Aeroplan Mini-RTW: Two Weeks to Go!

Aeroplan’s stopover policies will be changing in a fortnight’s time, reducing the current allowance of either two stopovers or one stopover and one open-jaw into a more restrictive policy of either one stopover or one open-jaw. With points collectors across Canada working frantically to finalize their bookings, let’s check-in on the current state of play. 

I’ll begin by sharing with you how I personally plan to bid farewell to the incredible sweet spot of the three-stop Aeroplan Mini-RTW that we’ve come to know and love…


November 2019: Another Epic Round-the-World Journey

I’ve already written about my November 2019 round-the-world trip, which will bring me to Kazakhstan, Perth, and Geneva, with long layovers in Cancún, Shanghai, and Tokyo. 

I’ll get to sample a trio of Boeing 787 Dreamliner business class products that I haven’t flown before, operated by Turkish Airlines (Cancún–Istanbul), ANA (Perth–Tokyo), and EVA Air (Taipei–Bangkok–Vienna). 

I also have a few side-trips planned to Melbourne and London, the former bringing me onboard a Qantas vs. Virgin Australia business class double-header, and the latter allowing me to catch a game at my beloved Arsenal Football Club. It promises to be yet another exciting month of relentless globetrotting, and I’m counting down the days with anticipation. 

There’s one small update to tell you about this trip: I had originally booked TAP Air Portugal’s new A321-LR product from Porto to Newark back across the Atlantic, but a schedule change on that flight meant that I’d end up missing my connection in Newark.

Knowing that schedule changes entitle me to a waiver of the Aeroplan change fee (as well as any difference in fuel surcharges), I called up Aeroplan and changed my return journey to the Geneva–Montreal direct flight on the Air Canada A330. 

I imagine I’ll be pretty exhausted and eager to come home by that point in the journey, so I was content to save my 24-hour layover in Porto for a future trip and take the most sensible route home instead.

Air Canada A330 business class

Air Canada A330 business class


May 2020: One Last Three-Stop Hurrah

As soon as we received word about the rule changes in mid-July, I began thinking about how I’d like to give the Aeroplan Mini-RTW one final send-off sometime in 2020.

After much deliberation, I decided to take advantage of a short window of free time in May 2020 to book a two-week jaunt around the world. As usual, I aimed to check out a few far-flung cities I’ve been meaning to visit, while also trying out a few new airline products. The end result looks like this:

I’ve chosen to have stopovers in Santiago (3 days), Johannesburg (5 days), and Tel Aviv (3 days). Santiago and Tel Aviv have been on my bucket list for a long time, whereas I’ll probably book a side-trip from Johannesburg to Cape Town and also see if I can make time for another side-trip to Lesotho as well. 

Meanwhile, I’ve also got eight hours to see a little bit of San Salvador, 21 hours to explore Bogotá, and 23 hours to absorb São Paulo; on top of that, I’ll get to experience my maiden flights on the Avianca 787, the South African Airways A330, and the United Polaris 777.

United Airlines Polaris business class

United Airlines Polaris business class

The latter two were quite tough to find availability for – I managed to snag the only available seats in the few weeks surrounding those dates!

The itinerary also contains a segment on GOL Airlines, the Brazilian low-cost carrier that partners with Aeroplan. You can’t search for GOL award space online, and the ExpertFlyer readings aren’t reliable either – for example, this is what ExpertFlyer showed for GOL space on my desired date, but Aeroplan wasn’t able to access any of the space: 

 
 

Instead, if you want to book on GOL, the Aeroplan agent needs to manually query each flight and see if GOL comes back with a “yes” or a “no”, which can be a bit of a shot in the dark, and is quite a time-consuming process as well. Nevertheless, it’s a very useful option to keep in mind if you’re redeeming Aeroplan miles for travel around South America, where Star Alliance’s coverage isn’t necessarily the strongest.

With only the Air Canada fifth freedom flight between Santiago and Buenos Aires contributing a minimal amount in fuel surcharges, the taxes and fees for this itinerary came to a satisfyingly low $162, and I just got it ticketed this morning. 

(Of course, I had definitely wanted to do one final Mini-RTW with my girlfriend Jessy in tow, but we’ve already booked much of our travels for the remainder of 2019 and through 2020, and she didn’t have much time in her schedule left for another three-stop adventure. It’s the highest order of first-world problems, but unless something significantly changes in the next two weeks, Jessy will likely have to make do with two-stop trips in the future…)


What Trips Are You Planning?

Alright, enough about me. How are you planning to maximize the Aeroplan Mini-RTW before the rules change on September 1?

I’ve received quite a few emails from readers in the past few weeks who are hoping to take advantage of the three-stop allowance, but aren’t really sure where in the world to go, or which routes and destinations would be most conducive to the planning process.

Based on the many hours I’ve spent looking at availability patterns recently, it’s definitely the case that the “classic” Mini-RTW going through both Europe and Asia remains the easiest to build. With a little bit of flexibility in terms of travel dates and routing options, both transatlantic and transpacific award space – including premium carriers like Turkish Airlines, Swiss, and EVA Air – remain very much accessible, especially if you’re travelling in “shoulder season” months like February–May 2020.

Availability trends seem quite favourable in Africa as well, where Ethiopian Airlines will generally be the carrier of choice for getting around. From outside the continent, Turkish Airlines’s flights to West, Central, and East Africa are wide-open in terms of business class space, whereas the award space on their long-haul services down to Cape Town or Johannesburg will be much more competitive.

If you’re headed to Australia or New Zealand, availability may be slightly tougher to find, although Singapore Airlines has still been making a decent amount of space available. New Zealand in particular might require a separate side-trip from a Sydney- or Melbourne-destined Mini-RTW booking, particularly as the MPM limits from Canada to New Zealand are rather restrictive. 

Finally, Central American and South America remain extremely well-served by Copa Airlines and Avianca flights – those two carriers seemed to have some issues with married segments as of last month, but those have been mostly resolved. But for those of you who want to continue onboard South African Airways’s flight from São Paulo to Johannesburg, the award space seems to have dried up a lot since before (the same is true for SAA’s other Southern route between Johannesburg and Perth). 


Making Changes After September 1

I should also take this opportunity to talk about the policy of making changes to existing bookings after September 1. The official policy is that any changes to tickets created prior to September 1 will remain subject to the old rules, allowing you to have either two stopovers or one stopover and one open-jaw.

Below is the email exchange with an Air Canada spokesperson confirming this:

 
 

I’ve also outlined in a previous post some strategies for “locking in” Aeroplan Mini-RTWs if you don’t have enough miles yet, or for booking itineraries close to or after August 2020.

Nevertheless, it seems that many agents haven’t been properly educated on this policy, as several Aeroplan members have reported being told that any changes to existing bookings after September 1 would be subject to the new rules. I’d definitely advise escalating to a supervisor in this case, and I imagine that preserving the two-stopover allowance after September might well involve calling back a few times to get the right agent. 


Need Help Planning Your Aeroplan Mini-RTW?

I’ve been working overtime in recent weeks helping clients book their epic round-the-world trips through the Points Consulting service. If you want my assistance in planning a route, searching for availability, and making your dream trip come true, feel free to send me a request.

My turnaround time may be a little slow these days given the volume of requests, but rest assured that I’ll be able to present you with a valid itinerary to call Aeroplan and book before the August 31 deadline. This sweet spot has given me some of the best travel memories of my life, so I’m fully committed to helping as many people as possible experience the same thing. 

 
 


Conclusion

With its near-endless possibilities for round-the-world travel, the Aeroplan Mini-RTW was the first redemption sweet spot that truly captured my imagination when I got started with Miles & Points. After many years of reaping the benefits, it’s hard to believe that the rules are finally getting tightened, but that’s the reality we face as we enter the final two weeks of being able to build three-stop trips around the world at such a compelling price point.

After September 1, the thinking among dedicated travellers will shift towards how one can maximize Aeroplan by booking two-stop trips, as well as how to leverage the pseudo-round-the-world award charts of other reward programs out there, like the British Airways multi-carrier chart, the Cathay Pacific multi-carrier chart, and – to be discussed in a separate article shortly – the ANA Mileage Club round-the-world award chart.