an Aeroplan international business class award, without paying a mileage premium, despite naming the cabin ‘First’.

It will be interesting to see whether, once United and Continental combine, the two airlines code their award inventory for the forward domestic cabin as I (business class award) or O (first class award). If as in most things United follows Continental’s lead, we’d be left in the rather bizarre situation where only the front cabins of US Airways and Air China cost more points.

Now, this situation exists in other alliances as well, because American Airlines calls their front cabin first class. I’ve had mixed experiences using British Airways miles on these flights — BA will sometimes allow me to include a domestic first class segment on American Airlines on an international business class awards, and sometimes they will insist that including such a segment forces a first class award price. But then most things with BA telephone agents are ‘your mileage may vary’.

What’s interesting here is both that Aeroplan miles become less valuable on international business class awards, but also that they’re making the change, they just bumped up many of their better value awards and are now tightening their rules. Of course, these rules aren’t published anywhere online which makes it even easier for them to do, they don’t publish their routing rules which permit an open jaw and a stopover or two stopovers on international awards, nor their willingness to exceed published ‘maximum permitted mileage’ by 5% either.

When booking a segment to get to or from an international gateway, as part of a business class award, it’s now desirable when possible to do the segment on Continental. Air Canada calls its front cabin business class, so that’s includable in a business class award, but of course Aeroplan adds fuel surcharges to Air Canada flights (and one of the really strange things about Aeroplan is that they add surcharges only to Air Canada flights, so it’s less expensive to book rewards on partners than on the airline most associated with the mileage program).

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Gary – I’ve wondered why domestic premium class is called First when international premium class (which is much better than domestic first) is called business? Is this a legacy GDS thing? Is it because they all had 3-class domestic service at one point and for marketing reasons it was preferable to eliminate “business” class from that leaving only coach and first?

  2. It’s convenient time for them to do this unannounced right after everyone lost their ability to convert their Amex points to Continental. Perhaps they realized that everyone is stuck with Aeroplan (and ANA and Sing) for StarA now.

  3. Domestic “First” Class is really economy class with a big seat, at least on UA. It isn’t a patch on Business Class and in many ways is worse than Economy class internationally. The idea of being cosseted in Business Class on returning to the US and then having to tolerate being in the back of a US plane is truly horrible.

  4. Thanks for the information
    So with the new changes coming to Aeroplan who is the best Star Alliance partner program to bank miles in?
    Does/will this potentially make United’s program a better choice now?

  5. @Don it depends ont he specific award you are looking for. But United is still a good redemption program even if I’m increasingly feeling like American offers a better top tier elite program.

  6. Thanks for the thoughts
    Here’s to hoping that AA doesn’t self destruct as the new
    Adios I mean Avios,Aeroplan and others
    Tier wise,redemption cost/availability wise and all other!I have already cashed out all my MR points on the 30th thinking Virgin America will be a dud partner.Sky Pesos who cares and the new Adios see you later points
    I felt Continental was still the best of the sinking ships……..

  7. If you still have AMEX membership rewards points, what is the best partner to book premium cabin awards( including INTL F) and avoid fuel surcharges? Thanks in advance.

  8. I’m still loving AA as Ex Plat, but I’m increasingly thinking it comes down to availabilty as much as points required (oh, and “I’m not my fare” too!, that is SO HUGE). I’ve been very lucky so far, but it things like things are getting tighter.

    It may be that modest point requirement escalation by United and American may be the best if it increases availabilty.

  9. Not sure if you’re correct about the Air China premium class name on domestic flights, and whether or not the Aeroplan policy will apply to them as well. For Hong Kong flights (I know it’s international, not domestic – but close enough), they do use Business/Economy instead of First/Economy on narrowbody aircraft.

  10. For what it’s worth the 2 stopovers/1+open jaw is published in the bottom right on the *A reward chart on but you’re right about the 5% MPM allowance and the routing rules being completely unpublished.

  11. Just another reason to drop Star Alliance as my regular airline group. Aeroplan’s changes last year to include 5 AC Metal flights means this year I will not be Gold for the first time in nearly 15 years. Now I get to explore other alliances to maximize my experiences. So long Star Alliance 🙁

  12. I do think this points to the horror of stand-alone mileage programs. Yes, Aeroplan remained quite generous for a time after being spun off into an independent entity with its own stockholders. In many ways it became even more generous. But in the medium and long-term, Aeroplan’s profitability is based on minimizing its spending for award tickets when members redeem, while maximizing its revenue from selling miles.

    Yes, those two goals are in some tension. If Aeroplan becomes too stingy, it will make it harder to sell so many miles. But Aeroplan’s management has a responsibility to maximize the return to Aeroplan’s shareholders–and nobody else. So I believe we will see further and further steps designed to minimize Aeroplan’s cost per redeemed mile. Aeroplan is responsible for billions of miles, and I believe that makes reducing the value of its miles to customers a priority, despite the potential longer term effect of making Aeroplan miles less desirable.

    I will speculate that the terms of the spinoff may have prevented Aeroplan from making these types of changes until now.

    I will also speculate that we will see a similar process if another major carrier’s frequent flyer program is spun off, as some have speculated AA might do.

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