Aeroplan's 2020 Update
Updated: Sep 15, 2020
As Air Canada continue to bring Aeroplan “in-house”, and combine their frequent-flyer and reward programs into a more cohesive unit, they’re updating the whole program. There’s a huge amount of information, but here we’re going to focus on the long-awaited update to Air Canada’s award chart for flight rewards.
As expected, there are some pros and some cons to the updated system. There’s a lot to like, as well as some really frustrating gaps; we’ll look at both in the breakdown below.
Overall, the cash cost of using Aeroplan miles is going down, but the number of miles you need to do the really fun stuff is - unsurprisingly - going up, which is no great surprise after five years since the last major devaluation.
First, the important part: The new changes go into effect November 8th. Worth noting, though, that even if you book a trip under the old rules now, any changes made to that same itinerary *after* November 8th will be subject to the new rules.
We’ll have more on that as it develops; for now, no need to panic, lots of time to plan ahead.
Let's get started!
INTRODUCING THE NEW MAP Aeroplan’s existing set of 14 zones has been replaced with just 4; North America, South America, Atlantic, and Pacific:
However, while the old program charged a fixed number of miles based on nothing but the zones of your origin and destination, in the new program each zone is now broken down by distance, with increasing point costs based on your actual distance flown through all connecting airports. So, for example, while Vancouver-Winnipeg and Vancouver-Toronto-Miami used to cost the same amount, and the same for Vancouver-Auckland and Toronto-Vancouver-Auckland, they’re now quite a bit different, as the longer routings are still between the same zones, but fly a greater total distance. The good news here is that a lot of short hops across region boundaries are about to cost a lot less than they used to; for example, Istanbul-Tel Aviv used to count as a remarkably expensive “Europe 2” to “Middle East”, but now counts as a short hop within “Atlantic”, for less than half the miles.
Here's the new Aeroplan award chart! A NEW PRICING MODEL Air Canada’s first big selling point for the new program is that you can now use miles for any seat on any flight, which is great news; no more losing out on a trip from Nanaimo to Johannesburg, simply because there’s no award-specific space available on the 20-minute hop across Georgia Strait! The second big announcement is that they’re finally getting rid of fuel surcharges, which means you no longer have to take a longer routing on multiple airlines, just to avoid hundreds of dollars in extra fees on a direct Air Canada or Lufthansa flight to Europe. This is a big win across the board. Where this all gets a little more complicated is that while Air Canada will now let you use miles for “any seat on any flight”, they’re moving their own flights to a “dynamic pricing” model, similar to how they price cash fares. So, for example, Toronto-London on a Wednesday in November is probably going to cost about the same number of miles as it used to, while Toronto-London the week of Christmas or Spring Break will now require an absolutely hilarious number of miles. As near as we nerds have been able to tell so far, the “entry level” pricing is likely to look a lot like what you currently see when searching for award space, with the more-desirable flights showing up at higher mileage levels. Award flights operated by Air Canada will now also be broken down into “standard” and “flexible” categories, much like cash fares; pay a bit more up front, and you’ll pay less down the road if you need to change or cancel. See below. For most routes, awards on partner airlines are (mostly) going to cost a little bit more in miles than under the old program, but for the most part this isn’t too bad.
AWARDS THAT MIX AIR CANADA & PARTNER FLIGHTS Since Air Canada will now use separate pricing models for their own flights and for those operated by their partners, the obvious question is “what happens when you mix the two?” The detailed answer is “math”. If you’re not into the nerdy stuff, the short answer is “it depends” and we’ll catch up to you in the next section! Okay, remaining nerds, let’s do this! If you book Montreal-Istanbul, economy, using Aeroplan miles for a direct flight operated by Turkish Airlines, you simply pay the partner-award cost: 40,000 miles. Instead, let’s say you book Calgary-Montreal-Istanbul, with the first leg on Air Canada and the second on Turkish. You’ll be flying (1,873 + 4,789 = 6,662) miles. If the Air Canada flight you want for Calgary-Montreal is available at the basic level, then you’re all set and the price is still 40,000. Easy. However, if that flight is only available at the highest, variable-pricing level, then Air Canada’s going to take the cost of that, as if you booked the whole trip at the highest variable-pricing level - in this case, 70,000 miles - and pro-rate the difference against the total distance flown. So, the portion of the trip charged at the “Air Canada price” will be (1,873 miles on Air Canada) divided by (6,662 miles flown altogether), multiplied by the 70,000 miles you’d have paid to fly the whole trip at the highest variable-pricing level. (1873 / 6,662 * 70,000) = 19,680 miles. The portion charged at the “partner award price” will be (4,789 miles on Turkish) divided by (6,662 miles flown altogether), multiplied by the partner-award price. (4,789 / 6,662 * 40,000) = 28,754 miles. So, your total cost will be 19,680 for the Air Canada flight, plus 28,754 for the Turkish flight, for a total of 48,434 miles. Not an amazing deal, but it may mean the difference between a good connection and a bad one, or may simply be the cost Air Canada charges you for living outside a major hub. Okay, that’s the end of the REALLY nerdy part. NEW SWEET SPOTS Anytime a map gets re-drawn, somebody’s going to end up just on the good side of the new line, and somebody else will end up on the wrong side, and this is no exception. The new map is *really* good news for short-haul flyers, as short hops in several locations get cheaper. In the following examples, the new prices are all the either the lowest of Air Canada’s variable prices, or the cost to fly a partner like United or Lufthansa. I've used Economy rates unless otherwise noted, but the changes are pretty similar across all classes. ATLANTIC - Paris to Frankfurt to Rome goes from 25,000 miles round-trip to 15,000. - Johannesburg-Cape Town goes from 40,000 miles round-trip to 15,000. - Dubai to Delhi goes from 45,000 miles round-trip to 25,000. PACIFIC - Sydney-Auckland goes from 30,000 miles round-trip to 25,000. - Hong Kong-Taipei goes from 40,000 miles round-trip to 16,000 (economy) - Hong Kong-Singapore goes from 80,000 miles round-trip to 60,000 (business) - Vancouver-Tokyo goes from 150,000 miles round-trip to 110,000 (business) - Vancouver-Hawaii goes from 45,000 miles round-trip to 25,000 (economy) NORTH AMERICA - Toronto-New York goes from 15,000 miles round-trip to 12,000 - Montreal-Miami goes from 25,000 miles round-trip to 20,000 - Vancouver-Los Angeles goes from 25,000 miles round-trip to 20,000 In my opinion, the North America and Europe short-haul changes were long overdue, as most of the routes listed above are available cheaply with cash; Vancouver-LA and Toronto-NYC are often as low as $150 return, as are many major-city routes within Europe. Either way, these can be great on their own for a weekend getaway, or especially as regional add-ons to a long-haul trip overseas! NEW SOUR SPOTS Unfortunately, the shift to a distance-based model is just plain harder on travellers who live anywhere outside of the three major hub cities. For example, while an award flight overseas used to cost all Canadians the same, whether they lived in Toronto or Trail, the new chart means that the further you fly, the more you pay. So, for example: - Toronto-Paris starts at 35,000 miles one-way, while Calgary-Toronto-Paris starts at 40,000. - Vancouver-Auckland starts at 50,000 miles one-way, while Toronto-Vancouver-Auckland starts at 60,000. This gets really frustrating in cases where you take a slightly different routing between the same two cities. For example: - Vancouver-London-Frankfurt starts at 40,000 miles one-way - Vancouver-TORONTO-Frankfurt starts at 55,000 miles one-way Paying nearly 50% more, simply because the Toronto routing adds another hour in the air, seems a bit ridiculous. And, of course, there will end up being a few neighbouring cities that end up on opposite sides of a mileage marker: Vancouver-Seoul is only 8% longer than Vancouver-Tokyo, but costs 36% more miles. Last, and by far most frustrating from an airline with the word “Canada” written on the side of the plane; the distance chart for awards within North America has been set JUST low enough to hurt people who travel from coast to coast. For example, a flight from Vancouver to Montreal to Moncton clocks in at 2,734 miles flown, and starts at 25,000 miles return, while Vancouver-Montreal-Halifax clocks in at 2,796 miles flown, but costs another10,000 miles. As this last bit really only affects travellers to and from the coastal provinces, I’m hopeful that Air Canada decides this was an oversight, and bumps up the mileage allowance on that zone to allow all travel within Canada. Certainly the least they could do for a country that’s been - cough - pretty helpful to the airline industry during the COVID crisis, but that’s as much politics as you’ll ever hear from me on this site! OKAY, BUT WHAT ABOUT “ROUND THE WORLD” AWARDS? Good news and bad news on that front, in my opinion slightly more good than bad. First, the really good news: the second stop-over on an international round trip is back on the table! Okay, they’re now going to charge a 5,000 mile add-on for each long stop-over, but that’s still a good deal by any stretch. It looks like stop-overs will now be allowed at one per one-way trip. So, if you book Toronto-Paris-Singapore-Tokyo-Toronto, you’ll pay the cost of those two trips as if they were one-ways, with the ability to stop for up to several months in both Paris and Tokyo. The concept of a “round trip” as we’ve thought of it thus far is changing to what’s effectively a connected set of one-way awards; one huge benefit here would be the end of the requirement to begin and end in the same city, which is useful for those of us who, for example, split our time between Vancouver and Ottawa. Last, and most unfortunately, it looks like stop-overs on North American awards will no longer be part of the program. ROUTING RULES Since we’re now paying by distance flown, the days of a single, 160,000-mile round-trip award from Ottawa to Perth via Newark, Stockholm, Istanbul, Malé, Singapore, Hong Kong, Beijing, Tokyo and Vancouver are gone. Total bummer. However, also seemingly gone is the concept of Maximum Permitted Mileage, the limit that once blocked me from booking an 11-segment trip around the world because I was 9 miles over the limit.
The details on this part are still coming out - when I spoke with Aeroplan this morning they still haven’t rolled out the new system internally - but generally speaking the new concept sounds something like “as long as your routing is less than twice the straight-line distance from A to B, we’re fine with it”. The term they keep using for this is “logical”, so you may find that Montreal to Paris with stops in Ottawa, Toronto, Cleveland, Buffalo, Boston and Newark gets rejected simply for being ridiculous, but in general it sounds like they’re willing to allow us some breathing room here. MY FAVOURITE NEW FEATURE...
THE BASIS OF THE NEW, “NON-MINI” RTW 3.0! As the concept of connected one-way trips evolves, the new system will also permit multiple awards to be chained together, with each leg summed up and charged as a total trip. If you really want, you can chain together up to SIX of these “links” in the chain - each with room for its own multi-day stop-over - and you’ll simply be charged the cost of each “link” combined. So, for example, you could build a trip like this, out of six one-way fares, but add in stop-overs to give you a week in each of seven cities: Leg 1: Vancouver-Tokyo
35,000 miles, ANA economy - spend a week in Tokyo
Leg 2: Tokyo - Taipei - Hong Kong
12,500 miles, ANA economy - spend a week each in Taipei + Hong Kong
Leg 3: Hong Kong - Bangkok - Singapore
12,500 miles, Singapore economy - spend a week each in Bangkok + Singapore
Leg 4: Singapore - Abu Dhabi 40,000 miles, Etihad economy - spend a week in Abu Dhabi
Leg 5 - Abu Dhabi - Istanbul
12,500 miles, Etihad economy - spend a week in Istanbul
Leg 6 - Istanbul - Vancouver
40,000 miles, Turkish economy Total Trip Cost
152,500 miles for the flights, 10,000 miles for the Taipei + Bangkok stop-overs, 162,500 total. That’s a pretty remarkable trip on its own - especially since Vancouver-Singapore on its own would have been 120,000 miles round-trip under the old rules - and that’s before we start adding in things like 24-hour connections en route, which are still very much allowed in the new program, at no charge! CONCLUSIONS All in all, this is a huge set of changes, and this is only one part of the “new Aeroplan” announced this morning. As I said at the top, there are things to like and dislike about these changes, but most notable to me is how different this program will be to each different type of traveller. No matter where you live, and where you travel, there are things in this update that will delight and disgruntle almost everyone. For many “family vacation” travellers, a trip to Hawaii or Florida just got a lot cheaper, and for the “explore the whole world” traveller, costs have probably gone up but so has flexibility. For Canadians living in more remote locations, this is honestly a pretty bad deal, and does indicate that Air Canada are choosing to focus their efforts on winning over the majority at the expense of the minority.
These changes are a HUGE win for anyone with a ton of miles; the example that's been sticking in my head is the small-business owner who runs thousands of dollars a month through a credit card. While there are a few changes here, like Vancouver-Tokyo, that work well for recreational miles users, most of the best stuff we're seeing here is a love letter to high-spending business travellers and especially high-spending credit-card users. Air Canada have also promised us a shiny new website in the new year - hopefully one that won’t need to go “offline for maintenance” several times a week - but as that’s yet to happen I’ll simply list it in the “hopeful” column.
We'll have more on this story as it develops!