So far, our coverage of Air Canada’s new Aeroplan has touched upon a handful of new redemption sweet spots that will be available in the new program:
- In our initial analysis of the Flight Reward Chart, we identified Western Canada–Japan, Western Canada–Australia, Eastern Canada–North Africa, and travel to Sun destinations among the new sweet spots originating from Canada.
- In our deep look at the new Aeroplan Mini-RTW, we concluded that the distance band of 7,500–11,000 miles on the North America–Pacific chart was the “sweet spot” in terms of flying the greatest distance on a round-the-world trip for the lowest points outlay.
In this article, I wanted to generalize our discussion of sweet spots even further and highlight four creative ways to optimize the new Aeroplan’s flight rewards once the program launches on November 8.
All four strategies represent brand-new ways of thinking about your Aeroplan points compared to the current program, so the earlier we can all get used to thinking along these newly-drawn lines, the better.
These four ideas were first introduced in our New Aeroplan Study Session that I hosted this past weekend, which you can watch in its 140-minute entirety below (including an informal chat with Mark Nasr and Scott O’Leary, of the team behind the new Aeroplan):
In This Post
- 1. Avios-Style Short-Haul Flights
- 2. Strategic Bound Breaking
- 3. Atlantic/Pacific Arbitrage
- 4. Maximizing Priority Rewards
1. Avios-Style Short-Haul Flights
As a result of moving to a hybrid zonal and distance-based redemption model, the new Aeroplan offers significantly cheaper price points for short-haul redemptions within the Atlantic, Pacific, and South America zones.
Here’s the “Within Atlantic zone” chart, where the first and second distance bands, corresponding to distances of 0–1,000 miles and 1,000–2,000 miles, are very favourably priced at 7,500 or 12,500 Aeroplan points, respectively, for a one-way flight in economy class. Here’s the “Within Pacific zone” chart, where the first and second distance bands, corresponding to distances of 0–1,000 miles and 1,000–2,000 miles, are very favourably priced at 8,000 or 12,500 Aeroplan points, respectively, for a one-way flight in economy class.
And here’s the “Within South America zone” chart, which consists of only a single distance band, pricing any travel within the continent at 15,000 Aeroplan points for a one-way flight in economy class.
Don’t forget that you can add a stopover of extended duration on all these one-way redemptions for only 5,000 Aeroplan points each, essentially allowing you to build a trip to two destinations in the Atlantic, Pacific, and South America zones for as little as 12,500, 13,000 and 20,000 points respectively. If you’re planning an extended trip in a certain part of the world, you’re certain to find great value in these possibilities.
Traditionally, British Airways Avios has always been considered the dominant frequent flyer program for booking short-haul flights around the world at a good value, thanks to its distance-based reward chart. Now that Aeroplan has gone distance-based too, it opens up further possibilities for short-haul hops as well. In fact, I’d argue that Aeroplan is even more powerful than Avios for this purpose due to the following factors:
- The route network of Star Alliance’s 26 global airlines is more comprehensive than Oneworld’s 13.
- The new Aeroplan has eliminated all fuel surcharges, whereas some short-haul Avios redemptions (on airlines like Qatar Airways or Royal Jordanian) can still carry surcharges of $200+.
- Aeroplan’s distance-based chart calculates the pricing based on the cumulative flown distance between your origin and destination, while Avios calculates the price for each individual flight and then sums it all up, which tends to be more expensive for non-direct itineraries.
Let’s run through a few examples, although they are truly pretty endless, and you’ll definitely want to spend some time on Great Circle Mapper playing around with the routing possibilities in whichever part of the world interests you the most.
Here’s an example of a hopper journey through Europe – London–Geneva (stopover)–Vienna – that you can book for 12,500 Aeroplan points in economy or 20,000 Aeroplan points in business…
I myself would’ve gotten excellent value out of an Athens–Cairo (stopover)–Amman booking, for the same price as above, on my month-long trip to the Middle East last year…
Those of you who’d like to use Aeroplan points to travel to the far-flung corners of the world would take great interest in this sweet spot. Here’s Abidjan–Accra (stopover)–São Tomé, on Egyptair and TAP Air Portugal’s fifth-freedom routes, for the same price as above…
(For reference, this would cost 40,000 or 80,000 Aeroplan miles in economy or business under the current program, since you’d need to book two separate one-way journeys within the uniformly priced East, West, and South Africa region.)
Over on the Pacific chart, the possibilities continue to stack up. Here’s Hong Kong–Taipei (stopover)–Okinawa on EVA Air for 13,000 Aeroplan points in economy or 25,000 Aeroplan points in business…
(Remember, EVA Air often operates its long-haul aircraft on the Hong Kong route too, so this could be a great deal even in business class. In fact, maybe it’s specifically because Asia’s regional business class products are far better than Europe’s that the Pacific chart is slightly more expensive.)
An example courtesy of Milesopedia: international travel between the East Asian nations of China, South Korea, and Japan can get surprisingly expensive – but not if you string them all on the same one-way itinerary of Shanghai–Seoul (stopover)–Fukuoka for the same price as above…
Hey, remember the United Island Hopper? Well, previously there would’ve been no practical way to spend some time on every island along the way, but now it’s possible with two or three sets of one-way bounds within the Pacific zone, each with a stopover in the middle…
Travel within South East Asia can also be a sweet spot, as seen in the below example of Bangkok–Singapore (stopover)–Bali for 17,500 Aeroplan points in economy or 35,000 Aeroplan points in business…
(Note that a more frugal alternative to these redemptions might be to use budget carriers like AirAsia or Lion Air, or indeed Ryanair or EasyJet in Europe. However, mainline carriers usually offer a far more convenient schedule, more central airport access, and a better onboard product; in the past, frugal travellers might’ve scoffed at the price difference between mainline and budget carriers, but the new Aeroplan will allow you to book short-haul mainline flights at budget-airline prices.)
For those of you who’d like to try out Singapore Airlines First Class and the Singapore Airlines Private Room, take note of the Singapore–Jakarta segment, which consistently releases First Class award space to partners. You’ll be able to try this out for only 25,000 Aeroplan points!
Finally, the fact that all of South America is priced at a uniform level means that the entire continent is basically one big “short-haul” zone.
While Star Alliance’s coverage in South America isn’t the best, you can still get around pretty reliably thanks to the presence of Avianca, Azul, Gol Airlines, and a few fifth-freedom routes by Ethiopian Airlines, Turkish Airlines, and indeed Air Canada. How’s Galápagos Islands–Buenos Aires (stopover)–Rio de Janeiro, all for 20,000 Aeroplan points in economy or 35,000 Aeroplan points in business?
Finally, let’s not gloss over the opportunities closer to home as well.
The “Within North America” reward chart has a more restrictive first distance band of only 0–500 miles, but that still allows you to book some of the intriguing routes in Central America for as little as 6,000 Aeroplan points one-way, or 11,000 Aeroplan points with a stopover included.
Remember, while stopovers are not permitted in Canada and the US, they are allowed in Central America…
2. Strategic Bound Breaking
In some cases, the structure of the distance-based charts causes pricing to vary depending on where you “break the bound”.
(If this language is unfamiliar to you, you’ll want to revisit the novel concept of a “one-way bound” that underpins every redemption in the new Aeroplan.)
Consider the example of a Thunder Bay resident (also known as a “T-Bayer”) who wants to visit Istanbul and Tel Aviv on the same trip, flying in business class. She puts together the following proposed itinerary:
- Thunder Bay–Toronto–Istanbul (stopover)–Tel Aviv, on Air Canada and Turkish Airlines
- Tel Aviv–Toronto–Thunder Bay, on Air Canada
(My understanding is that the new Aeroplan’s one-way bound logic would automatically view Tel Aviv as the “point of turnaround” of this trip given its farther distance from the origin, thereby breaking the bounds in Tel Aviv.)
Let’s assume that our traveller is looking for Air Canada “saver” space at the lower end of the dynamic pricing range. Looking at the North America–Atlantic chart, our traveller would calculate the pricing for this redemption as follows:
- Outbound journey of 6,382 miles: This falls into the distance band of 6,001–8,000 miles, and would therefore cost 85,000 Aeroplan points in business class
- Return journey of 6,356 miles: This falls into the distance band of 6,001–8,000 miles, and would therefore cost 85,000 Aeroplan points in business class
- Adding a stopover in Istanbul costs an additional 5,000 Aeroplan points
- Total of 175,000 Aeroplan points
However, imagine that we were to break the bound in Istanbul instead. The proposed itinerary would look as follows:
- Thunder Bay–Toronto–Istanbul, on Air Canada and Turkish Airlines
- Istanbul–Tel Aviv (stopover)–Toronto–Thunder Bay, on Turkish Airlines and Air Canada
Looking at the North America–Atlantic chart, our traveller would calculate the pricing for this redemption as follows:
- Outbound journey of 5,658 miles: This falls into the distance band of 4,001–6,000 miles, and would therefore cost 70,000 Aeroplan points in business class
- Return journey of 7,079 miles: This falls into the distance band of 6,001–8,000 miles, and would therefore cost 85,000 Aeroplan points in business class
- Adding a stopover in Tel Aviv costs an additional 5,000 Aeroplan points
- Total of 160,000 Aeroplan points
As you can see, the two trips are virtually identical, but our traveller can potentially save 15,000 Aeroplan points by being strategic about where to “break the bound”!
At the moment, it’s unclear whether the new Aeroplan’s search engine will be smart enough to recognize this fact and proactively show the user the cheapest possible pricing depending on where the bound is broken.
I’ll be seeking additional clarity from Air Canada on this question; if the answer is “no”, and the bound logic will always uphold the “point of turnaround” on a round-trip flight, then our traveller would need to think strategically by themselves and perhaps book this as two one-ways between Thunder Bay and Istanbul (with a stopover in Tel Aviv on the way back), instead of a round-trip between Thunder Bay and Tel Aviv.
Similar logic can be applied towards basically any round-trip that includes one stopover (not two, as the bound would then always break at the second stop of extended duration), where the flown distance in either direction comes very close to one of the distance thresholds on the chart.
The other angle where “strategic bound breaking” comes into play is when we think about whether it might be advantageous to book a single award as two separate awards instead.
Consider something like Dublin–Frankfurt (stopover)–Beijing in business class.
Booked as a single award, this would fall under the distance band of 5,001–7,000 miles on the “Between Atlantic and Pacific zones” chart, costing 85,000 Aeroplan points including the stopover.
If we booked this as two separate awards, however, Dublin–Frankfurt would only cost 15,000 Aeroplan points on the “Within Atlantic zone” chart, while Frankfurt–Beijing would fall under the distance band of 0–5,000 miles on the Atlantic–Pacific chart, costing 60,000 Aeroplan points. That’s a total of 75,000 Aeroplan points, a savings of 10,000 points compared to booking on a single award.
Alas, Aeroplan has done a pretty good job of eliminating this kind of weakness on the award charts departing from North America, so the only situation this would come into play is on a mixed-cabin reward – as I had initially outlined in the “Key Things to Know” section of our deep analysis of the new charts.
3. Atlantic/Pacific Arbitrage
As we’ve covered before, there’s a noticeable difference in the relative generosities of the North America–Atlantic and North America–Pacific charts.
And since trips to the Pacific zone are allowed to route through the Atlantic zone, this opens up the possibility of leveraging these differences to your advantage – I call this “Atlantic/Pacific arbitrage”.
Any trip to the Atlantic zone that’s more than 8,000 flown miles will cost 70,000 or 100,000 Aeroplan points in economy or business, respectively. Trips to the Indian Subcontinent and Central Asia, such as the below sample trip from Toronto to the Maldives, will most likely fall into this very expensive price range.
So, how can we soften this blow?
Well, by adding an additional flight into the Pacific zone, you can transform your North America–Atlantic redemption into a North America–Pacific one, and you’ll often end up saving points as a result!
In the above scenario, consider what would happen if we added an extraneous flight from the Maldives to Singapore…
Since this is now a reward between Toronto and Singapore, it is now governed by the North America–Pacific chart. And since the total distance clocks in under 11,000 miles, you’ll only pay 60,000 or 85,000 Aeroplan points in economy or business for this whole thing!
And of course, since you actually wanted to go to the Maldives in the first place, we can add a stopover in the Maldives for 5,000 Aeroplan points, arriving at a total of 65,000 or 90,000 Aeroplan points – still a savings of 5,000 or 10,000 points compared to if we didn’t add the extra flight to Singapore!
(Note that you also have the option of arranging a long layover on the Maldives and saving yourself those extra 5,000 Aeroplan points. However, that opens up a whole assortment of risks associated with hidden-city ticketing, so it’s not something I can really recommend unless you absolutely know what you’re doing.)
The same logic can be applied to any one-way redemption to most cities in the Indian Subcontinent or Central Asia.
This redemption to Nur-Sultan, the capital of Kazakhstan, would cost a hefty 100,000 points…
…but making Nur-Sultan your stopover, and tacking on an extraneous Air China flight to Beijing, brings the cost down to 90,000 points.
From the West Coast, you’ll have less room to play with in terms of the routing distance, but the Atlantic/Pacific arbitrage still works. Here’s Vancouver to New Delhi for an unappealing 100,000 points…
…but making it a stopover and adding an extraneous flight to Bangkok solves the problem (and only just sneaking in under the 11,000-mile threshold).
Atlantic/Pacific arbitrage can help lower the price of one-way trips to destinations in the Atlantic zone as far west as Muscat, Oman (from select origin cities), going a long way towards softening the blow of the expensively-priced North America–Atlantic chart in the new program.
4. Maximizing Priority Rewards
Finally, let’s talk about an extremely exciting way to optimize your Aeroplan flight rewards – at least in theory.
Until November 8, we won’t know exactly how the new Priority Rewards are going to work in practice, but we can put together everything we know so far to tease out some very intriguing possibilities.
Given that Priority Reward vouchers give the user a 50% discount on an eligible flight reward, and that we may combine up to six one-way bounds on the same ticket, one begins to wonder whether it’s possible to use a Priority Reward to save 50% on effectively three round-trips, rather than one.
Since the lowest-tier Aeroplan 25K members may redeem Priority Rewards only on economy class flights within Canada and the US, let’s focus on an example in this realm.
(Before we start, there’s one more rule you need to be familiar with: while up to six one-way bounds may be combined on the same ticket, returning to your origin will prohibit further bounds from being added to the same ticket; it’s not possible to book something like YYZ–SFO–YYZ–LAX–YYZ on a single ticket.)
Suppose you’re based in Toronto and wanted to make three separate trips to the West Coast over the upcoming year. How might you set up your proposed itinerary for redeeming a Priority Reward voucher?
Here’s one possibility:
- First trip:
- Outbound: Toronto–San Francisco
- Return: San Francisco–Chicago–Buffalo
- Second trip:
- Outbound: Buffalo–Chicago–Los Angeles
- Return: Los Angeles–Chicago–Buffalo
- Third trip:
- Outbound: Buffalo–Chicago–Seattle
- Return: Seattle–Toronto
Remember, backtracking through the same city or flying a circuitous routing will cause your one-way bound to break, but in this case, it doesn’t matter – because we want to combine multiple bounds on the same ticket!
Each of the six one-way bounds will cost 12,500 Aeroplan points in economy class based on the Flight Reward Chart, for a total of 75,000 Aeroplan points. But if we apply a single Priority Reward voucher to the whole thing, boom – that magically drops to 37,500 Aeroplan points, effectively saving you 50% of the points on three round-trips!
You’ll notice that the above example still requires you to make four separate highway journeys between Toronto and Buffalo, as we couldn’t return to Toronto without permanently ending our ticket.
But what if there were a better way to do it?
- First trip:
- Outbound: Ottawa–Toronto–San Francisco
- Return: San Francisco–Toronto
- Second trip:
- Outbound: Toronto–Los Angeles
- Return: Los Angeles–Toronto
- Third trip:
- Outbound: Toronto–Seattle
- Return: Seattle–Toronto
In this scenario, you only need to take the train to Ottaw to “begin” your journey. After that, at no point does the itinerary return to your origin, so you should be perfectly fine to fly in and out of Toronto on the next couple of trips, all on the same ticket.
And remember, we’ve only highlighted an example that Aeroplan 25K and 35K members can use. Higher-tier Elite Status members may redeem their Priority Rewards for travel further afield and in higher classes of service, so feel free to let your imagination run wild!
Like I said, all of this remains theoretical until the program’s launch as of November 8, but I don’t see any reason why this wouldn’t work. And hey, let’s be real: most Aeroplan members out there, even if they read this, are still going to burn their Priority Rewards voucher on a simple Toronto–Vancouver round-trip flight.
But for those of us who want to truly maximize, the possibility of saving 50% on six one-way bounds will be one of the sweetest opportunities in the new program, and might even incentivize us to chase those Status Qualifying Dollar (SQD) requirements more eagerly than we would otherwise.
The new Aeroplan program introduces several all-new ways of thinking when it comes to redeeming our points for maximum value, and I’m certain that we’ve only scratched the surface in our discussion here.
Out of the four creative sweet spots we’ve covered here, I’m perhaps most excited to book Avios-style short-haul flights across the Star Alliance route network to hop from place to place along my travels.
On top of that, I’ll be keeping the strategic bound-breaking and Atlantic/Pacific arbitrage up my sleeve for whenever they come in handy, and I’ll also be looking to maximize my Priority Rewards the proper way, by using them on tickets with six one-way bounds instead of simple one-ways or round-trips.
(featured image by OneMoreWeekToGo)