Update: Perfect timing – American Express is offering a 30% bonus when you transfer Membership Rewards points to Avios between now and November 25, 2018.
It’s always exciting when new airlines add routes to Canada; not only does it open up a whole new way to access a different part of the world, but it can often herald new award redemption sweet spots for enthusiastic deal hunters and points collectors as well.
Aer Lingus’s new route between Montreal and Dublin is a perfect example. Starting August 8, 2019, the Irish flag carrier will operate daily flights between the two cities with the following schedule:
EI98 Montreal (YUL) to Dublin (DUB), departing 10:20pm arriving 9:40am the next day
EI99 Dublin (DUB) to Montreal (YUL), departing 6:50pm and arriving 8:50pm
A few things to note about the new flight. It’s going to be one of the airline’s first routes operated with an Airbus A321LR, a single-aisle jetliner with an impressive enough range to fly transatlantic. Granted, flying between the East Coast and the British Isles can’t really be deemed “long-haul” since it often involves as little as six hours of actual flight time, but still I reckon it’ll be extremely cool and somewhat of a novelty to cross the Atlantic in a single-aisle narrowbody aircraft.
In addition, I’m always thrilled when a new European route to Canada offers an evening departure rather than the more standard morning or mid-afternoon departure time. The westbound flight leaving Dublin at 6:50pm is ideal for travellers looking to spend a long weekend in the Irish capital, or indeed anyone looking to make use of this flight on an extended European trip.
There aren’t many evening departures from Europe to Canada to choose from, so this is a great addition for those of us who’d like to maximize our time in Europe before flying home.
The New Avios Sweet Spot
With any new route comes the question, “Can I redeem miles for this flight?” In the case of Aer Lingus’s new Montreal route, the answer is yes, and at spectacular value.
While Aer Lingus isn’t part of any airline alliance (it seems there’s endless talk about them joining Oneworld, but it hasn’t materialized), it does have partnerships with several other frequent flyer programs, including United MileagePlus and British Airways Avios. (Side note: to make matters more confusing, its own frequent flyer program, AerClub, also uses Avios as the currency.)
British Airways Avios is the program with which Canadians would be best-positioned to redeem miles for Aer Lingus, since Avios are relatively easy to come by here in Canada. And that’s where an incredible sweet spot for the new route can be found.
As a reminder, the Avios program eschews the traditional geographic award chart and instead operates a distance-based chart:
If we examine the distance between Montreal and Dublin, we see that it clocks in at 2,973 miles, just shy of the 3,000-mile threshold for Zone 4. That means that a one-way flight in economy class can be redeemed for as little as 10,000 Avios, and a business class flight can be redeemed for as little as 31,250 Avios!
To put that into context, Aeroplan charges 30,000 miles for a one-way between North America and Europe in economy class and 55,000 miles for a one-way in business class, so by redeeming Avios on this route, you’re getting quite an unbelievable discount. (Of course, keep in mind that Aeroplan would allow you to route to/from other cities as well, whereas Avios would charge you extra per additional segment.)
The numbers quoted above are for off-peak dates with Avios; on peak dates, you’ll pay 12,500 Avios and 37,500 Avios for economy class and business class respectively, which still represent killer deals. For some reason, British Airways makes it extremely hard to find the peak/off-peak calendar on their website, but you can refer to this website for a view of the Aer Lingus 2019 calendar.
Award availability on this route is excellent; I see two business class seats and four economy seats on each flight, so this is a great opportunity to take a big family trip as well. You can’t search for Aer Lingus flights on the British Airways Avios website, so I suggest using either ExpertFlyer or United.com to search (remember, United is a partner of Aer Lingus as well), and then calling Avios to book it.
Earning British Airways Avios is easy in Canada, since you can transfer American Express Membership Rewards at a 1:1 ratio. With cards like the Business Gold Card and the Platinum Card offering hefty signup bonuses, you should easily be able to rack up enough Avios to score as many of these deeply discounted award tickets as you need.
Now, a bit of a warning: this very same sweet spot existed in the past for Aer Lingus’s Boston–Dublin and Boston–Shannon routes as well, both of which fell just under the 3,000-mile threshold. Nevertheless, in late 2016, the Avios program unilaterally decided to “move” these two routes into the higher-priced Zone 5, thus killing the sweet spot.
I can understand why they did that; after all, it doesn’t make sense to be charging essentially close to half-price on Boston–Dublin compared to, say, New York–Dublin. And yet, they were the ones who designed this rather wacky award chart to begin with, so on principle they should stick by it rather than adding asterisks all over the place.
Anyway, all of this is to say that the Montreal–Dublin sweet spot probably won’t last forever, because Avios can just add a single line of code and “move” it into the higher-priced Zone 5 at any time. In fact, I’m rather surprised that this hasn’t been done upon the launch of the route.
I would therefore encourage booking sooner rather than later if you’d like to take advantage of this. The tricky thing is that flights are only loaded into the schedule up to a year out, so as of now you can only book dates between early August (when the route launches) and early September (the end of schedule), 2019.
So this would be a great way to secure a late-summer getaway in Ireland, but if you’re looking to travel any time further out, you’d have to wait and take your chances that the cartographers over at Avios will redraw the map once again.
Not Based in Montreal?
This sweet spot works best for Montrealers, since the British Airways Avios program is designed in such a way that favours direct flights and penalizes connections. However, that doesn’t mean that travellers based in other cities won’t benefit from it as well.
Indeed, it can also make sense to take advantage of this sweet spot if you live elsewhere in Quebec, or in any of the Atlantic provinces, Ontario, any of 20 US states as far west as Minnesota and as far south as Tennessee, or even in Iqaluit, NU! That’s because an Aeroplan reward between Montreal and any of those places counts as “short-haul” and therefore only costs 7,500 Aeroplan miles one-way in economy class.
You can therefore leverage this Aeroplan sweet spot to position yourself to Montreal, before taking advantage of an Avios sweet spot to get yourself to Dublin. In total, you’d be able to travel to Europe starting from 17,500 miles (7,500 Aeroplan miles plus 10,000 Avios) in economy class.
If you wanted to book the whole trip in business class, you’d pay as little as 46,250 miles (15,000 Aeroplan miles plus 31,250 Avios), still a relatively good deal compared to a standard Aeroplan redemption at 55,000 miles. You could also book the shorter positioning flight in economy class to bolster your savings even further.
Lastly, travellers based in the Greater Toronto Area would be remiss to overlook Aer Lingus’s existing Toronto–Dublin flight, which falls into Zone 5 on the Avios award chart and therefore costs 13,000-20,000 Avios one-way in economy class or 50,000-60,000 Avios one-way in business class.
Even though it’s not the crazy-low prices you see on the Montreal route, those economy prices are still a relative bargain, while the off-peak business class pricing is also very attractive.
Best of all, you wouldn’t need to wait until August 2019 to travel – daily flights are already in operation, and award availability is quite plentiful.
How Is Aer Lingus?
I’ve flown Aer Lingus a couple of times within Europe, and found them to be a very pleasant bunch to fly with. I’d say the service was warmer than you’d find on an average European airline and comes with a healthy dose of Irish charm.
I haven’t flown their long-haul business class yet, although I’ve booked Jessica on one of their flights for an upcoming European trip, so she should have some thoughts in the near future. Based on reading other reviews, though, it seems like a perfectly comfortable way to spend a quick 6-7 hours on an overnight flight. On these flights you’d mostly be sleeping, so you’re looking at the hard product and meal service as differentiating factors, both of which appear to be quite good.
Aer Lingus business class is arranged in a staggered configuration, meaning that certain seats are better than others. In particular, solo travellers will want to pay attention to Aer Lingus’s “throne” seats, which look very appealing indeed.
These are available on both their Airbus A330s, which they currently operate on North American routes (including the Toronto route), and the Airbus A321LRs which will serve the Montreal route in 2019.
However, neither of these aircraft are particularly wide, and so there’s only a limited number of “throne” seats available on each flight. Therefore, if you’re looking to secure one, you’ll ideally want to call Aer Lingus to select the seat immediately after booking your flight – when I had booked Jessica’s upcoming trip, I wasn’t able to select seats online, and upon calling in, the agent had remarked that these individual seats are “always the first to go”.
If you’re looking to travel onwards in Europe beyond Dublin, Aer Lingus has a very comprehensive route network throughout the continent, so you can redeem Avios for those flights as well. I would, however, strongly urge you to plan a long layover in Dublin if you can, since it’s a lovely city that has plenty of things you can do in a quick visit.
I’m always thrilled when a new Canadian route gets announced – we certainly need more direct connections to more places around the world – and it’s even more exciting when there’s a compelling way to redeem miles on it. There’s no telling how long the British Airways Avios sweet spot on Aer Lingus’s new Montreal route might last, so if you’re interested, you ought to book it as soon as your dates are available.