As I’ve said previously, my strategy now for collecting Aeroplan miles is to utilize American Express cards. This is because they have the option to transfer to Aeroplan, but other partners as well depending on how things go. These four charge cards earn Membership Rewards points, transferrable to Aeroplan:
- American Express Business Platinum Card: Get up to 75,000 Membership Rewards Points!
- American Express Business Gold Card: Get up to 40,000 Membership Rewards Points!
- American Express Platinum Card: Get up to 60,000 Membership Reward Points!
- American Express Gold Rewards Card: Get up to 30,000 Membership Rewards Points!
All cards currently have increased bonus offers, which may change anytime, so I’d recommend picking up a card sooner than later. AMEX has also just improved their application eligibility requirements, making it easier for many people to obtain a card.
Redeem Aeroplan with Fewer Fees
All flight redemptions will require you to pay relevant taxes and fees. These are split into two components. First, there are fees charged by airports, such as departure taxes and security usage charges. These are not avoidable. Aeroplan will display a complete breakdown of your taxes when searching online, so you see who’s actually charging you. In this example, the airport taxes total $192, while the “carrier surcharge” is the rest at $880.
You are able to pay for these taxes with additional Aeroplan miles. On average, 10,000 Aeroplan miles will offset $80 in taxes. This isn’t great – you will always receive better value saving them for your next redemption. Thus, unless you currently have 10 million miles, I would strongly recommend against utilizing your miles this way.
Airport taxes in most cases are reasonable, totalling $200 or less per ticket. The only exception is if you fly in premium cabins out of the UK, because Britain charges an egregious amount of departure tax for business or first class fliers. In many cases, it’s cheaper to book a separate flight from the UK to continental Europe before continuing onward, as UK short-haul departure taxes are significantly lower.
Redeem Aeroplan Flights Without Fuel Surcharges
The other costs are fuel surcharges, a much larger variable. These are listed on Aeroplan as carrier surcharges. Originally, these fees were to offset rising costs from high oil prices. However, even when prices dropped, airlines kept them in place. That’s why the some people consider them “scamcharges.”
Programs vary significantly on whether these are charged to a point where it seems completely arbitrary. Some, like United MileagePlus, do not charge anything on awards. Others may charge them on everything, depending on when you depart, or even a flat rate based on the flight. Aeroplan falls somewhere in between, charging based on what airlines you’re flying.
There are twenty seven airlines in Star Alliance. You can redeem Aeroplan on 26 of these carriers, as well as four non-alliance partners.
- Air Canada
- Adria Airways
- All Nippon Airlines (ANA)
- Asiana Airlines
- Austrian Airlines
- LOT Polish Airlines
- TAP Portugal
- Thai Airways
The rest of these carriers do not. The major airlines for international routes where you won’t have to pay extra fees include:
- United Airlines – To/From North America
- Swiss Int’l Airlines, Brussels Airlines, Scandinavian Airlines, Turkish Airlines – To/From Europe
- EVA Air, Air China, Air India Singapore Airlines, *Cathay Pacific/Cathay Dragon (limited routes), – To/From Asia
- Air New Zealand – To/From Oceania
- Copa Airlines, *Avianca Airlines (currently not bookable), *GOL (limited routes) – To/From Latin America
- EgyptAir, Ethiopian Airlines – To/From Africa
Given that some airlines have larger networks than others, roughly half the flights available are without fuel surcharges. Aeroplan has been making great strides to improve their online experience, but the search interface on Aeroplan.com engine is poor, because it displays very few options. This results in many mixed-class itineraries or routings with high fuel surcharges.
Even though it might seem everything on Aeroplan requires a few hundred dollars on top of the miles you use, it is possible to avoid high taxes and fees as long as you are flexible. Most importantly, carefully consider the airlines you’re using to avoid high taxes and fees.
Aeroplan Fees – A Simple Example
This ticket is for one person roundtrip from Toronto to Paris, next February, in Business Class. In addition to paying 110,000 miles, they’re also going to have to spend an additional $1100 out of pocket. It’s not surprising why the mainstream media loves writing about this. However only a fraction of airlines actually levy fuel surcharges.
On this same trip to Paris, if you fly Brussels Airlines, the taxes and fees will only be $187. You need to make a connection each way, but for that, you save $880. Most people would be willing to make that tradeoff. The only scenario where it is more difficult to reduce taxes and fees is if a direct flight is required that only Air Canada flies. This can happen, whether it’s a medical of visa issue. In that case, the only way you will be able to avoid the taxes and fees are to book out of a Super Elite member’s account. All tickets issued with miles in that account have Air Canada carrier surcharges waived.
What if it Doesn’t Show Online?
With that being said, having this result showing up online is the best possible outcome. This will not happen much more often. If you don’t find the result you want online, you will have to piece together the flights you want. Instead of booking your flights online, Aeroplan has a call center where you can construct more complex itineraries. To reach them, call 1-800-361-5373 between 4am-9pm everyday, Pacific Time. All of their agents are based in North America, and are mostly competent.
In a future post, I’ll explain a few more advanced concepts on carrier surcharges.