Common Mileage Currencies (for Canadians) – Aeroplan

It’s much easier to accumulate points and miles in the states, than in Canada, unfortunately, and while we used to have the best Star Alliance FF program, it’s undeniable that Aeroplan are absolutely or even relatively worth less than they were before to other currencies.

While there are still decent redemptions to be had, the constraints are so limiting that I’ve been looking for other mile earning options in Canada other than Aeroplan, and unfortunately in Star Alliance, our earning capabilities with United MileagePlus is severely limited, which is arguably the best miles to redeem on Star Alliance metal. It remains simple to collect Aeroplan, but you should consider other currencies whenever you can. This is because diversifying against further devaluations to any program is very important. Furthermore, the values of miles have shifted so that in most cases, you receive a better value earning other stuff than earning Aeroplan.

And unfortunately (or fortunately), Aeroplan has also been one of the most accessible programs –  until recently the leading credit card product in Canada from CIBC partnered exclusively with them; as well, American Express (both Canada and US) partners with Aeroplan. Here are a brief overview of several types of frequent flyer miles that you should consider in place of Aeroplan. These following posts are split into chunks (I considered doing it in one post but then my post was over 3,000 words!!) so I’ve considered their ease of earning, ease of redemption, amount of fuel surcharges, redemption levels, potential for aspirational redemptions, and deals and tricks possible for each program through a completely arbitrary 7-point scale where 1 is the worst and 7 is the best.

For example I would rate a program an arbitrary 7 for earning if there were consistent 100,000 signup bonus credit card offers and the grand slam. So generally no program I think will get a seven. On the redemptions side the program will get a 1 if they have award levels like this (from China Southern Skyteam Award Chart). Look at that chart – only 121,000 km’s for a business class award between Hong Kong and Singapore!

Bad Award Chart!

Obviously the programs that I will be reviewing are not going to be as extreme so most programs I think will fall somewhere between 2-5. Note that this is an arbitrary scale and your opinions may differ as we all use miles differently. These ranking are also only relevant to Canadians. The information will (on redemptions) but collecting Aeroplan in US versus in Canada two completely different situations.

Here is the baseline for all the programs:

Aeroplan (Air Canada)

Ease of earning: 5 (out of 7)

  • Feasibility of purchasing miles outright: Low
  • Credit and Hotel partners: High
  • Other Partners: High
Aeroplan is actually very stingy with you purchasing miles directly at 3.15 cents (3 cpm plus 5% tax). You can only do it if you have at least 50% percent of the miles for a flight redemption at a time. This is actually a poorer deal than buying SPG and then transferring them to Aeroplan except in that case it is almost always better to transfer to one of the other airline partners. However, it is much easier to earn Aeroplan with partner activity. With credit cards, CIBC and AMEX partner with Aeroplan so there are definitely 15,000 point signup bonuses regularly. In this page you can see all the cards that have signup bonuses with Aeroplan.

Common 15,000 Miles Signup Bonus

Aeroplan is a transfer partner with points.com (although it’s usually more useful to convert out of Aeroplan), AMEX, and most of the hotel programs, including Accor Club, Wyndham, Best Western, Hilton, Marriott, Club Carlson, Hilton, and Choice Prvileges. Loyalty Traveller has an excellent chart of all the transfer partners. As well, you can earn Aeroplan through flying (although again not so great with the Air Canada fare bucket cuts) as well as through promotions. For example I earned 41,500 points for roughly $70 with the two Star Challenges so far (in May and last year May). They also have an eStore which gives decent rates of return compared to cashback portals.

Star Challenge

<sEase of redemption: 4 (out of 7)

  • Fuel surcharges: Moderate
  • Partner Award Space: Moderate
  • Deals/Tricks: Low
  • Redemption Levels: Moderate-High
  • Flexibility in itineraries: Low
  • Usability: High
  • Cost of redeeming: Moderate
Fuel surcharges are definitely killing a lot of the redemption possibilities. You can have a stopover on domestic/continental US itineraries but in some cases flexible rewards are much more useful for those redemptions. Here is the post to check out if you want to know more about fuel surcharges on Aeroplan awards.
Partner award space is okay. I find Asiana to be the most consistent in releasing premium cabin space exactly 330/360 days out (whenever the schedule opens, I don’t quite remember) except they have some blackout dates. Just look at a sample route like JFK-ICN. If you look at the image (and the red boxes:)) award space is available for two people on J/F everyday on the direct JFK-ICN flagship 777-200ER with new First Class Suite and lie-flat Business Quadra Smartium.

Award Space for JFK-ICN

Thai generally releases lots of space both close to and very far out and has a decent product if your aircraft doesn’t get swapped, Air China is extremely good on some routes and horrible on others, and Singapore also has pretty good space as long as you’re not trying to redeem on their “new” J/F products on the A380 and 77W in which case you are going to find nothing. Air Canada also has decent space on some days if you’re redeeming as soon as the schedule opens since UA and US don’t have access to that space until 330 days out. Lufthansa and Swiss are obviously good options if you’re redeeming 14 days out (and obviously no LX F). ANA and United generally release space randomly as in not as soon as the schedule opens (so depending on loads). TAM and Air New Zealand essentially release no premium cabin space, so South America and Oceania are generally extremely hard if you want direct hard if you don’t want United.
Of course, the fuel surcharges hit hard so keep that in mind. Aeroplan’s engine is generally pretty good with routings although it tends to show itineraries with fuel surcharge airlines. There are a few tips to maximize awards, so which are set in the rules, but all are legal but you just need to look very closely at all the options. I will try and get a detailed overview soon!
Redemption levels are pretty high in most cases since they horribly devalued the award chart around two years ago (of course though it only affects 5% of redemptions – but those are the kinds I liked!). I give the redemption options a 4 simply because while the redemptions are okay, there simply aren’t that many redemptions that are superior to other programs. Most other miles (such as BA Avios as a particular example) have redemptions that they are clearly superior to all other programs. Neither are the points particularly flexible with changes at ~$100 ($90+tax) which doesn’t help.
The only other thing which is going for Aeroplan is its usability. The phone desk is generally competent, their twitter representative is responsive, their online engine is usable, and their rules are generally very clear.
Unfortunately that doesn’t change the redemptions which I would do. Those are the mini-RTW/circle trips with two stopovers in addition to destination and intra-Asia, with the former being much more difficult given that there are too many good airlines with fuel surcharges.
I rank these miles on their best redemptions – of course if you don’t read into each program you can do a bad redemption (which can happen in all programs). But then that’s your problem!
Remember, this is a very brief (!) outline of the award programs. I may have left out stuff (feel free to comment) but that’s for the nature of this post which is a ranking of award programs rather than a complete post of every detail on every program.
Thanks for checking this post out! As always this post is not commissioned or produced by the companies I’m reviewing. Any reviews, analyses, and evaluations are my own. 🙂

Comments

  1. A bit of the mark here from the story, but I’d like to see more AMEX Reward transfer partners for Canadian Programs in line with the USA AMEX Reward Transfer list.

    We have the option of Aeroplan, BA Avios at 1:1, and Delta Sky Miles, CX Asia Miles and Etihad at 1:0.75.

    It would be nice to see some other opportunities present themselves (aside from SPG).

  2. You should always check even North American redemptions. You never know. I had a pile from my ancient Bank of America card that generates WorldPoints, and using them the last couple of years for my annual trip to Canada turned out to be better than other options.

    Last year the annual convention was in Saint John, which is only serviced by Air Canada, and awards through *A partners were either not available or took more miles than I had. And because it was Saint John the fuel surcharges were significantly less than a paid ticket.

    Then I relocated to Atlanta, and this year’s convention was in Toronto. Turns our there’s nonstop Air Canada service between Atlanta & Pearson, at 15k miles RT (though that might have been a special circumstance or promotion). Again, the surcharges were cheaper than a paid ticket, and I saved my other miles for other trips.

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