Analyzing My Next Big Aeroplan Mini-RTW

I’ve just booked another Aeroplan Mini-RTW this week, scheduled for November 2019. As someone who strongly appreciates this redemption sweet spot, I’m very much dreading the possibility of the Aeroplan Mini-RTW being reduced or phased out as part of the Air Canada transition in June 2020, so I’m very motivated to book as many of these trips as possible before then.

This one’s not quite as bonkers as the Crazy Aeroplan Trip I took earlier this year – which brought me to West Africa, Australia, and Micronesia in one big whirlwind trip – but it’s going to be lots of fun nonetheless. And while the specific trip that I’ve booked might not necessarily be everyone’s cup of tea, I do think that there are several lessons I can share with you from the booking process itself, which you could generalize when trying to book your own Mini-RTW. 

Indeed, you could consider this post as a continuation of a few other in-depth “planning” posts I’ve written in the past, such as:

Every Aeroplan Mini-RTW starts with an idea for how you’d like to tailor this highly flexible sweet spot to fulfill your personal travel goals, so that’s where we’ll begin…


The Goals

I had a few goals in mind for this trip:

  1. First and foremost, of course, I wanted to visit a few new places around the world. In particular, I’ve held a longstanding fascination for Central Asia, and I think it’s high time that I check out “the Stans” and see the sights along the ancient Silk Road. I’ve also heard wonderful things about Melbourne, Australia, and since I only made it to Perth the last time I was down under, I wanted to visit Melbourne this time around (this also ties into Goal #4 below).

  2. Next, I also wanted to try out some of the exciting new airline products that were introduced recently. I highlighted some of these in the article I wrote last week on the subject, but I definitely wanted to get on both EVA Air and Turkish Airlines’s new Boeing 787 business class products. On top of that, any additional new products I could try (whether it’s newly introduced, or simply ones I haven’t flown before) would be awesome as well.

  3. I wanted to visit and catch up with some friends and family around the world by taking advantage of either a stopover or a 24-hour layover in Beijing, Shanghai, London, and Geneva. 

  4. As usual, I wanted to maximize the amount of flying time in the air. With an East Coast departure point, that means a return visit to Perth, Australia as the “destination” of my trip, in order to stretch the maximum permitted mileage (MPM) as far as possible.

EVA Air 787 business class

EVA Air 787 business class

That’s about it – I wanted to accomplish the above goals to as great an extent as possible. Of course, I also wanted to minimize my out-of-pocket expenses in taxes and fees as well, but with a trip that visits so many countries and airports, the government-imposed taxes and airport improvement fees are bound to add up quickly. 

Moreover, while I’m staunchly opposed to fuel surcharges on principle, I won’t begrudge a few hundred dollars here or there if it allows me to take the trip I want to take, especially when the value I’m getting in business class flights outstrips that quantity by multiple orders of magnitude.


Planning the Route

With my goals in mind, I sat down to plan the trip. As I outlined in my Complete Guide to the Aeroplan Mini-RTW, I personally prefer to map out the entire route before searching for availability. I know some people out there like to verify availability on each segment before moving onto the next one, so it’s up to you which type of workflow you’d prefer.

As of November, EVA Air will be flying their Boeing 787 on their Vienna–Taipei route, so that was the first to go on the map:

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(By the way, that EVA Air flight actually operates with a brief stop in Bangkok, meaning I get to indulge in the new 787 business class for almost seventeen hours. However, it still only counts as one segment for the purpose of the Aeroplan booking, and only the direct Vienna–Taipei distance is counted for the purpose of the MPM, too.)

Turkish Airlines will also be flying their 787s to a whole host of destinations, including Atlanta and Washington, DC in North America. Having earlier seen ample business class availability on the Atlanta–Istanbul route, I put that one down as well:

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Now, there aren’t many Star Alliance airlines flying into Central Asia. Turkish Airlines is probably the biggest Star Alliance carrier in the region, serving the following cities out of Istanbul, which would fit perfectly on the other end of my existing Turkish Airlines flight:

  • Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan (the capital of the country, formerly known as Astana, which was recently renamed after a former president)

  • Almaty, Kazakhstan

  • Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

  • Dushanbe, Tajikistan 

  • Ashgabat, Turkmenistan

  • Tashkent, Uzbekistan

  • Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Among these cities, only Nur-Sultan, Almaty, and Tashkent have further eastbound service on Star Alliance airlines to various points in East Asia. In the end, I chose to route via Nur-Sultan, since I could leave via the Air China flight to Beijing (the other two cities are served by Asiana Airlines to Seoul). 

Knowing that I’d need to end up in Perth, I remembered that ANA had recently launched a direct flight between Perth and Tokyo Narita on their Boeing 787 Dreamliner, beginning service in September 2019. Since I had never flown ANA long-haul business class before, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to slot that in:

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That’s Goals #1 and #2 mostly taken care of, so I began focusing on Goal #3: scheduling long layovers in Beijing, Shanghai, London, and Geneva.

Fitting in Beijing and Shanghai after the Kazakhstan leg and on the way to Perth seemed like a natural opportunity, and I’d also get to enjoy another few flights on the world-class Singapore Airlines.

That left London and Geneva. Since I still had one more stopover to work with, I figured I may as well use that in Europe and plan an extended stay in these two cities, as I was feeling quite exhausted at the very thought of flying the “long way” from Australia to North America with only a series of 24-hour layovers in between. 

I chose to stopover in Geneva, since flying out of London would incur the hefty UK Air Passenger Duty (APD). I’ll then simply book a side-trip from Geneva to London on British Airways using my Avios points

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With the “bones” of the trip in place, I just needed to “connect the dots” in a way that satisfied the MPM for the Montreal–Perth city pair, which is 18,204 miles. 

It was simple enough to plan a flight from Tokyo to Taipei to connect my ANA flight with my EVA Air flight:

Now I just needed a way to get back to Canada from Geneva, ideally while satisfying Goal #2 (fly some fun new business class products) just a little more. However, the MPM didn’t give me much wiggle room to work with, ruling out many of my crazy ideas.

And I had lots of crazy ideas, like:

  • Backtracking to Cairo and catching Egyptair’s new 787 business class to Toronto

  • Flying Avianca business class from Europe down to Bogotá and then returning to North America 

  • Flying TAP Air Portugal business class from Europe down to one of Brazil’s northeastern cities (Recife, Salvador, or Fortaleza) and then returning to North America

  • Flying down to Dakar, Senegal before catching South African Airways business class to Washington DC

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In the end, I realized I must take a somewhat logical routing directly from Western Europe back to the East Coast, so I set about looking for the most unique business class product I could choose. 

I eventually realized that TAP Air Portugal will be launching their new Airbus A321LR aircraft on transatlantic flights, which features lie-flat business class seats (complete with “throne” seats) on a single-aisle aircraft. How cool is that? Excited by the novelty of crossing the Atlantic on a glorified regional jet, I noted down the following return journey via on the Porto–Newark route, which would also give me a long-layover in Porto, another city I’ve been meaning to visit:

How’s that for a trip? Of course, the most challenging step lay ahead of me: I still needed to check every single flight to make sure there was business class space available.


Searching for Availability

When searching for availability, I generally use a combination of the Aeroplan search engine and ExpertFlyer. My usual strategy is to use ExpertFlyer to search for the long-haul segments (which are typically the toughest when it comes to award space) one week at a time, before drilling down to specific dates using the Aeroplan search engine.

 
 

So in my example, I used ExpertFlyer to search the following routes during the rough weeks in November that I wanted to travel (I was pretty flexible to travel throughout all of November, which is a huge benefit when planning a complex trip like this):

  • Atlanta–Istanbul on Turkish Airlines

  • Perth–Tokyo Narita on ANA

  • Taipei–Vienna on EVA Air

  • Porto–Newark on TAP Air Portugal

Award space was quite plentiful on the ANA and TAP Air Portugal flights, so that was a good start. Oddly enough, the EVA Air flight showed zero space in the Vienna–Taipei direction, but lots of space in the Taipei–Vienna direction. I was previously flexible in terms of the overall direction of the trip, but this meant that I’d have to do Kazakhstan first, then Perth, then Europe, instead of the other way around.

But the biggest problem was the Turkish Airlines flight: whereas I had earlier seen wide-open award space on the Atlanta service, it seemed that all of the space had been pulled from the inventory since I last checked!

Indeed, Turkish Airlines seems to play lots of games with their business class award space – this isn’t the first time I saw them remove entire months’ worth of award space overnight. If you do find Turkish Airlines award space when planning your trips, I’d recommend booking it as soon as possible, because there’s no guarantee it’ll be there when you look tomorrow!

Anyway, this meant that I needed to go back to the drawing board. With no 787 business class awards out of any North American gateway, I had think a little more creatively if I wanted to get on this new plane.

Turkish Airlines 787 business class

Turkish Airlines 787 business class

Well, after spending some time browsing Routes Online (a very useful resource for figuring out which airlines’ new planes are flying where, by the way), I learned that Turkish is in fact also launching their 787s on a brand-new Mexico route that goes Istanbul–Mexico City–Cancún–Istanbul.

That’s right, a triangle routing to Mexico City that picks up passengers in Cancún on the way back to Istanbul as well. How awesome is that?

While I’d love to spend some time in Mexico City, unfortunately it was too out of the way for the purposes of MPM. However, a Montreal–Cancún–Istanbul routing would see the overall one-way routing to Perth clock in at 18,194 miles, just 10 miles under the MPM of 18,204 miles!

And better yet, with a quick gander at ExpertFlyer, I saw that the award space patterns for the Cancún–Istanbul route were very much in my favour.

 
 

Meanwhile, the schedule on the daily Montreal–Cancún service on Air Canada Rouge leaves me with a 22-hour layover in the Mexican resort town. Since I’m travelling solo, a visit to the ruins of Chichen Itza sounds more appealing than spending the day at the beach…

One last step before calling Aeroplan to book the whole thing: I needed to locate award space on the shorter segments as well. During this step, I was faced with a few unexpected conundrums:

  • The only available flight of the day on the Beijing–Shanghai route left me with me a short two-hour connection in Beijing after arriving from Nur-Sultan, which isn’t really enough time to leave the airport

  • The only available flight on the Singapore–Perth route was in economy class; I could’ve also chosen to fly business class the next day, but I didn’t want to waste 14+ hours of time on the ground in Australia

  • There was no direct flight available for the Tokyo–Taipei segment; instead, I had to take an additional layover in Seoul, which is annoying but should be comfortable enough

  • There ended up being quite a few airlines on the itinerary that levy modest fuel surcharges, like Air Canada Rouge (for the regional flight to Cancún), Air China, ANA, Asiana, Thai, and Austrian Airlines (for the short Vienna–Geneva segment)

Now, none of the above conundrums are what I’d consider to be deal breakers. I could have, of course, waited to see if additional award space opened up to resolve these issues, but then I’d risk losing the long-haul segments that were already in the bag.

Faced with this choice, I was happy to book the entire trip now, and then make changes in the future if any of the above pain points could be addressed.

The final itinerary looked as follows (with the Aeroplan itinerary in red, and the planned side-trips in blue). It really is a thing of beauty, isn’t it?


Calling Aeroplan to Book

I waited on hold for about five minutes before getting put through to an Aeroplan agent, who was friendly but not too enthusiastic over the phone, which I find describes most Aeroplan agents these days.

I opened with something along the lines of “Hi, I’d like to book a complex trip with multiple stops and connections. I’ve already found the flights I want, can I give them to you?”

We proceeded through the itinerary one segment at a time. The agent was definitely pretty inexperienced in booking complex trips like these, since there were quite a few hiccups along the process. 

For example, when trying to validate the itinerary, the agent first told me that I was “over the maximum distance”, but only because she had somehow been treating Kazakhstan’s capital as the “destination”, so of course everything was way over.

I told her that Perth ought to be the destination, and then everything validated smoothly. At just 10 miles under the MPM, the outbound journey was certainly pushing the limits, but ultimately didn’t cause any issues.

ANA 787 business class

ANA 787 business class

Then the agent came back with a quote for the taxes and fees – $580 in total, plus the $30 booking fee – which was a little more than I was expecting, but not too unreasonable given how many airports I was visiting and the handful of airlines that do have modest fuel surcharges. 

I gave the green-light for us to complete the booking… only for the agent to quote me 300,000 Aeroplan miles for a full round-the-world award, instead of the 160,000 miles for a Canada–Oceania round-trip in business class!

Once again, I had to interject, asking the agent to double-check that it should be in fact counted as a round-trip, since I’m allowed to have up to two stopovers. After putting me on hold for a good 10 minutes, she came back and said I was right – and swiftly completed the booking right then and there.

As you can see, calling Aeroplan to book complex trips like this can become quite an involved process, depending on the agent you’re working with. Despite her unfamiliarity, my agent was nothing but friendly and patient throughout the process, though, which made it a pleasant experience overall. 

TAP Air Portugal A321-LR business class

TAP Air Portugal A321-LR business class

And you know what? In the grand scheme of things, there’s really like 0.01% of Aeroplan members who are booking these trips. I say that because my agent kept emphasizing how “she had never seen anything like this in 20 years of working at Aeroplan”, and this wasn’t the first time I had heard something like this from an Aeroplan agent either.

The Aeroplan Mini-RTW is an incredibly powerful sweet spot, but ultimately one that a tiny minority of members are taking advantage of, which is what gives me hope that Air Canada will have mercy on it in June 2020 😉

When the confirmation email came through, I took a look a the Taxes & Fees breakdown to see where that $580 all went.

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As I expected, there’s a litany of taxes and fees imposed by various aviation authorities around the world, and then there’s $198.80 in “YQ” and $165.70 in “XT”, both representing fuel surcharges. 

I’m definitely hoping that either ANA or EVA Air opens up space on the Tokyo–Taipei flight that I need, so that I can change the itinerary to avoid the Seoul connection, knocking out the airport fee and the fuel surcharges on Asiana and Thai in one fell swoop.


Conclusion

The Turkish Airlines 787. The EVA Air 787. The ANA 787. The TAP Air Portugal A321-LR. Cancún, Kazakhstan (with potentially a side-trip to Uzbekistan), Shanghai, Melbourne, Geneva, London, Porto. I’m beyond pleased to have booked another globetrotting adventure, and am once again blown away by the fact that I was able to accomplish this with 160,000 Aeroplan miles – I don’t think that feeling will ever get old.

I hope that this post has shed some light on my usual workflow for putting together a complex Aeroplan Mini-RTW, illustrating some of the challenges that may arise as well as some creative solutions you could look for to overcome those challenges. Happy trip planning!