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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.