Aeroplan: Why bother publishing a chart?

My name is Scott Kennedy, and this is the first of what may become a series of guest posts here. I am a SFO-based Air Canada Aeroplan Super Elite, and while I like to travel the world, my primary destinations are YYZ and YVR, making AC a great option for me. It also gives me enough Aeroplan miles to fund my more aspirational trips, where I took advantage of the old mini-RTWs.

On November 9, the new Aeroplan launched. It was a long time coming, and I was excited for it. It would bring much better integration between Air Canada and Aeroplan, who were previously separate companies. The credit card benefits sounded interesting too, as they are actually useful for someone with high status. The new dynamic chart looked potentially problematic, but I was optimistic, because they covered this on https://www.aircanada.com/ca/en/aco/home/aeroplan/redeem/air-canada.html (quotes taken on Nov 11 2020).

Predictable pricing for flight rewards

With Aeroplan, the price you pay in points is related to the price of the ticket in cash. And, to make it easier to plan, we have a simple reward chart that gives you the likely range of points required for the flight you want.

You can expect your reward flight to fall into this range during normal times. If you’re looking to travel in a high demand period*, the cost of the trip in points might fall above the range. Just like booking with cash, you’ll also see prices in points that are more expensive for these high demand periods.

*High demand might occur if you’re searching very close to the date you want to travel, or for a popular time to go to a destination.

So sure, booking last minute YVR-YYZ in business on December 23 might be an issue. But otherwise, 60k was the expected upper bound.

I can’t believe the prices associated with the new program.

Let’s take a look at a prime route that I often fly within Canada: Toronto to Vancouver. I’m going to pick a bunch of dates in April, which is not too soon, not too far out, and not during any peak travel periods. I recorded these prices while logged out on November 11 2020, so no discounts due to my status or credit card apply. This route, at 2078 miles, per the chart, should be:
12,500 to 17,500 points for economy class
25,000 to 60,000 points for business class

When you plug YYZ-YVR into the Points Predictor Tool™, it gives you those same ranges.

This chart lists the price, in thousands of points, for the cheapest economy class redemption on each flight. For the reader’s ease, I have highlighted all flights that are within the published point range.

FlightSun Apr 11Mon Apr 12Tue Apr 13Wed Apr 14Thu Apr 15Fri Apr 16Sat Apr 17
AC 101 @ 071526.126.126.126.126.126.126.1
AC 103 @ 080017.617.617.617.617.617.617.6
AC 105 @ 090026.126.126.126.126.126.126.1
AC 107 @ 103026.126.117.626.126.126.126.1
AC 111 @ 120028.828.826.126.126.126.126.1
AC 115 @ 145026.126.126.126.126.126.126.1
AC 119 @ 160028.826.126.126.126.126.126.1
AC 123 @ 180026.126.126.126.126.126.126.1
AC 127 @ 200026.117.617.626.126.126.126.1
AC 129 @ 223026.117.617.617.617.617.617.6

Note that no flights are highlighted.

And here is a chart for business class.

FlightSun Apr 11Mon Apr 12Tue Apr 13Wed Apr 14Thu Apr 15Fri Apr 16Sat Apr 17
AC 101 @ 0715100.8100.8100.8100.831.1100.8100.8
AC 103 @ 0800100.8100.8100.831.1100.8100.831.1
AC 105 @ 090069.369.369.369.369.369.369.3
AC 107 @ 103069.369.369.369.369.369.369.3
AC 111 @ 120069.369.369.369.369.369.369.3
AC 115 @ 145069.369.369.369.369.369.369.3
AC 119 @ 160069.369.369.369.369.369.369.3
AC 123 @ 180069.369.369.378.978.978.969.3
AC 127 @ 2000100.831.131.1100.8100.8100.831.1
AC 129 @ 223069.369.369.369.369.369.369.3

As you can see, on their trunk route, operating 10 flights per day, over the course of 7 days:

0 out of 70 flights price within their specified range for economy class (12,500 – 17,500 points). The rest exceed the maximum by 0.5% to 49.1%.

6 out of 70 flights price within their specified range for business class (25,000 – 60,000 points). The rest exceed the maximum by 15.5% to 68.0%.

To ensure this wasn’t an anomaly, I manually checked several other dates throughout 2021. While I never saw a better day than the average above, I saw the price go to 123.2K for business class, more than double the high end of the range. I also found a 27,800, which is toward the low end of the range, but definitely not at the low end. I never found a redemption for business class which cost 25,000 points. I also never found a redemption for economy class which cost 12,500 points, with the price range between 17,600 and 26,100.

Flights between Toronto and Calgary were priced similarly, and did not reflect the award chart pricing. Toronto to Calgary is a distance of 1,675 miles, and the award chart estimates a price of 12,500 – 17,500 points in economy class and 25,000 – 60,000 points in business class. I never found an economy class award under 16,500 points, a 32% premium over the lowest 12,500 points amount, and while business class was often available for 25,900 points, it was usually 65,300, which is above the high end of the range.

The chart says “You can expect your reward flight to fall into this range during normal times.” I disagree with that statement. It’s simply not true. On one of the most recognizable Air Canada routes, over an entire non-peak week, the price range stated by the award chart is accurate only 8.5% of the time for business class, and never for economy class.

Most other bloggers at the moment are focusing on the good aspects of partner redemptions, with some going as far as saying “thank goodness AC didn’t go dynamic”. But for those of us in Canada, or who fly Air Canada a lot, the pricing of AC flights is exorbitant.

And with the phrasing around the Points Predictor Tool™, it’s very misleading to those who are trying to save up for their once-a-year trip.

If it were accurate 80% of the time, or 50% of the time, or even 20% of the time, it could at least be justified as the range you’ll pay if you’re flexible. But even being willing to take any flight in economy over an entire week, it was never in range. There is no point publishing an award chart if the redemption values of the chart do not accurately reflect the actual points cost of tickets.

Comments

  1. You should fwd this analysis to Air Canada and ask them to give back a response. Also this seems deceptive advertising and likely something that should be brought up to the relevant authorities in Canada

  2. I find the new program to be awful, particularly for award redemption. Basically AC managed to combine the worst aspects of a regional chart and a distance chart. That takes some serious work. While I’m saddened by the refusal to adhere to their own rules, I’m not surprised by Air Canada’s behavior given the new program as a whole.

  3. Welcome Scott. It is nice to hear a new voice once in a while.

    It was pretty obvious that this sort of result would be the outcome of removing any competition in Canada. The forced purchase (hostile takeover) of Aeroplan made it so obvious.

    The only advantage of the “new aeroplan” is the removal of YQ but that is incidental when you see the MASSIVE increases in the number of points required to travel just about anywhere.

    The alternative (competition?) is supposedly Eastjet (WS) which has a farce of a loyalty program. I have my massive 1 WS mile in my account and may lose it soon. Sigh.

    The days of flying to CPT for 75,000 miles in J are long gone. With careful planning those partner awards had very low YQ’s and reasonable schedules (sort of) which allowed one to visit a lot of wonderful lounges along the way.

    Unfortunately I held my nose and purchased a great number of miles during the special sale earlier this year. I suspect that it will be very difficult to get any “value” out of them with the new astronomical reward charts.

    Note that these charts are published when AC is flying basically EMPTY and represent the lowest we will see ever if air travel recovers in the near future.

    100,000 miles YVR-YLW anyone?

    chees
    alan

  4. Classic bait and switch. Classic Air Canada.

    Thanks for doing this analysis, Scott. It must be an eye-opener for most people. Or maybe just a reminder…
    (I will forward it to CBC Marketplace too; almost defs a waste of time to AC)

  5. April 14 economy 13000 for YYZ to YVR , bus 24800
    What world are you people on?
    Checked on Sunday Nov 15 at 1:00 am
    This is a game ! play it.

    • I just checked that date, and the cheapest available with no status or credit card on that date was 17,600 in Y and then one J flight for 31,100, as shown in the table.

      The lowest I can get in Y is 13,300, but that requires me to log in with Super Elite status. But that’s not a fair comparison to the charts that are published to everyone, regardless of status.

      • Sorry all you need is a td credit card to get what I said.
        You have to work a little to get the best deals.
        If you cannot or do not want to get even the bottom of the line credit card then the deals will not be there.
        If you are going to play the game you have to have the tools to do it.
        You do not need super elite status for any of this.

  6. I greatly appreciate Mr Kennedy compiling what many have casually observed since the (admittedly recent) launch of the new Aeroplan – the points grid is not at all aligned with reality. Zero seats with the range is concerning.

    Insisting of comparison with a no-credit card and no status search it the most appropriate since that is a clean and consistent baseline. Adding those perks should in some instances one would argue realize searches that are BELOW the estimated range. Mr. Bucher’s example appears to be a single seat on a single flight within the projected range. Many of us have been playing the Aeroplan game for years (some to the point of professional sport!). Show me a grid on a different day with many seat in the range and I would agree all of ok in the world (well, not quite ok at the moment, but you get the idea).
    Mr. Kennedy’s grid intentionally uses a common route, with many flights to provide a fair sample size and reasonable estimate of routes that “should” have fares within average ranges. His grid is also arguable more inline with the expected search capabilities air Canada will be providing access too shortly – a broad view to find the right flight at the right price. The fact that none of the flights are at all within the projected range is incredibly concerning (and may be part of the tweaks being made to their search engine before go live). If fare were all near the high end of the range maybe we could all understand that during difficult time pricing is on the higher end (and therefore so are point redemptions). But none at all – and another user finding the one seat? Something is not right.
    Let’s hope these are simply some launch period anomalies and Air Canada is working on adjustments to algorithms. If that is the case, their team could stop all the rumbling by simply releasing a statement as such – “whoops our points algorithms are wonky please give us a couple of weeks to get them aligned as we remain committed to the grid we released”.

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