I’ve written volumes and volumes about Aeroplan and the outstanding value you can get by redeeming Aeroplan miles. But all this time we’ve been restricting our attention to one type of Aeroplan reward ticket: the Fixed Mileage Reward. You can also exchange your miles for Market Fare Rewards, which is what we’re going to talk about today.
What Are Market Fare Rewards?
If you look at Aeroplan’s marketing material, they will have you believe that Fixed Mileage Rewards and Market Fare Rewards are on equal footing, and that you can and should freely choose between the two to redeem your miles whenever you want, for whatever flight you want.
Seriously, I get that they need to invest heavily in marketing to mask their glaring shortcomings, but come on, what could this guy possibly be smiling so hard about? It's Aeroplan we're talking about here... 😉
Anyway, I digress. Of course, Market Fares generally offer nowhere near as much of the incredible value that you can get out of Fixed Mileage Rewards (for example by booking a mini-round-the-world trip).
Having said that, there are a few instances when Market Fares can provide good value, so it’s not wise to write them off completely. But before we get to these examples, let’s first clarify the important differences between the two types of award tickets.
First of all, Market Fares are only available on flights operated by Air Canada – you can’t redeem for Star Alliance partners. This also means that Market Fares will only be useful if you’re travelling from, to, or within North America (the one exception is Air Canada’s Santiago–Buenos Aires flight, which will be discontinued soon enough anyway). The whole idea is that if there's an open seat on an Air Canada flight, you're supposed to be able to book that seat using a Market Fare Reward.
Next, Market Fares don’t follow the standard Aeroplan Reward Chart. Instead, the mileage cost is designed to roughly track the real-time cost of the ticket if you were to purchase it with cash. I say "roughly" because it seems that tickets whose cash fares are within a certain band of each other will often have the same Market Fare mileage cost, though I haven’t quite been able to work out the exact algorithm. If anyone has any insight, please feel free to share!
This also means that redeeming for business class flights with Market Fare generally won’t bring the same outsized value as Fixed Mileage Rewards. Think about it – with the traditional award chart, you’re paying 110,000 miles for a round-trip business class ticket to Europe. With Market Fare, you might be paying this...
It's genuinely shocking that someone might be tempted to spend their miles on that. This kind of stuff is what makes people so quick to dismiss Market Fares as entirely useless.
Lastly, there are a couple of factors that can make Market Fares more compelling. The first is the Aeroplan Status discount that you get. Aeroplan Status is normally not very useful, but if you’re looking to redeem Market Fares it can save you up to 35% of the mileage cost if you’re a Diamond member.
Unless you’re a huge spender, the easiest way to reach Aeroplan Diamond status is probably by manufacturing spending on an Aeroplan-earning credit card. For example, get your hands on three AC Conversion cards and put $100 per day through each one for a year, and you’ll be Diamond.
And finally, Market Fares generally come with much lower fuel surcharges, unlike Fixed Mileage Rewards (where Air Canada is known for charging an arm and a leg).
So when should you care about Market Fares? Let’s run through a few instances in which they can be useful...
When you’re dabbling in award travel, the problem of a positioning flight is one that’s going to pop up sooner or later. You’re not always going to find availability on a long-haul flight out of your home airport, so the next best thing is to connect to your long-haul flight at a nearby airport.
For example, if you live in Toronto and you want to redeem 70,000 Alaska miles for Cathay Pacific First Class (one of the best redemptions around), you’ll have to book a positioning flight, because Cathay doesn’t fly First Class to Toronto, and Alaska doesn’t allow you to add on other partners to an award ticket (and Alaska itself doesn’t fly to Toronto either).
Or if you want to fly Lufthansa First Class – there’s no more First Class service to anywhere in Canada, so you’ll have to position. That’s exactly what I did on my recent trip, and when it came time to book my positioning flight from Boston back to Toronto, cash fares were in the range of $200 and there was no regular availability for the exact flight I needed. That’s where Market Fare came in.
Because Market Fare books into the same fare buckets as revenue tickets, availability is generally a lot better, and you can typically pick your desired flight from any Air Canada flight that’s operated on the day of travel. Indeed, while regular award availability tends to get snapped up quickly (especially for short hops on Air Canada between Canada and the US), Market Fares have no such drawback.
I searched the same route (Boston to Toronto) for an arbitrary date in the future, and every single flight of the day was available on Market Fare. I could get used to seeing this kind of search result...
For my positioning flight I only shelled out 13,000 Aeroplan miles plus $7 for the US departure tax. Keep in mind that if I were able to find regular award availability, that probably would've been a better value (for 7,500 miles and roughly $65 in taxes and surcharges), but Market Fare provides a reliable backup option.
For any future positioning needs I have in places like Montreal, New York, Boston, or Chicago, I’ll definitely be looking to Market Fares to help me get out of a bind.
Intra-North America Flights
Market Fares are designed to track the cash price of a ticket, and in theory that should negate any outsized value that you’ll get from booking with miles. However, because the relationship is never exact, there are still good deals to be had, especially if you can get yourself a discount with your Aeroplan Status.
For example, on my upcoming trip to Calgary this weekend for the PointsU conference, I booked myself two Market Fare one-way tickets (the cost would’ve been the same if I had booked round trip). That’s because 1) there was no regular award availability for the exact flights I wanted, and 2) Market Fare was decent value compared to buying a ticket outright.
Let's have a look at the below comparison, for an Air Canada flight within North America on some arbitrary date.
A cash ticket costs $529, while Market Fare – with the Aeroplan Status discount – requires 24,000 miles and $7 in taxes. That works out to a value of (529 – 7) / 24,000 = 2.175 cpm, which is pretty darn great when redeeming your miles for intra-North America in economy class.
Of course, if you don’t have the Aeroplan Status discount, that diminishes the value proposition, but Market Fare can still be a viable alternative if you’re sitting on a large stash of miles and would like to save some money.
So far we’ve only looked at examples where the Market Fare mileage cost exceeds the Fixed Mileage Reward cost, meaning that you can think of Market Fares as a dependable backup option in case regular award availability isn’t forthcoming. But could there be situations where it’s actually favourable to book Market Fares?
Yes indeed! Every now and then, you’ll find a Market Fare that can be booked for even fewer miles than if you redeemed your miles according to the standard award chart. Aeroplan calls these “Great Deals”, and they’ll slap an eye-catching label on the flight to let you know that you’re getting a great values for your miles by booking that particular Market Fare Reward.
The nice thing about Great Deals is that they're often made available to all Aeroplan members, not just those who have Aeroplan status! So make sure to keep your eyes peeled. (I've noticed that Toronto–Los Angeles flights are offered at Great Deal prices rather frequently.)
Keep in mind that Great Deals usually happen because the cash price of the corresponding Air Canada ticket is abnormally low, like if there’s been a fare sale or something. That means that you should also consult the regular cash price to see if using your miles would provide good value.
In fact, this holds true for all Market Fares – since their mileage cost is loosely based on the price of a revenue ticket, booking a Market Fare generally makes the most sense when you have extra Aeroplan Miles to burn and would rather save some money. And since our mantra in this game is “earn and burn”, you’ll no doubt be running into plenty such occasions along the process of planning trip after trip after trip.
Do Market Fare Rewards Earn Miles?
One last point: since Market Fares are booked into the same fare buckets are regular cash tickets (such as “S” or “K” for Air Canada’s Tango fares, for example, rather than “X” for Air Canada’s regular economy award tickets), many travellers might wonder if their Market Fare ticket, which they redeemed Aeroplan miles for, might be eligible to earn Aeroplan miles as well.
Unfortunately, the answer is no. That’s because when the ticket is issued, Aeroplan “endorses” the ticket as non-mileage earning. So while the fare code resembles a regular ticket purchased with cash, this particular note on your ticket will prevent any Aeroplan miles – or miles in any other frequent flyer program, for that matter – from being credited.
It’s far too easy to dismiss the Market Fare option out-of-hand when looking to book an Aeroplan ticket, but that would be ignoring the fact that Market Fares can save you a lot of money over time by helping to offset the cost of positioning flights and Intra-North America travel.
What’s more, it’s an especially sweet feeling when the occasional Great Deal shows up and you’re able to take advantage of it. While Market Fares will never be the most valuable way to spend your Aeroplan miles, it’s worth knowing the ins and outs so that you’ll be well-positioned to take advantage when the need arises.