Get The Most Value From Your Aeroplan Miles

Now that you’ve earned a ton of Aeroplan miles, you need to know how to effectively spend them so all of your hard work earning them isn’t wasted.  You want to get the absolute best value for your miles possible while still redeeming them for an award you actually want and can use.  The information found here will help you to squeeze every possible penny out of your Aeroplan miles!

Choosing The Right Reward

When it comes to choosing the right reward with Aeroplan, there is no discussion necessary.  There is only one viable option, flights!  All the other reward options will give at most 50% of the value you could obtain by booking a flight.  You can still look into the other reward options if they interest you, but just know that 99.9% of the time you will be throwing many more miles away than you should be.  If you are considering redeeming your miles for something other than flights you should consider the following options instead:

  • If you ever will need to fly in the future, save the miles for then and buy the item you really want with the money saved.
  • Redeem a ticket for a family member who is flying anyway and have them pay you back the cost of the ticket as a favour to you.
  • Use your miles to gift a ticket or trip to a family member and again use the money saved how you wish.

Where To Fly

One of the principle determining factors of the value you get for your miles is where you choose to fly.  After reading Measuring Value and Redeeming Miles, you should be able to calculate your return globally for any route that Air Canada flies as long as you know the rough cost of a flight on that route.  You can use one of the many internet travel sites out there to determine this cost or the AirCanada.com site itself.  A few things to look for to increase the value of your flight are as follows:


1) Choose the longest possible distance you can fly within a particular reward zone:

  • From coast to coast of a single country or continent.
    • If flying from British Columbia, a good destination would be Florida.
    • If flying from the Atlantic Provinces, a good destination would be California.
  • The Caribbean and Europe represent good value to Western Canadians.
  • Hawaii and Asia represent good value to Eastern Canadians.
  • Australia represents good value for everyone.

2) Fly to remote destinations and small airports:

  • Smaller cities in any country are always more expensive than major airport hubs.
  • Remote places like Alaska or the Northwest Territories are much more expensive.

3) Fly on high-demand routes

  • Often these routes match those from 1) and 2).
  • Routes to Australia and the Middle East are always in high demand.
  • Popular vacation routes during March break or other peak travel times.

Getting The Ticket You Want

After reading our criticisms of the Aeroplan program, it should be obvious that getting the reward ticket you want can be very difficult or near impossible.  However, if you know the rules and master how the game works, then you will be the early bird that gets the worm!  You can walk away with that high value ticket for exactly when and where you want to travel, it just takes some patience and preparation. 

Booking Early

The biggest asset you have when booking a reward ticket at the cheapest classic rate is time.  You want to book your trip as early as possible, up to 365 days in advance for the most popular routes.  This means you need to plan your vacations and trips well ahead of time, but this can actually be a good thing because a well planned vacation is often a more enjoyable and less stressful one anyway.  As you are earning your miles, you should already be thinking of where and when you want to travel and then, based on that, determine how soon you will have to book your ticket.  The following chart is a rough guideline for how far in advance you should book:

Destination Booking Time
Canada & Continental USA 3 months +
Vacation Hotspots 6 months
International 6 months
Super High Demand 355 days

To be extra safe, you are probably want to have more than a rough estimate.  To get a better idea, you can go right now over to Aeroplan.com and do a pretend booking for the route you are interested in and see how far out in advance you need to book to get a flight.  Starting 2 months out and going from there is a good idea.

Flexible Departure Day

If the route you are flying has flights operating every day of the week and everything is booked on the first day you try you should definitely consider other days during the same week.

  • Routes that cater to business passengers have more availability on Saturday and early Sunday.
  • There is usually more availability in the middle of the week (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday).
  • Wednesday is the cheapest overall day to fly and thus has the highest availability.

Flexible Time Of Year

Many vacation and travel destinations obviously have high and low seasons for travel.  Being flexible about the time of year you are planning to fly can definitely allow you to book closer to the actual date of departure.  For example, flying to Europe in the winter should be relatively easy when compared to flying there in July.  Of course, who wants to go to Europe in the winter?  Not many people!  However, you can try to book just outside the high season, say in early May or late October and it will still be warm enough for you to have a good time.  Just keep in mind that there may be less festivals, activities, and attractions available for you to participate in during these times.

Use The Call Center

Aeroplan.com is great because you can avoid booking fees by booking your trip there but it isn’t much help when you try to book a complicated itinerary or availability is very limited.  You could have been looking at an available flight one minute and see it disappear the next while you were sitting on the fence about booking it.  You can actually accidentally lock yourself out of your own flight by going too far in the booking process so that it becomes temporarily reserved for you and then screwing up somehow and having to start the search over.  The flight remains locked for a period of time and will not show up in the inventory during your next search.  I’ve had this happen to me multiple times, and let me tell you it is very frustrating not knowing if the flight has been booked or will reappear sometime later.

The solution for these frustrations is to call and speak with an Aeroplan agent!  Most of their agents are very knowledgeable and helpful and keep in mind that you only need to pay the $30 booking fee if the agent actually books the flight for you.  You can use them to help figure out your route, find availability on specific routes and days, and even check on partner airlines and difficult routes that don’t always show up properly on the website.  Once you are armed with this extra information, you can either try again to book the flight through the website to avoid the fee or complete the transaction with the agent over the phone.  If availability is very limited, paying the fee is often the best option to avoid all the inevitable headaches you will have booking it yourself.

Different Times Of Day

Booking during a busy time of day can be much harder than booking early morning or on a less busy day.  When there a lot of people window shopping on Aeroplan.com as well as people calling in to the call center, seats are often put on hold with no intention of ever being booked.  You want to be accessing the inventory when activity is low so there is less of a chance that the seats you are looking for will be temporarily tied up by someone else.  Granted if the availability is completely non-existent during busy times of the day, your chances probably won’t be that much better during the slow times.  If availability is scattered, then this method could likely get you a better day, time, or connection than you were previously looking at.

Different Airports

If you live in an area that is surrounded by several airports and you can’t get a flight that you really need out of your home airport, it would be worth your while to check for flights out of as many neighbouring airports as you are willing to drive to.  I, for example, have an airport in my home city but I also have 3 other cities that I can turn to that are each less than 2 hours drive away that I will check.  My parents live in one of those cities, so I will obviously look there first for the free parking and accommodations, but I would be will to go to any of them in a pinch.

Check Often

If you don’t happen to book early enough to get your reward ticket easily, then you are resigned to checking often to see if something becomes available.  Checking at least once a day at different times during the day probably isn’t too much.  You never know when a flight will be cancelled or changed by another person, opening up a spot for you.  As mentioned in the Criticisms section, it also happens from time to time that Aeroplan will release more reward seats as the day of the flight approaches.  They do this when flights are selling poorly to use up seats on a particular flight or as part of a system wide promotion across most or all of their flights during a given period.

I have read somewhere previously that Air Canada starts by releasing roughly 5% of the seats immediately on every flight for reward travel and that number can increase to up to 10% later on if they decide to release more seats.  Keeping this in mind, it is a good idea to pay attention to any website announcements and consider signing up for the Aeroplan email newsletter so you will be kept informed on the latest news, offers, and promotions.  Signing up for the RewardsCanada.ca newsletter also would not hurt.  You may also want to consider using a flight monitoring service like FareCompare.com to monitor seat sales for the dates your are planning to book.  Doing so will tip you off to when seats may be selling poorly which could indicate that more reward seats will also simultaneously be made available.

Split Your Booking

This may be going too far for some people, but another option when seats are limited is to split your booking if you are traveling with multiple people.  It is very common when doing a search for two or more people on Aeroplan.com for no available classic seats to show up, but if you were to search for just one person you would get a lot more hits.  The reason for this is that with so few reward seats available, there are often orphan seats that sit there unbooked until a solo passenger comes along to snatch it up.  Try splitting your party across multiple flights that have similar arrival times so you can meet up later.  You may even be able to meet up on a connecting flight further down the line and fly the rest of the journey together!

An even more advanced option is to split your seats across multiple Star Alliance carriers or even use rewards points you have collected in another airline program to find that second seat.  If you get creative, there is usually a way to get the job done even when it looks impossible.

Consider Business Class

With Aeroplan, the cost for ClassicPlus seats can be easily several times the cost of classic seats when all the classics are gone.  In fact, they are often more expensive than business class seats at the classic rate.  However, people often seem to forget about business class seats entirely which, for flights in North America, usually aren’t in very high demand.  On top of that, they are only slightly more expensive at 40,000 miles versus 25,000.  Another reason business class seats are usually available at the classic rate, even when the economy ClassicPlus seats are getting very expensive, is because the search results page on Aeroplan.com minimizes the business class seat section by default.  When searching for reward flights, most people don’t think to change the “Preferred Cabin” option to anything but economy.  So, if you’re desperate, why not book the business class seats and enjoy the extra perks that go along with that and still pay less than a seat in economy would cost you on an overbooked flight?

Multi City Flights

Another great way to get a better return on your miles is to use them to take a trip to multiple cities at no additional cost.  You didn’t know you could do that, did you?  Well you can!  When you go to book the flight on Aeroplan.com, click on the MULTI-CITY tab and it will allow you to enter up to three one way flights that can each have connections.  There fairly strict rules on which city can be used as your third city, but as long as it isn’t too far out of the way of the city you departed from, then it will be allowed.  The beauty of this method is that if you were to book such a flight on Air Canada, it would be a fair bit more expensive than a traditional round trip flight.  Since you aren’t spending any more miles to do this, your rate of return rises accordingly!

Stopovers

Adding the third city somewhere between your origin and destination city is what is known as a stopover.  You are allowed to stay in this city for as long as you want and then can continue on to your final destination city when you so choose.  Here is a personal example:

Later this year, in October 2010, I am flying to Vancouver primarily for my sisters wedding and while I am there I am going to attempt to do some promotion for this site.  Instead of doing this simple round trip, I elected to incorporate Edmonton into my trip as a stopover so I can do a few days worth of promotion for HowToSaveMoney.ca there as well.  This extra leg on my flight would normally have added an additional cost of $150 to my ticket, but with Aeroplan there was no additional cost!

Connections

Connections are short stops in intermediate cities between your origin and destination during any of the legs of your flight.  There are strict rules with stopovers that they must be less than 4 hours in length or overnight if there are no more departing flights after the time of your arrival.  The 4 hour rule is only for domestic or trans-border (USA) flights.  For international flights, the maximum time is increased to 24 hours.  Although this is a short window of time to work with and taking advantage of it doesn’t technically increase the value of your ticket, you manipulate your flights to give you a longer connection in an intermediate city to see a few sites, try out a local restaurant, or grab some New York cheesecake if you are passing through New York!

Open Jaw

This is a more specialized flight option that may or may not add value to your reward, but it does provide some interesting possibilities.  An open jaw is when a portion of your trip is not done with Air Canada and you arrange to get from one city to another using an alternate means.  The distance between the arrival city and the departure city of your open jaw must be less than the distance of the shortest flight leg on your itinerary just to keep the system from being abused.  As an example, you could book the following open jaw flight:

Fly from Toronto to Calgary.
Take the train from Calgary to Vancouver.
Fly from Vancouver back to Toronto.

Reducing Taxes And Fees

Inconsistent taxes and fees was one of the things discussed in the Criticisms section.  There are actually ways that you can reduce these fees when you book your rewards travel with a little patience and flexibility.

Check Different Connecting Flights

When booking your flight there is probably a multitude of connection options, especially if you are travelling from cost to coast.  For example, when traveling from Atlantic Canada to Western Canada you can connect in places like Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, and Calgary among others.  By selecting a few of the different options and continuing on to the booking page you can see the total taxes and fees and in some cases it can easily have a spread of $30 or more per passenger.  This is most likely due to a difference in fuel charges and airport fees for those different routes and airports.  All other things being equal, it makes sense to go for the cheaper option!

Use Star Alliance Partners

Whenever possible it is to your advantage to fly with a Star Alliance partner rather than Air Canada, because in almost all cases they charge far less taxes for a nearly identical flight.  At the time of this writing the following example was valid:

Test booking a 25,000 mile flight from Vancouver to Chicago on Aeroplan.com flying solely on United Airlines aircraft resulted in taxes and fees of $88.71.  Booking something nearly identical with Air Canada resulted in taxes and fees of $165.00.  Yes, your out of pocket expense when flying with Air Canada is nearly double!

You can play around with the different airlines and connections a little more to likely get even better savings, but the difference won’t be as large as it is when cutting out Air Canada from the trip.  It is important to note that you need to remove Air Canada entirely to meaningfully reduce the fees.  When test booking a combo Air Canada and United flight, the fees were still around the same price as they were when flying solely with Air Canada.

Flying First Or Business Class

Flying in first or business class is one method that some very frequent travelers, especially those on FlyerTalk, swear by for increasing the value of their miles.  With Aeroplan, the upgrade cost to business class is actually quite small, usually about 50% more miles.  Considering the actual cost of a ticket in business class is at least 200% more expensive, this is obviously a good deal.  Other rewards programs often inflate the cost in miles to be nearly 100% more expensive than economy class, so Aeroplan is ahead in that regard as well.  Let’s consider an example booking flying from Halifax to Hong Kong booked 6 months in advance at the time of this writing:

Reward Class Mile Cost Dollar Cost CPM
Economy 75,000 $1,105.99 1.47 cents
Business / First 115,000 $9,153.98 7.96 cents

From this you can see that for a 53% increase in the mile cost of the flight, you get a 727% increase in the value you are getting from the flight.  Calculated in terms of cents per mile (CPM), which is the amount in cents that each mile you are spending for the reward is worth to you, you can see that each mile is worth only 1.47 cents in economy but soars to almost 8 cents in business class.  When doing this comparison I took the cheapest economy fair available (Tango Plus) and compared it to the cheapest executive class fair (Executive First Lowest).  With Air Canada, there are always more expensive options that offer increased flexibility and minor perks but they aren’t very relevant to most people other than business travelers.

With numbers like these, you can see what business class seats are in such high demand on international flights and only a small number of reward seats in business class are made available on each flight.  You will need to employ every trick in the book and often book the flight as soon as it becomes available in the system to be successful.  Flights become available around 355 days (call to verify exact date) before the departure date and you will need to be the first on the phone when the call center opens in the morning to ensure you get your flight.  You may also need to book your return flight later on because if you call in to get the departing flight as soon as possible then the return flight won’t be in the system yet.  To underscore this point, in the above example flights were checked 6 months in advance, but there was absolutely no business class availability at that time.  Checking 11 months in advance, only flights with extra connections were available at the 115,00 mile rate.  Going ahead a few more weeks did show more availability with minimal connections, but that is only because the chosen route is not of the highest demand.  Flying to Australia from Toronto or Vancouver is even harder to book!

If you want to know what exactly you are fighting for, you can look at Air Canada’s Cabin Comfort page that compares all their different seats.  While the list of perks is substantial and the seats do look very comfortable, it isn’t something I could justify paying the full price for.  Booking with miles at these rates is another story indeed!  One other thing to note about First Class on international flights is that the food is usually very good, almost as good as an upper class restaurant with a full menu and drinks of all kinds are unlimited.

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