Air Canada Aeroplan: My New Favorite Airline Frequent Flyer Program?

For anyone that predicts the spin-off of a frequent flyer program into a separate publicly traded business must mean a devaluation of the program, check out the changes to Aeroplan and see what you think!

The Aeroplan program has recently developed a reputation as stingy, but it’s anything but. Sure, they collect pretty hefty fees on award redemptions, usually called fuel surcharges. But when you combine at least two non-Air Canada partners on a single award they price taxes and fees manually and don’t include a fuel surcharge. I recently ticketed a first class award to Asia with Aeroplan points and the total taxes and fees were less than US$60.

Air Canada is a member of the Star Alliance, so Aeroplan points can be used to book plenty of partners — this solves the frequent flyer availability issue in most cases, at least for the award itineraries that are most valuable. And unlike United, they do not filter otherwise available seats being offered by their partners. So if Thai Airways is offering first class seats from London to Bangkok, you can book them.

With United’s award chart undergoing a massive devaluation come January 1, that leaves Aeroplan (or in some cases US Airways) as the least expensive award chart in Star Alliance. That means their miles are clearly amongst the most valuable.

Now Air Canada has made some really attractive changes to their rules on award itineraries, in place since December 8th.

Their international awards now permit (2) stopovers rather than just one. I haven’t verified yet whether it’s possible to have two stopovers and an open jaw, though I’ve seen reports that this has been permitted.

They also now permit crossing both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans on a single award without bumping up to a round the world award.

Back in March I flew DC – Frankfurt – Singapore on my outbound, made a stopover in Beijing on the way back, but since I was using United miles I had to return back across the Atlantic since that’s how I had flown to Asia in the first place (and United charged me 20,000 extra miles for having done so). That meant extra flying, and because of airline schedules an overnight on the return as well.

Under the new Air Canada rules I could have flown my outbound as-is, and returned even on the United non-stop Beijing-Washington, DC (if that flight was available).

This is also a huge boon to award availability, you get to search availability on both the transpacific and transatlantic carriers for a single ticket! It also means you can visit both Asia and Europe on that one ticket as well!

Assuming bmi Diamond Club gets swallowed into Miles and More eventually, or otherwise devalued, AIr Canada could be my new favorite airline porgram. And since they’re an American Express Membership Rewards partner, since they partner with various hotel programs for points transfers (or straight earning), as well as being a repository for my Club Rewards points (I remain one of the last Diners Club holdouts!) this is a huge opportunity.

Oh, and their change fees are pretty reasonable at ~ $55 (though I believe this increases February 1) as well.

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. Doesn’t the expiration policy bother you a little? Miles individually expire after 7 years no matter what.

    (I used to belong when I flew them a lot, but the best thing about their awards seemed to be the 15k short hauls.)

  2. Yes, 7 year expiry, so you need to redeem at least as many miles as you earn in a year every seven years. Not a huge hurdle… What are you saving them for??

  3. Am I understanding you correctly that Aeroplan is NOT a good program if you actually want to fly AC on award travel (because of the fees)? I find AC to be a very useful Star Alliance award partner because they tend to have good inventory and their flight to Europe and Asia are far more convenient than most Americans realize. The service in coach is also better than on the US airlines.

    But if they’ll charge me various surcharges to redeem mileage, this is probably not the right program for me. I also worry that your “2 partner” workaround to the fees could simply evaporate on an unannounced policy change.

  4. Thanks for the great information about Aeroplan miles. The 7-year expiration is something I was completely unaware. My Aeroplan miles will hit 7 years in late summer 2009.

    I’ll have to try that two-partner trick Gary. The award ticket fees I have seen the past two years are always outrageous.

    I noticed the other day in an award search that the routing came up as an around the world option but I couldn’t progress with the award when I selected those flight options.

    This post has placed a good redemtpion challenge on my plate. And I also have some of those DC Club Rewards points to add to the Aeroplan account.

  5. I understand that there is a two-tier system to this 7 year deadline for using miles with Aeroplan. Prior to the institution of the new system and after that.
    Anyone is aware of that?
    Thank you

  6. For Aeroplan, are there credit card churning opportunities, or realistic hotel point transfer opportunities, such as AA to Hilton 1:2?

    If not, seems like it would be difficult for an American to accumulate Aeroplan miles, unless you charge immense sums on American Express cards (not accepted by many merchants), or credit UA and US miles there while losing elite status, double RDMs, upgrade instruments etc.

  7. I have aeroplan miles that expire on Monday 16 February. I’m visiting Arizona at present and an Exxon-Mobile gas station I visited to buy gas and keep my aeroplan miles active had not heard of this option. Gas at Esso in Canada certainly does work.

    What’s your suggestionS?

  8. Do you want to know why Air Canada is headed toward bancruptcy again? They do everytrhing in their power to alienate customers. On aeroplan reward business tickets you used to be able to standby for available business class seats. Effective Jan 19 Air Canada would prefer to keep the business class seats empty instead and force you to fly economy on business class reward tickets. A NICE way to reward loyal customers. I have in excess of 2,000,000 miles and think I should just join VISA points. At least you know if you book economy you get economy.

  9. I have benefitted from Aeroplan, with a fair number of reward flights. But I’m very careful.
    I put a value of $.02 on each Aeroplan point. If I can buy the ticket for less than the number of points at that rate, I buy the ticket, and save the points for another day. So, if a flight to England is going to cost me more than $1200 (60,000 aeroplan points X .02), then I’ll use the points. Otherwise, I buy the ticket.
    I also try, when travelling overseas on rewards, to fly with one of Air Canada’s Star Alliance partners. The ticket costs the same (say 60,000), but the partners don’t add in the fuel surcharges. I had to change a flight to Australia last year, ending up going on Air Canada rather than United. Result? same 75,000 points, but about $300 more in fuel surcharges.
    Then, there’s the upgrade certificates. I pretty much can’t make use of them. I fly a lot, but always on flight passes or low-cost airfares. Those tickets (which Aeroplan sent me with regularity) are unusable on such flights. I would pretty much need to buy a ticket at full economy to get the upgrade. For the short hauls I generally do (about 3 hours), it’s simply not worth it. Those certificates lie there on my desk, mocking me.
    So, by all means enjoy Aeroplan and its rewards program. But know the costs, and select accordingly.

  10. To the comments about refreshing your aeroplan account to keep miles from expiring. Re-read the first comment in this thread. Miles expire individually after 7 years. It is not 7 years from date of last activity. It is 7 years since the mile was earned.

  11. Gary,

    How loose are Aeroplan routing rules and segment limits? I’m currently doing SFO-LAX-FRA-LHR(stop)-ZRH-DEL(dest)-ICN(stop)-IST-JFK(overnight)-SFO on a US F award to India for 160k but I might think of brokering a trade on FT’s CC to go ICN-SFO direct on the return instead.

    Will Aeroplan have a problem with my outbound, i.e. SFO-LAX-LHR-ZRH-DEL?

  12. Aeroplan has degraded year after year, now new charges for travelling on Air Canada plus fuel surcharges (even if the miracle happens that you can get a flight), routing on Airlines you don’t want to use like US Air, making you connect even if the direct flight was the same price on Air Canada. No logical relationship between cost and availability. Its a crap shoot everytime even if you try one year in advance. I cancelled everything Aeroplan credit cards, point accumulation everything. Time for Canadians to wake up and let Aeroplan go where it should bankrupcy.

  13. CAn you use aeroplan points to book United flights with two stopovers? Meaning…instead of booking a flight through united’s website and only being allowed one stopovers from EZE-???-LAX could i get two one the same flights booking through aeroplan?

  14. @Dominich yes but the miles cost is now higher than at the time of this post and Aeroplan has started adding fuel surcharges to many partners

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