I've broken down the list of awesome redemptions into three levels: Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced, based on the cost and difficulty of finding availability on the flights. The cost is given for a round-trip unless otherwise stated, and is exclusive of any phone booking fees. "Good" availability means that you can typically find the seats you want a few months in advance as long as you're slightly flexible, whilst I'll provide more details if availability is "limited". Now let's go!
1. North America with Stopover
By far the most commonly redeemed Aeroplan award is the round-trip within North America for 25,000 miles. What few people realize is that you're allowed to add one stopover for no extra cost (two stopovers are only permitted for intercontinental bookings). So go ahead and visit Vancouver and Vegas in one go, or throw in a few days in the Big Apple on your way to Disneyworld. As long as you can find availability on United or Air Canada (save a bit on surcharges with the former), you're good to go.
- Cost: 25,000 Aeroplan miles in Economy Class + $100–150 in taxes and fees
- Availability: Good
- Notes: As long as you don't mind the odd layover here and there, and aren't trying to dash around the continent like crazy (say, visiting Anchorage on your way to Nashville from Toronto), you should be able to stitch together a journey involving any two cities quite easily.
2. Canadian Arctic
Regular airfare to the Canadian Arctic can get extremely expensive. And I do mean extremely – the above depicted itinerary goes for $4,056 at the time of writing. But Aeroplan charges at most 25,000 miles, and you can mix Air Canada flights with either Canadian North or First Air, making this a very valuable redemption. Note, however, that flights on Canadian North and First Air aren't searchable or bookable online, so you'll have to give Aeroplan a call.
- Cost: 15,000 Aeroplan miles for direct travel between Ottawa and Iqaluit, or 25,000 miles otherwise + about $40 in taxes and fees
- Availability: Limited – only two award seats on every Canadian North or First Air flight
- Notes: As with #1 above, you're free to have a stopover somewhere on your round-trip. Given the unique route networks of First Air and Canadian North, there's plenty of room to get creative here if you're interested in exploring Canada's beautiful northern landscapes.
3. Tour of Europe
The "Euro trip" is about as popular a trip as it gets. Open borders and cheap transportation in the Old Continent make it extremely practical to squeeze quite a few cities and cultures into a short span of time. It's also very easy to add a touch of luxury to this travel classic, by redeeming for business class flights over the pond and leveraging stopovers to visit up to three of your favourite sites. Running with the bulls or regaling in the bistros? Take your pick.
- Cost: Up to 115,000 Aeroplan miles in Business Class + $150–200 in taxes and fees for no-surcharge airlines
- Availability: Good
- Notes: Brussels Airlines, Swiss, SAS, and Turkish will be your best bets for avoiding carrier surcharges on the transatlantic flights. You might also find yourself a bit constrained by Star Alliance's route network (for example, no Star Alliance airline flies direct between Paris and Rome, so you'd probably have to take a connection in Frankfurt or Zurich).
4. Tour of South America
Try Avianca's new Boeing 787 flat-bed business class from New York to Buenos Aires, Argentina, with a stopover in Bogotá, Colombia. After a week of tango shows and asado, catch the Turkish Airlines tag-on flight to São Paulo (an excellent business class experience, since the flight continues onto Istanbul). Brazil's government has banned carrier-imposed surcharges on departing flights, so take the opportunity to fly home non-stop on Air Canada, a flight which would otherwise come with about $500 in surcharges.
- Cost: 110,000 Aeroplan miles in Business Class; $50–100 in taxes and fees
- Availability: Limited – Avianca business class availability is pretty wide open, but for long-haul flights on Air Canada or United, you should start looking several months in advance
- Notes: Swap Bogotá for Lima to hike the historic Inca Trail and visit Machu Picchu. Also, Brazilian airline Gol partners with Aeroplan despite not being a part of Star Alliance, and their flights are very useful for hopping around a continent where Star Alliance's presence is rather weak.
5. Classic Mini-Round-the-World
I'd consider any itinerary that crosses both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans a "round-the-world" trip, but the "Asia via Europe" variety is probably the most popular with Aeroplan. In the above example, our traveller visits Paris, Bali, and Taipei on one trip, flying in three of the world's best business class cabins: Swiss, Singapore Airlines, and EVA Air.
- Cost: Up to 155,000 Aeroplan miles in Business Class; $150–200 in taxes and fees
- Availability: Good
- Notes: Remember, stopovers are your friend, but try to maximize layovers as well. If you can work within airlines' schedules to arrange a 23-hour layover somewhere, it won't count towards your quota of two stopovers and you get an entire day to explore.
6. Six Continents
Yes, it's really possible to visit all six continents in one trip, thanks to a few cool transoceanic flights in the southern hemisphere operated by South African Airways! Pick three continents on which to stay for longer, and maximize your layovers in the other two.
- Cost: 160,000 Aeroplan miles in Business Class; $200–250 in taxes and fees
- Availability: Limited – availability on most legs are quite plentiful, though the flights to Perth (from/to Singapore and Johannesburg) can be tough to find space on
- Notes: This is a really fun one to play with, since there's literally an entire world's worth of destinations between Toronto and Perth that you can stop at. Go wild! And just like #4 above, the direct Air Canada flight from São Paulo to Toronto with no surcharges is a neat little trick.
7. Cathay Pacific to South Africa
One of the absolute most valuable redemptions available to Canadians: you can fly from North America to Hong Kong in First Class, stop there for any duration, then fly all the way to Johannesburg in Business Class, for only 70,000 Alaska Airlines miles! Cathay's first class product is meant to be mind-blowingly good (I can't wait to try it), so if you have any interest at all in visiting South Africa, this is by far the most comfortable way to do it.
- Cost: 70,000 Alaska Airlines miles one-way in First/Business Class (note: Cathay doesn't offer First Class on the Hong Kong to Johannesburg route) + $150 in taxes and fees
- Availability: Very limited – Cathay typically releases one first class seat about 330 days out (almost a year in advance) and the remaining seats two weeks before the flight, so you'll have to do a bit of planning for this one
- Notes: This is a one-way journey, so you'll need to get home somehow. You could book the same route to return on Cathay, or redeem 75,000 Aeroplan miles to get home via Europe or South America in Business Class (look to #6 above for inspiration).
8. Japan Airlines First Class to India
Japan Airlines (JAL), who boasts another one of the world's premier first class products, is also available through Alaska Airlines' Mileage Plan program. Fly from North America to Tokyo, stop for any duration, then carry on to New Delhi, again in First Class.
- Cost: 70,000 Alaska Airlines miles one-way in First Class + about $75 in taxes and fees
- Availability: Very limited – Like Cathay, you'll have to look either very far-out or very close-in to snag those coveted JAL Suites
- Notes: As you can see, the Alaska Mileage Plan program allows a free stopover on one-way trips, so you can easily book JAL on your way to India and Cathay on the return. In fact, you don't have to go to New Delhi; you can use this to visit Hong Kong, Tokyo, and any third Asian destination in one ultra-luxurious trip, subject to Mileage Plan's award charts.
9. Around the World in First Class
Lufthansa First Class is perhaps the most highly coveted flight experience among aviation lovers. From caviar and champagne to the unbelievable First Class Terminal in Frankfurt, you are pampered and treated like a king throughout. Fly from North America to Asia (don't forget to spend a solid half-day in side the First Class Terminal – trust me, you won't be bored) and then fly home on ANA First Class, another world-class product.
- Cost: 210,000 Aeroplan miles in First Class + about $900 in taxes and fees (!!)
- Availability: Limited – Space on ANA First Class isn't hard to find, but Lufthansa only opens up First Class space 14 days out from the travel date, so you'll need to be diligent in checking for availability at T-14
- Notes: Sadly, there's carrier surcharges on Lufthansa, and they're really hard to avoid (you can try starting your journey from a country that has banned surcharges, but that's tough to do for most North Americans). The good news is that Japan is one such country, and by flying through Tokyo you're already saving quite a chunk on the surcharges that ANA would otherwise be levying.
What I love most about the travel rewards game is that the possibilities are almost endless. Miles and points give you the freedom go where you want, how you want. In this post, I've covered some of the most valuable ways for Canadians to redeem their points, so I hope you've taken some inspiration from this list. I will probably be doing full posts on some of these redemption ideas in the future, so look out for that as well.