One of the most rewarding features of Air Canada’s relaunched Aeroplan program is, as the name suggests, the new Priority Rewards.
Each Priority Reward voucher entitles the holder to a 50% discount on the number of points required for an eligible itinerary for one passenger, booked out of the voucher holder’s account.
Earning Priority Rewards is tied to the number of Status Qualifying Dollars (SQD) that an Aeroplan member racks up in a calendar year, while the redemption side of Priority Rewards is associated with your Aeroplan Elite Status.
And as we’ll discuss in this article, even though the concept of a 50% discount on award redemptions is pretty straightforward, there can actually be a surprising amount of room to optimize your usage of Aeroplan’s Priority Rewards.
In This Post
- How Do You Earn Priority Rewards?
- On Which Trips Are You Eligible to Redeem Priority Rewards?
- The Simple Way to Maximize Priority Rewards
- Advanced: Use One Priority Reward Voucher for Three Trips
- Is It Worth Chasing SQD to Earn Priority Rewards?
How Do You Earn Priority Rewards?
Priority Rewards are earned based on the number of Status Qualifying Dollars (SQD) you earn as an Aeroplan member, which is a measure of how much you spend on Air Canada-marketed flights (including the base fare and carrier-imposed surcharges, but excluding third-party taxes and fees).
Priority Reward vouchers are earned at the thresholds of 4,000, 7,000, 10,000, and 15,000 SQD, as well as every 5,000 SQD thereafter, up to a maximum of 50,000 SQD (for a total of 11 Priority Reward vouchers per calendar year).
Vouchers must be used to book a flight within one year from the date you earn them, or else they will expire.
In addition, as of the new Aeroplan’s launch in November 2020, members with Aeroplan 35K or higher status have received a one-time allotment of Priority Reward vouchers as a gift, as below:
For example, as an Aeroplan 50K member myself, I began the new program with two Priority Reward vouchers in my account on November 9, 2020.
(If your 2020 flying activity would qualify you for a greater number of Priority Reward vouchers based on the SQD rules above, then you can expect your Priority Rewards balance to be topped-up in January 2021.)
On Which Trips Are You Eligible to Redeem Priority Rewards?
Your Aeroplan Elite Status at the time of earning a Priority Reward voucher determines which set of flights are eligible for you to redeem that voucher and unlock a 50% discount on the award redemption, as below:
For example, as an Aeroplan 50K member, I’ve earned Priority Reward vouchers that are eligible to be redeemed on flights within North America (which, in this case, refers to Canada, US, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean) in economy class or premium economy.
How does this work in practice? Whenever you search for flights on the Aeroplan search engine as a member with Priority Rewards in your account, you’ll see the option to deploy Priority Rewards at the top of the search engine:
If your chosen origin–destination pair falls within the set of flights for which your Priority Rewards are eligible, then you’ll be able to select them and restart the search, resulting in half-priced search results on the eligible flights – and a symbol to denote them as such.
You can then click through and book the half-priced reward straight away.
(Note that, due to technical limitations, the full range of Points + Cash options is not available when you apply a Priority Reward, nor is the option to pay for the taxes and fees with an Air Canada gift card.)
Of course, you can also apply Priority Rewards to eligible itineraries when you’re making a booking via the Aeroplan contact centre – and as we’ll discuss below, until Aeroplan’s complex routing tool is rolled out in 2021, there are very good reasons to do so.
The Simple Way to Maximize Priority Rewards
Now that we’ve gone over how the Priority Rewards work, let’s talk about how to maximize them.
The most straightforward way is obviously to look at the eligible flights on which you can redeem Priority Reward vouchers, and redeem them on the highest-value redemption that falls within the eligible set.
For example, if you’ve earned Priority Reward vouchers as an Aeroplan 25K or Aeroplan 35K member, you’d be looking at flights within Canada and the US in economy class. You could apply these vouchers on a flight to, say, Hawaii in order to maximize the total value.
Here, one very compelling use-case for Priority Rewards would be to combine them with eUpgrades earned from your Aeroplan Elite Status – and in particular the “Latitude Attitude” trick for instantly upgrading into business class.
For example, you could use a Priority Reward voucher to halve the price of an economy class booking in the Latitude fare category, and then use eUpgrades to confirm an upgrade into premium economy or business class long before your departure date.
Similarly, if you’ve earned Priority Reward vouchers as an Aeroplan 50K member, you’d ideally be aiming to use them on flights to Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean, since those flights are off-limits to the lower rungs of Aeroplan Elite Status society.
However, flights to Sun destinations typically do not offer premium economy, so another way to maximize your voucher would be to book premium economy seats on widebody flights within Canada and the US (with the option to eUpgrade into business class as well).
If you’ve earned Priority Reward vouchers as an Aeroplan 75K member, you have access to worldwide flights up to premium economy.
You could book on Star Alliance partners, but then you’d be limited to economy class, since Air Canada is currently the only airline offering premium economy awards on Aeroplan points.
Therefore, a premium economy redemption on an Air Canada international flight to Europe or Asia, combined with an eUpgrade into business class, might be the optimal play here.
Finally, if you’ve earned Priority Reward vouchers as an Aeroplan Super Elite member, you have access to the most powerful use of Priority Rewards: international flights in business class, including on Star Alliance and other partner airlines.
In this case, you can construct your ideal business class itinerary around the world on any mix of Air Canada and Aeroplan’s partner airlines, and then apply a Priority Reward voucher to slash the cost of the award by a half.
For example, a round-trip flight from Toronto to South East Asia, with a stopover in Europe and another one in East Asia, costs 180,000 Aeroplan points (this takes advantage of the “Asia 3” sweet spot in the Flight Reward Chart, which represents one of the best distance-to-price ratios in the whole chart).
Applying a Priority Reward voucher to this redemption as a Super Elite member, you’d be able to book this whole trip for only 90,000 Aeroplan points – that’s a spectacular deal!
Of course, until the advanced multi-city tool is rolled out online next year, you’d need to call Aeroplan to apply the Priority Reward voucher in this way, since the stopovers currently cannot be booked online. And that brings us to…
Advanced: Use One Priority Reward Voucher for Three Trips
Before the new Aeroplan’s launch in November, I had written about a few theoretical ways to apply Priority Rewards for maximum effect.
As I wrote in “Aeroplan Mini-RTW: A New Generation of Complex Trips”, we knew that it’d be possible to book six one-way bounds (and potentially each with a stopover for 5,000 points) on the same itinerary; you’d just have to pay the individual price for each one-way bound.
In theory, therefore, you could apply a single Priority Reward to the whole thing and slash the price of the entire thing by 50%.
Furthermore, as I wrote in “4 Creative New Aeroplan Sweet Spots!”, we also knew that revisiting your point of origin would end your itinerary – but there were no rules against backtracking very close to your point of origin, as long as each backtrack was a separate one-way bound.
Since we can combine up to six one-way bounds on the same ticket, this meant that even an Aeroplan 25K or 35K member could book effectively three round-trip flights within North America over the upcoming year and redeem a single Priority Reward voucher, thus essentially applying it towards three upcoming trips instead of one.
Until the new program launched, however, both of these examples were only theoretical.
And even now, given that the full-fledged multi-city tool has not yet arrived, we can only book these six-bound itineraries over the phone… and based on our experiences, it’ll take a lot of hanging up and calling again to find an agent who is willing and able to piece together a trip like this.
(Seriously, I totally understand Aeroplan agents needing some time to learn the new system, but that doesn’t excuse the “bad attitude” of some agents at the call centre these days. Out of the first five agents we tried, no less than three of them wouldn’t even entertain the idea of booking six one-way bounds on a single ticket, instead simply saying that it cannot be done.)
Thankfully, the sixth agent was able to make it happen!
Here’s three round-trips on the same ticket in all its glory:
As you can see, this itinerary is broken into six one-way bounds – effectively creating three round-trips – as follows:
- Montreal–Vancouver–San Francisco
- San Francisco–Calgary–Ottawa
- Ottawa–Toronto–Los Angeles
- Los Angeles–Toronto
For each of the six one-way bounds, we searched on the Aeroplan website for a flight in the lower end of the published range, clocking in at around 10,000 Aeroplan points one-way (for an Aeroplan 50K member with a core credit card).
In total, everything should add up to something in the region of 60,000 Aeroplan points… but with the North America Priority Reward applied out of my account, it only came to 30,800 Aeroplan points!
The idea here is that a traveller based in the Quebec–Windsor corridor who might be flexible with departing out of any of Toronto, Montreal, or Ottawa could effectively leverage this strategy to apply a single Priority Reward voucher to three separate trips to three different places: Vancouver, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.
Now, I wanted to take this experiment a step further and find out whether we’d be able to return to the same city twice on the same ticket (as long as it wasn’t the origin city).
So I used my one free change on an Aeroplan ticket to change this ticket to the following:
The new itinerary is broken into six one-way bounds as follows:
- Montreal–Vancouver–San Francisco
- San Francisco–Montreal
- Montreal–Los Angeles
- Los Angeles–Toronto
Because the underlying award costs got a little cheaper here, this whole thing priced out at 30,550 Aeroplan points!
(If you’re having trouble convincing an Aeroplan agent that it’s possible to piece together six one-way bounds on the same ticket, refer them straight to this article – here’s solid proof!)
The answer to our question is a resounding yes: as long as you don’t return to your origin (in this case, Toronto), you can revisit any other city as many times as you’d like on the same ticket.
(And what’s more, you’ll notice from the first example that you can even connect through your origin without any issues; you simply cannot end your one-way bound at your origin.)
What are the implications of this? Well, as long as you have Priority Rewards in your account, the true means of optimization is to use a single voucher to book up to three trips that you’ve planned over the upcoming year, as long as they all fall within your eligible set of flights for redeeming Priority Rewards.
Let’s take the example of a Vancouver-based Aeroplan 25K member who has racked up 4,000 SQD and earned a single Priority Reward voucher. This member could apply their solitary voucher to three upcoming trips to three different places in Canada and the US:
- Vancouver–Toronto–St. John’s
- St. John’s–Toronto–Vancouver
(You’ll notice that the Vancouver-based traveller might opt to originate in Victoria instead. This saves them the trouble of having to end the other one-way bounds somewhere other than Vancouver; they can simply go back to Vancouver every other time without revisiting the origin and breaking the ticket.)
Alternatively, let’s imagine it’s a small business owner who simply needs to make Vancouver–Toronto round-trips throughout the year. Such a traveller could book the following:
If the traveller chose the Standard fare category for all six one-way bounds, then this would price out in the region of 30,000 Aeroplan points with a Priority Reward voucher attached – a pretty tremendous deal for three transcontinental round-trips.
But there’s also a strong argument for booking these trips in the Latitude fare category, even if it’ll cost more: outside of Aeroplan’s current generous cancellation policy, you’d enjoy unlimited free changes on this ticket, which would be very useful if you’re planning three separate upcoming trips on a one-year time horizon.
Moreover, as mentioned above, you’d be able to instantly confirm upgrades into business class using your eUpgrades as well; an Aeroplan 25K member’s allotment of 20 eUpgrade credits would be enough to secure business class seats on five out of the six one-way flights on the itinerary.
Finally, if we think about the very powerful Priority Rewards held by Aeroplan Super Elite members… well, the potential to optimize here can be downright insane.
Going back to our discussion of the new Aeroplan Mini-RTW, a 16-segment round-the-world journey in business class with extended stops in 15 different places (i.e., six one-way bounds, each with a stopover for 5,000 Aeroplan points, plus three open-jaws) would cost something crazy – around the region of 360,000 Aeroplan points once everything is tallied together.
Applying a single Priority Reward voucher, though, and the cost is slashed to 180,000 Aeroplan points. Now that’s starting to look like a killer deal for a 15-stop round-the-world trip!
Is It Worth Chasing SQD to Earn Priority Rewards?
Now that we’ve explored the true power of Aeroplan’s Priority Rewards, the question remains: is it worthwhile to go out of your way and earn Status Qualifying Dollars (SQD) in order to gain access to Priority Rewards?
I don’t think you should be proactively throwing money at Air Canada purely for the opportunity to book three round-trips at half price using a single voucher, but it might be worth fine-tuning your strategy if you already spend some money every year on Air Canada flights.
For example, if your organic travel activities earn you enough SQD to get close to the next Priority Rewards threshold, then it might well be worth booking into a higher fare category so that you can reach the next threshold and earn an additional Priority Reward voucher.
For most folks, however, I don’t think it’s worth going too far out of your way to chase SQD. Indeed, if you mostly travel the world on points, your SQD is likely to be very low every year, and you might struggle to reach even that first threshold of 4,000 SQD for a solitary Priority Reward voucher.
Instead, think about maximizing Priority Rewards by building your network and getting to know other Aeroplan members with elite status – and especially Super Elite status.
Let me tell you this: there are a lot of Aeroplan Super Elite members out there, and only a fraction of them are going to even care about maximizing their supremely powerful Priority Rewards. And among these Super Elites who care, yet another mere fraction of them will be savvy enough with their Aeroplan points to actually make it happen.
Remember, Priority Rewards simply have to be redeemed out of the holder’s account using their Aeroplan points… but the ticket itself can be in anyone’s name.
And I have a feeling that many Super Elite members out there – perhaps that one friend of yours who constantly travels for work, but is ever-so-clueless as to what to do with the Aeroplan points they rack up – might be easily convinced to part ways with their Priority Reward vouchers in exchange for a round of oysters or an afternoon of lawn work.
In some way, Aeroplan’s Priority Rewards represent a microcosm of the loyalty program as a whole: on the surface, it can present decent value for the casual traveller, but if you really dig into it, then the possibilities for optimization can be truly very astounding indeed.
A 50% discount on award prices is already very attractive, but when married with Air Canada’s eUpgrades, stopovers for 5,000 points, and especially the ability to combine up to six one-way bounds on a single ticket, Aeroplan’s Priority Rewards begin to feel like magic.
If you already have some Priority Rewards in your account, then I wish you good luck as you navigate the Aeroplan contact centre. And if you don’t, then I wish you good luck as you sell your soul to those around you who may not value their Priority Rewards quite as highly. 😉