At a time when many countries around the world have closed their borders to foreign visitors, domestic travel will likely become possible well before transborder or international travel. Many Canadians may be looking to explore their own backyard until it becomes safe, possible, and desirable to leave the country again.
As the second-largest country in the world, one could spend a lifetime exploring Canada and still have a lot left to see. From the coastal rainforests of British Columbia to the endless summer nights and pristine fjords of Canada’s north, from the rugged peaks of the Rocky Mountains to the majestic icebergs floating by the coast of Newfoundland, adventures abound for those who seek them.
Buried below the Aeroplan Reward Chart is a list of Canadian domestic airline partners: Canadian North, Calm Air, and Air Creebec. With these partners, it is possible to redeem Aeroplan miles for short- and long-haul fixed-mileage flight rewards all over Canada.
As these airlines fly to very remote locations that cost a small fortune to travel to, you are likely to get significant value by using your Aeroplan miles rather than booking a cash fare. As we await the much-anticipated details for Air Canada’s new loyalty program, which has hinted that it will move towards a dynamic pricing model for redemptions within North America, it may be wise to prospectively book a trip with these partners for travel later in 2020 or into 2021.
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.
1. Canadian North
Canadian North connects 25 communities in the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Nunavik (Northern Quebec) with several territorial and provincial hubs. The Inuit-owned airline is headquartered in Kanata, Ontario (just outside of Ottawa), and its fleet consists of Boeing 737, ATR 42 turboprop, and De Havilland Dash-8 turboprop aircraft.
As depicted in the above route map, passengers can access Canadian North’s flight network in Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg, and Edmonton. It is possible to combine a reservation with Air Canada with a Canadian North flight, which is a valuable option for those who don’t live in any of the provincial hubs that the airline serves.
If you are a revenue passenger, you can earn Aeroplan miles on Canadian North operated flights. They also have an in-house loyalty program called Aurora Rewards, and interestingly, you can double-dip and earn both Aeroplan and Aurora Rewards points on paid bookings.
Canadian North is also a redemption partner with Aeroplan. You can search for award space using ExpertFlyer, and then you’ll have to call Aeroplan to confirm its availability and to make a booking.
As flight schedules can involve overnight stops that exceed the usual 12-hour layover rule for domestic bookings, you may have to add a stopover to make the itinerary valid.
If the award space is available, your booking will be completed over the phone. Aeroplan charges a phone booking fee of $30 plus taxes for these bookings, which unfortunately can’t be avoided. While Canadian North previously did not levy any surcharges, all bookings are now subject to surcharges – the more remote the destination, the more you’ll pay (see examples below).
Short-haul redemptions are available on direct flights between northern communities and between provincial and territorial hubs. So, for flights between any of the cities and communities on the below chart, a one-way flight would cost only 7,500 Aeroplan miles plus taxes/fees or 15,000 Aeroplan miles plus taxes/fees for a round-trip.
You’ll notice that included in the short-haul chart are flights between Winnipeg and Rankin Inlet, Ottawa and Iqaluit, and Montreal and Iqaluit. So, between any of these city pairs, a round-trip booking would cost only 15,000 Aeroplan miles plus taxes and fees.
Flights within Nunavut (except to Kugluktuk, Cambridge Bay, and Ulukhatok), flights within the Northwest Territories and between the Northwest Territories and Alberta, flights between Yellowknife and Whitehorse, and flights between Yellowknife and some locations in Nunavut (Cambridge Bay, Kugluktuk, and Rankin Inlet) are all considered short-haul rewards, too.
All other itineraries will cost 25,000 Aeroplan miles plus taxes and fees for a round-trip or 12,500 Aeroplan miles plus taxes and fees for a one-way. This includes any bookings that combine an Air Canada flight to connect to any of Canadian North’s hubs.
For example, on random dates next May, the cheapest round-trip fare between Ottawa and Iqaluit is $856.21. An Aeroplan redemption would cost 15,000 Aeroplan miles plus $226.58 in fees (inclusive of the phone booking fee) for the same flights.
In this case, you would be getting around 4.2 cents per point (cpp) from this redemption, which is double the current Prince of Travel valuation of 2.1cpp for Aeroplan miles.
I spoke with several Aeroplan agents about the structure of the taxes and fees for Canadian North.
Excluding the phone booking fee, a one-way booking between Ottawa and Iqaluit costs $109.04 ($7.12 Air Travellers Security Charge, $23 Airport Improvement Fee, $3.92 HST, and $75 Carrier Surcharge). A one-way flight between Ottawa and Pangnirtung, again excluding the phone booking fee, costs $184.04 ($7.12 Air Travellers Security Charge, $23 Airport Improvement Fee, $3.92 HST, and $150 Carrier Surcharge). So, it appears that Canadian North flights are subject to a $75 Carrier Surcharge per segment flown.
Looking at the route map, I can see so many destinations to add to my Canadian bucket list. Grise Fiord, Canada’s northernmost civilian settlement, is located on the 76th parallel, which gets 24 hours of sunlight during the summer solstice and similar twilight during the winter solstice.
With the ability to add Air Canada flights on either side of a redemption with Canadian North, it would be interesting to fly from the southernmost airport from which Air Canada operates (Windsor, Ontario) to the northernmost airport to which Canadian North operates (Grise Fiord), spanning a whopping 34 lines of parallel.
The current price of Air Canada round-trip flights between Windsor and Ottawa is $290 for April 2021, while the current price for Canadian North round-trip flights between Ottawa and Grise Fiord is an astounding $4,609.69.
Meanwhile, a very helpful and patient Aeroplan agent priced out an identical redemption itinerary for me, totalling 25,000 Aeroplan miles plus $627.97 taxes/fees (inclusive of Aeroplan’s phone booking fee and Canadian North’s surcharges). This still works out to around 17.2cpp, which is a fantastic redemption value.
I’ve been eyeing up a second trip to Nepal to do some trekking, but instead, maybe I’d fly into Pangnirtung (YXP) to see Thor Peak in Auyuittuq National Park on Baffin Island. I was once regaled with an epic story of trekking and watching people base jump in this National Park, and I would love to see it with my own eyes one day soon (although I wouldn’t get anywhere close to base jumping).
2. Calm Air
Calm Air operates flights within and between Manitoba and Nunavut. The airline has hubs in Winnipeg, Thompson, and Rankin Inlet. The airline has a fleet of ATR 42 and ATR 72 turboprop aircraft, and also has access to a Canadian North Boeing 737, which it uses to fly between Winnipeg and Rankin Inlet.
Calm Air is a redemption partner with both Aeroplan and Air Miles. Unlike with Canadian North, you cannot earn miles from paid Calm Air flights, but they do have an in-house program called Calm Rewards. Unfortunately, Calm Air redemptions cannot be combined with any Air Canada flights, so you’ll have to do two separate redemptions if you need to get to any of the Calm Air hubs.
Calm Air handles all inquiries for Aeroplan and Air Miles redemptions. To check for award availability, you will need to look up your desired flights and then call the Calm Air contact centre to inquire about award space. Once you have found award space, Calm Air processes everything from their end, meaning that you won’t be subjected to the dulcet tones of Aeroplan’s hold music for once. 😉
One-way flights on all of Calm Air’s network cost 7,500 Aeroplan miles plus taxes and fees. You can calculate the approximate taxes and fees by heading to Calm Air’s website, loading up your flights, and then adding all fees minus the base fare.
In the below example of a Winnipeg–Churchill dummy search, we can see that an Aeroplan redemption on the same route would cost 15,000 Aeroplan miles plus around $322.02 in taxes and fees.
Unless you have personal or familial connections to any of Calm Air’s destinations (or if you want to take a page out of Crosscountry Canada and pick up some copper in Thompson), the most likely sweet-spot here is booking to Churchill, Manitoba.
Suppose you live in Toronto and want to take a week-long trip to Churchill to catch a glimpse of the polar bears, kayak with beluga whales, and soak in the aurora borealis.
The current lowest price for a round-trip between Toronto and Winnipeg costs $403 with Air Canada in September, and the lowest cost for your flights between Winnipeg and Churchill is $1,484 (and these flights can go for much, much higher), for a grand total of $1,887.
(The train between Winnipeg and Churchill, which takes almost two days each way, costs between $430–500 for an upright seat, so you decide to scrap that idea as you have a limited time-frame.)
Flights between Toronto and Winnipeg qualify as a short-haul reward, and since you don’t pay fuel surcharges because of your Prestige 25K status that you recently earned through the Travel at Home promotion, the total for the same flights with Air Canada is 15,000 Aeroplan miles plus $104.50 in taxes and fees. A round-trip Aeroplan redemption with Calm Air would cost an additional 15,000 Aeroplan miles plus $288 in taxes and fees.
So, for a total cost of 30,000 Aeroplan miles and $392.50, you are getting a very strong 4.98cpp in value. The value would be even higher if you planned your trip during peak tourist season, as the cash price of flights to/from Churchill would be much higher. In either case, the money saved by using points can be put to good use paying for lodging, tours, and having a fulfilling once-in-a-lifetime experience.
One thing to note is that Calm Air has a different cancellation policy for Aeroplan redemption flights. If you need to cancel, you can have your miles redeposited for a fee of $78.75 per passenger. Unfortunately, the taxes and fees on the redemption are non-refundable, so you may be out a fair bit of money if your plans change.
3. Air Creebec
Air Creebec is a regional airline based in Val d’Or, Quebec. The airline serves 16 destinations in Quebec and Ontario, located mainly along the shores of James Bay. Its fleet of Hawkers and Dash-8s flies out of hubs in Timmins, Val d’Or, and Montreal.
Air Creebec is both an earning and redemption partner with Aeroplan. Similar to Canadian North, you can combine Air Canada flights on the same redemption. You’ll have to call Aeroplan to search for availability and to book, so having your desired flights beforehand could save you and your booking agent some time and hassle.
As all of Air Creebec’s destinations are within Quebec and Ontario, all flights within their network count as short-haul redemptions and cost 15,000 Aeroplan miles round-trip.
While the destinations that Air Creebec serves may not be considered typical holiday destinations, I found plenty of inspiration on the airline’s website and the region’s tourism website. There are plenty of outdoor-oriented adventures, immersive cultural experiences, and stays in pristine natural areas at your disposal. I’ve spent way too much time in my condo over the past few months, and the idea of staying in a cabin on a remote lake sounds perfect right about now.
Due to COVID-19, several Aeroplan agents and I weren’t able to find any future Aeroplan availability, as the airline seems to not have any award space in the inventory at the moment. The agents did recall, however, the Air Creebec bookings came with taxes and fees of around $150 for a round-trip flight.
I had a look at the taxes/fees on a round-trip cash fare between Montreal and Waskaganish (YKQ), which amounted to $165.07, approximating the agents’ recollections. Once the airline begins operating again, I will update this post with more accurate information.
With closed borders and cancelled flights being the norm these days, getting your travel fix may be easier done in Canada before it becomes possible overseas. As such a vast, diverse country, there are many places that I would love to visit in the near future, when it becomes safe and possible to do so.
Aeroplan’s domestic partners open up the possibility to travel to places where few people ever visit. As with some aspirational flight redemptions, using points can save you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars, while exposing yourself to unique cultures, breathtaking landscapes, and unforgettable adventures without getting a stamp in your passport.
If you’ve visited any of the destinations served by Canadian North, Calm Air, or Air Creebec, I encourage you to share it on the Prince of Travel Elites Facebook group, as you are likely to inspire many of your fellow Canadian Miles & Points enthusiasts.
As much as I have been spoiled by stays in five-star hotels and the champagne and caviar in First Class, I am no stranger to a more rustic adventure in my own backyard, and I’d love to hear some first-hand accounts of your experiences as I plan my own for next year.