19 things you need to know about redeeming with the new Aeroplan

Aug 11, 2020

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Air Canada’s new loyalty programme launches later this year and although the airline is maintaining the “Aeroplan” brand, there’s a lot of change on the way.

We’ve detailed several elements of the new programme — Family Sharing, the new stopover policy and why higher rates don’t necessarily represent a devaluation. Here, I’m going to dig into some of the biggest changes when it comes to redemptions so you have an idea of what to expect when the new Aeroplan launches on 8 November 2020.

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You can book a whole bunch of airlines

Fly Star Alliance partners, such as Lufthansa, when booking with Avianca miles (Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)
Star Alliance partners, Lufthansa (Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

All Star Alliance members and Connecting Partners are fair game, of course, but Air Canada also partners with several carriers outside of its alliance, such as Azul and Etihad, with even more opportunities to earn and redeem points. Better yet, you can mix and match partners as you see fit — fly Swiss from Los Angeles (LAX) to Zurich (ZRH), Lufthansa to Frankfurt (FRA) and Etihad on to Abu Dhabi (AUH) – all on a single ticket. All in, travellers can redeem Aeroplan points for flights to more than 1,300 destinations on more than 35 partners worldwide.

Redemption rates are going up

Fortunately, it isn’t all bad news. While some awards are going up, others are virtually unchanged. For redemptions that are becoming more expensive, the airline is offsetting that additional mileage cost with the elimination of carrier surcharges (more on that below).

No more surcharges

This one’s huge. While Aeroplan members can book most carriers without sky-high cash co-pays, in certain cases — flights operated by Air Canada, Air China, ANA, Austrian Airlines, LOT, Lufthansa and Thai, for example — customers redeeming points could end up paying significant amounts in fuel surcharges.

Some business or first-class tickets between the U.S. and Europe previously came with carrier surcharges in excess of £800 round-trip — under the new Aeroplan, they’re being eliminated altogether, matching policies in place with some other Star Alliance carriers, including Avianca LifeMiles and United MileagePlus.

There’s a $39 CAD partner booking fee

While there’s a lot of secrecy when it comes to the numbers, frequent flyer programmes typically “purchase” flights when you choose to redeem points for partners — albeit at a far lower rate than you’d be paying yourself when booking with cash.

Still, airlines prefer that frequent flyers travel on their own metal — in this case, Air Canada would rather you redeem Aeroplan points to book its own flights to Europe, rather than, say, a Lufthansa or United award. To motivate you to do just that, and offset some of the partner booking cost, Aeroplan is adding a $39 CAD (£22) per-person booking fee.

Stopovers are a great deal

I’m so excited about this addition that I’m digging in with more detail in a dedicated post. Stopovers give you the ability to build multiple trips into one award. You could fly from New York to Tokyo via Paris, for example, and work in a week or two in France. Better yet, you’ll need to redeem just 5,000 additional points for the privilege. You can add two stopovers on round-trip itineraries for 5,000 points each way, or one on a one-way trip, though they aren’t permitted within North America.

Eiffel Tower. (Photo by Harald Nachtmann/Getty Images.)
Eiffel Tower. (Photo by Harald Nachtmann/Getty Images.)

No penalty for open-jaws

This may seem like a minor detail, but it’s important to note. Since round-trip awards are priced as two one-ways, you can easily work in an open-jaw. You could fly from Chicago (ORD) to London (LHR) on the outbound, for example, and Nice (NCE) to Chicago on the return, without redeeming additional points.

And since you can work in two free stopovers, you could even stop in, say, Munich (MUC), in one direction and Geneva (GVA) in the other. You could build in trips to Munich, London, Nice and Geneva all on one round-trip award, plus a total of 10,000 in stopover fees. You’d just need to get between London and Nice, an easy and cheap low-cost carrier hop.

There’s flexible routing

Previously, you may have encountered routing restrictions, based on the “Maximum Permitted Mileage” (MPM) for a certain route. With the new Aeroplan, those limits are gone, making it easier to piece together flights to take advantage of award availability. Need to connect in Australia to get between New York and Cambodia? That’s allowed! Thanks to the stopover programme, you can even work in a side trip to Sydney along the way.

You’ll have “last seat” availability

If you can book a seat on Air Canada using cash, you can also redeem points for it. That’s right — every single economy, premium-economy and business-class seat is up for grabs with Aeroplan. It’s worth noting that on certain flights (especially those with limited availability), you’ll pay a hefty premium to redeem points.

You should get your Air Canada boarding pass when you check in for a United flight on the same itinerary.
Photo courtesy of Zach Griff / The Points Guy

Air Canada flights have variable pricing

Given that every seat is available for award booking, you’ll need to use more points for some cabins on certain flights. Using a flight between Canada and the U.S., for example, most economy awards will be priced between 12,500 and 17,500 points each way; between 20,000 and 35,000 for premium economy; and 25,000 to 60,000 for business class.

In rare cases, you could be on the hook for many more points — most one-way business-class tickets to Europe will top out at 160,000 points, for example. But on certain flights, you may need to redeem more.

Partners have fixed pricing

While Aeroplan members have access to every Air Canada seat, the same doesn’t apply to partners. Low-level awards need to be available in order to book through Aeroplan — generally the X fare class for economy, I for business class and O for first class. Partner awards have a fixed price based on a chart, bucking the trend with some U.S. programmes such as United.

There are three Air Canada award types

Aeroplan members will be able to book three categories of Air Canada redemptions. Standard, the lowest-cost awards, will carry a change fee and a-la-carte services. Flex, the next tier, offers at least 50% off award redeposit fees, plus access to Air Canada’s Signature Suite on business-class awards. Meanwhile, Latitude includes Signature Suite access, plus no-fee changes and refunds.

Photo courtesy of Zach Griff / The Points Guy
Photo courtesy of Zach Griff / The Points Guy

Expect big call centre improvements

Air Canada has already made investments to improve its often disgraceful call centre performance. The airline has significantly reduced hold times and pledged comprehensive training for all agents, so they should have a pretty good idea of how to book awards and manage your account by the time the new programme launches. That’s especially good news for anyone looking to book a trip with a complex routing that will need to be booked by phone — at launch, at least.

Change and cancel fees apply

While award flights remain far more flexible than most paid fares — your points go back into your account when you cancel a redemption — there are some fees to be aware of.

First, if you choose to change your flight, most tickets come along with a $75 fee when you change at least 60 days before departure, or $100 within 60 days of your flight. As for most cancellations, you’ll be on the hook for $150 when you cancel online, or $175 if you cancel with an Air Canada phone agent.

Points do expire

Aeroplan points do expire, but there are plenty of workarounds, even if you don’t often fly. Points will expire after 18 months of inactivity, but any earning and redemption will count. Worst case, you could burn a few points for a gift card or make a donation. All members of a Family Sharing plan can also reset their expiration when a single member earns or redeems points— more on how that works below.

You can share your points

This is certainly an exciting addition! Aeroplan members will be able to join a group plan with up to eight members each. Once enrolled, everyone earns within their individual accounts, but balances are pooled, with each redemption pulling proportionally from all members. There are a few terms and conditions to keep in mind, as we’ll explain in a detailed post. But overall it’s a boon for families or even groups of friends who want to pool their points together.

There are new Micro Redemptions

Air Canada is launching a programme called “Micro Redemptions,” giving you an opportunity to redeem for travel-related experiences with fewer points than you’d need for a full award. The carrier is adding the option to bid for upgrades right off the bat, with the ability to redeem points for in-flight Wi-Fi purchases coming in the final quarter of 2020. More redemptions will be added on an ongoing basis.

Expect more non-air rewards

Non-travel redemptions have come to the spotlight during the coronavirus pandemic and they’re a priority for the Aeroplan relaunch too. Customers will have a variety of redemption opportunities, including many more products, gift cards, merchandise, and full integration with the Aeroplan eStore. Air Canada will also let you use points to book rental cars and hotel rooms, with significantly more results. The airline is also promising “big developments” in 2021.

Save with Priority Rewards

This final section will only apply to Air Canada elites, but it does offer the potential for significant savings for eligible travellers. Frequent flyers can earn up to 11 “Priority Rewards” vouchers per year. Each of these offers 50% off award flights within certain zones and cabins, starting with Prestige 25K (50% off a North America economy award) running all the way up through Super Elite (50% off a worldwide business-class award) — and they’re valid for partner travel, too.

Score preferred redemption rates

Air Canada will offer lower award redemption rates for certain customers, though the details are still a bit murky here. Essentially, elite members and co-branded credit cardholders will have access to more lower-cost award availability on Air Canada flights, similar to United’s offering with MileagePlus.

Generally, the higher your status tier, the more often you’ll see lower-cost awards, with that availability expanded further if you also have a co-branded credit card. Like Priority Rewards, this one’s elite-specific, but it’ll add value for many members, for sure.

Bottom line

Aeroplan’s relaunch has been a long time coming. While some travellers surely expected a massive devaluation, fortunately, Air Canada has instead added redemption options and made the programme even more appealing, with new features including Family Sharing, 5,000-mile stopovers, flexible routing and more.

It’s always possible that Air Canada could increase redemption rates down the line, though the carrier has pledged to keep its award chart intact — essential for any carrier hoping to maintain some transparency.

Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy.

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