It’s funny when you see mainstream media and everyday users write about the problems facing Aeroplan. If you do a google search on “aeroplan useless” or “aeroplan scam”, the top results are usually people complaining about how they can’t find seats on the flights they want, even in advance. The thing is, there are so many amazing ways to use Aeroplan to maximize your flights, allowing you to extract the value from your hard-earned miles and points.
Aeroplan is a scam (not)
Aeroplan is the easiest program to start with for beginners in Canada, as you can easily earn 86,000+ miles from applying for the either the American Express Business Gold Card or American Express Gold Rewards Card, or TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite (see my recent review with improved offer), with respective signup bonuses of 40,000 (!), 25,000 and 25,000 mile welcome bonuses.
I’m not saying Aeroplan is the best program out there. There’s no one program for the most part that takes that crown. But Aeroplan points hold their own in terms of potential value compared to other miles like United (which in some cases are still valuable), Lifemiles, Alaska, and other miles that usually hold a lot of value.
Let me tell you how I redeemed my Aeroplan miles in the past months from my last few trips that included an Aeroplan reward.
50,000 Miles + $31.30 for Domestic Business Class – July 2015
In July, I redeemed for San Francisco – Los Angeles – New York JFK – San Francisco on United domestic first class and p.s business class. This was last minute – I ticketed around 3 days before departure. I wanted to see a friend, and had some time-sensitive family issues.
This is the single reason why Aeroplan miles (and miles in general) are so valuable. My tickets in business class ran $2000+ roundtrip. The cheapest coach fare at that time was $659, although I probably could have gotten it down to $525 or so with throw-away ticketing. But, I probably would have found another option or paid for a ticket if I didn’t have Aeroplan available.
Of my most recent redemptions, this is probably the least “valuable” one. But it was worth every single mile, even if I didn’t get a retail 10+ cents out of the redemption.
My redemption actually serves to show how flexible Aeroplan is. With a currency like United, you’d have paid an additional $75 last-minute ticketing fee. While I should have used Lufthansa Miles & More, they don’t allow stopovers. Aeroplan is the only major currency in my knowledge to offer stopovers on domestic and continental North America flight rewards.
A redemption like this probably would be one that most regular consumers would be able to do, as well. While United only releases their p.s. space last minute, but with their switch of their flights to Newark, they’ve released a significant amount of seats, with multiple on each flight. Take a look at a sample redemption I found with the online tool, during some spring break periods.
Note that I didn’t cherry pick this example – I just put random dates in. It won’t always be that easy, but I’m flying in flat-beds on the coast-to-coast flights, and have stops in Vancouver and New York, as well as a daytime layover in Toronto where I catch up with some friends.
50,000 Miles for + $448.01 North America to Asia – June 2015
Aeroplan lowered their award redemption charts for a very short time last October, first posted here. I was fortunate to get in multiple bookings. If you had been reading my blog, that night, you would have been able to take advantage of 50,000 miles for business class anywhere in the world, and 70,000 miles for first class.
I ended up redeeming for Air Canada and ANA Business Class on the Boeing 787, marking my first time on that plane type. I also got to visit Hong Kong and Tokyo again, and check out the Andaz Tokyo. At regular award price levels, this would have cost you 150,000 miles round-trip, but due to this sale, it went for only 50,000 miles.
Did this require you to check certain boxes, like being flexible and staying up-to-date with the latest headlines in miles/points? Yes. But that’s something that a significant portion of the population can do, and most (not all) families aren’t usually taking these kinds of vacations anyways. This award was something that required no specialized knowledge either, as it available solely online.
80,000 Miles + $186.21 for Australia to North America – May 2015
Aeroplan charges an obscenely high amount of miles for business class to Australia. It’s still valuable, because of the amount of flexibility you get. My routing was Melbourne – Singapore – Taipei – Seattle – Vancouver – San Francisco – Toronto.
The award included 23 hour layovers in Singapore, Seattle, and Vancouver. You could max out the connections more with an additional Asian point if you didn’t backtrack up and down the west coast so much. Since this was booked under the new mileage routing rules set by Aeroplan (i.e. not using 5M), you can see that there’s still a tremendous value to get from Aeroplan’s routing rules.
Combine that with the option to have two stopovers or one stopover + open jaw on a round-trip award, and you’re golden. I was able to fly business class in flat beds over the Pacific for less than $200 because my long-haul flights were on Singapore Airlines and EVA Air, both with outstanding products and no fuel surcharge.
62,500 Miles + $270.80 for Europe to North America – April 2015
The last redemption I want to talk about is from Europe to North America, also one of Aeroplan’s best values. There were two additional opportunities I stacked with this redemption:
- Capped Fuel Surcharges to/from certain regions
This is one of the things that puzzles many of my friends, because they think fuel surcharges are base on fuel. For the most part, it’s not. There’s no reason why flying from Brazil or the Philippines would cost $0 in additional fuel surcharges, or flying Vancouver – Seoul – Hong Kong would cost than Vancouver – Seoul. I’ve written a thorough post about this in regards to departing from Europe, and this is exactly one of the scenarios it would be used for.
- Limited Lufthansa First Class Availability
Lufthansa First Class is normally available only 14 days in advance. However, during the period I booked it, Lufthansa was releasing First Class space as awards in advance on routes where it is typically very difficult to obtain awards, which were Frankfurt to San Francisco and Los Angeles on the Airbus A380. This lasted around one day.
Still hard to use?
For the families who want four seats to Orlando on the direct flight in economy two days before Spring Break, good luck. Aeroplan is not going to give you that and if you are collecting Aeroplan for that vacation, you’re doing it wrong.
You’re a lot better off getting a flexible rewards or cashback card such as the Scotiabank Momentum Visa Infinite (see my review) or Scotiabank Gold American Express giving you a 4% return on bonus categories of spend. Or, putting your points into a rewards card that lets you “erase” your travel expenses by using a travel credit on your bill would be a smart idea too. That would be a card like the TD First Class Visa Infinite, or the BMO World Elite Mastercard.
That $700 dollar round-trip per person ticket might cost the equivalent of spending $35,000, which many believe might be more than spending $25,000 for 25,000 Aeroplan points. But if you want that direct flight, you’re not going to be paying 25,000 points. You’re going to be paying at least 40,000 Aeroplan if not more for those specific flights you want.
The only other opportunity where I can see Aeroplan being not as effective is if you aren’t in a major city, or if you want to fly something like Gander to Saskatoon. There only are so many flight options available, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Aeroplan didn’t have award seats available. Flights are pretty expensive, but that’s the cost of living in small Canadian towns, I guess.
As Aeroplan only levies fees on certain carriers, you can avoid huge fees on your tickets if you fly the right carriers. This excludes Air Canada. So if you want the direct flight from Vancouver to London, or Montreal to Paris, or Toronto to Tokyo, you’re going to be paying the fees. I understand if you have qualms about connecting in the US with United, so that’s a tradeoff that’s up to the consumer to make. I’m happy to connect wherever to save money and with the flights I’m booking. To see what airlines have fees, see the post that I’ve written.
How did you get this, Jeff? You make Aeroplan seem like it’s not useless!
Well, it’s true. I don’t think it is. Let’s breakdown some stats about the awards I just redeemed:
- One Award was absolutely necessary – I would have flown to New York regardless of the miles/points circumstances
- Two Awards required specialized knowledge – Fuel surcharge information with the Lufthansa award, and routing rules with the Australia award
- Two Awards were time sensitive – Aeroplan’s Online Sale, and the limited Lufthansa First Class availability
- Two Awards were booked less than 7 days before departure, while the other two were booked 8+ months in advance
- All Four Awards represented best in-class value compared to other programs, and were fantastic redemptions 😉
Some travellers have the flexibility to book last minute. Others don’t. Some don’t have the time to learn completely about the program and acquire all the tips and tricks of the trade, and some more don’t have the time to read my site everyday. That’s all fine. I’ve just shown you there’s something for nearly everyone.
Aeroplan Scam? Nope.
Some may call Aeroplan useless, or a scam. Or they’re annoyed by not being able to get the flights they want. But there are so many opportunities that are available for consumers to maximize their miles, and lots of chances to be able to earn Aeroplan miles easily from credit cards like the American Express Gold Rewards Card or the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite. Nearly everyone with a good credit score and responsible financial habit should be able to attain any one of the awards I’ve written above.
Aeroplan… Where You Can Discover All the Advantages of Being a Member 🙂