The newest frequent flyer program isn’t new at all. Air Canada Aeroplan just relaunched in recent days, and members are working to figure out what the total revamp means – in terms of value, and how it’s delivering on its promises. Elimination of fuel surcharges is great, strict partner award chart pricing is great for Star Alliance redemptions. But what about their more variable priced awards for Air Canada flights?
Aeroplan Is Great For Americans Focused On Partner Awards
For an American new Air Canada Aeroplan frequent flyer program has more pluses and minuses. They’ve raised the price of awards, but eliminated fuel surcharges. In many cases this comes out resoundingly in members’ favor (and they’ve committed to transparent pricing, in contrast to United’s MileagePlus and Delta’s SkyMiles).
- For an American booking mostly awards on Air Canada’s partners, this works out really well for awards on Lufthansa, Austrian, Thai and others this is a real improvement.
- For booking awards on partners where there weren’t surcharges, like United, Turkish, EVA Air and Scandinavian it’s a devaluation.
The Old Aeroplan Wasn’t Very Good For Canadians
Air Canada Aeroplan in the past wasn’t a very good program for Canadians and those actually looking to fly Air Canada whether domestically or internationally.
- Members could be charged a saver award price, but saver award flights were rare and came with fuel surcharges
- If saver awards weren’t available, prices were based on ‘market fare’ with miles paying the going rate of a ticket at low value per point.
The new Air Canada program has a sliding scale of prices for their own flights, rather than just a low price and very high prices. How those are pricing will help us understand whether the new Aeroplan program is an improvement, and if so by how much?
The Toronto – Vancouver Problem
Canadian Kilometers lays out the problem with redemptions for Air Canada flights on the important Toronto – Vancouver route. Not only aren’t there many flights at the low ‘saver’ level you won’t even see many flights even within the published range of pricing either.
- The ‘normal price’ is supposed to be 12,500 – 17,500 points each way in economy and 25,000 – 60,000 points each way in business class, according to the Aeroplan Points Predictor Tool.
- He found that over a week, with 10 flights a day, zero flights were within that range for economy and just six for business class (out of 70 flights).
Not All Key Routes Are Like This
I went ahead and looked at a week of availability on a similar distance route, Toronto – Los Angeles, where award prices are normally also supposed to be in the same ranges as Toronto – Vancouver. I randomly selected the week beginning February 7 where 4 non-stop flights a day are scheduled.
- In economy, 22 flights were priced below the lowest 12,500 mile published award price while 6 were priced in the 12,500 – 17,500 mile point range. No flights were above the range.
- In business class, 15 flights were priced below the lowest 25,000 mile published award price while 13 were priced above 50,000 miles. None were priced in the range. Where the were priced over 50,000 miles they were nearly always priced less than 57,000 miles.
Aeroplan Explains How They’re Doing
Toronto – Los Angeles certainly paints a different picture than the Toronto – Vancouver route, but the frequency with which awards priced outside the projected range offered by Aeroplan troubled me so I spoke with Mark Nasr, who runs the Aeroplan program. He offered:
To clarify and reiterate: we designed the program such that ~80% of days will have flight options that fall within (or below) the published range for a given cabin across a region/distance band. This was based on all actual FY 2019 redemptions taking into account more normalized demand and fare patterns. Additionally, Card holders and Elite members will more often have options within (or below) the ranges. This does not mean that 80% of all flight options will fall within the range—we didn’t make that promise.
Since we launched the program, we have over-delivered in terms of providing options within or below the range, across redemptions. Particularly in the Business Class cabin and on long-haul flying. Also, specifically for the NAMNAM-3 distance band (within North America, 1501-2750), our numbers show 86% of searches producing results at or below the range.
Mark emphasizes that in the example, “a cardholder without Elite status has non-stop options every day comfortably within the range” however this troubled me because it’s not supposed to require being a cardmember (or having elite status) and receiving that discount to get projected pricing for Toronto – Vancouver.
And while Mark says here that you’re only supposed to be able to access a flight within their published price ranges on 80% of days that isn’t how I understood the promise of the new program. My notes from a conversation prior to new program launch launch are, quote, that the upper end of the published range “makes most inventory available for redemption.”
Compared to my understanding of what availability to expect, Air Canada isn’t doing well in the first week of their new program on the Toronto – Vancouver route. Compared to what the program used to charge it’s still an improvement. And that route may not be indicative of what to expect across the Air Canada system. Still, I think Air Canada needs to do better.
Award Charts Still Matter A Great Deal At Aeroplan
Canadian Kilometers asks ‘what’s the point of award charts’ when they aren’t pricing flights based on those charts? Here I’d push back. They publish pricing for partner awards, and when those are available it’s only ever at the saver level. So flights on Star Alliance (and other) airline partners always price according to those charts. And they aren’t throttling the availability of partner awards, so if a partner makes an award seat available, you can book it at the chart’s published price.
With award charts Aeroplan cannot devalue partner awards surreptitiously the way we’ve seen during the pandemic from both Delta and United.
And with published price ranges for Air Canada flights we can test the extent to which they’re meeting those commitments. These ranges help hold Air Canada accountable to members. So they really are appreciated.
The New Aeroplan Seems Like An Improvement For Canadians With Work To Do
Aeroplan continues to work well for Americans, I think, and perhaps even for those who fly Air Canada with elite status or their co-brand credit card. Whether they work as well as promoted for the general member in Canada who doesn’t sign up for a card depends on how pricing of Air Canada flights is managed going forward (but the program still appears to be a real improvement over what was offered before, without fuel surcharges). Of course if more members took the Air Canada credit cards, that would make them happy to offer more discounts as well.
The elimination of fuel surcharges and offering award prices besides just ‘saver’ and ‘insanely priced’ has upside but on some routes they aren’t yet striking the right balance in the first week of the new program. They’re offering Canadians something better than what came before, but not yet as good as what I understood they were aiming for.