Big Changes to Aeroplan Awards (Book Your Mini-RTWs Now!)

Brief update: I called Aeroplan to confirm that 24-hour layovers and custom routings will remain in place after September 1 (for now). Only the stopover policies have changed. Furthermore, any itineraries ticketed before September 1 will remain subject to the old rules, even if you make changes after that date.


Isn’t it funny how this stuff works?

Yesterday I made a video on the Aeroplan Mini-RTW, and today we learn that the Aeroplan Mini-RTW will be reduced significantly as of September 1, 2019.

In the first of what’s sure to be many rounds of significant announcements from Air Canada on the future of the Aeroplan program, today we’ve learned about a few changes coming to the Aeroplan program. There’s good news and bad news, so let’s get the bad news out of the way first.

 
 


Aeroplan Will Only Allow One Stopover or One Open-Jaw

Right now, Aeroplan’s stopover and routing policies are some of the most flexible redemption sweet spots among major frequent flyer programs.

You’re allowed to build in either two stopovers or one stopover and one open-jaw on a roundtrip redemption, meaning that you can effectively visit three cities around the world for the same price you’d pay as if you only visited one. This way of maximizing the value of your Aeroplan miles is affectionately known as the “Aeroplan Mini-Round-the-World” or “Aeroplan Mini-RTW”

Well, as of September 1, the Aeroplan Mini-RTW is about to get a lot more “mini”.

Instead of two stopovers with the ability to substitute one stopover for one open-jaw, you’ll only be allowed to have one stopover OR one open-jaw.

Today, depending on their itinerary, Aeroplan members can book Flight Rewards which include up to two stopovers, or one stopover and one open jaw, in addition to the point-of-turnaround. Beginning September 1, 2019, members can continue to make Flight Reward bookings to multiple cities, but will be limited to a maximum of one stopover or one open jaw, in addition to the point-of-turnaround.
— Air Canada

So instead of being able to visit Europe, Asia, and Australia all one one trip, you might just have to make do with Europe and Asia.

While I’m of course still grateful that we get to have one stopover, it’s hugely upsetting that the awesome perk of having two stopovers is being devalued. If I’m being honest here, I probably expected some form of devaluation on the Aeroplan Mini-RTW by the time of the June 2020 transition, but Air Canada, having bought out the Aeroplan program entirely, have always been well within their rights to implement changes sooner. 

It’s a respectable move by Air Canada to give us a few months’ notice for this negative change. If you wanted to book an Aeroplan Mini-RTW under the current structure, you have until August 31, 2019 to book something for as far out as early August 2020!


This Change May Be Temporary

Air Canada mentions that less than 0.3% of Aeroplan awards booked each year would be affected by this change to the stopover policies, which raises the question: if it’s such a little-known sweet spot, why bother devaluing it?

Indeed, Air Canada indicates that the move to one stopover or one open-jaw may be a temporary measure:

Being transparent is essential to us, so it’s also important to share that we’re temporarily suspending two features of the Aeroplan Program later this year. In both cases, these changes will allow us to make important system upgrades to deliver better service and offer new, more flexible stopover options with the launch of our new loyalty program.
— Air Canada

It’s difficult to determine whether we should interpret this as good or bad news for the future of flexible redemptions in the mold of the Aeroplan Mini-RTW as we know it today. 

The mention of “new, more flexible stopover options” is certainly promising. This makes me think that Air Canada hopes to improve upon the September 1 regime of one stopover or one open-jaw when the new loyalty program launches. 

Meanwhile, Air Canada mentions “important system upgrades” – could this indicate that they’re building a more flexible search engine that can handle all the stopover and open-jaw possibilities, without requiring us to call in?

If that’s the case, could that potentially be bad news, in the sense that the loyalty program might move towards a model in which “what the computer spits out is what you get”, leaving no room for building customized routings and 24-hour layovers on a single award – similar to United MileagePlus and Delta SkyMiles? 

Keep in mind that while Air Canada has clarified today that the stopover policies will be changing on September 1, they make no mention of routing rules things like whether the maximum permitted mileage (MPM) will still apply (or might change in some form), whether you can choose flights on Star Alliance airlines to minimize fuel surcharges, and whether you can build your own layovers as long as the connecting flights are within 24 hours of each other. 

(Update: I called Aeroplan to confirm the above and was told that “nothing had been advised” on those matters, so they should remain fair game beyond September 1 for now.)


“True” Round-the-World Awards Are Going Away

The other negative change that Air Canada has announced relates to “true” round-the-world awards, which are award tickets on Star Alliance carriers that allow you to have up to five stopovers and up to 16 segments. These are currently bookable for a disproportionately expensive number of miles – 200,000 in economy class, 300,000 in business class, and 400,000 in First Class – which is why they’re never talked about.

 
 

(The name “Mini-RTW” actually came about in relation to the “true” round-the-world awards, since you could cleverly leverage Aeroplan’s stopover policies to do something similar to a round-the-world award while still paying the mileage for a simple round-trip ticket.)

Suffice to say, these awards won’t be missed. You can no longer book them as of September 1, but you weren’t going to book them anyway, so carry on.


Positive Changes to Aeroplan Award Tickets

Air Canada has also announced several positive changes designed to improve the flexibility of Aeroplan awards. Unlike the negative changes, these changes kick in immediately, so there’s a window between now and September 1 when you get to enjoy the best of both worlds.

  • Free cancellation of award tickets within 24 hours of booking. You can now get a full mileage redeposit and a full refund on the taxes and fees of your Aeroplan award ticket within 24 hours of booking. This is an awesome change that brings Aeroplan award tickets in line with most revenue tickets issued in the US and Canada. Nevertheless, if you booked via the Aeroplan call centre, you won’t receive a refund of the $30 phone booking fee.

  • Refund tickets up to 2 hours before departure. Before today, cancelling your Aeroplan ticket and getting your miles redeposited within 21 days of departure wasn’t possible – instead, you were allowed to change and use the ticket within the next year, but the miles wouldn’t be redeposited into your account. The way around this was to change your ticket to a departure date more than 21 days from now, and then cancel it. Now, that won’t be necessary, as you’ll be able to get your miles redeposited at any point up to two hours before departure.

  • Lower refund fee on online bookings. Until today, the fee for cancelling and refunding an Aeroplan ticket online (if you weren’t an Aeroplan Diamond member) was $150. Now, it’s been lowered to $125 (although the fee for cancelling over the phone remains $150). If you’re an Aeroplan Diamond member, you continue to benefit from lower cancellation fees of $30 online and $100 over the phone.

  • Air Canada Super Elite 100K members get free changes and refunds. Frequent flyers who’ve earned Air Canada’s top-tier status will now benefit from free cancellations and refunds on Aeroplan tickets, which give them the unique ability to book and hold Star Alliance awards on a speculative basis. Now you’ll have many more reasons to beg your Super Elite friends for favours 😉

On the whole, I’d say that Aeroplan’s clunky fee structure and punitive change and cancellation rules were some of its biggest weaknesses, so these improvements are very welcome.

I’m hoping that the next few rounds of news we hear from Air Canada will build on these changes. In particular, while the free cancellation of award tickets within 24 hours is nice, it would be even better to be able to make changes within 24 hours as well, since there’s never a guarantee that the available seats goes back into the inventory when you cancel an already ticketed award. 


What’s My Take on These Changes?

Book. Aeroplan. Mini-RTWs. Before. September. 1.

Whatever changes Air Canada are planning for when their new loyalty program launches, I retain my doubts that it’ll be as flexible and rewarding as the structure we have right now. Therefore, if you want to take advantage of a redemption sweet spot that we may never witness again, you’ll want to plan a trip for the ages before the September 1 deadline.

It could be a winter getaway, or a two-week trip in the spring, or an epic summer trip around the world – as long as it takes place before August 2020 (which is the furthest out you’ll be able to book by the time the rules change), you have the opportunity of using your allowance of two stopovers or one stopover and one open-jaw to see as much of the world as possible.

(I called Aeroplan to confirm that itineraries booked before September 1 will be subject to the old rules, even if you try to make changes after that date. This might open up the opportunity to take trips under the old rules beyond August 2020, by booking something first and then making changes later on.)

Singapore-Airlines-787-Business-Class-13.jpeg

On one hand, there will be many more travellers than usual looking to use up their miles on an epic Mini-RTW journey in the next few months, so the competition for Star Alliance award availability might well be heating up.

On the other hand, keep in mind that it’s less than 0.3% of Aeroplan awards we’re talking about here, so you should still be able to find flights that work for you, given the usual principles of flexibility that apply on complex award bookings.

I myself will certainly be looking to book a few more trips to remember under the current rules – and I may as well continue trying to stretch them as far as possible while they’re still around.

After September 1, are these changes the end of the world? 

Nah, far from it. I think we’d mostly all agree that since we’re still allowed to have either one stopover or one open-jaw, the changes could’ve been a lot worse.

I’m sure I’ll still be booking many round-the-world trips utilizing one stopover instead of two, and the program would still provide by far the best value for Canadians looking to travel internationally, especially in business class or First Class.

Of course, keep in mind that these changes are described as “temporary”, so we’re yet to find out what the stopover policies will really look like when the new loyalty program officially launches – I’m hoping that the September 1 regime will be improved upon, but also that any technological improvements (such as an improved booking engine) don’t take away from the custom routing possibilities that we currently enjoy. 


Conclusion

The Aeroplan Mini-RTW is about to go away in its current form, with the allowance of two stopovers or one stopover and one open-jaw being replaced by only one stopover or one open-jaw. That takes away significantly from the sweetness of this particular sweet spot, so now’s the time to plan a trip before September 1 if you want to take advantage. 

This news is tempered by several positive changes to Aeroplan awards, including free cancellations within 24 hours, reduced cancellation fees, and a more generous mileage redeposit window. Air Canada Super Elite members will also benefit from free cancellations and refunds on Aeroplan tickets, which is very generous. 

I’m keen to see what else Air Canada has cooked up for the new loyalty program – including the award charts, routing rules, and many more juicy details – and I expect we’ll be finding out soon enough.