Shortly after the new program’s launch in early November, Aeroplan had quietly improved its change and cancellation policy for bookings made through 2020, and that date has now been updated to February 28, 2021.
Book By February 2021 and Cancel Anytime
Throughout most of 2020, Aeroplan has offered a flexible cancellation policy with a rolling deadline, by which members could cancel their itineraries free of charge: first it was by April, then by June, then August, then October, and then finally December 2020.
As long as a member initiated the cancellation by this rolling deadline, they would not pay a cancellation fee. However, they might still pay a cancellation fee if they initiated the cancellation after this deadline (unless the deadline got extended, of course, which is what ended up happening several times).
After the new program’s launch, the policy was simplified to eliminate this point of uncertainty. The current policy can be found on the Air Canada website, and reads as follows:
Aeroplan flight rewards booked through Feburary 28, 2021 can be changed or cancelled free of charge, at any time.
For changes, you’ll pay only the difference in points, or receive a partial refund if your new itinerary requires fewer points.
For cancellations, you’ll receive all of your Aeroplan points back in your account, plus a full refund of any associated taxes, fees and surcharges on the unused value of your travel. (Note that refunds will not apply for previously-charged fees, including contact centre booking fees and change fees, or for government taxes and fees which are non-refundable by law.)
As you can see, if you make any bookings through the February 2021 deadline, you will be able to change or cancel the itinerary free of charge at any time. For the avoidance of doubt, “at any time” means that you’ll be able to change or cancel the itinerary for free even in March 2021 or thereafter, as long as the ticket was originally booked by February 28, 2021.
Let’s first talk about the cancellation policy.
The fact that any bookings made through February 2021 will be cancellable free of charge means that every Aeroplan booking you make today is essentially “risk-free”: even if your travel plans don’t work out, you can simply cancel free of charge and get all your points redeposited into your account, as well as the associated taxes and fees (including the $39 partner booking fee, if applicable) refunded to your credit card.
You’ll notice that there are a few exceptions; if you make a booking over the phone (as is necessary if you wish to book a stopover for 5,000 points), then the phone booking fee of $30 plus taxes is not refundable later on.
Moreover, the exceptions also include “government taxes and fees that are non-refundable by law”; I personally haven’t come across too many examples of this, but there may be certain countries around the world whose government-imposed fees fit that bill.
As a result of this generous cancellation policy, the door is very much open to making speculative bookings with your balance of Aeroplan points. As long as you have the points, don’t be afraid to make a few different bookings for different travel options (flight times, routings, airlines, etc.) for any trip you might be considering later in 2021.
You can always cancel all but one when your plans have firmed up, as long as you initiate the cancellation within two hours of the first departing flight.
In addition, another consequence of this policy is that you should continually monitor the prices of any Aeroplan bookings made on Air Canada flights.
The new dynamic pricing model can be highly variable over time, so if you see that your flight has in fact gone down in price, then it might make sense to cancel for free and rebook, saving yourself a nice chunk of points.
Book By February 2021 and Get the “One Free Change” Policy
The other component of the policy relates to making changes to a flight reward. On this point, it’s important to clarify that only the first change to a ticket booked through February 2021 will be free. Subsequent voluntary changes may still incur a change fee.
Essentially, Aeroplan’s unpublished “one free change” policy has been extended in the exact same way as the free cancellation policy: it’ll now apply on any tickets booked through February 2021, even if you initiate the first change sometime after that.
If you need to make another voluntary change after that, then a better idea would be to simply cancel the ticket free of charge (since you had originally booked it by February 2021) and make a new booking, instead of paying a change fee for your subsequent change.
There’s another small improvement to the nature of making changes to your Aeroplan bookings. In the past, if your change results in having to pay more Aeroplan points, then those points would be taken out of your account, but if it results in the ticket needing fewer Aeroplan points, then you wouldn’t get that difference in points refunded at all.
Now, however, you will receive a partial refund in points if your new itinerary costs fewer points compared to before. That’s very much a fair gesture, especially considering the sheer variability in Air Canada’s dynamic pricing model these days.
As a reminder, Aeroplan’s change and cancellation fees under normal circumstances look as follows.
(The increase in these fees is one of the negative changes of the new program compared to before, so it’s nice that we at least have some temporary reprieve from these fees for now.)
Given the fluidity of the COVID-19 situation these days, it’s reasonable to think that the deadline of February 28, 2021 for both the flexible change and cancellation policies may even get extended further as well, but we’ll have to wait and see what type of approach Aeroplan takes in the new year.
Partial Refunds on Aeroplan Awards
In clarifying these change and cancellation policies with Aeroplan, I also inquired about the matter of cancelling a partially flown Aeroplan ticket and redepositing a partial amount of the points.
The topic of partial refunds came to the forefront of the community during the first weeks and months of the COVID-19 pandemic, when several Aeroplan members needed to cancel itineraries in the middle of their trip and book their own return flight to Canada.
On this matter, Aeroplan has confirmed that partial refunds will continue to be offered on partially-flown itineraries, with the number of points being refunded corresponding to the unflown portion of the fare.
However, Aeroplan stopped short of confirming the exact methodology for calculating the amount of the partial refund, so this is something we’ll only eventually come to understand through real-life data points from travellers who find themselves in a situation where they need a partial refund.
Certainly, the new Flight Reward Chart and search engine already offer up some interesting scenarios to ponder (such as, to name just one, the Atlantic/Pacific arbitrage sweet spot and how it might play out in the scenario of a partial refund), but these are ultimately data points that would require a fairly high level of dedication to gather.
Aeroplan’s change and cancellation policies for flight rewards booked through the end of 2020 are quite generous, in light of the ongoing uncertainty around travel.
Any booking made by February 28, 2021 will be subject to free cancellation and a free first voluntary change at any time (even in March 2021 or thereafter), which opens the door to greater flexibility – and perhaps even an element of speculation – when booking travel for later in 2021.