As part of the new Aeroplan credit card offers as of November 2020, we’re seeing a brand-new type of welcome incentive: the Air Canada Buddy Pass.
In lieu of a large chunk of Aeroplan points as a welcome bonus, TD, CIBC, and American Express have largely chosen to offer what’s essentially a buy-one-get-one voucher on paid Air Canada flights in order to entice new cardholder signups.
Let’s take a look at exactly how this thing works and to what extent it can be optimized.
Air Canada Buddy Pass: The Rules
As a recap, here are the rules surrounding the Air Canada Buddy Pass that you need to be familiar with:
- The Buddy Pass can be redeemed on Air Canada flights within Canada, the United States (including Hawaii), and Mexico.
- The Buddy Pass can be redeemed on one-way or round-trip flights (although there is no residual value if it’s used on a one-way flight).
- The Buddy Pass can be redeemed on an Economy Standard, Flex, Comfort, or Latitude fare.
- The Buddy Pass must be redeemed on revenue fares only, and cannot be used in conjunction with an Aeroplan award.
- There are no blackout dates or other usage restrictions; the Buddy Pass can be redeemed on any Air Canada flights on any date of the year.
- When using the Buddy Pass, the first passenger pays full price, while the second passenger pays a $0 base fare along with the taxes and fees associated with the ticket.
- The Buddy Pass will be deposited into your Aeroplan account upon meeting the associated minimum spending on a new Aeroplan credit card, and will have a one-year validity period from that date.
- During the validity period, the Buddy Pass can be used to book flights over the upcoming one-year period, meaning that a single Buddy Pass can effectively be used to book travel within a two-year period from the day it’s earned.
Which Credit Cards Offer the Air Canada Buddy Pass?
The following Aeroplan credit cards are currently offering the Buddy Pass as part of the welcome bonus:
- Core cards:
- TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite: Air Canada Buddy Pass upon spending $1,000 in the first three months + 10,000 Aeroplan points, First Year Free
- CIBC Aeroplan Visa Infinite: Air Canada Buddy Pass upon spending $3,000 in the first four months + 10,000 Aeroplan points, First Year Free
- American Express Aeroplan Card: Air Canada Buddy Pass upon spending $1,500 in the first three months + Up to 15,000 Aeroplan points, $120 annual fee
- Premium cards:
- TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Privilege: Air Canada Buddy Pass upon spending $1,000 in the first three months + 50,000 Aeroplan points, $599 annual fee
- CIBC Aeroplan Visa Infinite Privilege: Air Canada Buddy Pass upon spending $3,000 in the first four months + 20,000 Aeroplan points upon first purchase, $599 annual fee
- American Express Aeroplan Reserve Card (secondary offer): Air Canada Buddy Pass upon spending $3,000 in the first three months + Up to 40,000 Aeroplan points, $599 annual fee + $100 statement credit
- Small business cards:
What’s the Value of the Air Canada Buddy Pass?
The value proposition of the Air Canada Buddy Pass follows the same logic that applies to any type of companion voucher: the more that you spend on each passenger’s fare, the greater savings the Buddy Pass will unlock by reducing the second passenger’s base fare to $0.
Therefore, the way we think about maximizing the Buddy Pass will be very different from the usual way we think about redeeming, say, Aeroplan points for maximum value.
Yes, the goal is to always maximize the value you’re getting, but with the Buddy Pass, it doesn’t make sense to go out of your way to do so and pay more for the first passenger than you otherwise would.
Instead, the basic principle for maximizing the Buddy Pass is pretty simple: among all Air Canada paid fares within Canada, the US, and Mexico for 2+ passengers that you might book over the next two years, apply the Buddy Pass to the most expensive tickets in order to unlock the greatest savings.
Before we delve into some of the strategies for using the Air Canada Buddy Pass, I think it’d be useful if we can figure out a rough valuation of the Buddy Pass – a benchmark for you to think about whether or not you’re getting good value out of it.
For me, the best place to look for this valuation is in the dual concurrent offers on the American Express Aeroplan Reserve Card: currently, you can either apply for the primary offer of 65,000–75,000 Aeroplan points, or you can apply for a secondary offer (over the phone only) of 40,000 Aeroplan points + Air Canada Buddy Pass. Both offers are accompanied by a $100 statement credit.
(While the primary public offer at the moment is 65,000 Aeroplan points, those who had signed up for the American Express waitlist prior to November 8 are eligible to earn up to 75,000 Aeroplan points, and there’s also an unadvertised public offer for 75,000 Aeroplan points on the Air Canada website as well.)
Even though it may not be rigorous to assume strict parity between the two offers, we can use it as a rough guideline and arrive at the conclusion that the Air Canada Buddy Pass is around the same value as 25,000–35,000 Aeroplan points – at least in the eyes of Air Canada and American Express.
Applying our valuation of 2 cents per point on Aeroplan points, we can then place a rough value of $500–750 on the Air Canada Buddy Pass, which, taking a look at economy fares within North America over the upcoming one-year period, seems like a fair benchmark to aim for.
Use the Air Canada Buddy Pass for Peak Season Travel
In Amy’s article on the changing landscape of family flight rewards earlier this week, she provided a few examples of families who can unlock significant savings on their trips (to the tune of thousands of dollars) by applying two Buddy Passes to a reservation of four passengers.
For the most part, families do not have much flexibility when they travel: they’re only available to fly on certain dates based on work and school schedules, and within that window, they’d like to maximize their vacation by flying out earlier and returning later.
Most other families face the same challenges, and as a result, prices tend to spike during peak family travel seasons like the winter holidays, summer break, and March Break.
Using Aeroplan points might be viable way to sidestep these challenges, but redeeming points has its own pitfalls: in the past, direct Air Canada flights often did not have any availability during peak season, whereas now the cost in Aeroplan points might also skyrocket due to the underlying dynamic pricing model for Air Canada flights.
In contrast, a Buddy Pass offers guaranteed savings even during peak travel season, and I’d say that it’s among one of the best uses of the Air Canada Buddy Pass if you anticipate needing to book paid Air Canada flights during these periods.
However, I’d note that the prices for travel during the upcoming winter travel season of 2020 are actually looking pretty reasonable compared to years past, obviously due to the continued lack of demand for travel in general.
If you anticipate needing to travel during the winter of both 2020 and 2021, whether that’s to visit family across the country or embark on a sunny vacation to Hawaii or Mexico, then consider delaying your application for an Aeroplan credit card (or perhaps your urgency of meeting the minimum spending) until early 2021.
This way, you’d be able to book some relatively cheaper fares for this winter, and then apply your Buddy Pass for greater savings on next year’s flights when travel has hopefully resumed and fares are accordingly higher.
Use the Air Canada Buddy Pass for Last-Minute Travel
Even if you don’t have any potential uses for the Air Canada Buddy Pass in mind that involve significant savings on expensive paid fares, it can still be useful to have a Buddy Pass sitting in your account, because you never know when it might come in handy on last-minute travel.
Last-minute fares have a tendency to skyrocket, even on simple domestic routes that otherwise are priced pretty reasonably if booking in advance.
Take the example of a Edmonton–Toronto round-trip flight for this weekend. If you absolutely needed to travel for a sudden family emergency, then the $2,062 outlay would be a significant added burden on top of your existing worries – but using a Buddy Pass to save a $911 base fare on the unexpected out-of-pocket expense can be a godsend in that moment.
Like before, you’d also have the option of redeeming Aeroplan points at a good value compared to the last-minute cash fare. However, the dynamic pricing model these days (and the sheer variability that comes with it) means that you may not find any Aeroplan redemptions at a reasonable rate, either.
And even if you do, having a Buddy Pass on hand means that you might not need to sacrifice your hard-earned Aeroplan points for this unexpected last-minute trip, saving them for your true desired redemption instead.
Maximize with Multiple Buddy Passes
If you see value in the Air Canada Buddy Pass based on the above suggestions, then you might be interested in maximizing that value over multiple Buddy Passes.
For example, if you intend to bring your family of four on at least two holiday trips over the next couple of years, then you’d need four Buddy Passes on hand between you and your spouse to cover all the flights. On top of that, you might also wish to keep a Buddy Pass on hand in case of unexpected last-minute travel for your and your spouse only, bringing the total to five.
On each of the Aeroplan credit cards, the terms and conditions of the Buddy Pass offer state the following:
This one-time Bonus Buddy Pass is only valid for eligible cardholders. You will not be eligible for the Bonus Buddy Pass if you have previously opened an Aeroplan Program credit card of the same type, regardless of the credit card issuer and have received the Welcome Bonus offer in the last 12 months.
What is meant by the “same type”? Well, that’s referring to the three families of Aeroplan credit cards that offer Buddy Passes: core, premium, and small business.
So if you’ve already gotten a Buddy Pass from the core card by American Express (e.g., the American Express Aeroplan Card), then you wouldn’t be eligible to earn another Buddy Pass from the core card by TD (e.g., the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite).
However, if you opened the American Express Aeroplan Card but then applied for, say, the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Privilege, then you would be eligible to earn a second Buddy Pass (along with the 50,000 Aeroplan points), as the TD product falls into the premium category instead.
Therefore, an Aeroplan member can collect a maximum of three Buddy Passes in a given 12-month period: if they applied for one card from each of the core, premium, and small business categories.
And within a two-player household, the maximum number of Buddy Passes is six – now that’s a lot of savings on your family trips over the next few years!
Use eUpgrades to Upgrade to Premium Economy or Business Class
Finally, remember that even though the Air Canada Buddy Pass can only be redeemed for economy class bookings, those bookings are then eligible to be upgraded using your eUpgrade credits, even though the second passenger has only paid a $0 base fare.
A popular route for this strategy might be something like Toronto–Vancouver on the Air Canada Boeing 787 Dreamliner. By combining the Buddy Pass to eliminate the second passenger’s base fare, and then applying your eUpgrades earned from Aeroplan Elite Status, you can unlock a higher level of comfort in premium economy or business class en route to your destination while paying a fraction of the price.
I ran a sample search for February 11–18, 2021. For two passengers, booking directly into business class at the lowest price, it’s going to be $5,700.
If we instead booked an Economy Latitude fare, the total is $5,280, but we can apply an Air Canada Buddy Pass to reduce the second passenger’s base fare to $0! Once that’s done, the out-of-pocket spending becomes only $3,006.
Then, looking at the below eUpgrade chart…
…you’d be able to apply only 2 eUpgrade credits per person per direction (as a Latitude booking) to upgrade to lie-flat business class seats, and you’d be able to instantly confirm that upgrade (also as a Latitude booking!)
As you can see, with only a total of 8 eUpgrade credits, you’d be able to save $2,700 on the cost of business class transcontinental tickets thanks to the Air Canada Buddy Pass. Obviously, this only represents good value if you were planning to pay for business class tickets anyway, but it’s good to see that a variant of the Latitude Attitude on Aeroplan points bookings can apply to the Buddy Pass as well.
If you don’t want to shell out $3,006 for the Latitude fare, but still want the chance to upgrade, then you can also apply eUpgrades on Flex and Comfort fares as well.
However, these would require more eUpgrade credits, and you wouldn’t be able to confirm the upgrade until 4–14 days before departure, depending on your Aeroplan Elite Status.
The Air Canada Buddy Pass, a key component of the Aeroplan credit card signup bonuses until at least January 2021, will have great appeal to some travellers and limited appeal to others.
Indeed, if you’re a solo traveller, then the Buddy Pass might have near-zero value in the context of your travel style, short of hawking your Air Canada Buddy Pass to random strangers on a trip you’re about to book and having them pay you back with food and drinks at the destination or something like that.
For couples and families who’d otherwise pay full fare for an Air Canada flight within North America over the next couple of years, however, the Buddy Pass presents real and tangible value, and I’d aim for a minimum of $500 in savings if you’re considering redeeming your Buddy Pass for an upcoming trip.
The Buddy Pass can be applied towards an upcoming peak-season trip, saved in the meantime for a last-minute emergency trip, and collected in multiples up to a maximum of three per Aeroplan account.
And finally, if you’re an Aeroplan Elite Status member, then combining the Buddy Pass with your eUpgrades will allow you and your travel companion to fly in greater style while only paying a shade over 50% of the economy class price.