It’s always exciting when airlines announce new routes to Canada, especially when it opens up new possibilities for redeeming points on these flights.
Yesterday’s news from Brussels Airlines gives Montrealers a new direct option for flying to Europe, although it comes at the expense of Toronto-based travellers.
In particular, Brussels Airlines will be adding seasonal five-times-weekly flights between Brussels and Montreal as of March 29, 2020. Meanwhile, their final flight between Brussels and Toronto will take place on January 7, 2020, after which the route will be discontinued.
Furthermore, as a knock-on effect of this change, Air Canada will also launch five-times-weekly flights between Toronto and Brussels as of May 1, 2020, complementing their existing service from Montreal to the Belgian capital.
Brussels Airlines’s New Montreal Route
I’ve always wondered why Brussels Airlines never included Montreal within its North American route network, and it makes perfect sense to see them capitalize on the Francophone connection in launching this new route, which the airline estimates will serve up to 75,000 Montreal-bound travellers out of Belgium per year.
Furthermore, not only will Europe-bound Montrealers benefit from this change, so too will the city’s significant African population, since Brussels Airlines has one of the most comprehensive route networks serving sub-Saharan Africa.
The route will be launched as of March 29, 2020, with the following schedule:
SN561 Brussels to Montreal, departing 10:15am and arriving 12:05pm, M/Th/F/Sa/Su
SN562 Montreal to Brussels, departing 6:25pm and arriving 7:10am the next day, M/Th/F/Sa/Su
The route will be operated by an Airbus A330, which forms the backbone of Brussels Airlines’s long-haul fleet.
The airline’s Toronto route currently has an optimal evening departure time of 6pm, which is perfect for jetting off to Europe straight after the work day, so it’s great to see that continue out of Montreal.
Meanwhile, on the westbound journey, the airline has chosen to follow the industry standard of operating a morning departure out of Europe, which aligns well for onward connections in North America, but isn’t great for those of us who like to maximize our time in Europe on quick weekend trips 😉
The flight has been loaded into the schedule already, so you can now book flights on the new route. However, it doesn’t seem like Brussels Airlines has loaded any award seats into the schedule for the time being, which I certainly hope they’ll get around to doing sometime soon.
Toronto–Brussels Goes to Air Canada
With Brussels Airlines vacating the Toronto route in favour of Montreal, Air Canada has announced that they will now take up the mantle of flying the non-stop route between Canada and Belgium’s largest cities.
The route will be launched as of May 1, 2020, with the following schedule:
AC886 Toronto to Brussels, departing 6:30pm and arriving 7:45am the next day, W/Th/F/Sa/Su
AC887 Brussels to Toronto, departing 10:45am and arriving 12:45pm, M/Th/F/Sa/Su
Air Canada will be using a Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner on this route, featuring their stylish reverse herringbone seats and Signature Class service. The timetable is basically a carbon-copy of the existing Brussels Airlines route, and lines up nicely with Air Canada’s other evening departures from Toronto to various places in Europe.
Strategies for Redeeming Aeroplan Miles
While Brussels Airlines’s hop across the Ontario–Quebec border is decidedly good news for Montrealers looking to redeem Aeroplan miles for travel to Europe, the situation is less positive for Toronto-based members.
Brussels Airlines is one of the Star Alliance members that do not levy any fuel surcharges on Aeroplan bookings. A trip across the Atlantic with them will only cost you about $180 in taxes and fees…
…whereas a trip on Air Canada would run you a whopping $1,000 or so.
With the addition of the Montreal–Brussels route, Montreal now has yet another low-surcharge direct flight into Western Europe in addition to the existing Swiss flight to Zurich. Unfortunately, you probably shouldn’t expect too much business class award space on this route, since Brussels Airlines has been notoriously tight-fisted with business class space over the past two years or so.
It used to be pretty easy to find Brussels Airlines business class space around 2017, but since then they’ve really limited the amount of award seats they make available for mileage redemptions. For example, here’s the picture for one business class award seat for the remaining lifespan of the Toronto–Brussels route:
And here’s the picture for two seats:
To be honest, even this looks more generous than usual to me, since Brussels Airlines business class awards have genuinely been very difficult to come by in my award searches in recent years.
Unfortunately for Toronto-based travellers, this news means that the non-stop low-surcharge options for redeeming Aeroplan miles to Europe are now even more limited.
You’ve got TAP Air Portugal to Lisbon, LOT Polish Airlines to Warsaw, Turkish Airlines to Istanbul, and EgyptAir to Cairo – all of which represent huge detours if your final destination is somewhere in Western Europe like France or the UK.
Meanwhile, if you happen to be booked on one of the Toronto–Brussels flights after January 7, which have now been cancelled, the airline will help you make alternate arrangements. Revenue passengers would most likely be rebooked on either the new Air Canada service (if travelling after May 1) or a one-stop journey via Montreal (if travelling before May 1).
And if you’re booked on an Aeroplan award, this could be an opportunity to leverage a schedule change to fly a more favourable product without paying any change fees or difference in surcharges, perhaps getting to try out the Air Canada Signature Class service without having to pay the steep cost usually associated with it.
How Is Brussels Airlines?
Brussels Airlines will always hold a special place in my heart, because they were the first long-haul business class product that I ever flew.
They operate a competitive product for transatlantic flights with a staggered seating configuration alternating between 1-2-1 and 2-1-2. This means that some of their seats are ultra-private “throne” seats, in which you’re treated to two large armrests on either side that serve as ample surface space during the flight.
I also remember Brussels Airlines for their kind service touches, strong wine menu, and the particularly generous act of giving each business class customer a complimentary box of Belgian chocolates upon landing.
They’ve since refreshed their A330 business class product even further, which they’ve branded “the boutique hotel in the air”. The highlight of their revamp looks to be a new “Belgian walk-up bar” – which actually just seems to be a small-ish space for passengers to congregate in the galley.
The same A330 revamp has also witnessed the introduction of a premium economy product, which could be a way for Montrealers to book a more comfortable trip to Europe at an affordable price point.
Lastly, Brussels Airlines operates a very nice business class lounge at their hub airport, known as The Loft. There’s plenty of natural light streaming into the lounge and a few quiet nap rooms for you to catch up on sleep after the short journey across the Atlantic, making it a satisfying place to kill a few hours before your onward connection to other parts of Europe.
It seems like Brussels Airlines are following me around Canada 😉 This route development makes a lot of sense for Brussels Airlines, and it’s great news for me as a newly-arrived Montrealer, since it opens up yet another option for conveniently flying to Europe using my Aeroplan miles. Here’s hoping that Brussels Airlines will soon add at least a little bit of award availability for us to play with.