It’s taken me a while (in my defence, as the weather cooled Resolute, Nunavut seemed less and less enticing), but finally, we come to probably the most important (or second most, after Canadian North) domestic Aeroplan partner – First Air. I talked about how they and Canadian North are intending to merge, but in the meantime, First Air still operate independently and serve their own unique routes within Northwest Territories and Nunavut. Then they did a backflip and “un-merged” themselves (or unintended to merge). In many ways that’s for the better, since “competition” is in theory meant to drive prices down, but anyone who has taken 5 seconds to look at the prices to the north would know that’s sadly not true. But since First Air flights are bookable with Aeroplan miles… that’s really none of our business. 😉
First Air Aeroplan Redemption Routes
First Air has a tiny bit of overlap with Canadian North (not too much though), but most of their routes are unique. Here is First Air’s route map:
The red routes are operated by their ATR turboprop aircraft whil the blue routes are operated by their Boeing 737’s – including the famous Boeing 737-200 combi fitted with gravel kits. As you can see, most of the 737 routes overlap with Canadian North, while First Air ATR routes serve mostly unique destinations within Northwest Territories and Nunavut.
As with the other northern airlines (and most airlines offering service to remote communities), many segments are often tied together as one flight number for the purpose of scheduling and award travel.
Aircraft and Service
This is what I love most about First Air – flying First Air is a real throwback to the golden days of flying, both in terms of service as well as price. 😉 For starters, hot towels as well as full meals are served on all flights, and service has a real personalized warmth to it not present since Pan Am was the primary carrier between Heathrow and Idlewild. Abrelosojos‘ trip report on First Air is a must read for anyone looking at First Air awards – the service is second to none and puts Singapore Airlines and Emirates to shame… almost. Perhaps this has to do with the low load factors and general laid-back style of the vast north – instead of 180 passengers between LaGuardia and Chicago O’Hare, a flight between Iqaluit to Resolute with 6 passengers (which isn’t an unusual load factor for First Air) must be a dream to work on in comparison. That’s my theory, at least.
Booking First Air Award Travel
Award travel on First Air costs 12,500 miles one way and 25,000 miles round trip. You can combine First Air flights with Air Canada flights, but cannot combine an award with any other partner on the one award. As the southern gateways for First Air flights are Edmonton, Winnipeg, Montreal or Ottawa respectively, the simplest strategy for booking flights on First Air is to simply book Air Canada to your gateway city. You can also take Air Canada direct to Yellowknife from Calgary or Edmonton and connect to First Air there, though between the choice of a First Air 737 classic or an Air Canada CRJ-200, I’m not sure why anyone would pick the latter.
As with all domestic and transferred flights, short-haul exist between certain regions, namely:
- Northwest Territories to/from Alberta and Nunavut
- Nunavut to/from Quebec, Ontario and Northwest Territories
A reader has reported though that First Air (and Canadian North’s) route between Yellowknife to Iqaluit via Rankin Inlet counts as a “standard” domestic award instead of a short-haul. Needlessly to say, 12500 miles one way is still amazing value.
Searching First Air Award Space
Like all the other northern airlines (except Canadian North), one cannot check First Air award space online, instead you must call the Aeroplan Service Centre. The agent will then call First Air to manually request the space (remember when I said that it’s like the good old day of travel? I wasn’t kidding.) Now, one can be tempted to simply fly Canadian North due to ease of award space searching when looking to fly a route that both airlines overlap on… but if you want First Air, you’ll have to call.
Acquiring Aeroplan Miles
Aeroplan miles can be transferred at a 1:1 ratio from American Express Membership Rewards Canada and USA, as well as Starwood Preferred Guest. The best credit card offers useful for Canadian North award redemptions include:
- American Express Business Rewards Gold Card – 40,000 Membership Rewards after $5000 spend within the first three months
- American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card – 25,000 Membership Rewards Miles after $500 spend within the first three monthss
Both of these cards offer a waived annual fee for the first year, and a sign up bonus equivalent to at least one round-trip flight First Air Aeroplan redemption, with a retail value of anywhere between $2000 and $5000, which makes it one of the best redemptions for award travel using Aeroplan miles. Other options include the American Express Platinum Card (Canada) which comes with a 60,000 point signup bonus, as well as the Starwood Preferred Guest Card (Canada) which comes with a 10,000 point signup bonus.