Update: Looks like most of the “IT issues” have been fixed now, with Swiss, SAS, ANA, and Thai flights back on the system. Only LOT remains offline for now.
It seems to be quite a tempestuous time over at Aeroplan in the wake of their agreement with the Air Canada-led consortium being finalized in late August. All sorts of changes have been happening, and while most of them have been very consumer-unfriendly, a few are worth pointing out that might work out in your favour.
Aeroplan’s “IT Issues”
If you’ve tried to book any awards on Aeroplan in the past week or so, you might have noticed that some airlines’ flights are missing from the system altogether. Indeed, it’s been another round of Aeroplan’s infamous “IT issues”, in which a host of carriers can’t be booked because apparently Aeroplan has trouble communicating with them.
Quite suspiciously, the affected airlines are all ones that don’t have fuel surcharges, like Swiss, SAS, or ANA. Brussels Airlines and Thai flights seem to be on-and-off intermittently, whereas LOT Polish Airlines has been blocked since at least June.
When you search Aeroplan, any routes operated by these airlines simply won’t appear, even if there’s space available. Even more infuriatingly, if Aeroplan can’t find enough Air Canada or Lufthansa flights to fill up the search results, you’ll be faced with this screen – the Availability Calendar clearly KNOWS that there are flights available on the affected airlines, and yet none are being shown.
Not only are these flights unavailable via the search engine, but you can’t book them over the phone either. To add insult to injury, most Aeroplan phone agents will insist that there’s simply no availability on the flights even though you can clearly see them on ExpertFlyer or the United.com search engine. You usually need to escalate to a supervisor in order for them to even acknowledge the existence of these issues, and even then, there’s no timeline on when they will be fixed.
This situation makes a mockery of the supposed ability of Aeroplan members to redeem their miles on Air Canada and Star Alliance partners, given that around 20% of the partners are blocked off. It’s especially problematic for those looking to redeem their miles to Europe, since a large portion of the affected airlines are surcharge-free European airlines.
However, there seems to be a bit of a silver lining at the moment that might be helpful to you if you’re looking to fly to Europe – namely, at some point over the past few days, fuel surcharges seem to have gone down on Air Canada, Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines, and TAP Portugal.
Air Canada / Lufthansa / Austrian: Lower Fuel Surcharges for Economy
In the past, the fuel surcharges on these three airlines have always been soul-crushing – around $500 for a one-way journey – no matter which class of service you’re flying.
This meant that if you wanted to redeem 60,000 Aeroplan miles for a roundtrip to Europe in economy class on one of these airlines, you might be on the hook for almost $1,000 in fuel surcharges. To put it simply, redeeming your points like that destroys their value, and you might as well have never earned them in the first place.
Now, it seems that the fuel surcharges for economy class flights have been lowered to $270 per direction, meaning you can expect to pay around $500 in surcharges for a roundtrip booking.
That's still not a great value, mind you, but it’s better than before, and there might be times when it’ll make sense to absorb this surcharge. For example, if you’re trying to maximize the value of your points by booking an Aeroplan Mini-RTW, and just can’t find any surcharge-free flights for the European segment, then paying $270 in surcharges might still be worthwhile to secure the rest of your itinerary around the world.
In the meantime, the fuel surcharges on business class flights remain as ridiculous as before, and you should still take every measure to avoid them if you can:
TAP Portugal: No Fuel Surcharges Across the Board
Here’s where you might be able to score quite a sweet deal. TAP Portugal has always levied fuel surcharges in the past, and it’s therefore been one of the airlines that you’re supposed to avoid. However, it seems that’s changed recently, with TAP surcharges levying no fuel surcharges in both economy class and business class.
You can therefore fly transatlantic on TAP for about $100 all-in. They have a direct flight to Toronto on which they’re now operating Airbus A330s with lie-flat seats (it used to be angled-flat until recently), an excellent Portuguese wine menu onboard, good connectivity throughout Western Europe, and decent award availability as well.
Moreover, Lisbon is a fantastic city to enjoy a stopover, and even a long layover is enough time to drop by the original Pastéis de Belem for some delicious egg tarts! 😉
If you can’t find space on the Toronto flight, look for their Boston, New York JFK, Newark (to both Lisbon and Porto), or Miami services. West Coast travellers can also make use of their San Francisco route, launching in 2019.
Those of you planning creative routings can now employ TAP in your trip planning as well, since they fly some pretty intriguing routes to Brazil and Africa.
Now I’m not certain whether the rule regarding TAP fuel surcharges has permanently changed (airlines like United, Swiss, Turkish, etc. have fuel surcharges on their regular fares, they just don’t get passed on when redeeming award tickets, so perhaps TAP has been added to this collection of airlines), or whether this is just a temporary glitch, and the fuel surcharges might return at some point.
I’d therefore advise firming up any plans relatively soon, just in case it’s the latter scenario. After all, we’ve seen TAP’s fuel surcharge get glitchy in the past – when the Toronto route was first announced, there was a brief period of time when no fuel surcharges were being levied on it.
At the moment, I’m not a happy Aeroplan member at all, since there are several bookings I need to make that are rendered impossible due to airlines like Swiss, SAS, and LOT being blocked. There’s no timeline as to when these “issues” will be fixed, so we’re essentially at the mercy of Aeroplan to deliver a resolution before the award space gets snapped up.
In the meantime, however, it’s looking like the fuel surcharges on Air Canada, Lufthansa, and Austrian economy class tickets have been lowered, while those on TAP Portugal have been virtually eliminated across the board. If you’re looking to cross the Atlantic using your Aeroplan miles, these changes may just have opened up a few additional options for you.
(tip of the hat to /u/thepointsoftravel on Reddit)