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

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, Air Canada announced 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.

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.

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.

50 Comments
  1. Avatar
    Yves

    Hi Rick,
    I talked to aeroplan on the [phone for th following
    route : YUL- (VCE-MXP) (open jaw) – SIN – HAN (dest) – ICN – PEK

    The agent said my open jaw is considered as 2 stops therefore I cannot go to HAN.

    According to your article , we are allowed to have 1 destination and 1 stopover OR one open jaw.
    I post me question on reddit : https://www.reddit.com/r/churningcanada/comments/eree7t/weekly_awardtravel_discussion_rchurningcanada/ff7ps7o/?context=3

    and got mixed responses. One of the person said "open jaw must be either an origin or destination open-jaw"

    I am now not sure about the rules now !!!

    could you confirm about the open jaw that cunt as 2 stop ?

    Thanks Rick !

    1. Avatar
      Alex

      Hi Yves,

      The new rules are
      a) a stop over and destination, or vice versa destination and then a stopover
      OR
      b) an open jaw.

      Basically you can stop in 2 places greater than 24 hours.

      In your case you are wanting to do a open jaw from MXP to SIN and then also HAN. That would be 3 places greater than 24 hours which is not allowed.
      Also regarding your open jaw, I am pretty sure it has to be in the same geographical location. By that I mean you cannot have 1 part of the open jaw in Europe and the other in Asia, ie MXP//SIN open jaw I believe is against the rules

  2. Avatar
    Mike Yagasawa

    I’m planning a mini-RTW, and I have a segment from South America (Santiago or Buenos Aires to Munich. But Munich doesn’t appear in the list of destination cities on Aeroplan. In fact a lot of cities that are serviced by SA partners don’t seem to be searchable on Aeroplan. Should I be using another tool, like ExpertFlyer or award.flights? Your guide to booking a mini-RTW doesn’t seem to cover this specific issue.

    1. Avatar
      Ricky

      I don’t understand how Munich isn’t showing up for you. On my Aeroplan, when I enter "MUC" I can select Munich pretty easily.

      1. Avatar
        Mike Yagasawa

        My mistake, something was wrong with my browser. It’s working now.

  3. Avatar
    Shaun

    Lots of reports emerging that agents are saying changes after Sept. 1 will not honour the old rules but instead be forced into new limitations. Can you please elaborate on what you were told about this? Thanks!

    1. Avatar
      Ricky

      An Air Canada spokesperson confirmed this, so such words from an agent should be met with an escalation to their supervisor.

  4. Avatar
    Alex

    How does canceling a reward flight work? Do you get all your points back plus the fees you paid minus the $125 cancellation fee on any reward ticket as long as it is not within 2 hours of your flight?

    From reading the changes I cant see any downside with sticking to my original plan of booking 2 miniRTW prior to June 2020 for travel between July 2020-June 2021 in case of the devaluation of aeroplan. Is that still the case?

    And yes I am planning 2 miniRTW bookings prior to Sept 1, 2019. It is too bad that I cant book a Sept/Oct 2020 trip with the pre-Sept 2, 2019 rules. Oh well we all know there would be some not so nice changes.

    1. Avatar
      Ricky

      Yes, if you cancel, you’ll pay the cancellation fee and then you’ll get all the miles redeposited.

      You can still book your trips prior to June 2020 for travel up to June 2021, but you’ll only be able to have one stopover or one open-jaw on it, due to the Sep 2019 rule change.

  5. Avatar
    Brad

    Ricky, thank you for your blog! Because of your info I became enlightened to the Mini-RTW. I discovered that instead of choosing between family in Europe or friends in Australia, why not both? Plus Asia and Africa to boot! Just incredible. Cheers to you!

  6. Avatar
    JayBPee

    AC is also in preparations to transfer reservation system from its current quite antiquated system in early 90’s.

  7. Avatar
    John Bucher

    Wow Philip, that is really scary. Maybe Aeroplan has a lot of inexperienced
    agents in place before switching to a purely computer driven model.

    1. Avatar
      Philip

      Hey John,
      My advice to you would be to hang up and call again if you encounter such an agent. The last agent I spoke to was extremely helpful and I basically just gave him the exact flights I wanted and he put them into system and validated them. He also confirmed the 24 hour layover rule was still in place, something the second agent had no clue about. She insisted I take the earliest available flight and seem confused why I would want to stay in Shanghai for the night. My experience in the past 10 years with the call centre has been mostly positive so I was just a little annoyed with my recent calls, but Aeroplan is still a great program if you understand the rules and don’t blindly listen to what some clueless agent says.

  8. Avatar
    Philip

    I just wanted to share my recent experience with calling Aeroplan. First agent flat out said two stopovers were no longer available and was quite rude about it. I did not know about the rule changes at the time as it had only been a day. Looked it up and realized changes only came into effect in September. I called again and was told by a second agent that two stopovers were being discouraged by management. She finally agreed to look up my flights but then claimed she could not do multi city searches so I hung up. Finally, I called a third time and had all my flights properly booked by a very helpful and experienced agent. So don’t give up if the first agents you call are clueless to the new rules!

  9. Avatar
    Randy

    Can I "secure" my mini-rtw by say booking Europe economy for now, and then change it to include my other stops down the road?

    Also, can we push the dates back? (ie. I book now for July 2020, I call in Feb 2020 and tell them to push July 2020 to July 2021?)

    1. Avatar
      Alice

      Yes you can, you pay a $100 change fee per way, per ticket.

      No you cannot. If you book today, the entire trip must be completed within a year of the ticket creation date, so you cannot push it out beyond July 2020.

      1. Avatar
        Alex

        Can you clarify "…you pay a $100 change fee per way, per ticket….". I am unclear how that would work.

        Lets say you have booked the following original itinerary
        YYZ-YUL-ZRH (stopover 1)
        ZRH-IST-SIN (destination)
        SIN-TPE-NRT (stopover 2)
        NRT-EWR-YYZ (back home)

        Now you decide to change 1 of the stopovers or destinations. Does that mean your change fee would be $100?

        If you decide to change a stopover and a destination, would that mean the change fee is $200?

        Or would it just be $100 and you can change anything as much as you like, or $300 if you want to change both stopovers and destination?

        Thanks

        1. Avatar
          Ricky

          Exactly as Alice said.

        2. Avatar
          Alice

          Origin point to destination is one way. So, YYZ-YUL-ZRH-IST-SIN is one way. SIN-TPE-NRT-EWR-YYZ is the other one way. So you can change anything as much as you like between YYZ-SIN (or SIN-YYZ) and it will cost you $100 plus tax. Per ticket pretty much means per person since anyone over 2 years old is assigned their own ticket number.

          Do note, it costs you $100 each time you call and make a change. So if today you decide to change a flight, that is $100, tomorrow you see something else and want to make a change, it is another $100.

          Do also note, if a flight got cancelled or flight time is changed by the airline (i.e. it is now leaving later making it impossible to meet your next flight), you can change for free. You can usually change it to anything that is available on AP. So always check your itinerary from time to time!

          1. Avatar
            Alex

            Thank you

  10. Avatar
    Andrew

    I don’t have enough points for a mini-rtw yet, but do you think this would work?

    1. Book a mini-rtw using points AND cash (I see Aeroplan gives this option)
    2. Continue earning points until I actually have enough for the mini-rtw
    3. Once I have enough, I get the cash portion refunded and re-book the trip using only points
    1. Avatar
      Ricky

      I don’t see where you’re getting the fact that Aeroplan allows you to book trips with Points + Cash? Unless you’re referring to buying extra miles at the time of purchase, which is a terrible value.

      The best way to "secure" a Mini-RTW before September 1 if you don’t have the miles would be to book something like a Europe 1 round-trip in economy class for 60k miles first, and then change to a bigger redemption in say business class when you’ve actually earned the miles.

      1. Avatar
        Andrew

        Yeah that’s what I was referring to. I know it’s terrible value, but if you get a refund it shouldn’t matter

        Your way sounds better though, thanks

        1. Avatar
          Alice

          I don’t know if you get a refund of the cash to purchase the miles. I understood those purchases to be final. Should double check that with Aeroplan.

          Change fees doesn’t allow to "replace" miles as far as I know. So your way requires to cancel and re-book, meaning the original ticket is gone and the re-booked ticket would be created on the date you re-book, which would subject you to the new rules if re-booked after Sep 1.

          Further to Ricky’s post, you should also be able to change to a bigger redemption say, Europe and extended to Australia after you have the required points. You just need to pay the points difference (110 to 160). This is of course subject to flight reward availability, travel to be completed within a year of booking date, and you would pay $100 change fee per way. Plan ahead.

  11. Avatar
    Patrick Maguire

    Are you allowed a stopover on a one-way ticket? if so, why not just book 2 one-ways?

    1. Avatar
      Shayaan

      You are not allowed stopovers on a oneway ticket.

  12. Avatar
    Jason

    I’m pretty fricken happy that we booked our mini-RTW trip last Aug due to all the ambiguities around the whole Aeroplan/Air Canada situation. We just completed our trip 2 weeks ago and it was probably one of, if not the most memorable trips of our lives. We were hoping to save up enough points in a couple years to do another. Here’s hoping that these changes are only temporary.

  13. Avatar
    John Bucher

    I think what they mean here is if your travel starts and end in one continent, you are not allowed a stopover ie. travel from Taiwan to Beijing return, you cannot arrange a stopover in Tokyo but you can go Taiwan to Beijing to Tokyo (open jaw) and return to Taiwan on your own. At least that is the way I read it.
    The exception is North America where the old rule still stands.

  14. Avatar
    Bugoy K

    Is it possible to book on economy first for your mini-RTW if you don’t have enough points before this comes to effect and then change them into biz class at a later date when you accumulate enough points and just pay the rebooking and other fees?

    1. Avatar
      Ricky

      Great question. When I called Aeroplan to ask about changes, they said "if it’s ticketed before [September 1] then we have to honour the old rules". So I imagine the answer is more likely yes than no.

      But it’s probably worth a call to double-check, as in "can you confirm that the old rules still apply even if we need to change the class of service?"

      1. Avatar
        Bugoy K

        Called AP earlier regarding this question, they said it’s doable. You have to pay $100 rebooking fee each way per ticket and any additional taxes plus the needed points for the class of service upgrade.

        1. Avatar
          Ricky

          Perfect!

  15. Avatar
    Jeff

    I’ve been saving for the true around the world, how come you’ve mentioned that those wont be missed?

    1. Avatar
      Ricky

      I suppose because I haven’t heard of anyone actually booking one of these, since the Mini-RTW is so much more attainable. But if you’re shooting for a "true" RTW then you’ll definitely want to book it before September 1!

  16. Avatar
    Alex

    As always thanks for the detailed analysis. For me the scary part is not the modification of RTW trip (although I have used the stop over and open jaw once). It’s the risk of the having the new system they are building to redeem on their metal (with the taxes that come with it) instead of calling the Aeroplan center and feeding the agent the individual segments we found.

  17. Avatar
    Alice

    Thanks Ricky! The cancellation changes are great for our upcoming trip since we booked 11.5 months out. One small typo in the Refund Section (last sentence). Should be two hours, not two days.

    It will be interesting to see if there will be any changes to the MPM.

    1. Avatar
      Ricky

      Thanks for catching that!

      I don’t think AC has any need to add restrictions to the MPM. If 0.3% of award tickets are taking advantage of the 2 stopovers, I can only imagine what infinitesimal fraction is taking advantage of maximizing the routings. But who knows…

  18. Avatar
    Sam

    You make no mention of the fact that the 1 stopover allowed has to be in a different continent from your destination continent.

    1. Avatar
      Ricky

      I don’t know where you’re getting that from.

      1. Avatar
        Sam

        Literally from the very same AP link you put on your blog it says:

        ""Please note that, as today, for travel within the same continent (except for travel wholly within North America*), one open jaw is permitted but stopovers are not permitted." I believe they are referring to this, straight from Aeroplan’s website."

        1. Avatar
          Ricky

          That’s referring to this item within the Flight Rewards Terms & Conditions, which has always been the case:

          28.4. Intracontinental travel (travel within the same continent) except for travel within Canada/Continental USA, or between Canada/Cont. USA and Hawaii/Puerto Rico/Mexico/Central America/Caribbean: Stopovers are not permitted. One open jaw is permitted.

          1. Avatar
            Sam

            Thanks for the clarification, I stand corrected!

      2. Avatar
        Alice

        I think Sam is referring to this on AP site:

        Please note that, as today, for travel within the same continent (except for travel wholly within North America*), one open jaw is permitted but stopovers are not permitted.

        So, does this mean I can’t go to Hong Kong as a stopover and Bali as my destination in a single trip?

        1. Avatar
          Ricky

          If you’re flying from North America to Hong Kong and Bali, that isn’t "travel within the same continent".

          If your whole trip is within Asia, then no you can’t do that. But this has always been the case – the paragraph even clarifies that with "as today".

          1. Avatar
            Kendrick

            The odd thing is, that with my most recent Aeroplan mini-RTW redemption for this coming September 2019, I have my point of return and 2 stopovers all in Europe 2. So perhaps doing something like that won’t work anymore as of today?

            1. Avatar
              litokid

              From what I’m reading it should still work. The same continent rule applies if your departure and destination are the same. If you left from North America then just by heading to Europe you get a stopover, let alone a mini-RTW.

          2. Avatar
            Alice

            Ah thanks Ricky, false alarm then. Moving on….

        2. Avatar
          Frank

          depends on whether you’re departure from asia..I guess

      3. Avatar