Avianca Returns to Aeroplan

Aeroplan has historically had quite a few "issues" with their Star Alliance partners. There were many instances of award tickets not having been communicated to the airline partner properly, resulting in passengers being unable to check-in and effectively getting stranded at the airport.

Over the years, these issues have occurred with Air China, Ethiopian, Swiss, Copa Airlines, LOT, and Avianca, just to name a few. And when panicked passengers start calling Aeroplan en masse from the check-in desk, their response has always been to remove all the award inventory of that airline partner from the search engine while they investigate the issue. While that prevents more passengers from running into these issues in the future, it's also not fair at all to Aeroplan members that Star Alliance partners routinely "go offline" like this.

The great news is that after a year-long absence, availability on Avianca finally seems to be back online. Colombia's national airline is the last Star Alliance partner that Aeroplan had been blocking, so it appears that we finally have access to the full suite of 28 Star Alliance airlines once again.


Fly Avianca to South America

The best part of being able to travel on Avianca again is the vast amount of surcharge-free flights to South American destinations that is now once again possible. Star Alliance has a relatively weak coverage within the continent, and when both Copa Airlines and Avianca were offline, it was nigh-on impossible to travel to many South American cities using your Aeroplan miles.

This was especially true if you wanted to fly in business class – both Copa and Avianca make plenty of business class seats available, so without those airlines, you were stuck searching for rare availability on United or Air Canada, the latter of which would hit you with fuel surcharges as well. In those days, searching for Toronto (YYZ) to Santiago (SCL) in business class would often return zero results for entire weeks at a time.

Now that these airlines are back online, you should have a much easier time booking an Aeroplan trip to South America, and it can be a great use of your miles given the high costs of international travel within the continent.

If you're looking to book Avianca business class, you'll want to see if you can ideally get on their new Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft, which offer lie-flat "pod" seating in a reverse herringbone configuration and by all accounts looks like a great way to fly. From what I can tell, the 787 is used on routes between Bogotá and London, Madrid, Barcelona, Los Angeles, Buenos Aires, and Santiago (where it's only used on one of many daily frequencies, so you'll want to double check the exact flight). 

 Avianca 787 business class

Avianca 787 business class

Meanwhile, most of Avianca's other long-haul North and South American destinations are served with Airbus A330s, which have angled flat seats. 

On the flip side, there are actually some Avianca flights that you should actively avoid. One of the airline's two flights to New York JFK, for example, is listed on Google Flights as "operated by Wamos for Avianca".

Wamos is a Spanish charter company from which Avianca has been wet-leasing a few A330s, and per FlyerTalk accounts, these flights make for pretty miserable experiences. You won't know anything about it just from looking at Aeroplan, so it's always worth double checking Google Flights to make sure you're not booking a Wamos flight. As far as I can tell, the Wamos flight is parked on the JFK route for the moment, though they could deploy it elsewhere at any time.


Fun with Routings

One curious thing about Avianca is that it's really an amalgamation of several nationally branded airlines that all do business under the Avianca name. That explains why, for example, the airline has only one Canadian destination, Toronto (YYZ), but it doesn't fly there from Bogotá. Instead, it connects Toronto with San Salvador (SAL), since the route used be operated by El Salvador's flag carrier, TACA, before it got bought out by Avianca. 

This arrangement gives the airline a sprawling route network across the Americas, which opens the door to making stopovers and open-jaws in all sorts of interesting places on your next South American trip. For example, you could fly to Brazil with a stopover in Bogotá and another one in Lima – maybe squeeze in a side-trip to Machu Picchu – and then fly back to Toronto with a long layover in El Salvador's capital.

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Or you could easily book an open-jaw between, say, Santiago and Buenos Aires (fill in the gap with an Avios ticket on LATAM), in addition to stopping in Medellín (MDE) for its hipster vibes or Cartagena (CTG) for its breathtaking colonial walled city. Avianca's extensive route network all over the South American continent, and especially within Colombia and Peru, makes all sorts of things possible.

The airline's European routes open the door to even more creative routings. In addition to putting that one-way routing that touches all six continents back on the table, you could possibly even fit a Bogotá stopover on a simple North America to Europe redemption. While this doesn't seem to work for Canadian cities due to the maximum permitted mileage (MPM) restrictions, a trip originating Los Angeles (LAX), for example, would work...


Conclusion

Avianca is such a useful Star Alliance partner for exploring South America on miles, and the fact that it has been inaccessible for so long is a real shame. Now that it's back, many destinations can once again be reached in an expedient, surcharge-free fashion, and I trust some of you will be taking full advantage of that.

As far as I know, all 28 Star Alliance partners are now available on Aeroplan, and the fact that this is even worthy of celebration speaks volumes about Aeroplan's well-documented ineffectiveness as a loyalty program. It's definitely too little, too late to keep their partnership with Air Canada going, but it helps restore a measure of faith in Aeroplan's commitment to its members post-2020, however uninspiring the new program might turn out to be.
 

(tip of the hat to Prince of Travel reader Bruce D)