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How I Booked My First-Ever Mileage Run

Over the long weekend, I flew from Vancouver Island to Halifax and back. For the first time in years, I paid full price for my ticket, but I did so on purpose, as the result of several previous Air Canada promotions and with a very specific goal in mind.

In this post, I’ll walk you through the reasoning behind my unusual decision to pay cash for a flight, and how I plan to reap the (priority) rewards.

Preface

I find myself in this situation due to a series of very fortunate events over the past few years.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, when air travel was almost at a standstill compared to previous years, airlines dangled numerous carrots to entice people to fill seats. Many of these promotions had never been offered before, and it’s unknown if we’ll ever see them again.

With Air Canada, the first promotion that brought me to the paid skies was my first status earned in the “Travel at Home” promotion. In April 2020, it became possible to earn Air Canada’s lowest status, Aeroplan 25K Status (known as Prestige 25K back then), by earning 50,000 Aeroplan points.

Aeroplan banner - EN.jpg

In this promotion, transfers from American Express Membership Rewards counted towards this tally, and this was my first taste of holding elite status with an airline.

The second promotion that helped me out was the blanket extension of statuses. Although I had done little to no paid flights with Air Canada, my 25K status was extended through 2021, and again to 2022, by the airline’s decision to extend everyone’s status.

This meant that I would have access to elite benefits, such as eUpgrades and priority airport services, for over two years, simply due to the fact that I had transferred some points from Amex to Aeroplan.

The third promotion that I benefited from was the ability to gift status.

For the relatively few people who flew enough in 2020 to organically earn status, Air Canada made it possible to gift the earned status to a friend, family member, or stranger. This is in addition to the status extension for the person who actually earned the status. 

In early 2021, a client at the travel agency I am affiliated with generously offered to gift me Aeroplan 35K status. In addition to more eUpgrades, I now had extra baggage allowance and unlimited access to Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounges in North America.

Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge Vancouver (Domestic)

Later on that year, a very generous travel agency client who had organically earned Aeroplan 75K Status in 2020 offered to gift it to me, as he couldn’t think of anyone else who would actually make use of it.

This bump gave me Star Alliance Gold status, which extends many of the benefits I enjoy with Air Canada to other Star Alliance partners. I also earned even more eUpgrades, which I have been using liberally with the “Latitude Attitude”, arguably one of the best uses of Aeroplan points.

Use eUpgrades to book economy and upgrade to business class

As if I wasn’t lucky enough already, Air Canada launched the Spend Your Way to Status promotion in July 2021.

With this promotion, simply spending $10,000 with a co-branded premium Aeroplan credit card would boost your status up by one level or give you Aeroplan 25K. I did so with my American Express Aeroplan Reserve Card.

For me, this meant that the next tier up from the 75K status I’d been gifted was Air Canada’s top tier status: Aeroplan Super Elite!

Normally, the requirements for becoming a Super Elite are quite steep. You have to earn either 100,000 Status Qualifying Miles (SQM) or 100 Status Qualifying Segments (SQS), in addition to earning $20,000 Status Qualifying Dollars (SQD) in one year.

Having “earned” Super Elite status through other means, I consider this year to be exceptional, in that I will likely not find myself with this status for years to come, if ever.

The fifth and final promotion that I’m fortunate to benefit from is the Accelerate Your Way to Status promotion, launched in February 2022.

While I’m not necessarily in hot pursuit of renewing my status, I am very much in pursuit of SQD…

Doubling Status Qualifying Dollars for a Priority Reward

As part of the Accelerate Your Way to Status promotion, Air Canada will double the SQM, SQS, and importantly, SQD on paid flights from January 1, 2022 to April 30, 2022.

Aside from actually flying, earning SQM and SQS can be done through credit card spending. While it would require a hefty spend, in theory, it’s possible to earn enough miles and/or segments for various Aeroplan Elite Status tiers without ever having boarded a plane.

This isn’t the case with Status Qualifying Dollars: the only way to earn SQD is by actually spending money with Air Canada.

As a Miles & Points enthusiast, this didn’t necessarily align with my principles.

Since I found myself bequeathed with Super Elite status, I sought to maximize all of the benefits. As you may recall, one of the most powerful benefits of Aeroplan Elite Status is Priority Rewards.

Priority Rewards

Priority Rewards are earned as you reach various SQD thresholds. At 4,000 SQD, you obtain your first Priority Reward. At 7,000, 10,000, and every 5,000 subsequent SQD, you’ll earn another Priority Reward.

Recall that Priority Rewards halve the cost of Aeroplan points for a particular booking. Priority Rewards earned with each status tier may be applied to different classes of service to different zones of travel.

As a Super Elite, a Priority Reward is good for halving the cost of an Aeroplan redemption in business class with any Aeroplan partner anywhere in the world. 

At the bare minimum, this means that with a single Priority Reward, I could lower the cost of a redemption in any class, except for First Class, by 50%:

  • Vancouver to Tokyo with ANA in business class? That’ll be 55,000 Aeroplan points round-trip.
  • Toronto to Singapore via Abu Dhabi in business class? That’ll be 90,000 points round-trip, with a stopover in both directions.
  • Montreal to Bangkok via Istanbul in business class? That’ll also be 90,000 points round-trip, including a stopover in both directions.
Turkish Airlines 787 business class

While I’d be happy to settle with any of the above redemptions, I’m hoping to stretch the limits of what’s possible by booking as many segments on a single Priority Reward booking as possible.

So, by paying cash for tickets during these promotional periods, I’m halving the cost of earning Priority Rewards, which will wind up saving me tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Aeroplan points for travel in 2023. For me, this is well worth the cost in cash I’d have to pay.

Let’s have a look at my planning process as I charted out my “SQD run”.

The SQD Run

As I was planning my Priority Reward journey, there were a few considerations I had: 

  • Strategically planning the SQD I’d earn, so as to not unnecessarily overspend;
  • Considering the amount of time I wanted to spend flying;
  • Taking into account earning as many Aeroplan points as possible, and;
  • eUpgrade availability

As part of the Accelerate Your Way to Status promotion, you can earn 500 SQD simply by checking off a few standard errands with Aeroplan.

Since I linked my Aeroplan account with my Uber account, have a co-branded credit card, and made a purchase at the LCBO, I already fulfilled the requirements to earn 500 SQD.

By chance, I had also earned 75 SQD earlier this year as an eUpgrade co-pay by booking an Economy (Standard) Aeroplan redemption and applying eUpgrades to business class.

This left me with 3,425 SQD outstanding before I’d earn my first Priority Reward – or 1,713 SQD under the current promotion.

Only the base fare and carrier-imposed surcharges count towards the SQD requirement, so my goal was to get as close to this as possible. 

With this in mind, I considered how much time I’d want to spend flying. I anticipated having to complete the SQD run over the course of a weekend, so the thought of flying to Europe, Asia, or Australia wasn’t necessarily attractive. 

Air Canada 777 business class – Mini-cabin

As I searched for available options, both Hawaii and Atlantic Canada surfaced as eligible bachelors for my booking, which would originate on Vancouver Island.

The distance between my home and both destinations was roughly the same, so I’d earn around the same amount of Aeroplan points with either destination. This brought me to my last consideration of searching for eUpgrade space.

As a Super Elite, I have a 14 day clearance window to be able to instantly confirm an eUpgrade to business class with almost any fare in within North America.

Usually, I book a Latitude fare with Aeroplan points and instantly confirm an upgrade to business class at any point, as Economy (Latitude) and Premium Economy (Flexible) fares aren’t subject to a clearance window.

However, cash Latitude fares are significantly higher than others, so I had to choose flights strategically so I could fly in comfort without paying more than I needed to.

For Hawaii, there was upgrade space available on the outbound flight, but not on the inbound flight. I didn’t like the idea of possibly flying on an overnight flight in economy.

Furthermore, there’s currently only one flight per day from Vancouver to Comox. Flying back from Hawaii would require a lengthy layover, and I’d rather spend more time on a long weekend with my wife, dog, friends, and family than with airport strangers.

As I pivoted to look at Atlantic Canada, I noticed that there were ideal routings to and from Halifax.

Outbound, I could fly from Vancouver to Halifax via Toronto with a lie-flat seat on both flights. Using ExpertFlyer, I found eUpgrade space on both flights, a quick connection time in Toronto, and the cash fare worked out to be almost exactly what I was hoping to see.

Coming back, I had to consider that the flight from Vancouver to Comox departs at 1:30pm. In this case, the time difference of four hours between Comox and Halifax works in my favour.

I was able to find flights from Halifax to Comox via Montreal and Vancouver that suited my schedule and were almost exactly my target cost.

Furthermore, from Halifax to Montreal and from Montreal to Vancouver, there was eUpgrade space available, so I was able to instantly confirm seats in business class on these flights, too, as I booked within my 14-day eUpgrade clearance window.

The layovers in Montreal and Vancouver are also just long enough for me to take some pictures of the lounges, and maybe enjoy a quick snack along the way.

In total, my flights worked out to $1,778.74. Only $1,610, which is the base fare and the carrier-imposed surcharges, counts towards my SQD, while the other taxes and fees don’t qualify. 

These qualifying SQD will get doubled from the Accelerate Your Way to Status promotion, which in conjunction with the 575 SQD I’ve already earned, will leave me just shy of the 4,000 SQD threshold for the Priority Reward.

I have a couple of short haul paid flights with Air Canada in the near future, so I’ll fulfill the rest of the SQD requirement with those.

I’ll also earn SQM, SQS, and Aeroplan points on this booking. I decided on a Flex fare, so I would earn 100% bonus Aeroplan points and 100% SQM.

In conjunction with some SQM earned through credit card spend, I imagine I’ll be able to organically qualify for Aeroplan 35K status this year.

And perhaps with a paid trip to Europe with Air Canada in the summer or fall, now that the Accelerate Your Way to Status promotion has been extended through September 2022 with European flights, Aeroplan 50K status may even be in the cards.

Conclusion

In my mind, this was a straightforward task: look for flights that fit my criteria, and book them. 

After typing the process out in detail, I realize that there was a lot more to it than that. Perhaps it’s because I’ve helped people plan out such runs during Points Consulting calls or through my work at a travel agency, but I imagine what’s easy for me may be a quagmire for others.

After getting heavily involved in the wonderful world of Miles & Points, I never thought that I’d be spending cash on flights on purpose. However, when the opportunity presented itself, it was a no brainer, except for promising to make up for missed quality time on a long weekend with my very understanding wife Ashley.

I’m sure many of you have done similar runs to take advantage of these promotions. Feel free to share your experiences below, on the Prince of Travel Elites Facebook group, or on the Prince of Travel Discord chat exclusive to our members.

12 Comments
  1. Greg

    Ummm… “mileage runs” died like ten years ago…

  2. James Manson

    Hi all, newbie here on the site and super motivated to get the he** out of economy class forever!

    Excited to share with you my first-ever points/segments run, which I just booked! Here’s the situation. I stand at 9/25 SQS and $859/3000 SQD to make it to 25K Elite. And I want two things: 1) to take advantage of the doubling of SQS/SQD/SQM by end of April, and also b) take advantage of the bonus 5 SQS/500SQD/500SQM also by the end of April. However you apparently have to already be at least a 25K member to get this bonus.

    So – how can I make it from 9 to 25 SQS in only 12 days??? Here’s how – I THINK!

    I just booked a six-segment return flight from my home airport YYZ to Saint John, NB, YSJ. Routing is YYZ-YOW-YUL-YSJ on Saturday, returning the same way back to YYZ on Sunday. That’s a total of SIX segments which Aeroplan will double this month. So that means that I will get 12 SQS and go from 9 SQS all the way to 21 SQS, on one ticket. Total base fare was 1,010 dollars. Which is a lot I know, but to me the benefits later on as I start to earn more serious rewards will only increase and make this outlay well worth it.

    So this fare gets doubled to $2020 SQD, which then puts me at $2879 SQD, very close to the $3000SQD requirement to unlock the 5/500/5000 bonuses by end of April.

    And the remaining 4 SQS and 121SQD? Well, it so happens that I was already booked on a business trip from YYZ to LGA on May 1….. SO I just changed the flight to a day earlier, APRIL 30… and routed myself through YUL, giving me YYZ-YUL-LGA, for 2 segments which get doubled to 4!! And the cost of the change (upgrade to business class to boot) was about 200$ which should get doubled also, hence putting me over the top with 25 SQS and $3000 SQD by end of day APRIL 30. Thus unlocking the 5/500/5000 bonuses and making it easier to get to 35K where I hear things get much more interesting benefits-wise!

    I think (hope) this should work out. Otherwise I will be hanging out in SQJ on Saturday night…….for nothing….????

    Let me know what you guys think! I will report back later as events unfold. Cheers!

  3. Jack

    Having a status gift is a good way to get ahead. Doesn’t apply to 98% of your readers.

  4. Timbo2

    How about a follow up to confirm when your sqs, sqm and sqd amounts posted ? Were they calculated correctly for the promo rates ?

    1. T.J. YQQ

      In the end, I got 11,818 SQM, 10 SQS, and 3,222 SQD, which is pretty much what I was expecting to get.

  5. Raphael M

    Great article T.J.! Thanks for sharing.

  6. Dave Empringham TOR

    Hey TJ, I enjoy reading your articles…….

    Will you be doing an in-depth article on your experience at Le Meridien Maldives?. My wife and I have booked it for November

    Thanks

  7. Steve

    Jerry, I though the same thing and stopped reading 1/3 of the way in, completely useless article

  8. Jerry

    What a waste of time! This post is of little value if any. How many of your readers have a travel agent willing to gift status? Moreover, the opportunities to maximize the benefits have long since passed. It would’ve been much better if you had posted this while the special opportunities were available. A step-by-step guide in maximizing a mileage run would’ve helped everyone. I thought the idea of this forum was to show people the advantages and how to seize the day!

    1. Steve

      Agreed, I stopped reading 1/3 in…useless article

  9. Leon YYC

    Good perspective! Earning a business class Priority Reward is definitely worth the effort. I was considering a similar run to EZE for this past weekend but didn’t do it since all I would get is a one step up to E35K. So I’m going to savor the eUps that I have and not live with FOMO.
    BTW, how did you spend your 6 hours in YHZ?

    1. T.J. YQQ

      I had the whole day Saturday in Halifax and flew back on Sunday morning. I went for a 28km run, ate some delicious ramen, walked down by the harbour, and enjoyed a lovely donair before heading back to the airport 🙂

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