Should British travellers care about the revamped Air Canada Aeroplan loyalty programme?

Aug 26, 2020

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This month, Air Canada’s loyalty programme, Aeroplan announced a major revamp, with most of the changes kicking in from 8 November 2020. TPG delved deeply into the finer points of the new programme, which you can read about in detail here:

There’s a huge amount of information in the above guides, but how important is this to the average British traveller? Air Canada doesn’t partner with either British Airways or Virgin Atlantic, and it’s not a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards.

If you’re not a regular traveller to and from Canada (and right now, few people are), does this revamped programme deserve your attention?

Here are seven things British travellers should definitely know before making up their mind.

1. Air Canada is a Star Alliance member

Air Canada has sizable U.K. operations during normal (i.e. non-COVID) times. If you’ve ever taxied past London Heathrow’s (LHR) Terminal 2 around midday, you’ll see an impressive number of Air Canada aircraft ready to transport people across to Canada.

But if you’re not travelling to Canada, the airline is a member of Star Alliance. This group is comprised of airlines you may be far more familiar with like Lufthansa, Swiss, SAS, United, Singapore Airlines and more than a dozen others. This means that if you fly any of these airlines regularly, you can earn and redeem Aeroplan points rather than another Star Alliance loyalty programme like Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer.

Related: What are airline alliances, and who’s in them?

So, you could credit a United flight to Aeroplan, and then use the Aeroplan points to redeem for a flight on, say Lufthansa. You don’t have to ever set foot on an Air Canada aircraft to benefit from its revamped Aeroplan programme, given its wide range of useful airline partners.

(Photo by Ethan Steinberg / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Ethan Steinberg/The Points Guy)

2. Aeroplan will not impose fuel surcharges on redemptions

If you’ve ever redeemed Avios or Flying Club miles for a long-haul premium cabin redemption, you may have been shocked when you went to pay for your free flight.

It’s not even close to free.

The fees and taxes and unavoidable, especially with the U.K. APD tax, although you will also be slugged potentially hundreds of pounds per person on fuel surcharges.

This is a completely discretionary revenue-raising opportunity for airlines. Some airlines charge fuel surcharges, but the new Aeroplan will not. You can expect to save big on long-haul redemptions through Aeroplan without this pesky charge.

Related: How to avoid fuel surcharges on award travel

3. Aeroplan will retain award charts

While award charts are commonplace for European loyalty programmes, they are gradually but steadily being done away with for North American loyalty programmes. This means for a redemption through a programme like Delta SkyMiles, your flight could cost 40,000 SkyMiles on one day, and the same flight could be 140,000 miles the next day.

Fortunately Aeroplan has committed to retaining award charts so you’ll have an idea of what your redemption will cost. This is a very valuable benefit in planning future travel. Some redemption rates have gone up, which is almost guaranteed with any programme revamp, though many remain the same.

Related: It’s worth your time: A review of Air Canada business class on the Boeing 777-300ER

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

4. The award chart is switching to a distance-based and zone-based hybrid…

Avios uses a distance-based award chart. That means if you fly a short flight like London (LHR) to Amsterdam (AMS) off-peak you’ll only pay 4,000 Avios per person. If you fly a much longer flight like London to Cyprus (LCA) you’ll pay more than twice that — 8,500 Avios.

The longer your flight, the more Avios required.

Aeroplan currently uses a zone-based award chart. This means the points required are based on which zones you are flying to and from, regardless of the distance. Because Amsterdam and Cyprus are both in the “Europe” zone, you would need the same points to fly the short flight to Amsterdam, or the much longer flight to Cyprus. If you’re flying to the extreme ends of the zone, then you can get incredible value from a zone-based programme.

However as part of the revamp, from November Aeroplan is switching from zone-based to a distance-based hybrid programme. In other words, it’s adding some distance pricing to a zone chart.

Related: The best websites for searching Star Alliance award availability

5. But the routing rules are amazing

To compensate for the switch, Aeroplan has introduced some incredible routing rules. Most programmes with distance-based charts charge on a per flight basis, like Avios does. If you want to fly from the U.K. to Doha (DOH) and then onto Bangkok (BKK), you’ll be charged two separate Avios amounts, one for the first flight to Doha, and a second amount for the next flight onto Bangkok.

This is charged whether you have a tight connection in Doha, or stopover there for a month.

The new Aeroplan takes a unique approach. The points charged will be based on the total, one-way journey, so you can take multiple flights and only be charged the one set of points. There’s a different distanced-based award chart for different broad zones — Europe is called Atlantic, which generously includes all of Europe, the Middle East, South Asia and all of Africa. This means if you need to take multiple flights to get from the U.K. to South Africa, you’ll only pay the one amount of points each way using the zone-based chart — only 60,000 points in business class each way versus 75,000 Avios on a peak date.

Even better with the new Aeroplan you can have a stopover on a one-way redemption for only 5,000 points extra. This means that on that U.K. to South Africa redemption, you could stopover for as long as you wanted along the way, like in a Star Alliance hub like Cairo (CAI), Addis Ababa (ADD) or Istanbul (IST). If you have a sense of adventure and love a good stopover, this is an incredible benefit and something Avios and Executive Club certainly don’t offer for 5,000 more points!

Related: How to get a free (or almost free) stopover in the Middle East

Blue Mosque in Istanbul's Old City
The Blue Mosque sits atop the hill in Istanbul, overlooking the Old City. (Photo courtesy of 2DadsWithBaggage)

6. You can earn status without even flying

With “Everyday Status”, members will earn entry-level 25K status after accruing 100,000 Aeroplan points from eligible transactions, including base and some bonus points earned from travel and other partnerships, like online shopping portals.

If you are struggling to fly enough to earn status, this is a neat new feature of the programme.

Related: Will travellers remain loyal to loyalty programmes when ‘normal’ returns?

7. It’s difficult to earn Aeroplan points without flying

These are all positive changes, right? If you regularly fly Star Alliance airlines, you should definitely consider switching to the revamped Aeroplan programme especially if you can maximise those very generous routing rules on redemptions.

You can easily earn Aeroplan points through flying, however, unless you are flying Air Canada or its partner airlines regularly, there’s a big problem with the existing Aeroplan programme that is not solved with the revamp. In the U.K., it’s not easy to earn Aeroplan points without flying. There are no Aeroplan cocbranded credit cards available to U.K. travellers, and unfortunately, Aeroplan is not a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards. Hopefully this will change in the future, but don’t count on it.

This year, Aeroplan has sold points at a discount, however, this cannot be expected to be a normal deal post-COVID. It’s not advisable to purchase big chunks of points to top up your account right now without a clear use for them.

Related: The best UK miles and points credit cards of 2020

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Bottom line

Interest in the revamped Aeroplan programme for British travellers will depend largely on how regularly you fly Air Canada or its substantial network of Star Alliance partners. Singapore Airlines’ KrisFlyer programme has been my traditional Star Alliance programme of choice, primarily because it’s a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards.

It doesn’t make sense to switch from Avios or Executive Club just because of the new unique and potentially very lucrative Aeroplan redemption rules. Unless you’re only flying to Star Alliance hubs, you’ll always be connecting, which is a a pain. However, if you’re a regular Star Alliance traveller, you should definitely care about the new Aeroplan programme.

In a world of endless devaluations, it’s been great to see some true innovation in a major loyalty programme.

Featured image by Zach Griff/The Points Guy.

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