As the new Aeroplan program comes into effect, one new feature getting a lot of attention is the 'Buddy Pass' provided as a bonus on some Aeroplan-branded credit cards.
What Is It?
Basically, it's a buy-one-get-one-almost-free offer for a plane ticket. If your credit card gives you a Buddy Pass, you can use it to buy yourself a flight anywhere in North America (Canada, the US, Hawaii or Mexico) and add a second passenger to the same ticket for (almost) free.
How Does It Work?
You get a Buddy Pass as a bonus for signing up for a new credit card; once you recieve the card (and, if applicable, hit the minimum spending level) the Buddy Pass will be added to your Aeroplan account.
When you're ready to book, log into www.aircanada.com/myaeroplan and select the Buddy Pass, then search for your flights. The Buddy Pass will be automatically applied.
And now, the important details:
can be used for one-way or round-trip flights
can be used only for economy airfares (Standard, Flex, Comfort or Latitude)
seat-sale fares are eligible
no blackout dates
must be used within 1 year after date of issue, but flights can depart later than that
all flights must be operated by Air Canada or its regional partners; in other words, if the plane doesn't have "Air Canada" written on the side, it's not eligible. So, no United.
the Buddy Pass pays the second passenger's airfare, but not taxes or airport fees. In the following example, everything under "Air Transportation Charges" is covered by the Buddy Pass, while the passenger pays everything under "Taxes, Fees and Charges".
For those of you who like to get *way* into the details, if you click the "surcharges" link in Air Canada's booking engine, it brings up a long list of charges that might get lumped under that umbrella. I spoke with Air Canada's team directly and they confirmed that anything lumped under the "surcharges" line item I've noted below with the purple arrow, and anything under "Air Transportation Charges", is covered by the Buddy Pass.
So... Is The Buddy Pass A Good Deal?
Short answer - the longer and more expensive your flight is, the better deal the Buddy Pass becomes, as the taxes and fees you *do* have to pay become a smaller portion of the total.
Let's do a couple quick examples, based on AirCanada.com prices on the day I wrote this:
Short-haul flight, Toronto to Montreal - Not Great, $112 value
Let's say you're taking your Buddy up to Montreal for a (post-COVID) weekend getaway. The flight's just over an hour, and an Economy Standard ticket costs $205.40 all-in, but $93.40 of that falls under the "taxes and fees" you still have to pay when using a Buddy Pass.
Winter Family Getaway, Winnipeg to Honolulu - Pretty Solid, $488 value
It's February, it's minus forty, you need to get the family out of Winterpeg before the kids literally start climbing the walls. A round-trip ticket to Honolulu is going to run you $589.22 in Economy Standard, of which $487.98 would be covered by the Buddy Pass.
If you plan ahead, and each parent switches to a credit card with this perk, then having each parent make a separate booking with one kid as their Buddy would give you $975.96 in savings. That's a pretty solid perk for a credit card with a $150 annual fee per user, and at the time I write this, the Aeroplan Visa Infinite cards from TD and CIBC are each first-year free.
Cross-Country Christmas, Vancouver to Halifax - Really Good, $953 value
One big value here is that there are no blackout dates for high-demand travel times like Christmas or Spring Break. So, for a round-trip from coast to coast, in Economy Standard, for the week around December 25, you're looking at $1078.58 per person, of which the Buddy Pass would cover $953 for the second passenger.
Last-minute Business Travel, Edmonton to St John's - Massive, $1,994 value
Your small business can land a huge client, but you and your VP sales need to be in Newfoundland this Monday to close the deal. During COVID, last-minute airfares can be simply insane, and in this case a flexible, refundable Economy Comfort ticket is going to run you $2,184.93 per person, of which $1,994.00 would be covered by the Buddy Pass.
This is a niche example to be sure, but the point is that for some users, this can be a HUGE tool to have in your kit. And, if you don't use it for this, the other value options are still there.
Leveraging Frequent-Flyer Perks - HUGE value if used properly
So far, we've only talked about Standard Economy fares, for people who don't travel much, and that's already some pretty decent value. For nerds like me, the real value in the Buddy Pass comes when you combine it with frequent-flyer perks like eUpgrades.
If you hold any level of Elite status with Air Canada (25K and up) you've got some eUpgrade credits in your account, that can be used to upgrade to Premium Economy or Business Class on aircraft with those cabins. You can also share these credits with another passenger travelling on your reservation - like someone on a Buddy Pass - and with a bit of clever planning, this can often land both of you in premium seats for the price of economy.
This is a bit of a challenge under COVID flying conditions, as Air Canada has gotten *very* good at reducing the number of flights operating, to match the vastly reduced demand, so upgrade seats are wide open on some flights and fiercely-contested on others, and last-minute fares are often cartoonishly expensive.
My best advice here is to sit back and wait six months, but once short-notice flight prices return to normal, you and your Buddy can simply wait until your eUpgrade window opens up a week or two before the flight, buy a Flex or Comfort fare, and confirm eUpgrades to Business or Premium Economy for about 1.5x the cost of a single Economy ticket.
Altogether the Buddy Pass represents a pretty solid opportunity, IF you're a person who's likely to make a long domestic trip with another person in the next year or so, and this is aside from the fact that credit cards offering the Buddy Pass perk also generally include things like solid travel insurance, and a sign-up bonus of 10,000 Aeroplan miles or more.