Aeroplan, Air Canada’s frequent flyer program, is set to undergo major changes soon. If you’re contemplating any reward flights within the next eleven months or so, it’s a good idea to compare your options booking before the transition versus afterward. Your geographic location or preference to include a multi-day stopover are important factors in the decision, especially for flights within Canada.
Book Aeroplan Flights Before November 6, 2020
Although the new program doesn’t actually take effect until the November 8, 2020, it was recently announced that bookings will be suspended for a couple of days leading up to the transition. Considering the general unreliability of the website in normal circumstances, if you plan to book I’d try to lock in your flights sooner rather than later to avoid disappointment.
To aid in the decision, take some time to review the changes and ponder what your trip plans might be, assuming a significant resumption in travel in 2021. The website with details on Aeroplan’s new features includes a Points Predictor tool to let you know how many points you’ll need to redeem in the new program.
I also previously posted about Aeroplan’s impending changes and how it will affect travellers in the Maritimes.
Distance-Based Reward Charts
To have a good handle on the transformed Aeroplan, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with the new reward charts. For Air Canada flights, these give travellers an idea of the range of miles required under the new dynamic pricing system.
Within North America:
The charts are not particularly kind to those who fly out of non-hub airports. Those travellers usually require a hop to a larger city at the beginning and end of their trip which means extra points in the new Aeroplan due to the additional distance.
No More Free Stopovers
A big downside to the new program is the elimination of the free stopover on round trip bookings. Not that long ago, itineraries beyond North America permitted two stopovers. Unless further adjustments are announced, no stopovers in North America will be allowed, however you may add a stopover abroad for an additional 5000 points. The only upside is that you’ll now be able to add a stopover to a one-way booking which you couldn’t do before.
The following are a couple of reward trips for summer 2021 that will not be available in the new program, other than piecing together a series of one-way flights with separate point requirements for each.
Short-Haul North America with Stopover (15,000 Aeroplan Miles – Air Canada only)
Aug. 28 Sydney, NS – Montreal
Aug. 31 Montreal – New York
Sept. 5 New York – Sydney, NS
15,000 miles + $196.75
You’ll see from the chart that flights over 500 miles will fall into a higher reward category. This makes for some confusion for trips out of Halifax where the distance appears to straddle the line, such as Montreal. But for Sydney to Montreal the distance is 660 miles according to a search on ITA Software so it would definitely fall into the higher category.
Long-Haul North America with Stopover (25,000 Aeroplan Miles)
Aug. 14 Halifax – Toronto
Aug. 16 Toronto – Vancouver
Aug. 21 Vancouver – Halifax
25,000 miles + $204.21
I’ve made use of this wonderful benefit of the old Aeroplan a number of times including a Halifax – San Francisco – Orlando – Halifax itinerary. It’s quite disappointing to lose this option.
Coast to Coast Flights
Even if you’re not interested in a stopover, the new program is going to hurt for Atlantic Canadians who use their miles to fly to the opposite side of the country. Under the old Aeroplan, if you live on one of the coasts you’d get excellent value for your miles because all long-haul flights within Canada and the continental United States are a fixed 25,000 miles round trip or 12,500 miles one-way.
In the new Aeroplan, the Points Predictor tool has Halifax – Vancouver in the 17,500 – 25,000 mileage band (one-way) but Moncton – Vancouver in the lower 12,500 – 17,500 range. Given the variability of dynamic pricing, who knows how this will work out in practice. Perhaps the uncertainty would be a reason to book now and then see what happens after the transition.
Keeling in mind that travel within Canada will probably be a popular choice for vacationing next year, locking in an Aeroplan booking is not a bad idea. Airfares have historically been very steep to western Canada so it’s not likely that you’ll be able to snag a bargain fare.
Partner Redemption Fee
Aeroplan will soon tack on a $39 fee when you book on a partner airline. It’s not a huge amount but something to be aware of if you’re thinking of flying on one or more of Air Canada’s Star Alliance partners.
Long-Haul International Flights – More Cash Now or More Points Later?
A significant difference between the old program and the new is the elimination of fuel surcharges on Air Canada flights along with the dynamic nature of point requirements. However, partner redemptions will remain at fixed levels and a combination trip of Air Canada and a partner airline will be calculated on a weighted average basis.
In deciding whether to make a speculative booking, consider the size of your Aeroplan balance and whether you’d prefer to wait to book something. You’ll have to cough up more points but you’ll avoid the fuel carrier surcharges. Note that the new Aeroplan program will allow family point pooling making it a bit easier to accumulate enough for a reward flight.
Remember that some countries regulate the imposition of fuel surcharges by airlines. So, if your prospective outbound flight is on a partner airline that doesn’t levy fuel surcharges, and your inbound departs from such a favourable destination, you might want to book that itinerary before the transition.
The decision really comes down to your chosen destination and what availability exists at the moment and any current fuel surcharges. If you have total flexibility in your plans, you might want to hold off on booking and see what you’re able to put together later by focusing on the most attractive options presented by the new program and in light of changing travel limitations due to COVID-19.
Halifax to Europe via London – A Reason to Wait?
The combination of distance-based rewards and the elimination of fuel surcharges means Air Canada’s non-stop Halifax – London Heathrow route will be key to saving points on flights to Europe and avoiding an extra connection in many cases. The resumption of this route may hinge on the return of the Boeing 737 MAX, which according to recent news is on its way to recertification.
Although you can see the aircraft in Air Canada’s schedule (it’s currently showing up beginning January 11, 2021) it always gets pushed back. Still, if you book a flight on the 737 MAX after November 8th, and subsequently are notified of a re-route when the non-stop becomes unavailable, you won’t have to redeem any additional points as the change was made by the airline.
Between North America and Atlantic Zones
This is the primary reason I’m not making any speculative Aeroplan bookings before the new program kicks in. My travel plans mainly involve Europe and having done the two connection flights on my last couple of trips, I’m looking forward to a single layover on the next one.
Free Cancellation Until December 31, 2020
If you’re not sure about your travel plans, you have until the end of the year to cancel with no penalty. This date has been repeatedly extended so it’s possible it will be moved again. Of course, if the free cancellation policy goes away that would hopefully indicate improvement in prospects for travel. You could at least reevaluate at the end of year and decide then if you wish to keep the booking. However, if you make a voluntary change after the transition, your booking will be subject to Aeroplan’s new rules.
It doesn’t hurt to weigh your options to see if it makes sense book something before November 6th. This is especially true if you foresee a need or desire to travel to western Canada next year and even more so if you’d like to include a stopover somewhere. Unfortunately, it’s awfully tough to make tentative travel plans amid the uncertainty of an ongoing pandemic.
I’m looking forward to the roll out of the new Aeroplan. I know there will be both positives and negatives, but with travelling on hold, we’ll have plenty of time to figure out all the ways to best maximize the program and accumulate more points in the meantime.