August 11, 2020 marked a big day in the travel industry for many, as Air Canada released the highly-anticipated details of its transformed Aeroplan loyalty program. By now, you’ve probably read about the good, the bad and the ugly of the new program that is set to launch on November 8, 2020.
Certain changes will affect all travellers, such as the increased prices we’re seeing on many redemptions. Others will have varying impact depending on your travel style and goals. So what about for those of us who redeem for family travel? How will the changes specifically impact us? In general, I think the changes are positive and I’ll explain why.
When planning a trip for our family of five, there are three things I take into consideration: cost, convenience and extra perks. Let’s see how the features of the new Aeroplan program stack up in these areas.
(For simplicity’s sake, all quoted points requirements in this article will be at the lowest level of Aeroplan’s new dynamic pricing range for Air Canada flights, keeping in mind that it will be roughly in line with the Fixed Mileage Rewards of the present day.)
Travel to Local & Sun Destinations
Everyone is talking about how most rewards are going to cost more. This is especially true for aspirational travellers who want to visit exotic destinations on first class with 13 layovers along the way. But if you ask where most average Canadian families tend to vacation, you’ll find a common theme: somewhere close, warm and sunny.
As it turns out, the new Aeroplan program does very well to cater to the average family, as getting to these sun destinations will cost LESS than under the current program. The Caribbean islands, Mexico, Hawaii, and Costa Rica will all cost less, and you can read more about that on Ricky’s analysis of the new flight rewards.
This means getting to those all-inclusive resorts or embarkation ports for cruises just got a lot cheaper. Interestingly, Cuba and Bermuda fall within the 1,500-mile range of Toronto, meaning a one-way ticket will cost only 10,000 and 20,000 Aeroplan points for economy and business, respectively, as opposed to the 20,000 and 30,000 points it costs currently. That’s substantial savings.
Perhaps with the pandemic, your travel plans have changed and you wish to stay closer to home. Well, the good news is that some local family-friendly destinations will also cost LESS.
A road trip from Toronto to Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City or Sault Ste. Marie (to get to the Bruce Peninsula National Park) would take upwards of 4 to 7 hours. In fact, I had considered taking the family to Bruce Peninsula this summer (ever heard of Flowerpot Island?), but was deterred by the 7+ hour drive, given that I only had a few days to spare.
A flight would cut down the travel time to under 1.5 hours. Under the new program, all these destinations are within the range of 500 miles from Toronto, which means a one-way economy ticket would cost 6,000 Aeroplan points as opposed to 7,500 previously. If you’re travelling with a young child or children, then perhaps this may be a good option to consider.
Destinations from Toronto
(economy / business)
(economy / business)
Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City, Sault Ste. Marie
0 – 500
6K / 15K
7.5K / 15K
Cuba, Bermuda, Bahamas
501 – 1,500
10K / 20K
20K / 30K
All other Sun destinations (i.e., Mexico, Caribbean, Costa Rica) except Hawaii
1,501 – 2,750
12.5K / 25K
20K / 30K
17.5K / 35K
22.5K / 40K
I must say that the removal of stopovers on one-way flight redemptions within North America are unfortunate. Had we gone on our trip to Hawaii this year, we would have stopped in L.A. to visit Disneyland, which sadly won’t be possible anymore with the new program – but the lower cost to fly to Hawaii certainly makes up for it.
Travel to International Destinations
Aside from the sun and local destinations, we also travel a lot internationally as a family, namely Europe and Asia. How is the new Aeroplan program for these trips?
Quite frankly, not good. As has been covered extensively, most travel from North America to the Atlantic and Pacific zones (unless you’re based on the West Coast) will cost more points.
So how will I be getting to Europe? Probably by using my Avios to take a positioning flight to Dublin on Aer Lingus, and then using Aeroplan to reach the rest of Europe. Recall that Toronto to Dublin costs only 13,000–20,000 Avios one-way in economy, depending on whether you are travelling during low or high season. Compare this to the new Aeroplan program, where it will cost 35,000 points one-way in economy.
On the other hand, a flight within Europe will only cost 7,500 or 12,500 points one-way in economy, depending on whether your destination is within the 1,000-mile (e.g., Paris) or 2,000-mile (i.e., Budapest) range of Dublin, respectively. Although, for the convenience factor, I may still consider paying the up-charge for a direct flight to my destination (more on this to come).
How about getting to Asia? Ricky covered a sweet spot called the Atlantic/Pacific arbitrage, which would be a way to help minimize the cost here.
Air Canada Flights Are Now Family-Friendly
Another cost-saving feature with the new Aeroplan program is that airline surcharges will be eliminated! Historically, I’ve always avoided redeeming for international flights on Air Canada, Lufthansa, and Austrian Airlines because of their hefty fuel surcharges.
These charges could amount to 30% of the cash fare or more, which to me is the deal breaker. For example, take a round-trip economy flight from Toronto to Paris on Air Canada. The cash fare is $819. If I tried redeeming for the same flight through Aeroplan, it would cost $712.05 on top of my 60,000 miles. Now multiply that by five for my family, and… yikes.
The logic follows: why would any family want to redeem for an Air Canada flight? Well, without surcharges, I now have a reason to. Yes, in general it may cost more points for a redemption, but it’s nice to know that the out of pocket cost will be minimal and I can get a direct flight out of it. Air Canada has an extensive global network of non-stop flights, which is great for travelling families.
When my husband and I travel alone, we don’t mind taking longer flights to get the hard product we want to try; we’ll risk short layovers or take multiple ones, and we’ll take full advantage of stopover allowances. When we travel with our kids, however, anything to make travel more convenient is gold. We’ll even pay a little extra to get on the shortest, most direct flight. Now I can save my cash and use my Aeroplan points instead.
In addition, booking an Air Canada flight under the new program will also be easier for families, as every seat, every flight, with no restrictions will be available. With a family of five, this is extremely helpful.
Air Canada generally has good award availability for economy class if you book early. But then again, how many families book trips almost one year in advance? Under the current program, there are only a limited number of award seats available per flight, so it can still prove difficult to find seats for an entire family, especially the closer you get to the departure date.
Most recently, I was looking at direct one-way flights from Kelowna to Toronto for early September this year, and there were only four reward tickets available, meaning one of us would have to purchase a cash fare, which at the time was $493! However, looking at Toronto to Copenhagen in May 2021, I found eight award seats!
Overall, even though the seat availability will be subject to dynamic pricing, I still consider open seat availability to be a beneficial change for families. I’d rather be able to pay more points for a reward flight than dish out the cash for it. Keep in mind that the lower saver fare will still be available if booked early.
More Redemption Options for Families
The reality of saving up points for family travel is that for most families, it will take longer to accumulate those points, and thus take longer to achieve a redemption.
Well, the good news is that you will soon be able to take advantage of the Points + Cash redemption option, where you can redeem part miles and part cash for an award ticket. No one knows how good a value this will be yet (although it is rumoured to be quite decent), but it is nonetheless a helpful option if you’re running a little short on points for a redemption.
Another great feature that is being introduced is Aeroplan Family Sharing. It’s exactly what it sounds like – you will soon be able to combine your miles with your family members for free! You can add up to eight people in your family account, effectively allowing families to accumulate miles faster for an award redemption.
My kids all have their own Aeroplan accounts already, each with a measly points balance from the few paid flights we’ve taken. On their own, these balances aren’t enough to redeem for any meaningful reward. Then there’s also the problem of me and my husband earning points that go into our own separate Aeroplan accounts. When we’re planning for a redemption, we need to make a conscious effort of accumulating points in one account over another so we can redeem the reward under a single booking.
Now that we can pool the points, we won’t have to keep track anymore. This makes the process of accumulating and redeeming Aeroplan points more straightforward.
So if your child doesn’t have an Aeroplan account, now is the time to sign them up, especially as Aeroplan is currently running a promotion that is offering 2,500 points for new account signups.
Lower Infant Award Fees
Thanks goes to our reader Kyle, who also noted that the cost for a lap infant award ticket (for children under two years of age) will also be reduced to $25 under the new program.
Previously, the cost was $50, $75, 100 and $125 for an economy, premium economy, business and First Class redemption, respectively. These fares were already touted to be an amazing value compared to other airlines prior to the change, and now they’ve just become better. Keep in mind that this does not give your infant their own seat, but rather a lap seat (i.e., they are on your lap for the duration of the flight, or if under a certain weight and/or age, may use the bassinet on bulkhead seats).
More Perks Coming to Aeroplan Credit Cards
If travelling more comfortably and conveniently is a goal for your family, then consider applying for an Aeroplan credit card – but not now. Wait until later this fall when TD, CIBC and Amex officially launch their newly-branded Aeroplan credit cards.
Don’t forget to sign up for a supplementary card for your partner as well, so they get the same benefits. I won’t go over them in too much detail as Ricky has already done a phenomenal job of that, but I’ll go over the benefits which I think are great for travelling families.
There are three tiers of cards: entry-level, core and premium, each with their own set of benefits. Besides the sign-up bonus being a major driving factor for getting a card, other features that families would benefit from are as highlighted below:
In my humble opinion, the entry-level card doesn’t hold much appeal. Between the other two tiers, you’ll have to weigh the cost of the annual fee with the benefits each provides:
- The priority airport services are self-explanatory.
- Preferred pricing means less points needed for your family redemption.
- A free checked bag for the cardholder and up to eight guests on the same itinerary is a savings of $30 per person if each person checks one bag.
- Maple Leaf Lounge access allows thee primary cardholder to bring one guest, but with shared benefits with the secondary cardholder, that effectively can be four passes to the lounge for a family of four!
- Note that the CIBC Aeroplan Visa Infinite Privilege includes terms about bringing in one free guest until November 8, 2021; the TD and Amex premium cards’ terms on guest access are more ambiguous, and may require paying for guest access.
In addition, the cards by TD and CIBC will have a couple of added benefits. First, they will have a $100 NEXUS rebate. If your family doesn’t have NEXUS yet, definitely consider applying for it. For an application fee of US$50, you get access to the NEXUS lines at security and customs at most major Canadian and American airports and some cruise ports.
My whole family has NEXUS, and it’s so nice to speed through security to have more time to spend in the airport lounge, or bypass the usual immigration line-up so we can quickly get home after a trip.
Second, if you have one of TD and CIBC’s premium cards (the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Privilege or CIBC Aeroplan Visa Infinite Privilege), you will also receive a complimentary Priority Pass membership with six passes (make that twelve if you have a secondary cardholder), which should more than suffice for families who travel 2–3 times a year.
From a fee perspective, the core cards have an annual fee of $120–$139 and supplementary card fee of $50–$75, while the premium cards an annual fee of $599 and supplementary card fee of $199. Which card should you get? Is it worth it?
That’ll depend on what your spending patterns are (as they have multipliers for different spending categories), how much you and your family travel, how much you value the benefits, and how much the signup bonus will be. Most families who travel 1–2 times a year can probably justify the cost of the core card with the free checked bag benefit alone.
The premium cards are harder to justify, unless you’re a more frequent traveller. Keep in mind that many other credit cards will also include lounge passes for a lower fee, like the CIBC Aventura Visa Infinite (four passes, annual fee of $120), the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite (six passes, annual fee of $139) and the BMO World Elite Mastercard (four passes, annual fee $150).
Anything Else to Look Forward To?
In addition to everything we’ve discussed, there are a few minor changes that I’m also looking forward to.
The flexibility to use Aeroplan points on popular extras, like in-flight Wi-Fi and guest entry into the Maple Leaf Lounge may come in useful. These are things I would never pay for, but if I can redeem points for it, I would consider it.
Now that the kids are becoming more technologically savvy for both educational and entertainment purposes, Wi-Fi access may come in handy for completing missed school work while on vacation. Also, having five in the family means that even though both my husband and I have two Maple Leaf Lounge passes each through our Aeroplan 25K status, we are still short one pass. Now we can redeem points to bring in that last child!
I’m also looking forward to see how Aeroplan will improve the opportunity to redeem for car rentals, hotel stays and vacation packages. I’ve never considered redeeming for these in the past, but since we did enjoy cruising with the family prior to the pandemic and we often rent cars while vacationing, this may represent yet another useful way to redeem my points.
The current redemption rate is 10,000 Aeroplan miles for $100, or 1 cent per mile, so I’m hoping that the new Aeroplan will offer increased value here.
Big changes are coming to Aeroplan, and as someone who will be redeeming for family travel, I think there is a lot to look forward to.
From a cost and convenience perspective, I think the real big win for family travel is being able to book direct flights on Air Canada and other carriers without those hefty fuel surcharges. The lower cost when travelling to those family-friendly destinations sweetens the deal and will change my strategy a bit, as I was a huge fan of WestJet for North American redemptions. With Air Canada’s more extensive network, Aeroplan is levelling the playing field.
Although it’ll cost more to get to other destinations overseas, I’d say it may well be worth it for the convenience of a direct flight. I also won’t have to worry about seat availability (although I’ll still try and book early to grab a redemption at the lower end of the dynamic pricing), and if I’m short on points, I have options to still make my redemption happen.
From a perks perspective, the new credit cards can offer free checked baggage, free lounge access, and free NEXUS. Add on a second cardholder and you can essentially double the benefits so that your whole family can enjoy them.
The story doesn’t end here. Aeroplan promises there is more to come, so I’m excited to see what else my family can enjoy through our Aeroplan points in the near future.