Air Canada started off with arguably the best top elite tier in the world. They had a competitive award redemption program. A decade ago it was best in North America. A series of devaluations and the addition of fuel surcharges changed that, though it remained competitive because of even greater devaluations by U.S. airline programs.
The program was disjointed because the elite program was separate from – and owned by a different company, even – redeemable mileage earning and burning. Air Canada re-acquired their Aeroplan frequent flyer program, and they’ve announced plans for relaunching it November 8.
There are some great new features of the program. On the whole it seems like the program is better. There are, however, some features not to like or wish were better.
Here are the 6 best things about the new Aeroplan frequent flyer program.
- Keeping award charts we know what partner awards should cost, and we’ll know when that cost changes. That’s more transparent than United or Delta.
- Family points pooling Aeroplan will allow up to 8 people to share their miles at no cost. Everyone in the family pool will benefit from access to better availability at lower award prices if anyone in the unit is an elite or Air Canada credit card customer (or both). You can join family pooling and still redeem your miles for anyone you wish.
- Elite status for a day vouchers status pass gives 50,000 mile elite status for a day, and this applies to everyone on the same reservation for their full journey. All 50,000 mile elite tier members get one this year, and can select more as part of their choice benefits. They’re making it easy for their most important customers to take care of the people most important to them when they travel.
- Redeem more miles to access signature suite lounges (and have no change/redeposit fees). Air Canada has the best business class lounges in North America in Toronto and Vancouver. These were for paid business class tickets only and not for upgrades or awards. That changes in the new program, where you’ll be able to buy different types of fares as awards.
Generally a 10,000 to 12,000 point premium gets a business flex award and that comes not just with Signature Suite but also a $0 redeposit/change fee as well. Here’s detail on the original Signature Suite in Toronto and the one in Vancouver.
Air Canada Signature Suite Toronto
- 50% off award redemption vouchers Priority Rewards are earned by elite members offering 50% discounts on redemption prices for one passenger. Members can earn up to 11 of these per year. Each Priority Reward can be used on a single itinerary, so one-way, roundtrip, or multi-city.
Priority vouchers are earned based on status-qualifying dollars, at the 4000; 7000; 10,000; 15,000 thresholds and then at each 5000 increment up to 50,000 qualifying dollars. What those vouchers can be used for depends on the member’s status at the time they cross the earning threshold:
- Cash and points redemption All awards can be priced as ‘points plus cash’ letting you buy up to 40% of the points required for an award. There will be four options every time you redeem, including spending extra points to cover taxes and fees. And the cash cost will be reasonable at 1.5 to 2 cents a point Canadian (1.5 Canadian is currently ~ 1.12 US cents, a great deal for buying miles).
- Elite status for online shopping and credit card spend and other mileage-earning. Earning 100,000 points in the program in a year (excluding points purchases, transfers, and signup bonuses – although there may be exceptions on a promotional basis) will earn the first-tier 25,000 mile elite status – although this doesn’t contribute towards earning higher status levels, except for the structured way that their co-brand credit cards contribute to status via spend. Recognizing the contribution of members who don’t fly much but still engage the program through their various partners is an important innovation.
However here are the 4 things I wish were done differently.
- Low earning for actual flights Base earning in the program is 3 miles per Canadian dollar, similar to 4 miles per US dollar at current exchange rates. That compares unfavorably to US airlines at 5 miles per US dollar. Elite status bonuses apply, but again earning rate is lower than US counterparts – though miles can be stretched farther in the program in many cases.
- A fee to book partner awards They charge CAD$39 for booking partner awards. This can be paid with miles. Why not just include the fee in the base price of the award? Since it’s non-option, I see this as Air Canada’s equivalent of a resort fee. It’s not huge, but still a tax on members every time they redeem – at odds which the important reliance on the program on partners both inside the Star Alliance and out (including Cathay Pacific with a limited redemption network, and Etihad).
- Increased redemption prices We save fuel surcharges but pay more miles. For awards that used to have surcharges this is a win, for awards that didn’t it’s a loss.
- Stopovers on awards are no longer free 5000 miles per stopover. Routings are pretty flexible, but they’ve been flexible in Aeroplan for a long time, there was once two stopovers and an open jaw allowed on awards with no extra cost.
The best thing? There’s an airline frequent flyer program that takes loyalty marketing seriously, that’s working to add value in creative ways, rather than focusing all energy worried that some member somewhere might benefit from the program.