How to receive the best value from your Aeroplan miles

If you’re confused over what is happening with Aeroplan, you’re not alone. Aeroplan started out as Air Canada’s frequent flyer program. Then Air Canada sold it, bought it back again early in 2019, but announced that it will roll out a new program to replace Aeroplan in June 2020.

They made a few changes in recent months, some good, some not. On the positive side, you can now cancel your bookings within 24 hours and get a full reinstatement of points at no charge, or cancel your flight up to two hours before departure, with a fee of $125. While $125 is still substantial, it’s less than before and is less than cancellation fees for many highly restrictive airfares.

On the negative side, you could previously add up to two stopovers to a return flight. Now it is restricted to one.

Many users have a love/hate relationship with Aeroplan. It’s possible to find excellent value, but the system can be exasperating. Often flights aren’t available for dates you want to fly, or they have sky-high fees.

To see if you’re getting sufficient value, a useful exercise is to calculate what an Aeroplan mile is worth. Look up the fare you would pay if you simply bought a ticket instead. Subtract the amount of taxes and fees for an Aeroplan ticket to the same destination, and then divide that amount by the number of Aeroplan miles needed.

Say you want to fly from Saskatoon to Los Angeles next February. In a recent search, the cheapest fare we found was around $400 return, taxes included. An Aeroplan ticket would cost 25,000 miles plus $224 in taxes and fees. The difference in cash outlay is $176. Divide that by 25,000 and the value of an Aeroplan mile is $.007, well under one cent.

It’s different with a more expensive route, such as flying from Saskatoon to St. John’s, N.L., in July. The lowest fare we found was $807 return. Or we could use 25,000 Aeroplan miles and pay $229 in taxes and fees. In this case, we get more than two cents per Aeroplan mile, more than twice the value of the previous example.

High fees on some flights are the biggest irritant with Aeroplan, in many cases so high that you may as well just buy a ticket. Fees include items such as airport taxes, which are the same as we would pay when buying an airfare. The fee to watch out for is the carrier surcharge, which varies with the airline used. As an example, we checked Aeroplan redemptions on flights to Paris, using Air Canada. From most Canadian cities, the carrier surcharge alone was $550.

Of the 26 airlines in Star Alliance, some impose a surcharge on Aeroplan tickets, such as Air Canada, Austrian Airlines, and Lufthansa, although many do not, such as United, Swiss, Turkish, Ethiopian, Scandinavian, Singapore, South African, Avianca, Copa, EVA, and Brussels Airlines.

For international flights, we make a point of looking for non-surcharge airlines, which isn’t always easy. Sometimes it takes a fair amount of fiddling around with different dates and routes on the Aeroplan website to find something that works.

When it’s difficult finding available flights, a strategy that sometimes works is adding a stopover, which may bring additional airlines and routes into the mix. For example, our latest long-haul trip using Aeroplan was to South Africa earlier this year. We could find space for the outward flights to Cape Town using Ethiopian Airlines, which had convenient connections and no surcharge.

Finding return flights was a struggle; only airlines with ridiculously high surcharges showed up. Since Africa is close to halfway around the world, we checked routes coming back over Asia instead, and found a route using Singapore Airlines and EVA Airlines, both of which are highly rated and have no surcharges on Aeroplan. This route showed up because we chose Taipei as the stopover. This is the hub for EVA, which fortunately had space on its flights to Vancouver.

As a bonus, we decided to extend our stop in Taipei for a few days to have a look around. This didn’t cost any more Aeroplan miles and the total taxes and fees for this round-the-world routing amounted to $165 each, less than we would pay for many domestic flights, even though our connecting flights in Canada were on Air Canada. Go figure.

With changes coming, should you use your Aeroplan miles before the new program comes out, or trust that the new one will be as good or better? Opinions abound on both sides.

Air Canada indicates that we will be able to convert Aeroplan miles one-to-one into the new program. But the devil will be in the details. Whether it will be better, worse, or have significantly different rules isn’t clear. It’s a question of whether you would rather deal with the devil you know or the devil you don’t know.

Arlene and Robin Karpan are well-travelled writers based in Saskatoon.

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