It’s always exciting when airlines join alliances or form new partnerships, and as of April 1, the Oneworld airline alliance has now officially welcomed the Moroccan flag carrier, Royal Air Maroc, into its ranks.
New airlines joining the alliances make it easier for travellers to seamlessly circumnavigate the globe, and more importantly, those of us who dig a little deeper will often find new sweet spots and opportunities to burn our hard-earned miles at an outstanding value.
Airline miles are usually redeemable on the airline itself as well as its partners, so Royal Air Maroc joining Oneworld should mean an exciting opportunity for those of us who collect British Airways Avios and Cathay Pacific Asia Miles.
(Of course, this news comes at the most anticlimactic time possible, given that Royal Air Maroc’s entire fleet is currently grounded in light of the global pandemic. Our discussion in this article is therefore very much a forward-looking one.)
In This Post
- About Royal Air Maroc
- New Avios & Asia Miles Sweet Spots
- Award Availability
- Not Based in Montreal?
- How Is Royal Air Maroc Business Class?
About Royal Air Maroc
The Oneworld alliance has historically been lacking a major presence in Africa, and Royal Air Maroc’s entry goes some way towards addressing that weakness, expanding the range of destinations where our Oneworld miles can take us.
Within their regularly scheduled route network, Royal Air Maroc’s sole Canadian destination is Montreal, while they also fly to Miami, Washington DC, New York JFK, and Boston on the US East Coast.
You’ll notice that their North American destinations consist entirely of East Coast cities, so those of us on this side of Canada will definitely have an easier time taking advantage of new sweet spots compared to those out west.
New Avios & Asia Miles Sweet Spots
I’ve previously written about redeeming Etihad Guest miles on Royal Air Maroc, which was a sweet spot that has been somewhat reduced in the time since.
However, now that Royal Air Maroc is part of Oneworld, we can now redeem British Airways Avios and Cathay Pacific Asia Miles on the Moroccan carrier as well. Considering that both points currencies are relatively easy to earn in Canada, it’s worth taking a look at how we can leverage both programs to travel across Royal Air Maroc’s route network.
Looking at a map, Morocco is positioned relatively close to North America, and indeed the direct flight from Montreal is only seven hours in duration. That lends itself well to the distance-based award charts of both the Avios and Asia Miles programs.
Looking at Avios to start, all of Royal Air Maroc’s North American departure cities, with the exception of Miami, fall into Zone 5 of the British Airways award chart for partners (3,001–4,000 miles flown), so will cost 62,000 Avios one-way for business class.
Before you say that sounds like a lot of miles for a seven-hour flight (and you’d be partially right, of course), keep in mind that a zone-based program like Aeroplan would categorize Morocco as North Africa, and therefore charges 82,500 miles one-way from anywhere in North America.
Then consider American Express Membership Rewards and RBC Avion’s frequent 30–50% transfer bonuses to British Airways Avios, and suddenly 62,000 Avios (which would be equivalent to 42,000–48,000 points pre-bonus) doesn’t sound so bad at all.
Another proposition is to use Asia Miles, which also operates a distance-based award chart. A flight from one of the North American gateways to Casablanca would cost a similar level of 61,000 Asia Miles.
On paper, because Avios tend to be easier to earn, I’d recommend going the Avios route if you’re just looking for a direct flight to Morocco.
However, given that Asia Miles calculates the number of points required using the total cumulative distance (and not the sum of individual segments like Avios), Asia Miles will have the edge when redeeming for awards beyond Morocco that require a connection.
Looking at their route network, Royal Air Maroc mostly serves North & West Africa, Europe, and a single flight to Beijing in Asia, so this could be a great opportunity to visit some off-the-beaten-track places such as Accra, Ghana or Dakar, Senegal.
A one-way business class flight on Montreal–Casablanca–Dakar, for example, comes out to 4,952 miles flown, falling just below the upper bound of Asia Miles’s “Medium” distance band and thus costing the same 61,000 Asia Miles as a flight only to Casablanca.
Meanwhile, if you’re looking to visit an even more oddball destination – let’s say Bamako, Mali – keep in mind that only two Star Alliance airlines fly there (Ethiopian Airlines and Turkish Airlines), and both would involve at least two connections and a big detour distance-wise, so a one-stop itinerary through Morocco could definitely be a preferable option.
I encourage you to play around with Royal Air Maroc’s entire route network, as they serve some pretty peculiar destinations, and try pricing them out using the Asia Miles calculator.
Unfortunately, Asia Miles has phased out the ability to have a stopover on a one-way, so you won’t be able to stop in Casablanca for longer than 24 hours; if that’s your preference, then an Avios redemption (in which you’ll pay separate amounts for each flight) would probably be your best option.
Finally, don’t forget the implications on the Oneworld multi-carrier chart for both Avios and Asia Miles, as Royal Air Maroc’s entry will make it a good backup option to access Europe from North America if, say, Iberia or Finnair aren’t playing nice with availability.
Previously, when Royal Air Maroc awards were limited to booking through Etihad Guest, the airline would quite reliably offer up at least two business class seats on any given route and date, but it’s anyone’s guess on what award availability will look like now that they’ve officially joined Oneworld.
That brings us to one of the biggest woes when trying to redeem miles for Royal Air Maroc: at the moment, the only way to search for award space is to create a Safar Flyer account on Royal Air Maroc’s website and fumble your way through their questionable user interface.
Indeed, Royal Air Maroc award space is not searchable through ExpertFlyer, and its inventory has not yet been added to the award search functions of the British Airways Avios and Cathay Pacific Asia Miles websites.
As of now, the Asia Miles search engine appears to recognize Royal Air Maroc and is able to price out the award, but is unable to search for award availability, prompting you to fill out a flight award request form to be submitted manually.
Given everything else that’s going in the world, I wouldn’t be surprised if it took another few months for their award inventory to be integrated on the back-end. When that happens, we’ll be able to perform award searches and have a better gauge for what the fuel surcharges will look like.
When redeeming Etihad Guest miles on Royal Air Maroc, the surcharges were pretty bearable (in the US$200 range for total taxes and fees on a New York JFK–Casablanca ticket), so I’m hopeful that’ll carry over to Avios and Asia Miles.
Not Based in Montreal?
As you can see, the ability to redeem points on Royal Air Maroc will be best-suited for those on the East Coast. If you aren’t based in one of Royal Air Maroc’s gateway cities, this is the prime time to take advantage of Aeroplan’s short-haul sweet spot between adjacent provinces and states to get yourself to Montreal (or any of the other East Coast gateways) before catching a Royal Air Maroc flight booked with Avios or Asia Miles.
For example, you could hop from points as far east as St. John’s down to Montreal for 7,500 Aeroplan miles, and then catch a business class flight for 61,000 Asia Miles over to Morocco or points beyond for a total of 68,500 miles – still a big discount compared to the 82,500 Aeroplan miles needed to get to the North Africa region.
For those of you based on the West Coast, however, I think it’s fair to say that the newest Oneworld member doesn’t do too much good for you, because of the distance-based nature of the best sweet spots. Of course, if you’re headed to Morocco, you could fly east within North America for 12,500 Aeroplan miles and then catch a Royal Air Maroc flight for 61,000 Asia Miles for a total of 73,500 miles.
That’s still a savings of 9,000 miles compared to booking with Aeroplan, but it would be significantly less comfortable than, say, a Vancouver–Istanbul–Casablanca journey on Turkish Airlines 787 business class.
How Is Royal Air Maroc Business Class?
Royal Air Maroc operates primarily 787-8 and 787-9s on their long-haul routes with lie-flat beds with two types of configurations.
The newer configuration on their 787-9s features 1-2-1 reverse herringbone seats very similar to the ones featured on Air Canada and WestJet, and this was the seat type found on the Montreal route prior to the global pandemic.
Meanwhile, other long-haul routes feature their older business class seat, which is arranged in a 2-2-2 configuration with a bit of a weird setup – while the seats are fully lie-flat, they’re positioned at a different height compared to your neighbour.
Ideally, you’d pick a route that offers the new seat on the 787-9, but if you’re travelling with a companion, either configuration is likely to be equally comfortable, bearing in mind that it may be a little strange to be sleeping on a higher or lower surface next to your partner.
Outside of the long-haul fleet, Royal Air Maroc’s regional fleet features “proper” business class seating with more personal space and recliner seats, rather than the economy class seats with blocked-off middle seats that you’ll find on many European airlines.
This means that if you’re travelling to Europe, a flight with Royal Air Maroc with a connection in Casablanca could potentially be more comfortable at the tail end of the journey than taking an intra-Europe business class flight.
Most of the news in the aviation world has been negative in recent times, so it’s nice to see a new development in terms of airline alliance movements that we can get excited about.
Canadian travellers, especially those based on the East Coast, will now benefit from a convenient and cost-effective way to fly to North Africa by redeeming British Airways Avios and Cathay Pacific Asia Miles on Royal Air Maroc’s Montreal–Casablanca flight.
As the Oneworld alliance welcomes its first African member, I’d expect its member airlines and loyalty programs to gradually get acquainted with their new partner over the next little while, and for more details on things like award availability and fuel surcharges to come to light.