The Air Miles loyalty program has revealed that it will soon introduce redesigned flight rewards on its website. It’s not clear exactly when the new booking platform will appear, but I thought it might be worth doing one last check of flight redemptions out of Nova Scotia to see what’s available and to compare to search results after the changes are implemented.
It was recently announced that Air Miles will be making major changes to its program and to its Flight Rewards in particular. There are reports of a transition to more dynamic reward pricing with flexibility to book flights that do not include a Canadian arrival or departure along with the ability to book premium cabins.
Booking Flights with Air Miles
In its current form, the Air Miles flight booking system has its strengths and weaknesses.
On the plus side:
- many airlines participate (Air Canada, WestJet, Porter, PAL Airlines, United, Delta etc.)
- short-haul flights to smaller airports with low base reward rates can be a super value
- discounts for status or credit card holders and occasional airline-specific promotions
- Onyx members receive “preferred access” to flight availability
- you can connect in a different/higher zone without requiring more miles
On the negative side:
- base level redemptions are often unavailable
- discounts don’t apply to open-jaw bookings
- search results won’t display if you don’t have enough miles to book
- a one-way requires more than half the base miles of a round-trip
- multiple airports in one city must be checked individually
- high season and low season are not always logical
- no ability to add stopovers
- can’t book same day or next day flights
- availability changes very frequently
- surcharges on flights to Europe are ridiculously high
- can’t book flights that don’t originate or arrive in a Canadian airport
The existing structure sort of mirrored the old Aeroplan with its classic and market rewards. If there was no classic (fixed rate, zone based) availability, you could pay the higher market fare which was tied to the cash price of the ticket. Air Miles doesn’t clearly distinguish between the two categories beyond a note at the top of the search results stating that no flights were available at the base or “regular’ level upon which they display “additional flight options”.
Some time ago, Air Miles apparently removed the map of the various zones that showed the regular flight rewards for low and high seasons. However, you could still see this info for specific destinations when doing a search without enough miles to book.
Low Season: Jan. 8 – Feb, 28, April 1 – May 31, Sept. 16 – Dec. 15
High Season: Mar. 1-31, June 1 – Sept. 15, Dec. 16 – Jan. 7
The Quest For Base/Regular Fare Availability
I decided to see what I could find at the base reward level flying out of Nova Scotia to various destinations. I searched using an Onyx account which purports to offer increased access to availability.
The general rule when redeeming Dream miles is to try to exceed the Cash mile value (95 = $10) as otherwise you might as well be collecting cash miles. But my goal here is simply to see if I can find some regular rewards, so I won’t delve into the value of the specific redemption.
(And just because a specific flight is an acceptable value with miles doesn’t necessarily make it your best option. Be sure to check all cash fares for acceptable routings on all airlines so you have the full picture before you book.)
Note that the screenshots below display only the outbound details but the miles and fees reflect the round-trip price.
Halifax – St. John’s
May 20-23, 2022
Any flights around holidays will be harder to find with miles. Here’s an example of travel to St. John’s for the Victoria Day long weekend.
As you can see, there is a WestJet promotion applicable to these dates. Airline-specific promotions tend to have an element of mystery about them with Air Miles as the validity period varies with “select routes” but these are not spelled out. Instead, you just come across them as you search.
Halifax – Îles-de-la-Madeleine
July 21-28 2022
If you’d rather not travel by road and ferry but the cost of a flight to Îles-de-la-Madeleine puts you off, Air Miles can be very convenient.
This was an example of the changing availability I mentioned earlier. When I initially searched a couple of days ago, it was not too difficult to find reward flights for the high season base rate of 1500 miles round-trip on various date combos. But when I went back later, those results were no longer turning up although I did find availability for the dates noted above.
A similar phenomenon happened when searching Moncton to St. John’s. There was PAL Airlines availability connecting in Deer Lake (not at the regular rate unfortunately) but now I can’t seem to find any PAL Airlines flights. For whatever reason, it’s not unusual for an airline to go missing from the Air Miles search results for a while.
Halifax – Whitehorse
July 9 – 23, 2022
Flying to the territories can be expensive so finding Air Miles availability on more than one airline is nice to see.
You’ve got the option to get there in a hurry on Air Canada or stretch your journey out with WestJet…
Sydney, NS – Orlando
Mar. 12-19, 2022
March Break is always going to be tough for availability so I was a bit surprised to see Sydney to Orlando at the base level.
In previous years, I’ve seen the Halifax-Orlando non-stop on WestJet appear for a fleeting moment at the base level as March Break approached. It pays to keep checking.
Halifax – Paris
April 9-16, 2022
If you want to visit Europe in the springtime (or anytime) Air Miles was never really a good option for the following reason…
Crazy high surcharges. Bonkers.
Halifax – Sydney, Australia
May 7-28, 2022
If you’ve been hoarding miles for a while, you can actually find availability round-trip Halifax to Australia for eight people in low season for a total of 120,000 miles. (Depending on your browser, you can hit the back button after the search to see the results even if you don’t have enough miles.)
…or you can take six people from Halifax to New Zealand round-trip for the same number of miles in high season.
Halifax – Auckland, New Zealand
June 4-25, 2022
(Perhaps the high and low seasons should be reversed for the southern hemisphere? I guess it’s based on the traveller, not the destination.)
Last Minute Flights
Air Miles can be especially useful when you have an unexpected need to book a flight. As noted in the negatives list, it’s not possible to book a truly last minute flight – it must be at least two days out.
This is Sunday and I checked availability for a one-way on Tuesday from Halifax to Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto. There was flight availability for all three but none at the base level. Of course, it could still be an excellent value depending on the cash price of the flight.
I’ve redeemed Air Miles for flights to Quebec City, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Syracuse, New York City and Washington DC – some of them more than once. Personally, I’m not all that dissatisfied with the flight rewards offered by the program. Still, I know lots of collectors have far less flexibility with their dates and destinations and have never been able to take advantage of a decent flight redemption opportunity.
The cherry-picked search results above show that reasonable rewards do indeed exist but the deficiencies in the program are obvious. So, as long as flight rewards offer enticing value, the ability to book a wider array of routes and an updated booking platform would be welcome changes. I just hope that folks who fly out of smaller airports for whom Air Miles were a key to their travel plans don’t get shortchanged in the process.
From my perspective, it would be especially nice to see flight rewards to Europe without absurd surcharges. The revamped Aeroplan made a major improvement on that front so it would be nice to see Air Miles follow suit.
It sounds more like an overhaul than a refresh of Air Miles Flight Rewards. Hopefully there will be a net gain in terms of benefit to the average collector as I suspect there will be some negatives in the new version as well. Details are a little thin at this point and loyalty program reconfigurations are generally viewed with trepidation. Thus, if you want to lock in a high value reward flight now, it’s probably not a bad idea.