In this follow-up post to my closer look at intra-zone travel in the Atlantic and Pacific zones, I wanted to take a look at travel within North and South America once the new Aeroplan program launches next month.
To review, there will a distance-based chart within each zone that is used to calculate the number of Aeroplan points required to redeem for a flight in any particular class. The distances within each tier vary by zone, so you will want to acquaint yourself with the new Flight Reward Chart. Further, outside of Canada and the United States, a stopover can be added to a one-way bound for an additional 5,000 Aeroplan points.
I will assume the lower end of the dynamic range for flights with Air Canada and the fixed cost in points for redemptions with partner airlines. Once the new program launches, it will be possible to explore the dynamic range with greater certainty.
For each hub city, I used a combination of mapping two ranges of distance on Great Circle Mapper and using FlightConnections to visualize which airports may fall within those ranges on direct flights. While I tried to be as detailed as possible, the visualizations are by no means exhaustive, and I encourage you to conduct similar searches and leave a comment if you find anything interesting.
Within North America
During one of the media events about the launch of the new Aeroplan, I recall hearing that the vast majority of Aeroplan redemptions (around 80%) are for economy flights within North America. Naturally, the new the “Within North America” chart should be of great interest to most folks.
The North American zone now includes all of North America, including Hawaii, Alaska, Central America, and the Caribbean islands. There are four distance bands for travel within this zone.
Travelling with partner airlines used to be a strategic way to avoid pesky fuel surcharges. Now that the surcharges are being replaced by a $39 partner booking fee, it would be advantageous to avail yourselves of routes operated by both Air Canada and a partner airline.
In the event that your desired flight is available on both airlines, you can choose between the fixed points price (plus $39) with partner airlines, or the dynamic range with Air Canada – whichever is less.
For the below maps, the inner-most band represents the first distance tier (0–500 miles), the next band represents the second distance tier (501–1,500 miles), the next represents the third tier (1,501–2,750 miles), and the outer-most represents the top tier (2,751+ miles).
For Vancouver-based travellers, flying out to majestic Haida Gwaii near Sandspit (YZP) remains within the first tier at 468 miles.
My fellow Vancouver Islanders may want to fly from Nanaimo to Sandspit (via YVR), as the journey is exactly 500 miles, whereas flying from either Comox or Victoria would put you into the second tier.
Flights to Calgary from Vancouver, Nanaimo (via YVR), and Victoria (via YVR) all fall within the 500-mile threshold, too. Edmonton, at 504 miles from Vancouver, would cost you at least an additional 4,000 or 5,000 points in the second tier – but you’d get the added bonus of seeing a far superior hockey team play on home ice in Edmonton. 😉
In the second tier, at 10,000 or 20,000 Aeroplan points in economy or business respectively, are Los Angeles, San Francisco, Palm Springs, Phoenix, Denver, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Whitehorse, and Anchorage, amongst others. Of particular interest are the Californian hubs to connect to Asia for a First Class redemption, as well as flights to Whitehorse and Anchorage, which tend to be fairly expensive.
As Ricky has detailed, Hawaii falls within the third tier from Vancouver, costing at least 12,500 or 25,000 Aeroplan points in economy or business respectively. This is indeed a sweet spot that I plan to take advantage of once travel to the Hawaiian islands becomes advisable again. Toronto and Montreal also fall within this tier, and would cost the same as before, assuming you book at the lowest end of the dynamic range.
As for Sun destinations, Vancouverites may want to rethink a trip to Cancún, as it would cost an additional 10,000 points in economy or business when compared to flying to Mexico City or Puerto Vallarta, which are both in the second tier.
2. The Battle of Alberta: Calgary vs. Edmonton
A glance at the two maps above seems to give Calgary the edge when it comes to cities available in the first distance band.
A flight to Vancouver, Victoria, or Nanaimo would only cost 6,000 or 15,000 Aeroplan points in economy or business, respectively, whereas flying from Edmonton would cost an additional 4,000 or 5,000 points and may require a connection. Feel free to drive up Vancouver Island to Comox for an informal, and physically distanced, miles and pints with yours truly!
If skiing in the Rocky Mountains just isn’t your thing, flights to Castlegar, Kelowna, and Kamloops all fall within the first distance band from Calgary. Kelowna is also accessible from Edmonton in the first band, leaving weekend wine-tastings, visits to orchards, and ski trips within your reach.
Saskatoon, about which Ricky has mused in his recent visit, is accessible from both cities. Regina, though, would require flying from or through Calgary, as there aren’t any direct flights from Edmonton at the moment.
From both cities, flights to the southwest United States, Yellowknife, and Winnipeg fall within the second band. Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa fall within the third tier from both cities. Cancún falls within the third distance band from Calgary, and Maui falls in the fourth.
Air Canada’s main hub in Toronto has a multitude of destinations, both near and far, during normal operations.
In the first band are Chicago, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City, New York, Boston, and Washington Dulles. The American cities, which are also worth a visit sans COVID-19, are well-serviced by Star Alliance and Oneworld airlines that offer First Class flights.
The second band contains a host of cities: Saskatoon and Regina in the Prairies; Denver, Houston, New Orleans, and Miami/Fort Lauderdale/Fort Myers in the United States; Bermuda; as well as Halifax and St. John’s. Interestingly, Havana falls within the second band, but Holguín falls within the third, so plan your trip to Cuba accordingly.
With the exception of Hawaii, most other Sun destinations fall within the third band. This includes Panama City, Port of Spain, San Jose, Mexico City, Montego Bay, and Saint Martin. A flight from Toronto to Panama City would cost 12,500 or 25,000 Aeroplan points in economy or business respectively.
It could very worthwhile to book a flight from Toronto to Panama City and then look at paid fares to a South American hub, as flying from Toronto to Bogotá instead would instead cost 30,000 or 50,000 Aeroplan points in economy or business respectively under the new values.
Many of the cities that fall within 500 miles of Toronto also fall within 500 miles of Montreal. As has been noted before, at exactly 501 miles from Montreal, Halifax is no longer in the lowest distance band.
All cities in Florida fall in the second distance band, as do the Bahamas, which will benefit the many Quebecers who take holidays in warmer waters for a break from the intense winter weather.
The remainder of flights to Sun destinations and cities in western North America all fall within the third distance band, including all destinations in Cuba.
As is detailed in Ricky’s extensive guide to the new Aeroplan, flights to Sun destinations are some great sweet spots in the new program, especially if you live in Toronto or Montreal. Having recently fallen in love with surfing again, I intend to make use of the free handling of sports equipment (including surfboards) with my Aeroplan 25K status by spending some time in warmer waters over the coming years.
For our Halifax-based readers, the above map shows direct flights within each distance band.
In the lowest band are flights to Deer Lake, Sydney, and Boston. In the second band are flights to Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, St. John’s, Gander, and Happy Valley/Goose Bay. Most Sun destinations and Calgary are in the third band.
Interestingly, when Air Canada offers direct flights from Halifax to Florida, then Orlando falls within the second band at 1,498 miles and Tampa falls within the third band at 1,567 miles. Assuming you are able to book at the low end of the dynamic range, choosing Orlando could save you a handful of miles, especially if you are flying as a family.
For our friends in St. John’s, all Air Canada flights route through either Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, or Toronto. For flights within Canada, flying anywhere west of Saskatchewan will fall in the outermost distance band. As a general rule, try to look for connecting flights to the US and Sun destinations through Halifax or Montreal, as going through Toronto could land you in a higher distance band.
6. Within Central America
Ricky mentioned to me that while no stopover point is allowed in Canada or the United States under the new Aeroplan, stopovers on itineraries in the rest of North America are still fair game.
This leaves Panama City-based Copa Airlines as an attractive airline to consider if you plan on spending some time in Central America and the Caribbean.
Most countries in the Caribbean and Central America fall within the second distance band from Panama City. Mexico City squeaks in at 1,498 miles, and Managua is just shy of the first distance band at 507 miles.
While the application of adding stopovers within Central America and the Caribbean is limited by the absence of an intra-Caribbean airline, there are some interesting bounds that can be created to fall within the 1,500-mile threshold of the second distance band. For example, flying from Managua to Panama City and then to Havana after a stopover, at 1,485 miles, would cost 15,000 or 25,000 Aeroplan points in economy or business respectively.
Within South America
The last intra-zonal chart to be examined is for South America. Much to the delight of Miles & Points enthusiasts, it is the simplest chart to parse, with a single set of values for any distance flown.
With Avianca, Gol, and Azul as Aeroplan partner airlines operating in South America, there is decent coverage to traverse the continent. Aside from Antarctica, South America remains the only continent I have yet to visit, and it has been high on my list of places to visit for quite some time.
Keep in mind that you can add a stopover on a one-way bound for an additional 5,000 Aeroplan points once the new program launches. This means a one-way bound with a stopover would cost 20,000 or 35,000 Aeroplan points in economy or business respectively for any journey in South America.
For example, on the first bound, you could fly from Bogotá to Lima with Avianca, and then from Lima to São Paolo with Gol.
After heading overland to Rio de Janeiro, and maybe after a side trip to Fernando de Noronha, you could fly to Buenos Aires or Santiago with Gol and then from Buenos Aires or Santiago back to Bogotá with Avianca.
Prior to COVID-19, I recall seeing fairly affordable flights between Panama City and nearby hubs in northern South America. Intra-national flights within the continent also tend to be quite affordable. Consider checking out cash fares and nesting a few trips within a larger redemption when planning your next trip to South America.
After poring over the four intra-zone charts for the new Aeroplan program, I hope you have a better idea of how you’ll be able to stretch your points once the new program launches in November. There’s still a host of information to learn, and I am excited to see how the points community, as it always does, will go the extra miles to extract the best value from sweet spots.
In North America, while losing the free stopover on domestic and transborder bookings comes as a huge loss, the lower cost to Hawaii and Sun destinations comes as a reasonable consolation prize for many Canadians. This is, of course, assuming that you can book at the low end of the dynamic range with Air Canada flights or with partner airlines that operate the same route.
Compared to the nine other charts from the new Flight Reward Chart, redeeming for flights within the South American continent will require much less legwork. Using a combination of points for long-haul flights and paid regional flights could lead to some outstanding and diverse travels.
With travel restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic extending into the foreseeable future, I find doing research into programs and planning hypothetical trips as a way to keep the travel dream alive. If you’re stoked on any destinations in Canada, North America, or South America, feel free to leave a comment below and inspire me and others with your ideas.