- Best ways to earn:
- Best ways to redeem:
Air Canada's spun-off frequent flyer program, Aeroplan, divides opinion. Some swear by it as the most valuable points program in Canada, while others grumble of how difficult it is to redeem your miles.
Clearly there's a bit of effort required to learn how to get the most out of Aeroplan, and that's why we're here today.
As one of the dominant Canadian rewards programs, Aeroplan makes it very easy to for members to earn miles. By far the fastest way to do so is to earn Amex MR points and transfer them to Aeroplan at a 1:1 ratio. Transfers are quick and painless, and the ease with which you can amass MR points makes earning lots of Aeroplan miles an equivalently simple task.
In addition to earning miles through the American Express cards, Aeroplan also has a few co-branded credit cards of its own. These are issued by CIBC and TD, and allow you to earn 1 mile per dollar spent on all purchases or 1.5 miles per dollar spent in certain bonus categories, depending on the card (typically gas stations and travel purchases).
30,000 Aeroplan miles for $0
Read the review
Besides credit cards, you can also earn Aeroplan miles by shopping at partner retailers through the e-store, taking advantage of special offers and promotions... and of course, by flying! After all, Aeroplan used to be Air Canada's proprietary frequent flyer program before being spun-off into the loyalty and rewards landscape. You can earn Aeroplan miles on any flight operated by a Star Alliance airline according to each airline's earnings chart, which you can find here.
Once you've earned your Aeroplan miles, redeeming them is where the fun begins.
Every potential redemption begins with the Aeroplan Reward Chart, where you'll figure out how many miles are required for your desired flight. Below is a snippet from the chart, showing the round-trip mileage requirements for flights from Canada and the U.S.:
Business class and First Class flights usually offer the best value redemptions. If you look at the reward chart above, you'll see that the mileage cost of business class flights is usually 1.5x to 2x the mileage cost of Economy. Meanwhile, the same "multiplier" when looking at cash fares can be up to 4x or 5x, especially for longer, more complicated itineraries.
For First Class, the concept is the same, except the cash multiplier can be as high as 10x or 15x whilst the mileage multiplier is, at most, in the 2.5x range.
- Read more: 9 Amazing Redemption Ideas
That's not to say that redemptions in economy class can never be good value. Using miles for last-minute tickets, for example, could be extremely valuable since cash fares are likely sky-high.
Or, if you want to travel somewhere close to home, redeeming for a short-haul economy class trip might make more sense than plonking all that extra mileage on a mediocre business class seat for just a few hours – especially if these economy class trips might be very expensive otherwise if booked with cash.
- Read more: Exploring Atlantic Canada with Aeroplan
And some people simply don't care for luxury travel, preferring to use their miles to take more trips in coach instead – fair play to them as well.
Lastly, the true power of Aeroplan lies in the vast route network of the 28 airlines that make up the Star Alliance. Since you can use your miles on any partner, that means you can use your miles to fly to virtually anywhere in the world.
Avoid Fuel Surcharges
Let's imagine you're trying to book a roundtrip flight from Toronto to Paris. You look at the chart above and see that it'll cost you 110,000 miles in business class, which you already have in your account. You boot up the search engine and look for flights on your desired dates...
Great, there's Air Canada flights available both ways! We get to fly the national airline and catch a direct flight back as well. Not bad, eh?
Click the "Select" buttons and you're almost set... but hold on, what's this?
$1,057.16 in taxes and fees? That can't be right, can it? Click on the "Taxes, fees, & surcharges" link to investigate...
Time for a brief reality check: you'll always have to pay some taxes and fees on award bookings, such as the government-imposed aviation taxes and airport improvement fees you see above. There's no way around those.
But some airlines rather nefariously tack on a "carrier-imposed surcharge" as well. In other words, you have to pay this fee just because the airline said so (a few years ago it was called a "fuel surcharge", but when oil prices tanked and everyone saw through the ruse, the airlines just slapped a new label on it). That's the $870 you see in the above example – a pure money grab.
Frankly, it's a ridiculous business practice, and it's unfortunate that some of the biggest carriers in Star Alliance, such as Air Canada and Lufthansa, charge offensively high carrier surcharges.
But all is not lost. There are quite a few very good airlines that don't levy such surcharges, such as Brussels Airlines, Swiss, SAS, Turkish Airlines, Singapore Airlines, and EVA Air. Fly on these airlines and you won't have to face the ignominy of shelling out so much cash in surcharges that you're almost better off just paying for the ticket outright.
- Read more: Which Countries Regulate Fuel Surcharges?
The below airlines are notorious for levying high fuel surcharges on award tickets, so do your best to avoid them:
- Air Canada
- Austrian Airlines
- TAP Portugal
The below airlines levy some fuel surcharges, but the amounts typically a lot more reasonable and it might make sense to pay them if there aren't any better options:
- Asiana Airlines
- LOT Polish Airlines
- Thai Airways
Just how much difference does the carrier surcharge make? Let's look at an itinerary without fuel surcharges on Brussels Airlines, which was also available in our search results above:
Wow! If you fly with Brussels Airlines instead of Air Canada, you'll only pay $180.46 – that's $876.70 worth of savings. So if you're like me and want to minimize out-of-pocket costs, then be sure to look for flights on surcharge-free airlines!
One of the most valuable ways of squeezing every drop of value out of your points is by taking advantage of Aeroplan's generous stopover rules. Aeroplan allows you to "stopover" in two cities on your way to or from your final destination, meaning that in total you're allowed to visit three cities for the price of one.
I've written an entire mini-series on this type of trip, which is known as a "Mini-Round-the-World", given how much of the world you can see.
You can also add unlimited layovers (connections of less than 24 hours) to your itinerary, meaning that you could visit five, eight, or even ten places all for the price of one. You'd only be allowed to stay for more than 24 hours in three of those, but you could in theory schedule 23-hour layovers in the rest and get an absurd amount of sightseeing under your belt.
Besides the earning and redeeming points side of the program, Aeroplan also allows its members to earn Aeroplan Status based on how many status-eligible miles they earn in a calendar year.
Note that credit card signup bonuses and miles transferred from Membership Rewards don't count towards Aeroplan Status (or else it'd be far too easy to earn Diamond).
In my opinion, the only standout benefit to Aeroplan Status is the Contact Centre Priority that comes with Diamond status. If you've ever called Aeroplan you'll know that wait times for the contact centre can be upwards of two hours. If you have Diamond status, you get placed into a priority sequence and can typically get someone on the line in one or two minutes. That's extremely useful for making a quick change to a reservation or finding out the maximum permitted mileage for a trip you're planning.
Diamond status also comes with lower fees for changing and cancelling award tickets, which can certainly be valuable as well.
Keep in mind that Aeroplan Status is distinct and separate from status in Air Canada Altitude, which is Air Canada's frequent flyer recognition program. Having said that, if you fly on Star Alliance airlines a lot and credit your miles to Aeroplan, you'll earn status in both programs.
Tips & Tricks
There are so many useful tips and tricks that you'll pick up once you start playing around with the program. In no particular order, here are a few select ones:
Book early: Everyone is looking for the same award space, especially in long-haul business class cabins that do not levy surcharges. You'll want to start searching for space as soon as possible to avoid disappointment.
Market fares: Besides using the fixed reward chart above, you can also redeem "market fare" awards, whose mileage requirements fluctuate based on the cash ticket prices. These represent poor value most of the time but can occasionally be cheaper than the fixed reward chart.
- Read more: Aeroplan Market Fare Rewards
Hidden cities: Hidden-city ticketing works with awards too! Want a one-way award ticket to Cairo, but reluctant to pay the 82,500 miles required for North America to North Africa? Just tack on a Cairo–Istanbul segment at the end and it becomes only 57,500 miles for North America to Europe 2! The usual hidden-city ticketing cautions apply.
Schedule change: If your itinerary gets messed up as a result of an airline's schedule change, you can request to be rebooked on alternative flights, and you won't be hit with change fees or additional carrier surcharges. There's no way to plan for this, but it can be an opportune way to try out business class products that usually come with hefty surcharges, such as Austrian Airlines.
- Read more: 9 Useful Aeroplan Tricks
Expiring miles: Your entire Aeroplan mileage balance will expire if there's been no earning or redeeming activity for a year. Don't be fodder for the CBC newswriters – swiping your Aeroplan card when filling up your tank at Esso is an easy way to keep your account active.
Over 5 million Canadians actively collect Aeroplan miles. Whether that's because the program offers outstanding value or because there's no better alternative is something each member must decide for themselves. I hope that this guide has shown you that Aeroplan is a program where you get back what you put into it. If you dedicate a little bit of effort to navigating the initial learning curve, Aeroplan will allow you to reap massive rewards.
Any questions? Contact me.