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.
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!