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New Aeroplan: An Early Look at Complex Routings

Now that we’ve all had a few days’ time to play around with the new Aeroplan search engine, there’s going to be some very natural questions on the minds of the most dedicated Aeroplan members who hope to stretch the value of their points as far as possible:

  • How far can we fly on a single award?
  • Which places can we fly through between any given two city pairs on a single award (whether it’s on a connection or a stopover for an extra 5,000 Aeroplan points)?
  • How many Aeroplan points will we pay? How consistent is the pricing?

In this post, we’ve gathered a number of data points from both the online search engine and the Aeroplan contact centre in an effort to answer these questions and develop a preliminary understanding of the new Aeroplan’s routing rules.

In This Post

Recap: Aeroplan’s Routing, Fare Combination, and One-Way Bound Logic

When the details of the new Aeroplan program were first announced, I wrote a post entitled “New Aeroplan Mini-RTW: A New Generation of Complex Trips”. I highly recommend brushing up on that one before delving into this post.

As a brief recap, though, here’s the essentials of what we already knew about Aeroplan’s routing logic:

  • Pricing will be based on one-way bound logic.
  • Up to six one-way bounds may be combined on the same ticket; each one-way bound will be priced separately (taking into account any dynamic or preferred pricing on Air Canada flights), and the total sum will be the award cost.
  • A stopover may be added within a one-way bound for 5,000 Aeroplan points, as long as the stopover point is outside of Canada or the US.
  • As it relates to one-way bound logic, one of the factors that would “break the bound” was a circuitous routing, which was given a “general rule of thumb” for “illustrative purposes” of being a routing that’s over 100% the direct distance between two points.
  • There were some additional restrictions on which zones could be transited on the way from one place to another. Two examples of illegal routings, despite both being less than 100% the direct distance, were given as follows:
    • Toronto–Lisbon–São Paulo (i.e., having a connection/stopover in Europe between North and South America)
    • Los Angeles–Tokyo–Frankfurt (i.e., having a connection/stopover in Asia between North America and Europe)

With this context in mind, we can now attempt to answer the following questions using the search engine and the Aeroplan call centre:

  • How strict exactly is the 100% “general rule of thumb” for circuitous routings?
  • What is the nature of the additional restrictions on transit zones? Exactly which combinations of zones can be transited on a single award, and exactly which combinations are prohibited?

I should note that while the online search engine is working decently smoothly, it clearly still has a number of kinks to iron out, so things may well change over the upcoming weeks and months.

As always, the goal is to document the situation as of the time of launch (including some of the best sweet spots for those of us who want to maximize our routings), and keep an eye on how things develop going forward.

The “100% Rule” Is Exceedingly Flexible

Anyone who’s played around with a few different city combinations on the search engine will probably have discovered that the “general rule of thumb” for “illustrative purposes” of a circuitous routing being 100% over the direct distance turns out to be very flexible indeed.

Take, for example, Taipei–Amsterdam–Abu Dhabi via EVA Air and Etihad Airways on a single one-way bound, even though it’s 120% over the direct distance, pricing according to the “Between Atlantic and Pacific zones” chart.

Then there’s something like Tokyo–Sydney–Abu Dhabi on a single one-way bound, which clocks in at 146% over the direct distance.

You could even go the “long way around” via North America through Chicago or New York, perhaps combining two ultra-luxurious experiences in ANA First Class and Etihad Airways First Class. Tokyo–Chicago–Abu Dhabi, for example, clocks in at 171% over the direct distance, but still counts as a single one-way bound!

Even if we were to narrow the distance down to Beijing–Abu Dhabi, the “long way around” routing still works, even though the flown distance is now 264% – more than three times as much – of the direct distance.

So there’s definitely a great deal of flexibility for any bookings between East Asia and Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) – and we’ll get deeper into the granularities of travelling between these two zones in the next section.

For now, let’s pop over to Hawaii, which has always been a very interesting geography when it comes to award pricing. Hawaii is considered to be part of the North America zone, but searching between Hawaii and East Asia brings up some very interesting results.

Check out some of the distances here:

We can then pop over to the Americas, where the results for travel within both North America and South America sometimes have a funny tendency to veer into each other.

Consider the following result for Toronto–Panama City…

…and the following result for Santiago–Bogotá.

These results aren’t necessarily over the 100% general rule of thumb themselves, but they’re interesting nonetheless, and I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to search for more variants of these results and carefully consider their implications.

Can You Add Stopovers on the Above?

Based on the surprisingly generous routings allowed by some of the above search results, we wanted to carry out a few further experiments over the Aeroplan contact centre.

Indeed, since the multi-city search engine isn’t working to its full ability at this time, it means that you’ll inevitably need to call in if you wish to book anything more complex than what the search engine spits out.

It’s important to note that there’s currently a fair bit of unpredictability in terms of whether or not Aeroplan agents are willing and able to piece together itineraries while following the new rules properly.

Not only do Aeroplan agents remain just as much of a mixed bag as before in terms of quality (with plenty of outstanding agents but also quite a few obstinate ones), but the new platform also seems to be affected by early technical issues of many types.

This means that it’s currently a bit of a free-for-all if you decide to muster up the courage to call the Aeroplan contact centre at this time. Some things may price far higher than you’d expect, some far lower, and some not at all – and on top of that, different agents may return different results!

Keeping the above in mind, one of the first questions I had is whether we’d be able to add a stopover for 5,000 Aeroplan points on some of thee surprisingly generous search results displayed online.

The answer seems to be yes: adding the stopover for 5,000 points seems to be very straightforward indeed. Even more, we took the opportunity to experiment with stretching some of these roundabout routings to make them even more roundabout… and it worked.

We took the Asia–Europe–Middle East routings and added a stopover to it…

Proposed itinerary:

  • Seoul Incheon–Paris (stopover), on Asiana Airlines
  • Paris–Abu Dhabi, on Etihad Airways

Priced successfully: 105,000 Aeroplan points in business class (100,000 points for a Pacific–Atlantic award of 7,001+ miles, plus 5,000 points for the stopover)

Distance flown: 107% over the direct distance

 

We also took the Honolulu–San Francisco–Tokyo routing and extended it to Mexico City, adding a stopover there for 5,000 Aeroplan points (remember, stopovers are not permitted in Canada or the US, but are permitted in Mexico).

Proposed itinerary:

  • Honolulu–San Francisco (layover), on United Airlines
  • San Francisco–Mexico City (stopover), on United Airlines
  • Mexico City–Tokyo Narita, on ANA

Priced successfully: 110,000 Aeroplan points in business class (105,000 points for a North America–Pacific award of 11,001+ miles, plus 5,000 points for the stopover)

Distance flown: 189% over the direct distance

 

As you can see, the “100% general rule” was perhaps very much intended to be a minimum guideline, with distances far greater than 100% also in play.

When the custom routing online tool launches in 2021, we’ll be able to determine “logical routings” with greater efficiency; for now, only calling in your proposed itinerary (most likely a few times, if the first call doesn’t go as expected) will inform whether your crazy routing is bookable as a single one-way bound or not.

Which Zones Can You Fly Through?

In addition to the flexibility inherent in the 100% general rule, I was also curious as to how the zonal restrictions would work, in terms of which zones you can transit through (or have a stopover in) on your way from one location to another.

My suspicion was that the rules are based on IATA’s three travel zones, which are as follows:

  • IATA Zone 1: North & South America
  • IATA Zone 2: Europe, Middle East, and Africa
  • IATA Zone 3: Asia–Pacific (including Oceania, the Indian Subcontinent, and Central Asia)

After attempting to price out quite a few different itineraries, I believe there are a few rules we can establish here.



Zone 1–2 may not transit Zone 3.

Proposed itinerary:

  • Los Angeles–Tokyo (stopover), on ANA
  • Tokyo–Frankfurt, on ANA

Not priced successfully. Some agents were able to put it on the same ticket as two separate one-way bounds, while others were not able to combine it on the same ticket at all.

 

Proposed itinerary:

  • Los Angeles–Tokyo (stopover), on ANA
  • Tokyo–Abu Dhabi, on Etihad Airways

Not priced successfully as a single one-way bound.

 

Proposed itinerary:

  • Los Angeles–Tokyo (layover), on ANA
  • Tokyo–Abu Dhabi (stopover), on Etihad Airways
  • Abu Dhabi–Johannesburg, on Etihad Airways

Not priced successfully as a single one-way bound.

 

Note that all of the above examples are under 100% of the direct distance flown, so they shouldn’t be struck out on the basis of being a circuitous routing.

Instead, I believe it’s an unwritten “Zone 1–2 may not transit Zone 3” rule at play here. If this holds true, it also means that, say, having an “Alaska-and-Cathay-style” stopover in Asia on your way to South Africa won’t be feasible as a single one-way bound with Aeroplan.



Zone 1–3 may transit Zone 2.

As a general rule, transiting Europe on the way to Asia seems to be perfectly fine, and this is indeed the basis of the “Atlantic/Pacific arbitrage” sweet spot that we had covered previously.

Proposed itinerary (the Example #2 from my earlier post):

  • Toronto–Lisbon (layover), on TAP Air Portugal
  • Lisbon–Rome (stopover), on TAP Air Portugal
  • Rome–Istanbul (layover), on Turkish Airlines
  • Istanbul–Bangkok (destination), on Turkish Airlines
  • Bangkok–Seoul (stopover), on Thai Airways
  • Seoul–New York (layover), on Asiana Airlines
  • New York–Toronto, on Air Canada

Priced successfully: 180,000 Aeroplan points in business class (85,000 points each for the two one-way bounds to Bangkok, plus 10,000 points for the two stopovers)

 



Zone 2–3 may transit Zone 1.

This one is very interesting: whenever you’re flying between Zones 2 and 3 (so let’s say, Asia to Europe, Asia to Africa, Australia to Europe, etc.), then transiting through North America is possible!

And although stopovers in Canada or United States are not permitted, stopovers in Mexico are. Consider the following successfully-priced itinerary, inspired by one of the comments left on my earlier post on the new routing rules.

Proposed itinerary:

  • Denpasar–Taipei (layover), on EVA Air
  • Taipei–Los Angeles (layover), on EVA Air
  • Los Angeles–Cancún (stopover), on United
  • Cancún–Lisbon, on TAP Air Portugal

Priced successfully: 105,000 Aeroplan points in business class (100,000 points for a Pacific–Atlantic award of 7,001+ miles, plus 5,000 points for the stopover)

 

If you’d like to string together multiple premium redemptions over the course of a year and don’t mind popping down to Mexico a few times per year, then the Mexico stopover on an Atlantic–Pacific award could be a very creative way to schedule some extensive globetrotting while saving yourself a fair chunk of points.

Other examples can be seen easily in the search engine too, as in the Beijing–Toronto–Abu Dhabi search results we saw earlier – although remember, a stopover in Toronto wouldn’t be allowed.



Travel within Zone 1 may not transit other zones.

One of the creative ideas that popped up when the “100% general rule” was first announced is whether something like Toronto–Lisbon–São Paulo would be allowed for the North America–South America pricing.

Proposed itinerary:

  • Toronto–Lisbon (stopover), on TAP Air Portugal
  • Lisbon–São Paulo, on TAP Air Portugal

Not successfully priced as a single one-way bound or indeed a single ticket.

 

Proposed itinerary:

  • Cancún–Lisbon (stopover), on TAP Air Portugal
  • Lisbon–Recife, on TAP Air Portugal

Not successfully priced as a single one-way bound or indeed a single ticket.

 

The first example here is only 67% over the direct distance, whereas the second example is 104% over.

The fact that neither can be booked as a one-way bound, or even issued on the same ticket, indicates that travel within IATA Zone 1 most likely needs to remain entirely within Zone 1 (although, as we saw above, fun routings are still very much possible within Zone 1).



Travel within Zones 2 or 3 may transit each other.

Unlike IATA Zone 1, IATA Zones 2 or 3 seem to be more flexible in terms of whether a one-way bound between two points in Zone 2 can cross into Zone 3 (and vice versa).

The most interesting consequence of this can be seen in a search for Seoul–Sydney, which returns a very fun routing on Etihad Airways via Abu Dhabi, even though it’s 127% over the direct distance!

On this basis, I decided to call in a sample routing of Beijing–Hong Kong–Abu Dhabi–Sydney, which is only 124% over the direct distance. The idea is that if Seoul–Abu Dhabi–Sydney at 127% is allowed, surely this routing would be allowed too?

Proposed itinerary:

  • Beijing–Hong Kong (layover), on Air China
  • Hong Kong–Abu Dhabi (stopover), on Etihad Airways
  • Abu Dhabi–Sydney, on Etihad Airways

Mixed results… 

One agent priced it as a single one-way bound at 100,000 Aeroplan points in business class, which seems like a single one-way bound, but doesn’t align with the Flight Reward Chart – it should actually be 90,000 Aeroplan points for an intra-Pacific award of 7,001+ miles, plus 5,000 Aeroplan points for the stopover, for a total of 95,000 Aeroplan points.

Meanwhile, two other agents were not able to price it as a single one-way bound and instead charged two separate award costs, for 160,000 Aeroplan points in total – bummer.

 

Clearly, there’s plenty of kinks still to be ironed out with the call centre, but the fact that Seoul–Abu Dhabi–Sydney can be booked as one award is quite encouraging for those of us who love to maximize Aeroplan points for round-the-world adventures.

Over the coming weeks and months, I’ll be gradually updating all of the old Aeroplan-related content we have here at Prince of Travel, and I’m looking forward to revisiting “What’s the Best Aeroplan First Class Redemption?” after the call centre “settles in” to the new rules a little bit and when the custom routing tool launches next year.

Also: An Important Note on Air Canada Itineraries

A little closer to home, there’s an important distinction between how Air Canada-only itineraries and partner itineraries are priced, which has become clear now that we have access to the search engine.

  • If your itinerary consists only of travel on Air Canada flights, then the correct distance band on the Flight Reward Chart is determined by the direct distance between the origin and destination, regardless of which connections are added (provided that the routing does not become circuitous).
  • If your itinerary consists of a partner airline, then the correct distance band on the Flight Reward Chart is determined by the actual distance flown.

Consider the example of the Vancouver–Tokyo sweet spot for 55,000 Aeroplan points in business class.

An itinerary of Vancouver–Calgary–Tokyo or even Vancouver–Toronto–Tokyo still prices in the same dynamic range, because the Air Canada-only itinerary’s pricing is based on the direct distance between Vancouver and Tokyo, not based on the distance flown!

Similarly, consider the case of someone based in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Because the pricing on Air Canada-only itineraries is based on the direct distance, Atlantic Canadians will not be penalized for having to backtrack through Montreal or Toronto on their way to Europe!

In fact, this also means that a redemption of, say, Athens–Toronto would fall into the second distance band of “4,001–6,000 miles” on the Atlantic chart…

…whereas an Athens–Toronto–St. John’s redemption would fall into the first distance band of “0–4,000 miles”! 😉

Conclusion

Even with plenty of kinks still to be ironed out with the Aeroplan search engine and call centre, I think we can safely conclude that Aeroplan’s commitment to allowing a far greater range of complex routings than before has held true, with some truly fascinating routing possibilities now very much on the table. 

The search engine itself is spitting out many intriguing routes that far exceed the “100% general rule” governing circuitous routings that we’ve been told to expect.

The call centre is then able to add a stopover to these routings for 5,000 points, and is even able to put together some mind-boggling routings like Hawaii to Tokyo with a stopover in Mexico – but at the same time, there is considerable inconsistency in how Aeroplan agents are applying the new rules.

When it comes to complex routings, those who put in the time to experiment with different possibilities will be handsomely rewarded, especially at this early juncture. Did you manage to validate any interesting routings over the search engine or the call centre? Did anything price differently than you had expected? Let me know in the comments below.