Spotlight: An Introduction to
September 10, 2018
I think it’s time we address the elephant in the room that is Aeroplan – Canada’s most popular rewards program. As Canadians, we’ve grown to love or hate Aeroplan for a myriad of reasons but for the most part it boils down to the difficulties in redeeming the easily procured miles.
Afterall, what’s the point of collecting all these miles if you can’t use them either due to unavailability of flights or the sometimes exorbitant fees associated with said “free” flights.
Throughout this guide, we’ll shed light on how to maximize your Aeroplan miles and extract massive value from the program.
Earning Aeroplan miles is extremely easy and chances are most people at the very least have an Aeroplan card and perhaps a few thousand miles accumulated over the years.
The most notable way of earning Aeroplan in the recent past has been by swiping your card at Esso stations. That relationship has since ended and replaced by PC Optimum but nevertheless, there are still a lot of ways to earn miles.
The quickest and easiest way to earn Aeroplan miles is to earn Amex MR points and then transfer them to Aeroplan at 1:1. If you’ve been following the blog (and if you haven’t, welcome!) then you’ll know there is no shortage of Amex MR points available to us and thus an easier way to also accumulate Aeroplan miles. Transfers are near instant and can be done directly from your Amex account.
Besides transferring your Amex MR points, you can also sign up for Aeroplan co-branded credit cards which offer not only Aeroplan miles for your daily spending but also healthy welcome bonuses as well. A few notable options are offered by CIBC and TD Bank as they periodically dish out some nice offers throughout the year. I’ll touch base on those cards in a future post.
As previously mentioned, you can also earn Aeroplan miles by swiping your card at brick and mortar partner retailers or even online at the Aeroplan eStore. This especially comes in handy when you’re faced with an impending expiration date on your miles and you need a quick way to reset the clock. Long story short, your miles expire if you haven’t earned, redeemed, donated or transferred any miles in 12 consecutive months. Don’t be a victim like I was a few years ago when I let 13,000 miles slip away! That was a pretty sad day…
As you probably guessed, using your miles towards flights is your best plan. I won’t mention the other ways you can redeem your miles, well because frankly, it’s a horrible use for them so I won’t dilute your brain of impure thoughts of redeeming 12,000 miles for a Hamilton Beach percolator coffee maker…
When looking at redeeming your miles, the first place to look is at Aeroplan’s redemption chart which tells you exactly how many miles you need to redeem for flights to and from a specific location.
If you take a look at the above chart, you’ll see exactly how many points are required for roundtrip flights from Canada/USA to other parts of the world and if you look up and down the columns you’ll also see the requirements for the different cabins from Economy up to the lux First class.
Interesting to know and you probably caught glimpse right away but redeeming for business (and first if you one of the lucky ones) offers tremendous value. Generally speaking, when paying cash fares for business of first class you’re looking at least 5x-10x the cost of an economy class ticket. With miles, you’re looking at 1.5x-2.5x the miles needed for economy class. That’s an amazing value proposition.
At the end of the day, you’re in charge of your miles and how you choose to redeem them for flights is ultimately up to you. You’ll likely fall into some part of the spectrum of Quality vs Quantity, that is, dropping more miles for a better experience in business vs spreading those miles to give you more trips in economy.
Many of you may think that Air Canada is synonymous with Aeroplan and rightly so since it used to be the frequent flyer program for Air Canada way back in the day. In fact, Aeroplan is part of Star Alliance which encompasses 28 airlines in total. This means that you are able to redeem your Aeroplan miles for travel on any partner listed below.
The Golden Rule – Avoid Fuel Surcharges
Let’s go through the motions of booking a round-trip award from YYZ to LHR (London Heathrow).
We’ve selected our dates of November 17th to the 24th and wow, they seem to be having a promotion and are offering these flights for almost a quarter of the normal price! The best part is it’s a direct flight – let’s go for it.
Wait, what?? $661 in taxes, fees and surcharges?? Preposterous! How is this a “Great Deal”??
If you’ve ever tried to redeem for a free flight on Aeroplan you’ll have likely encountered a situation like the above where the taxes and fees were atrocious. If you’re anything like me and wanted to know what exactly you’re paying for, you would have taken a peak at the break down and noticed this. Yup – $400 in “Carrier Surcharge”.
A quick look of the exact same flight on Air Canada’s website shows this.
Basically if you pulled the trigger on this redemption, you’d essentially be throwing away all those miles when you could have just paid the cash fare for less than $100 more.
Carrier surcharges or “scam charges” are simply put, charges that the airline passes on to you for the sake of it. In the past they used to be referred to as “Fuel Surcharges” and were collected on fares to help lessen the blow of high jet fuel prices. That obviously isn’t the case anymore since oil prices are down, so the airlines changed the name to “Carrier Surcharges” and well the rest is history. So basically, of the $661 in taxes and fees, $400 of it is basically the airline reaching into your back pocket.
Yep, thanks for that, go right ahead, I don’t mind.
Let’s take a look at a similar example where we look at flying with carriers with less surcharges. For the below example we’ve chosen to fly with United Airlines with a connection in the US before crossing the Atlantic.
As a result of flying with United, we’ve almost slashed the taxes and fees in half at $320 with, wait for it, no YQ! (YQ is short for surcharges).
The reason the taxes and fees are still relatively high is because the U.K. charges a mandatory Air Passenger Duty of $131 (unless you’re between the ages of 2-15 then it’s waived). Without that duty, you’d be looking at even lower fees.
Now, this wasn’t the best example since LHR has the Duty, but if you were looking at flying into Rome for example, you could be faced with these options:
Option 1: Flying with Lufthansa and paying over $700 in taxes and fees – $510 in YQ!
Option 2: Flying with Turkish Airlines and paying $133 in taxes and fees – no YQ!
Let’s be honest though, when redeeming Miles and Points for flights, you’ll always have to pay some sort of tax or fee.
With that, let’s take a look at the Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Or in the case below, the Ugly, the Good, and the Bad.
The biggest offenders of Carrier Surcharges:
- Air Canada
- Austrian Airlines
- TAP Portugal
Airlines who don’t levy surcharges:
- Turkish Airlines
- Brussels Airlines
- Singapore Airlines
- EVA Air
Airlines who charge some surcharges:
- Thai Airways
- Asiana Airlines
- LOT Polish Airlines
I won’t dwell too much on this but in a nutshell, Aeroplan allows its users to earn status within the program. If you’re looking to reap the benefits from this, you’d be looking at becoming an Aeroplan Diamond status holder. With Diamond status, you’ll have priority access and be connected to a contact center agent within minutes compared to the possible hour or two you’d have to wait if you were an average Joe. Also, you’ll have the luxury of lower fees if you ever need to change or cancel and award ticket. Lastly, you’ll also save up to 35% off Market Fare Flight Rewards. For your reading pleasure, you can catch up on Aeroplan Status here.
A testament to the value and power of the Aeroplan program lies in the infamous Mini-Round-The-World trip or m-RTW for short.
In a nutshell, Aeroplan allows you to make up to 2 free stopovers on your way to or from your final destination or point of turnaround. So in all, you’re allowed up to 3 stops in total (2 stopovers plus your final destination). A stopover is defined as a stop greater than 24 hours. Will this cost more points than if you were to fly directly to your destination? Absolutely not.
To sweeten the pot even more, Aeroplan also allows you to add unlimited* layovers to your trip. A layover is a stop in a city less than or equal to 24 hours. I say unlimited but in reality there is a limit as evidenced by Ricky’s (Prince of Travel) Craziest Aeroplan Trip in which he was capped at 16 segments for his entire trip. Regardless, these layovers offer you the opportunity to have mini-trips and visit more countries and cities. Given the chance to have 23h55min in an unfamiliar city can turn out to be a great sightseeing adventure! Check out Ricky’s unbelievable itinerary below!
Odds and Ends
Once thing you will come to learn if you want to be successful in the Miles and Points game, especially when it comes time to redeem for flights is that Flexibility is Key! As you can imagine, competition for award space can be pretty fierce so my only advice to you would be to start your searches early on and if you are able to tweak your travel dates by a few days/week here and there, it will help you out immensely.
Just as you would check the expiration dates on your milk and eggs, the same holds true for your miles. Don’t make the rookie mistake of having your hard-earned miles slip away from you because you didn’t know when your miles were expiring or you didn’t have any activity within a year.
Market Fare Redemption
Besides Fixed Mileage Redemptions, Aeroplan also offers Market Fare ones as well. As seen above in the London England example, these are reduced fares and often mirror promotions that are happening on the cash fare side of the equation. Be sure to check the conditions as well as the taxes and fees associated with these fares as they are usually sky-high and often make the Market Fare option an extremely poor one. Simply put, you’d be better off either paying cash or looking at redeeming via the Fixed Mileage route.
As you’ll soon see in the coming Aeroplan series, Aeroplan can be an extremely valuable program. The biggest complaint amongst the millions who collect and [possibly don’t] use Aeroplan miles is that they can never find the availability they want. Once you get to know the nuances of the program and learn how to maximize its potential, you’ll start to discover how many possibilities it can afford you.