While most of the Miles & Points knowledge in the Canadian landscape is applicable nationwide, some of the finer aspects can vary significantly from region to region. To take one example, Quebec residents are often subject to an entirely different set of credit card offers compared to the rest of Canada, and it’s widely known that the phrase “not available in Quebec” is anathema to everyone in the province.
When it comes to redeeming points, the differences are even more pronounced, as there are many sweet spots that are only available to certain provinces and regions. For example, even if a Vancouverite and a Haligonian were both looking to travel to Asia in business class, the advice I’d give them might vary quite a bit.
In fact, we’re all playing different variations of the same game, depending on where in Canada we live. In this article, I’d like to explore the most compelling sweet spots that are particular to each region and shed some light on the best redemption opportunities available to you as a resident of a certain part of Canada. Hint: some parts of the country have it better than others! 😉
1. Western Canada
If you’re living in British Columbia or Alberta, congratulations: the ever-lucrative Alaska Mileage Plan works so much better for you than it does for everyone else!
That’s because while the Alaska program has some excellent partner redemption possibilities, it only allows you to have one partner airline per award ticket, in addition to any Alaska-operated flights. In other words, if you wanted to fly Cathay Pacific using Alaska miles, you can’t also add an American Airlines flight to the itinerary – you can only add Alaska Airlines’s own flights.
Why is that to the benefit of Western Canada residents? Well, the only Canadian cities served by Alaska are Vancouver, Victoria, Kelowna, Calgary, and Edmonton, so if you live in one of those cities, you can catch Alaska flights to your gateway city of choice, before catching an international flight on one of Alaska’s partner airlines.
So if you wanted to fly Japan Airlines First Class for 75,000 Alaska miles one-way, you could book Kelowna to Seattle to San Francisco on Alaska Airlines, followed by San Francisco to Tokyo on JAL First, all on one ticket. Meanwhile, anyone east of Alberta would not have such a luxury – they’d have to book a separate positioning flight to one of the US cities that has JAL First Class service (at additional cost).
If you’d still rather not connect through the US, then Western Canada also enjoys decent non-stop coverage by Alaska’s partners as well – both Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines serve Vancouver daily, whilst Hainan Airlines offers non-stop flights between Calgary and Beijing.
Meanwhile, Aeroplan remains one of the most useful programs in Western Canada, but certain types of Aeroplan redemptions are easier to accomplish than others.
If you live in Western Canada and are looking to redeem Aeroplan miles to Europe, be prepared to either pay out the nose in fuel surcharges or take a bit of a detour. That’s because the only non-stop options are with Air Canada or Lufthansa, so you’ll typically have to route through Toronto, Montreal, or the US West Coast to get on the low-surcharge airlines.
Conversely, redeeming Aeroplan miles from Western Canada to Asia tends to be easier, since there’s quite a few airlines offering a wide range of connectivity. From Vancouver, EVA Air’s flight to Taipei, ANA’s flight to Tokyo Haneda, and Air China’s flight to Beijing should be on your radar.
In general, from Western Canada it can be rather tough to pull off the “classic” Aeroplan Mini-RTW trip that goes through both Europe and Asia; the maximum permitted mileage (MPM) for these types of trips tend to be quite low, given the relative proximity of the region to the Asia-Pacific.
Instead, consider doing a Mini-RTW to South Africa, which is pretty much as far away from Western Canada as you can get. The high MPM on these routings will allow you to comfortably route through virtually any other continent in both directions, as demonstrated in the below sample routings (the first via South America and Asia, the second via Europe, Australia, and Asia).
Lastly, this part of Canada is home to some of the best British Airways Avios sweet spots. In economy class, Vancouver to Tokyo on Japan Airlines can be booked for only 25,000 Avios one-way, while a flight to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific can be had for only 30,000 Avios one-way.
And if you get yourself down to Seattle or Bellingham, you can take advantage of a well-documented sweet spot and book flights to Hawaii on Alaska Airlines for only 12,500 Avios one-way!
2. The Prairies
Sorry Sasketchewaners and Manitobans, but there just isn’t much going on in this part of the country.
There’s virtually no direct international traffic coming into any of the region’s major airports, meaning that any attempt to redeem your miles will likely have to route through the bigger population centres to the east, west, or south. That’s not to say that you can’t get good value for your points, but rather that there aren’t really any sweet spots that are particular to this region.
Aeroplan will certainly be your program of choice, given that you can add on domestic Air Canada flights with relatively low surcharges in order to get yourself to places like Toronto, Montreal, or Vancouver and continue your onward journey.
If you live in Winnipeg, you can also look for award space on the daily United flights down to Denver or Chicago.
If you’re planning a Mini-RTW, picking a destination further south in Asia 2 will likely allow you to route via Europe. The more northerly Asia 1 destinations are likely to give you MPM headaches.
Winnipeg, Saskatoon, and Regina are all antipodal to various points in the South Indian Ocean, so you’ll be maximizing your MPM – and therefore your ability to put together a complex Aeroplan trip – by setting your sights on places like South Africa, Mauritius, Madagascar, etc.
With such slim pickings, it’s probably also worth thinking outside of the box every now and then. For example, the ability to transfer Amex MR points to Delta SkyMiles at a 1:0.75 ratio isn’t one that’s discussed too often, but it could be something to keep in mind if you live in the Prairies, because Delta’s service from Winnipeg and Saskatoon to their Minneapolis/St.Paul hub might present a useful one-stop option for flying to your international destinations.
I’ll be focusing on Toronto, since we’re the centre of the universe and all that 😉
Ontarians naturally benefit from Toronto being the largest city in Canada, as we have plenty of direct international service to other countries that make for good points redemptions. With Aeroplan alone, we have the ability to travel far and wide without paying hefty fuel surcharges, on airlines such as Brussels Airlines, EgyptAir, Ethiopian, EVA Air, LOT, Turkish, and TAP Air Portugal.
Given the greater distance to Asia, it’s also much easier to build a “classic” Mini-RTW trip involving Europe and Asia when you’re originating in Ontario (or further east).
Meanwhile, it’s well-documented that flying all the way to Perth, Australia is a fantastic way to stretch your MPM into the range of a whopping 18,000 miles and thereby maximize the value of your miles.
Looking beyond Aeroplan, good opportunities exist with the other major programs as well. Redeeming British Airways Avios on British Airways flights come with insanely expensive surcharges, but the ability to redeem on Aer Lingus is often overlooked.
Indeed, the distance-based award chart means that the Toronto–Dublin route is quite a compelling sweet spot, since an economy class flight can be booked for as low as 13,000 Avios one-way on off-peak dates. Meanwhile, business class is 50,000 Avios one-way on off-peak dates, which is still lower than what Aeroplan would charge for a Europe 1 redemption (55,000 miles).
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan is a little trickier. Alaska doesn’t fly to Toronto, so you’ll have to book a separate positioning flight if you want to get on the high-value First Class redemptions to Asia. Nevertheless, you can always drop 50,000 Alaska miles on Cathay Pacific’s Toronto–Hong Kong flight in business class (the route doesn’t offer First Class, unfortunately), or you could continue onwards to South Africa for 62,500 Alaska miles.
You can also redeem Alaska miles for travel on American Airlines, which has excellent connectivity to Toronto from its many US hubs. From there, you could leverage another one of Alaska’s sweet spots by flying American onwards to South America.
You can even leverage the generous routing rules of the Alaska–American partnership to build some creative stopovers on the way (like, say, in Anchorage…)
And lastly, Alaska does have a daily flight from Detroit to Seattle, so if you drive across the border from Windsor you can take full advantage of the program without the need for positioning flights!
Just as Ontarians benefit from the large volume of international air traffic in and out of Toronto, so too do Quebec residents enjoy strong connectivity out of Montreal.
In terms of Aeroplan redemptions, the 5x weekly flight from Montreal to Zurich on Swiss is certainly a fan favourite. The 5pm departure is a great way to make a quick afternoon escape from your workplace, catch a flight, and wake up in Europe bright and early the next day. Indeed, it’s one of the most popular one-stop routings to Europe for everyone else in Canada as well.
The 3x weekly flight from Montreal to Istanbul on Turkish Airlines is another good shout, as the award availability on this flight is often easier to come by than the Toronto service. Meanwhile, the Air China 787 flight to Beijing is a reliable no-surcharge option for getting to Asia.
While most of the Mini-RTW principles I mentioned for Ontario will apply for Quebec as well, there’s one more Aeroplan sweet spot to discuss here, and that’s the fact that Aeroplan considers all of Quebec and the four Atlantic provinces to be within the definition of “short-haul” flights.
So you can, say, fly round-trip from Montreal to St. John’s, NL, with a stopover in Halifax, for just 15,000 Aeroplan miles. You could even use nested tickets to get even more value out of this sweet spot. See my article on Exploring Atlantic Canada with Aeroplan for some in-depth examples.
And lastly, here’s one that you might not have considered before. I might write a more detailed post about this little-known sweet spot in the future, but basically, you can redeem 22,000 or 44,000 Etihad Guest miles for long-haul economy class or business class on Royal Air Maroc, respectively.
Since Etihad Guest is a 1:0.75 transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards, this means that you’ll only need 29,333 Amex MR points to get yourself from Montreal to Casablanca in economy, or 58,666 Amex MR points for business. Good points redemptions to North Africa are rather hard to come by, so those are very compelling rates!
5. Atlantic Canada
For Atlantic Canadians, the ability to redeem Aeroplan miles for travel within all four Atlantic provinces (as well as Quebec) at the “short-haul” rate has to be one of the most useful sweet spots available to you, especially if you live in some of the region’s more remote communities.
For example, flights from Wabush/Labrador City to Montreal are usually priced at about $600 round-trip. It’s therefore great value to book such a trip for just 15,000 Aeroplan miles, with an additional stopover anywhere in the region.
Aside from this, the relative dearth of international air traffic in this part of the country means that sweet spots are few and far between.
In theory, the proximity to Europe would result in more accessible travel across the pond; however, redeeming miles for international Air Canada flights incurs hefty fuel surcharges, so you’d mostly have to backtrack via Toronto, Montreal, or the US West Coast in order to avoid fees and maximize the value of your points.
This need for backtracking can also pose an obstacle to building effective Mini-RTW trips, because the extra flying distance would eat into the allowed MPM for your given destination. If you’re hoping to route through Europe on your way to Asia, using Asia 2 rather than Asia 1 for your destination will likely make your life easier.
Halifax residents have the minor luxury of being able to catch seasonal flights on American Airlines and Delta, so there’s still the potential of hitting some of those Alaska Mileage Plan sweet spots with American Airlines that I had mentioned previously, or transferring your Amex MR points to Delta SkyMiles at a 1:0.75 ratio as a backup plan.
Alas, virtually no other city in the Atlantic region is served by non-Canadian airlines, so there sadly aren’t many sweet spots to speak of here.
6. The Territories
If I have any readers in Yukon, Northwest Territories, or Nunavut, please do get in touch. I’d love to visit you someday!
Given the high cost of travel to and from the territories, one could argue that the very ability to redeem Aeroplan miles for these flights is the greatest sweet spot of all.
Indeed, with round-trip fares up to our country’s northern communities often reaching four-figures, being able to pay just 25,000 Aeroplan miles instead is an incredible deal. You can travel on Air Canada (which serves Whitehorse and Yellowknife), Calm Air (which serves northern Manitoba and parts of Nunavut), Canadian North, and First Air (both of which serve large parts of Northern Territories and Nunavut).
Canadian North and First Air flights can be combined with Air Canada on a single reservation, while Calm Air is not combinable with any other airline. Some direct routes, like Ottawa–Iqaluit or Winnipeg–Rankin Inlet, even count under the definition of “short-haul” and can be booked at just 15,000 miles round-trip, thus delivering further value.
There’s one more sweet spot to tell you about, and it’s completely out of left field. For some reason, Condor, the German leisure airline, operates a once-weekly flight from Whitehorse to Frankfurt in the summertime.
Condor is partners with Alaska Mileage Plan, so if you live in Whitehorse, you can book a direct flight to Europe for 25,000 Alaska miles in economy class or 55,000 Alaska miles in business class, one-way. These are extremely competitive rates, especially considering that the very existence of a direct flight between Yukon and Europe is something of a miracle in the first place!
Whether it’s the West Coast to Hawaii sweet spot for Vancouverites, the abundance of low-surcharge flights from Toronto, or the incredible Aer Lingus redemption out of Montreal, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the best sweet spots for redeeming points in Canada are concentrated around our major population centres.
Living in the big cities therefore gives you a significant head start in terms of redeeming your points for good value, whereas those of you based in smaller communities will likely need to put in some extra legwork in order to do so!