Complete overhaul coming this fall for Aeroplan program

November will bring so many changes to Aeroplan, Air Canada’s points program, that it essentially becomes a new program with new rules.

It is difficult to say if the new Aeroplan is better or worse than the old one. It will depend on how you use it.

A major difference is that the number of points you need for a flight will be based on how far you travel. For example, long haul flights to anywhere within Canada and the continental United States previously cost 12,500 points one-way in economy class, regardless of distance. Under the new system, North America (which now also includes Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean) is divided into four distance segments: up to 500, 501-1,500, 1,501-2,750, and more than 2,750 miles.

Each segment has a range of points for Air Canada flights. A trip up to 500 miles, for example, will cost between 6,000 and 10,000 points one-way. That’s because the other major change is that the points required will now depend on the cost of a ticket. If you choose a flight with lower demand, you’ll pay less. Go when demand is high, you’ll pay more — sometimes even more than stated in the points range.

All available seats on Air Canada flights will be up for grabs for booking with points, with the number of points required varying with market demand.

The world is divided into four zones: North America, South America, Atlantic (Europe, Africa, and western parts of Asia), and Pacific (most of Asia, Australia, and the Pacific Islands). Separate mileage charts apply for travel within and between each zone.

Only flights on Air Canada have a sliding scale of points. Flights on partner airlines (mostly members of Star Alliance such as Lufthansa, United, or Swiss Airlines) have a fixed number of points within each distance range. Say that you want to fly to Europe, and that the distance is between 4,000 and 6,000 miles. This will cost between 40,000 and 70,000 points one-way in economy on Air Canada, while flights on partner airlines will cost a straight 40,000 points. To encourage you to use Air Canada, Aeroplan is imposing an additional $39 fee if you book your flight with a partner airline.

While a partner airline may turn out to be cheaper, the number of seats available for points redemptions will be limited, while Air Canada promises that all seats are bookable on points. The trade-off for that convenience is that many seats may come at a hefty price.

The biggest positive change is eliminating the carrier surcharge — the most annoying irritant of the old Aeroplan. Unlike taxes and airport fees, the surcharge was simply a cash grab imposed for tickets on some airlines, including Air Canada.

The biggest negative change is that most long haul international flights will require more points, although there are a few exceptions. The way that we personally used Aeroplan in the past was mainly for long flights to Africa, Asia, or South America, using airlines that didn’t impose surcharges.

When we compare the number of points we used for those flights to what it will cost in the future, everything will be higher, often by a lot.

Another benefit of the old system was that you could make a free stopover along your route on return flights. Now a stopover will cost an additional 5,000 points.

Thanks to the pandemic, long haul flights are not top of mind these days, with more people travelling closer to home. Fortunately, those shorter flights provide the best value in the new program.

For example, Saskatoon to Toronto was previously 12,500 points one-way but will now be in the 10,000-15,000 range. Calgary to Vancouver was 7,500 points one-way, but will be in the 6,000–10,000 range. So if we can access flights at the low end of the points range, it will be a saving over the old system.

Travelers benefiting most will be those who have the flexibility to travel at times when demand and prices are lower.

There are some savings for shorter international flights within the new North America zone, such as western Canadian cities to parts of Mexico. Previously, Mexico was not considered part of North America, with Canada to Mexico priced at 17,500 points one-way. Depending on the routing, many flights to Mexico will now fall into the 12,500-17,500 points range, making some flights cheaper.

While all details of the new program are yet to be announced, there is enough on the Air Canada website to give you an overview of the many changes and how things will work.

The new Aeroplan comes into effect Nov. 8, so it is still possible to make bookings under the old system, if you have a trip in mind that makes more sense under the old rules. But before doing so, be sure that you’re clear on the policies for cancellations or making changes. Much to do with the world of air travel is still up in the air, so to speak.

Arlene and Robin Karpan are well-travelled writers based in Saskatoon. Contact: travel@producer.com.

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