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The Best Sweet Spots for Canadians, By Region Ricky January 11, 2019

The Best Sweet Spots for Canadians, By Region

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! 😉

In This Post

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.

ANA business class

ANA business class

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.

Meanwhile, any attempt to redeem Alaska miles or British Airways Avios will require a separate positioning flight, since none of either program’s partners have any flights serving the region.

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.

map (6).gif

3. Ontario

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!

4. Quebec

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.

Montreal is also home to perhaps the greatest British Airways Avios sweet spot in all of Canada: the ability to book the new Aer Lingus service to Dublin for as low as 10,000 Avios in economy class or 31,750 Avios in business class, one-way.

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!

Conclusion

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!

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18 Comments
  1. Avatar
    Dan

    How come I dont find Mtl to St John at 15k? Has the rules changed since you wrote this article?

  2. Avatar
    Ab

    Hi Ricky,

    I am trying to do a redemption from YVR over to Dublin. Any suggestions on the best way there using Avios given I am on the West Coast? Thank you.

    1. Avatar
      Ricky

      It’s tougher to do an Avios-only redemption from YVR. My suggestion would be to get to YUL for 25k Aeroplan miles, then use the YUL-DUB sweet spot. The overall mileage cost is still very favourable.

  3. Avatar
    Monika

    Hey, which plan (aeroplan or rbc avion) is better/smatter in terms of roi to use points to travel from calgary to malayasia on business class

    1. Avatar
      Ricky

      Aeroplan will definitely be your best bet – in general, it’s the best program for Canadians looking to fly business class internationally.

  4. Avatar
    Gillian Cross

    Thanks for all you’re doing for the community! I just wondered if you can point me in the right direction; your commentary on the Etihad Guest points from Montreal to Casablanca had me salivating but when i looked into it I couldn’t find that route offered. The closest thing I found was Toronto to Casablanca for 182000 points! Where did you find that deal?

    1. Avatar
      Ricky

      I think you have to call Etihad to book Royal Air Maroc awards. The award chart of 44,000 points for business class is published on their website though.

  5. Avatar
    Farnorthtrader

    KLM/Air France out of Edmonton/Calgary using delta miles or during Flying Blue promos can also be sweet. Direct Flights to Europe.

    1. Avatar
      Ricky

      Great input, and a very good deal indeed for those who have access to Flying Blue. By the way, I’ve always wondered why KLM operates the Edmonton-Amsterdam route – seems a bit random to me.

  6. Avatar
    Anne Betts

    Another excellent post, Ricky. You’ve eased my chronic case of miles-and-points envy by describing the plight of our friends in the Prairies. Thank goodness I lived in Saskatoon before my churning days when I didn’t know any better.

    I like to think that living in more challenging regions makes the hunt more exciting, and much more satisfying when the gems can be mined and our efforts pay off.

    As for the Atlantic, the daily year-round UA flight to Newark is nothing to write home about (Embraer, economy) but it can lead to sweet spots such as the EWR Polaris Lounge on international UA J, and other possibilities via EWR or sister airports LGA and JFK. Three airports are a gift. And Halifax’s US pre-clearance is a walk in the park compared to YYZ.

    Thanks again, Ricky.
    PS Any chance you might write about fifth freedom flights anytime soon? A Canadian update would make a great read, and you’re just the person to do it.

    1. Avatar
      Ricky

      Thanks Anne. I’ll definitely look into writing about fifth-freedom flights sometime soon!

  7. Avatar
    johnm

    Fantastic post!!! Thanks for all the great tips.

  8. Avatar
    John Bucher

    This is another great read. Another learning experience.
    Keep up the blog Ricky. I will be a constant reader

  9. Avatar
    Matt

    What do people plan to do on an overnight layover? (ie. YLW – SEA) They would arrive Kelowna to pay for transportation to their hotel, pay a night’s stay, and pay for transportation back to the airport by lunch time the next day. It just seems like additional costs for no good reason… If you decide to party all night, well, there’s a cost to that too. More important than just money, you lose out on a good night’s rest.

    Thoughts?

    1. Avatar
      Ricky

      Plenty of time for an early morning binge at Pike Place Market 😉 In general, though, you can always try to optimize your layovers to your liking, either by stretching it as close to 24 hours as possible (so as to get some good sightseeing done in the layover city) or for a reasonable 3-to-4-hour connection at the airport. Sometimes that’s not always possible though, and you do have to "accept" an awkward overnight layover as you’ve described in order to be able to take the trip in the first place

    2. Avatar
      Sol

      It’s a chance to explore, relax, and eat.

      I just did a trip with 5 layovers and it was great – we got out, got to see some stuff, eat, relax, and then next flight.

    3. Avatar
      Matt

      Meant to say you’d arrive SEA.

  10. Avatar
    LO

    As usual, excellent article! Great to know the relative sweet(er) spots across different areas of our very large country. This will help to concentrate your efforts in points collection that will solidify your return. Keep it up!

Ricky

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