Air Canada Aeroplan Program Review

Air Canada Aeroplan Program Review

Who Is Air Canada Aeroplan Good For?

Aeroplan is actually run separately from Air Canada, so it is more focused on profits than some other airline loyalty programs. However, as many of the major U.S. airlines are changing their tune, Air Canada’s practices such as crediting miles on the basis of how much you paid for your ticket are less foreign today than they used to be.

As United, previously the go-to airline for Star Alliance fans in the U.S., has gone through a heavy devaluation of its award chart, many travelers who enjoy the Star Alliance network and share perks and status are looking increasingly to Air Canada to get around and off the continent.

Despite the commercialized reward program, Aeroplan is user-friendly, and pretty straightforward. And unlike many airlines, which wait to release the bulk of their award seats until a few months before the date of travel, once airline staff has a sense of how many seats will sell, Air Canada releases most Aeroplan award seats on the day that revenue seats open. So if you plan ahead, you can get the flights you want more easily than with most carriers.

Hubs:

  • Calgary International Airport
  • Montreal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport
  • Toronto Pearson International Airport
  • Vancouver International Airport

How Can You Use Air Canada Aeroplan Miles?

At the beginning of 2014, Air Canada radically revamped its Aeroplan awards. Travelers now have two options, whether you’re planning to travel on Air Canada or with Star Alliance partners: Fixed Mileage and Market Fare.

Fixed Mileage awards are the ones you’re used to, following a fixed redemption chart, but Market Fare awards works differently than a typical American loyalty program.

Under Market Fare you can buy any seat with miles, but you’ll pay a price that’s based on the current cash rate for that seat. Interestingly, you don’t have the option for two stopovers on a Market Fare award, as you do with the Fixed Mileage, even though you often end up paying more for the latter.

Market Fares act like a safeguard award ticket, allowing you to always get a seat on a flight if there are any left, but without the perks that many legacy airlines give for this higher-priced bracket of awards.

Program Perks:

  • Flights available 355 days ahead
  • No last-minute booking fees
  • One-way awards
  • One open jaw per itinerary
  • Two stopovers permitted on Air Canada Fixed Mileage tickets (open jaw takes the place of one stopover) or one stopover on Star Alliance flights
  • Can buy miles at a reduced rate during checkout to meet miles required for itinerary

Booking Quirks:

  • No award reservation holds
  • $90 CAD cancellation or change fee
  • Fuel charges levied on select partner awards
  • $30 CAD phone booking fee

Best Value Awards:

Air Canada used to be the best way to get a more or less round-the-world ticket in first class. Since it’s program devaluation in early 2014, it’s not as great a deal as it once was, but it remains one of the best ways to see the world on one award ticket.

With generous stopover and open jaw rules, Air Canada Aeroplan miles offer easy ways to turn long-haul flights into makeshift round-the-world tickets. You can also still get official round-the-world tickets with Air Canada that have five stopovers and one open jaw for 200,000 miles in economy, 300,000 miles in business class and 400,000 miles in first. Now that American has discontinued the oneworld Explorer fares, this is one of your best bets for buying a round-the-world ticket with miles.

Worst Value Awards:

For trips within the U.S. and Canada, you have the option of getting a 15,000-mile economy or 25,000-mile business class round-trip award for short-haul flights between a wide variety of U.S. and Canadian cities.

Air Canada award chart (a)
Air Canada award chart (a)

Air Canada award chart (b)
Air Canada award chart (b)

While this initially seems like a great deal (you can fly from Toronto all the way to Virginia on this short-haul rate), once you factor in the fees, which can creep up toward $200 round-trip you’d end up paying less for a cash ticket when you factor in the miles used.

Aside from the deceptive short-haul fares, Air Canada’s fuel surcharges and fees will hit your award account the hardest when flying Air Canada flights on long hauls, where the fees are naturally higher and airport taxes tend to be as well. Fly San Francisco to Auckland on an award ticket with partner Air New Zealand? You’re looking at total taxes and fees of less than $100. Vancouver to Tokyo on Air Canada? Fees and taxes of $642. And it actually gets worse for European flights.

The Good Stuff: Upgrades and Elite Status

Aeroplan’s elite program, Altitude, has five separate status levels, the most you’ll see for any airline.

All levels include the perks of the previous status levels unless otherwise indicated.

  • Prestige 25k: Priority seat selection, complimentary Preferred seats on Latitude fares, priority airport check-in, two complimentary checked bags, four one-time lounge passes, eUpgrades within two days of departure, 25 percent bonus miles on flights with Air Canada and select partners, Star Alliance silver status
  • Elite 35K: Three complimentary checked bags, priority security clearance, priority boarding, Air Canada and Star Alliance lounge access, three guest lounge passes per year, eUpgrades within four days of departure, 35 percent bonus miles on flights with Air Canada and select partners
  • Elite 50K: Priority airport check-in on Star Alliance partners, priority baggage handling, priority boarding with Star Alliance partners, four guest lounge passes per year, eUpgrades within five days of departure, 50 percent bonus miles on flights with Air Canada and select partners, Star Alliance gold status
  • Elite 75K: Complimentary Preferred seats also on Flex fares, guaranteed economy reservations, five guest lounge passes per year, eUpgrades within six days of departure, 75 percent bonus miles on flights with Air Canada and select partners
  • Super Elite 100K: Complimentary Preferred seats on all fares, six guest lounge passes per year, eUpgrades within seven days of departure, 100 percent bonus miles on flights with Air Canada and select partners, Altitude Elite 50K status for a friend

Upgrade Air Canada award chart
Upgrade Air Canada award chart

Associated Credit Cards

Aeroplan credit cards tend to cater to the Canadian banks, but last year the program expanded its relationships to  include TD Bank and American Express.

TD Bank issues four Aeroplan cards:

  • Aerogold Visa Infinite (the flagship card with the best sign-on bonus)
  • Aerogold Visa
  • Aerogold Business
  • Aero Classic
credit card

And two American Express cards:

  • Aeroplan Platinum American Express: Comes with a hefty sign-on bonus, as well as a $499 fee
  • Aeroplan Gold American Express: Has a lower annual fee ($120) that is waived the first year