TAP Air Portugal has been one of the fastest-growing airlines in terms of route network in recent years, and it seems that even a pandemic isn’t enough to stop their expansion plans.
The Portuguese national airline announced last week that they plan to launch 2x weekly flights between Toronto and Ponta Delgada in the Azores islands as of June 25, 2020, which will supplement their existing Lisbon service out of Toronto. Furthermore, they’re also planning to launch a handful of new routes out of their Lisbon hub later in the year as well.
As one of the easiest surcharge-free Star Alliance airlines to book using Aeroplan miles, TAP’s new routes open up some additional possibilities for mileage redemptions that are worth keeping tabs on.
TAP Air Portugal Will Fly Toronto–Ponta Delgada
TAP’s new route links Toronto with Ponta Delgada, the largest city and tourist hub of the Azores autonomous islands. The route will be operated twice-weekly using an Airbus A321LR, using the following schedule:
TP261 Ponta Delgada to Toronto, departing 3:40pm and arriving 6:30pm, Su/Th
TP258 Toronto to Ponta Delgada, departing 9:25pm and arriving 7:20am the next day, Su/Th
Tickets are already on sale, and I also see some business class award seats via Aeroplan as well.
This new route complements another Ponta Delgada route to Boston that TAP had announced back in November 2019.
It seems that TAP intends to establish a mini-hub in the Azores, and if you ask me, they easily stand to outperform their rival Azores Airlines thanks to the superior product on their fleet of Airbus A321LRs (including lie-flat seats in business class).
For Toronto residents, the flight schedule departing Toronto on Thursday evening and returning on Sunday afternoon seems tailor-made for long weekend trips to the Azores, which have become a popular tourist destination in recent years thanks to their proximity to the North American mainland.
Having said that, it’s debatable whether you’d want to redeem your Aeroplan miles directly for a round-trip between Toronto and Ponta Delgada.
The Azores fall into Aeroplan’s Europe 1 zone, so a round-trip flight would cost 60,000 miles in economy class or 110,000 miles in business class, and the value is limited compared to the current cash fares, which are in the region of $800 and $2,300 respectively. And given that the Azores is a primarily leisure-oriented destination, I imagine these fares have more room to fall in the future.
For me, a more interesting way to think about this route is how it could fit in as part of a larger redemption to Europe or points beyond.
The Azores would make for a pretty interesting stopover point on round-trip to Europe, or if you’d rather not use up your stopover allowance here, you could simply build in a 24-hour layover to get a small taste of the islands.
Looking at the flight schedules, the most effective way to do so would be to combine the eastbound flight from Toronto, which arrives at 7:20am in the morning, with the 6:30am departure for Lisbon the next morning, giving you a full day on the island to kick off your Aeroplan redemption in style. I’m already looking forward to incorporating the Azores on a big Aeroplan round-the-world trip sometime in the future.
TAP Air Portugal Will Fly to Cancún & Cape Town
Besides the new Azores route, TAP Air Portugal has also announced a few planned route expansions out of its hub in Lisbon. As of October 27, 2020, the airline will begin flying three times per week to Cancún, Mexico, while as of November 11, 2020, they will begin flying three times per week to Cape Town, South Africa.
The Cape Town route is the more exciting development, as there aren’t too many airlines flying directly to Cape Town rather than to Johannesburg, and even the airlines that do offer direct connectivity (Lufthansa, Turkish Airlines, United etc.) usually release a very limited number of award seats. And with South African Airways on the brink of bankruptcy, that leaves rather few options when redeeming your Aeroplan miles for a trip to South Africa.
On the other hand, TAP Air Portugal is known for releasing plenty of award seats across most of their network, and indeed, I can already see plenty of award seats on the new Lisbon–Cape Town route on the Aeroplan search engine.
This route opens up the possibility of an extremely convenient one-stop routing from Toronto or Montreal to Cape Town, all without paying any fuel surcharges, which wouldn’t have been nearly as feasible before. If South Africa is on your bucket list, this is a redemption to pay close attention to.
As for the Cancún route, well, there isn’t too much that’s exciting here, besides the ability to include Cancún on an oddball multi-continent routing should you choose to do so, similar to the Cancún long layover en route to Asia and Australia that I had pulled off on my November 2019 round-the-world trip.
Just for fun, I decided to play around a bit and see if TAP’s newly announced routes opens up some new oddball journeys that blaze through multiple continents while remaining within the maximum permitted mileage (MPM), and yes, you can now fly the following on a valid one-way Aeroplan journey…
You wouldn’t expect many airlines to be launching new routes to Canada at this time, but that’s exactly what TAP Air Portugal has just announced, and it’s very much music to my ears at a time when most developments around us are negative rather than positive.
Portugal’s national airline will be adding a Toronto–Ponta Delgada route to their existing set of Toronto–Lisbon and Montreal–Lisbon services, making it easier for Canadians to discover another side of the country in the form of the picturesque Azores islands.
Meanwhile, their new Lisbon–Cape Town service will also be useful for travellers headed to South Africa, so let’s hope that they continue to release a generous amount of business class award availability on this route going forward.