Aeroplan’s Canadian North Awards Now Bookable Online Ricky September 11, 2020

Aeroplan’s Canadian North Awards Now Bookable Online

A very niche Aeroplan redemption, which has consistently delivered insanely high value, has just gotten a little less niche. As of yesterday, Aeroplan rolled out the ability to redeem miles for flights on Canadian North, one of its three domestic northern partners, directly on the online search engine instead of over the phone.

It was announced that Canadian North flights would be fully bookable online when the new Aeroplan program launches on November 8, so this represents an early step in that direction, and allows Aeroplan members to more easily make bookings for future travel in 2021 to Canada’s northern territories while taking advantage of the sweet spots under both the current program and the new program.

Be sure to follow any federal, provincial, and/or territorial recommendations, as well as wishes from the communities, before travelling to these regions, as many are particularly susceptible to exposure to COVID-19.

Book Canadian North Awards Online

Last year, Canadian North completed a merger with First Air, so their route network now serves most of the airports in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, as well as a few key routes down to the population centres in the south (Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa, and Montreal).

Here is the Canadian North route network as displayed by FlightConnections:

Only economy class awards are available on Canadian North. These awards were previously only bookable over the phone, but the online booking functionality has now been rolled out.

Given that the cash fares on these northern flights are usually priced extremely high, you can almost always unlock spectacular value for your Aeroplan miles – at least 3 cents per point (cpp) and easily greater than that – whenever you redeem for a flight on Canadian North.

The challenge, however, is that Canadian North’s award availability is very limited – awards between Ottawa and Iqaluit, for example, only seem to be available at the very end of the schedule, so anyone planning a northern getaway will definitely need to plan far in advance.

On the other hand, awards on the Montreal–Kuujjuaq route to Nunavik in Northern Quebec seem to be wide open, and it’s got me seriously considering a long-weekend getaway when the region reopens.

Canadian North seems to release a maximum of four award seats on any given flight, although most flights seem to be limited to three. To be honest, planning a trip up north for one traveller is already difficult enough in terms of finding availability and putting together the airline’s scheduled flights, so it’ll definitely be a unique challenge to plan a trip up north for the whole family.

To help you plan your trip, Canadian North availability is also displayed on ExpertFlyer, so you can use the tool’s weekly search feature to search an entire week’s worth of dates at once (although that might not be too useful for many of Canadian North’s routes which are only operated once a week):

Having said that, the mapping between Aeroplan and ExpertFlyer doesn’t seem to be exact, which is disappointing. For example, ExpertFlyer shows three available seats on this flight from Resolute Bay to Iqaluit (with stops in Arctic Bay and Pond Inlet), but Aeroplan doesn’t see it:

Instead, Aeroplan does show award space on the Resolute Bay–Arctic Bay segment, but nothing beyond that… so how’s this supposed to help anyone reach one of Canada’s northernmost communities?

(Speaking of which, the northernmost commercial airport, Grise Fiord all the way up on Ellesmere Island, doesn’t seem to be showing any award space throughout the schedule as of now, but that could always change in the future. Indeed, I’ve observed that Canadian North’s availability patterns tend to fluctuate quite a bit over the years, so even if something isn’t available right now, be sure to check back over time.)

Aeroplan is pretty much Canadian North’s only meaningful redemption partner, so it’d be very disappointing if the program can’t access all the award space that Canadian North makes available. However, I do have a good feeling that the new Amadeus search engine as of November 8 will be more powerful in terms of locating Canadian North awards.

In the meantime, there are still many pockets of fascinating routes with dates scattered throughout the schedule, so if you’re like me and take interest in redeeming points to visit the more remote parts of Canada, then you’ll definitely want to play around with the search engine and admire all of the intriguing new airports on show.

Why You Should Book Canadian North with the New Aeroplan

While Canadian North awards are now bookable online, there are a few reasons why you might want to wait until the new Aeroplan is launched before planning a northern trip.

Prior to the new Aeroplan’s details being announced, it was widely speculated that the sweet spot of using Aeroplan to visit Canada’s northern regions might be devalued, although thankfully that hasn’t happened. Since Canadian North is a partner airline, it will not be subject to dynamic pricing like Air Canada flights, and will instead be available at a fixed price based on distance flown under the “Within North America” chart.

These days, Canadian North awards will cost 7,500 or 12,500 Aeroplan miles one-way, depending on whether your route is classified as short-haul or long-haul. Under the new program, these one-way prices will largely be increasing (unless you’re flying a distance of less than 500 miles, which seems unlikely in the vast swathes of Arctic tundra).

However, there’s also a very positive development that I think will more than offset the increase in award costs, broadly speaking: you’ll have noticed that Canadian North awards under the current Aeroplan program are subject to a carrier-imposed surcharge of $75 per segment. Since the new Aeroplan will do away with carrier-imposed surcharges, this fee will no longer be levied!

(You’ll need to pay the new $39 partner fee, but the good news is that this fee is only charged per ticket, not per segment, so the overall fee structure is much more favourable.)

Let’s take the earlier example of a simple round-trip between Montreal and Kuujjuaq in Nunavik. Right now, this is a short-haul route within North America, so it can be booked for 15,000 Aeroplan miles round-trip, plus about $200 in total taxes and fees, which includes $150 as the carrier-imposed surcharge.

Under the new Aeroplan, Montreal–Kuujjuaq clocks in at 901 flown miles, so it’d cost 10,000 Aeroplan points for a one-way journey or 20,000 Aeroplan points for a round-trip. That’s an extra 5,000 points compared to now, but you’d also save $111 in fees on the booking ($150 surcharges saved, minus the new $39 partner fee that you pay), so the trade-off works out in your favour.

The savings in surcharges would be even greater on itineraries with more segments involved, whereas the increase in award cost can be kept reasonable as long as you don’t overshoot the 2,750-mile final distance band. And, I mean, you can theoretically get all the way up to Grise Fiord while remaining under 2,750 miles…

Finally, like I mentioned earlier, the new Aeroplan will also come with a significantly improved search engine, which should be much more effective than the current search engine in piecing together different segments within a 24-hour window to get you to your desired destination.

Unfortunately, the ability to add a stopover on a one-way journey for 5,000 Aeroplan points isn’t allowed within Canada and the US, as that would truly add another layer of flexibility to Canadian North bookings (especially considering that many of the flights to regional communities are only operated once or twice a week, so many not line up very well with each other within a 24-hour window).

The “no stopovers within Canada and the US” rule, as it applies to “regular” travel through North American population centres, strikes me as fundamentally different travel behaviour than a multi-stop trip up in the northern territories.

I’d urge Air Canada to consider introducing an exception to this rule for Canadian North awards, as it’d provide travellers interested in exploring Canada’s north with a greater degree of latitude in more ways than one.

Conclusion

Every Canadian has looked at a map of our country at one point in their lives and wondered: “Hmm, I wonder what’s life like up in the territories?”

Aeroplan miles were traditionally one of the best ways to get around the prohibitive cost of flights up north and see the vast region for yourself, and I’m delighted that not only will this sweet spot continue under the new Aeroplan program, but the groundwork has now been laid with Canadian North awards being bookable directly online.

We’ll now await the same functionality being rolled out for Calm Air and Air Creebec, although it’s my understanding that these won’t be available online until after the new program’s launch.

I look forward to using my Aeroplan points to visit Nunavik, Churchill, Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, and hopefully even Grise Fiord one day (although a trip to Alert, the true northernmost community in Canada, may well have to rely on the generosity of any military or science personnel in my circles who’d be willing to bring me along).

And now, we just need a way to use Aeroplan miles on hotels, activities, and food when we’re up north, because those will still cost you an arm and a leg otherwise!

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20 Comments
  1. Avatar
    Adele

    My selfish concern is that availability will go down severely due to the “ease” of booking. On the bright side, the cash prices have been steadily getting better over the years. My first foray into Nunavut was in 2016, in September, booked about 6 months ahead. The availability was spotty, but I managed to find a good agent on the phone, she found a perfect itinerary for YOW-YFB for 2 for a week long trip with weekend departures and return, to make the best use of my limited vacation time. I think cash price of that ticket would have been around $2600. My next trip I booked for September 2019, and I booked it almost a year out – essentially as early as possible. I had my pick at any date I wanted, it was all wide open. I did YOW-YFB-YXP(stop)-YFB(stop)-YOW. The 8 days we hiked in Auyuittuq National Park, self supported, was one of the most memorable things in my entire life. I would have loved to come back and do it again this year if COVID didn’t happen. When I booked, Canadian North did not charge any carrier fees, so the tickets were really “cheap”, although they only opened up a single spot on the YXP segment, so I had to pay cash for that. Either way, I noticed that cash prices went down about 30% or so, compared to 3 years prior. Now they appear lower still, so with the added surcharges, award redemptions are not as juicy, although still pretty good. I wonder what availability will look like after the switchover to new booking rules. I’m hoping it’s bad right now due to some kind of system kinks.

    1. Avatar
      Adele

      I noticed that expert flyer is saying there are 2 spots on YFB-YXP segment now, which would be even better, as I had to juggle the previous trip with one person booked all on Aeroplan, one partially cash.

      1. Avatar
        Peter

        Adele, wanted to do the same hike. Do you know any websites that provide good guidance and resources (what to bring, what to prepare, etc) for un-guided hikes in Auyuittuq?

        1. Avatar
          Adele

          One more thing, it’s worth also calling the Parks Canada Pangnirtung office. Those are real people that hike that pass, so if you have specific questions that might sound silly – that’s ok, they will try to help as best as they can. Very great folks.

        2. Avatar
          Adele

          If you are serious, I’d start by reading Parks Canada website: https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/nu/auyuittuq and ordering the map from http://www.chrismar.com It’s the best detailed map of the Akshayuk Pass and has information about what to bring and lots of useful stuff aside from actual maps.

          I found a couple of trip reports from other people doing similar hikes, they helped set some expectations. I also had a short back and forth with a photographer that often goes to shoot in the park, and that way I settled on early September as the best time to go: it’s not too cold yet, the water level in the creeks is very low, the sky gets dark so you can easily see the aurora, as long as it’s clear. It seems many people do their hikes in August, but in my opinion, with high water levels, that’s just increased risk.

          The hiking itself is pretty simple, as in, you just follow the river and especially the southern part (south of Summit Lake) is very straight forward. Do some winter hiking and camping in your area ahead of time, so you have an idea of how much gear you’ll need to stay warm. We hit -7 ºC on some nights, but certainly be ready for colder than that. Layering helps, such as wearing a puffy under the sleeping bag.

          I wrote up about my trip here, you can perhaps get an idea from it:
          https://travel.friskyfreeze.com/2019/10/northern-lights-in-auyuittuq-national-park/

          Overall, being well prepared is a major thing here, it really reduces your stress levels and makes the whole trip super enjoyable.

  2. Avatar
    George

    Ricky, if you ever actually fly between Resolute and Arctic Bay, make sure you look for the Prince Leopold Island, it is almost directly beneath the flight path. The island looks quite unique especially from the air. It has high cliffs at all sides with an extremely flat top, so flat that small planes can use it as an airfield and land on top of it.

  3. Avatar
    Olivier

    I live in Kugluktuk YCO and this will make it that much easier to travel out of Nunavut!

    1. Ricky
      Ricky

      I’m always amazed by the many places across Canada where our readers live. Hope to visit up there sometime soon!

  4. Avatar
    Olivier

    Canadian north doesn’t fly to grise fiord. Never has. That map is wrong. Currently the only way there is by a weekly flight on a kenn borek twin otter, and you cannot use points.

    1. Ricky
      Ricky

      Looks to me like it’s a Canadian North flight number but operated by Kenn Borek. That might explain why it can’t be booked with points, but the YGZ airport still got added to Aeroplan’s search system. Oh well, I suppose it’ll have to be a $1,485 round-trip from Resolute then.

      1. Avatar
        Sylvie

        You are right Ricky. Kenn Borek operates those bumpy, extremely whether dependent flights.

  5. Avatar
    George

    Ricky, how many days in advance you could book Canadian North on Aeroplan?

    1. Ricky
      Ricky

      It depends on the route. Ottawa–Iqaluit was only available on July 25, so that’s about 316 days out. But Montreal–Kuujjuaq was available for next week.

      Like I mentioned, Canadian North’s availability patterns seem to change frequently, so I know I’ll be checking back very often once the new program launches to see which flights are open.

  6. Avatar
    Nikolai Volkoff

    I’d be curious to know what people do when they visit those isolated locales. There isn’t typically much for visitors to do in town, and there aren’t many options apart from hiring pricey outfitters to take you out on the land.

    1. Avatar
      Stu

      Paid my last northern outfitter $25,000. Good times. Covered my biz plat min spend too.

    2. Ricky
      Ricky

      There are plenty of national parks worth visiting (I was just speaking to a friend today about Nahanni National Park Reserve in NWT), and like you said you could hire an outfitter to do a tour as well. It definitely won’t be a cheap trip, but if you’re more frugal but still curious about these isolated locales, then I’d see a lot of value in simply visiting the community for a few days and observing the local way of life as well.

  7. Avatar
    Adrian

    Given how expensive those flights are… this is a good use of the Air Canada awards for AV Geek! However, Canadian North is no longer offering complimentary meals because of Covid-19. Maybe it is wise to wait a bit. After doing a few flights on these Canadian regional airlines, the rare economy class meals are part of the experience. Hopefully you can review it when Covid-19 calms down a bit!

    1. Ricky
      Ricky

      Thanks for the input Adrian, I definitely plan to take one of these trips once the Covid nonsense is over.

  8. Avatar
    Jules

    Another great post Ricky and the ability to book Canadian North awards online is intriguing. You mention that the carrier-imposed surcharge that is charged per segment is being eliminated in the new program. While that’s great, won’t these awards become subject to the new “$39 partner booking fee”? If so, eliminating one fee and simply replacing It with another is disappointing.

    1. Ricky
      Ricky

      You’re right that the $39 partner fee is worth a mention as well. I’ve added that in there. The good news is that the $39 is charged per ticket only, not per segment, so it’s a much more favourable fee situation compared to now.

Ricky

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