Air Canada Priority Rewards are one of the best benefits of Super Elite status. If used properly, this can significantly reduce flight costs for elite members and their friends/family.
Air Canada Priority Rewards – Eligibility
Elite 35k, 50k, 75k, and Super Elite 100k members can use Air Canada Priority Rewards when redeeming miles from their Aeroplan account. Priority Rewards are not available if the elite member is the passenger in another non-elite Aeroplan account or other Star Alliance mileage programs (United MileagePlus, Avianca Lifemiles, etc.)
The recommended card to use on mileage bookings, including Priority Rewards is the BMO World Elite Mastercard. It is the only credit card in Canada which explicitly stipulates coverage for award tickets when the booking is for the primary (and/or authorized) cardholders.
Additional Reading: Improved Offer – BMO World Elite Mastercard
As well, the American Express Membership Rewards system currently can transfer Aeroplan miles to any account. It is easy to rack up points using the American Express Platinum or Business Platinum card, which have exceptional bonuses right now. If you have an American Express card issued in the US, you can also transfer points to the airline account of an authorized user. Some folks may be eligible to obtain one using Global Transfer, now simpler with Nova Credit.
35k, 50k, and 75k elites can book any unsold seat on any Air Canada in economy as long as the flight is not oversold. Such an award would cost double the miles. Toronto – Calgary would be 25,000 miles each way, Vancouver – Hong Kong would be 75,000 miles, and so on.
Economy Priority Rewards are of mediocre value. Usually business and first class awards are the way to maximize airline miles. Paying double for economy class when using a non-SE Priority Reward can be more expensive in many situations. Take, for example, a redemption to Europe.
Vancouver – London would cost double the miles – 60,000 Aeroplan, and with fuel surcharges. A connecting option on United Airlines in business class, should there be award space, will only be 55,000 Aeroplan miles. Unless you need to use miles on a specific flight, there are usually better alternatives.
It gets more interesting with Super Elite Priority Rewards, which include with expanded business class availability. While this is not last seat, the extra space is generous. I would consider this an important benefit of Super Elite status. Qualifying for Super Elite is difficult. It requires 100,000 Qualifying Miles or 95 Qualifying Segments. Additionally, there is a $20,000 revenue requirement, halved for non-Canadian residents.
Additional Reading: Air Canada Super Elite Status – Overview
Altitude Qualifying dollars are unique because you can only earn them through flights operated by Air Canada, or tickets issued on AC ticket stock. It is difficult to qualify without spending a substantial amount of time and money on Air Canada. Thus, the benefits for Super Elites tend to be better than other airlines, for the most part.
Air Canada Priority Rewards – Super Elite
Another name for Air Canada Priority Rewards is IKK. The abbreviation refers to instant KK, “KK” being the code for “confirmed” across multiple GDS systems. IKK for Super Elites means access to much more availability at standard award prices. This means booking priority Reward does not have a higher opportunity cost, as opposed to non-SE Priority Rewards.
One redemption that I fly often is a business multi-city award in continental North America. Using IKK, this remains 50,000 Aeroplan miles, the same as a Fixed Mileage award.
Business class rewards normally book into “I” class; this requires availability in the I fare bucket. Priority Rewards (IKK) in business class also book into I. The difference is that IKK opens availability to closely match “R” class, the upgrade inventory for revenue fares. To look up R class availability, use ExpertFlyer. That site also makes it easy to email alerts if availability changes.
In general, IKK opens up many more seats available. Where some international routes might have business class seats 2-8 days of the month, 25-28 days of the month would have Priority Rewards. Where short-haul routes might have 2/10 daily flights available, Priority Rewards would unlock 8-9 flights.
For example, Toronto to Vancouver on a random day in January has two direct flight options available. Using a Priority Reward opens up several additional flights at potentially more desirable times. The difference in availability can be much more drastic on many dates.
Peak season such as Christmas/New Years are one of these periods, where it is normally impossible to get decent flights with points. In December, there are swathes of dates where there is only availability with Priority Rewards. As well, the Aeroplan calendar isn’t 100% accurate – the 25th and 26th both have IKK space. Furthermore, keep in mind that the dates that do have regular (Fixed Mileage) inventory in I Class are not non-stop. An SE would have their pick of flights, including widebody aircraft with lie-flat seats.
There is a limit of 10 bookings, per Super Elite, per qualification year. These are dropped into the account around December, or later for those who have not qualified yet. This makes it possible to have up to 20 IKK credits at once. All Air Canada Priority Rewards expire every February 28th. At the publication time of this post, this means less than 48 hours before they are gone! Super Elites that can make tentative reservations should do so, as it only costs $25 to cancel more than 21 days in advance.
Each record locator (PNR) counts as one redemption. You can have up to nine passengers per booking. Theoretically, this means that you could maximize a Priority Reward by booking nine passengers from Sydney to London via Vancouver, round-trip. This would take one IKK credit – the same as a one-way flight from Toronto to Montreal.
Since Priority Rewards maps similarly to upgrade inventory on revenue fares, your should book at least 14 days in advance, as upgrades requests on many revenue fares begin clearing. Earlier this month, I was planning to visit Florida, but was not able to finalize my schedule until a week before departure. By then, it was impossible to use Aeroplan even with a Priority Reward.
Since additional miles are not required, Air Canada Priority Rewards redemptions can save a huge number of Aeroplan, especially in comparison to Market Fare awards that can run up to seven figures. In comparison, Priority Rewards are advantageous even in comparison to other programs. For example, all United elite members have access to last seat availability at a minimum of double the price; other loyalty programs have similar premiums.
The major drawback is that international Priority Rewards can only be booked for the Super Elite member, immediate family, or accompanying passengers. This isn’t terrible for the majority of people who are not SE, since there are usually other Star Alliance options that are open. Fortunately, Super Elites can book anyone on a Priority Reward for travel within Canada and the continental United States. I love that.
It’s a last resort for trips I have little flexibility on and where paid revenue options are not reasonable. Several friends have generously gifted me credits in the past (thank you!) mostly for transcontinental routes such as Vancouver to Toronto, Montreal, and Newark, where Air Canada has a monopoly on non-stop business class.
You could also add an international leg with Star Alliance on a domestic Priority Reward. I have also combined Priority Rewards with regular Star Alliance partners, such as Vancouver – Montreal – Zurich, with the domestic portion using being IKKed. As Super Elites do not incur fuel surcharges on Air Canada redemptions, you can save up to $1000 internationally if the international leg is operated by them.
Air Canada does not provide much information on their Priority Reward benefit, which are very valuable for Super Elites. Hopefully this makes it a little more clear. The suggested credit cards for earning Aeroplan points is the American Express Platinum or Business Platinum card, and the BMO World Elite Mastercard to pay for any taxes and fees. Finally, Super Elites members, email me so I can be your friend 😉
Have you ever used Air Canada Priority Rewards?