Aeroplan, for better or worse, it is undoubtedly the most important and relevant airline rewards program to Canadians. The reasons for that are plentiful:
- Air Canada is the largest Canadian airline owning nearly 4 times the number of planes as its closest rival, WestJet.
- Air Canada was the only large Canadian airline to offer a rewards program for years, until WestJet recently introduced one as well.
- Due to Canadian laws, only Canadian airlines can operate flights that both originate and terminate in Canada. All other airlines can only offer flights with one point of entry into Canada.
- The number of partners, credit cards, and other earning opportunities available through Aeroplan is only exceeded by Air Miles and it is actually a retail rewards program, not an airline rewards program.
Related: All Aeroplan Credit Cards Compared
That being said, Aeroplan is not without its problems and many people are quick to complain about the program and often abandon it after having a frustrating experience. Fortunately, understanding the program better combined with a little planning can make most of these frustrations go away. Before I get into the good stuff of teaching you how to earn Aeroplan miles faster as well as get the most value out of your Aeroplan redemption, I'm going to give you a quick overview of how Aeroplan works and explain roughly how to calculate how much Aeroplan miles are worth in terms of dollars.
Nobody wants to waste their time earning 10 miles here and 20 miles there while taking a lifetime to achieve any sort of reward and after reading this guide you won't have to anymore!
Calculating the exact value of your Aeroplan miles is a tricky business and everyone approaches it a little differently. A reasonable barometer that can be used is 25,000 miles = roughly $700, which represents the lowest cost before taxes to fly from the east coast of Canada to Vancouver. The Aeroplan redemption section goes into more detail about why this is a reasonable reward choice to compute the value and how you can get an even higher value for your miles.
The Value Of An Aeroplan Mile
Using the estimate above we can easily compute the rough value of a mile for discussion purposes.
$700 / 25,000 miles = 2.8 cents per mile
In a later article I actually address the question of how much Aeroplan miles are worth in much more detail. My estimated value has actually fallen to 2.5 cents now.
Rate Of Return
Even more important than knowing the value of a single mile is the rate of return you are getting when earning Aeroplan miles. This is calculated by determining how much money you spend earning miles in relation to the overall value you get for those miles. This lets you easily compare different earning opportunities and decide if that opportunity is worth your while or to see if a particular Aeroplan credit card will give you a better return than another competing card. Here is an example.
The CIBC Aerogold credit card rewards you with 1 Aeroplan mile for every dollar you spend on the card. Using the above mile value, here is your rate of return for spending $1:
1 mile earned x 2.8 cents per mile = 2.8 cents / $1 [100 cents] = 0.028 = 2.8%
This means that on the spending you do on the card you are effectively getting a 2.8% discount because that is what is being returned to you in rewards. From there you need to determine how much you will be spending on the card annually to determine annual credit card reward. You also want to keep in mind that the Aerogold card gives 1.5 miles per dollar spent at gas, grocery, and drug stores yielding the following return:
1.5 mile earned x 2.8 cents per mile) = 4.2 cents / 100 cents [$1] = 0.042 = 4.2%
As you can see, a 4.2% discount is a decent return and this can be easily stacked with other sales, discounts, and promotions you might encounter. Of course, you have to factor the annual fee into the equation as well. The more you spend within a given year, the less important the annual fee becomes. If you spend $20,000 per year on your Aerogold, this is the result using both earning ratios:
$20,000 x 2.8% = $560 - $120 annual fee = $440 earned / $20,000 = 2.2%
$20,000 x 4.2% = $840 - $120 annual fee = $720 earned / $20,000 = 3.6%
Earning Regular Miles
The normal way to earn Aeroplan miles is, not surprisingly, by flying on an Air Canada flight. You can also earn miles on a number of partner airlines that are a member of the Star Alliance airline alliance. The amount of miles that you will earn varies depending on the length of the flight, the class of ticket (read “price”), and the airline you are flying with. The miles are calculated based on the actual miles, not kilometres, flown with a 500 mile minimum payout for shorter flights. You can consult the following table to get an idea of exactly how many miles you will earn for the flight you booked, with 100% being the exact number of miles flown.
|Percent Earned||Airline||Ticket Class|
|25%||Air Canada||Tango (North America)|
|100%||Air Canada||Tango (global), Tango Plus, Latitude, Upgrade, Vacations|
|125%||Air Canada||Executive (low – global)|
|150%||Air Canada||Executive (all – North America)
Executive (high – global)
|100%||Air Canada Jazz||Tango, Tango Plus, Latitude|
|150%||Air Canada Jazz||Executive|
|Up to 160%||Star Alliance||Full Details|
Unfortunately accrual rates aren’t standardized across all Star Alliance partners, so you will need to visit the specific partner page on Aeroplan.com to determine exactly how many miles you will earn.
Earning Status Miles
There is a second type of miles that can often be earned in tandem with Regular Miles called Status Miles. These are the miles that count towards qualifying you for one of the several Air Canada preferred statuses, known as the Air Canada Top Tier Program, which each comes with an increasing set of benefits, depending on which level you qualify for. Air Canada describes the difference between the two types of miles in their FAQ. You can also qualify for a status tier by flying a certain number of flight segments, even if the distance traveled wouldn’t normally be enough to qualify you. This is to accommodate those passengers who fly frequently with Air Canada but only fly short distances. The different tiers in the program and the miles or segments required to qualify for them are as follows:
Again, the normal way to redeem Aeroplan miles is for flights. Short haul flights to nearby provinces and states (aka. short haul) start for as little as 15,000 miles and 25,000 miles will get you a flight anywhere in the United States or Canada. The full chart is available on their website but here is an abbreviated version of the chart including only departures from within Canada & Continental USA.
|Canada & Continental USA||25,000||40,000||37,500+|
|Caribbean & Nearby Areas||40,000||60,000||55,000+|
Over the years Aeroplan has become more of a full featured rewards program that includes a lot of options outside flights for both earning and redeeming miles. If you visit the Use Your Miles section of Aeroplan.com you will see all the options they have available including flights, hotels, car rentals, activities, merchandise, and vacation packages. These additional options are great for added flexibility, but redeeming for flight rewards almost universally gives you the best value for your miles.
The Aeroplan program is not without its critics and there are many genuine concerns with the program. To give you an idea of what to expect, here are a few of the most common complaints:
Lack Of Reward Availability
On every Air Canada flight there is a select few seats that are designated for sale as Aeroplan reward seats. These seats are very limited and their exact quantity can change depending on how well seats on the flight are selling. The exact formula they use to determine this is unknown, but they would sell every seat to a paying customer regardless if it had been previously designated as an Aeroplan seat. The limits are primarily in place to ensure the whole plane isn’t booked by rewards passengers, not the other way around. However, they do occasionally run promotions where they release a whole slew of extra reward seating on many of their flights or add more seats on a specific flight if it is selling poorly. So, you may get a second chance even if it appears all the available Aeroplan seats are taken.
Complaining about this problem rose to a whole new level when Aeroplan introduced the ClassicPlus rewards redemption option a few years back. It was heavily marketed by them as a benefit to Aeroplan members because it essentially opens up every seat on every plane to be booked using Aeroplan miles, but it does so at a very stiff cost. As you can see from the chart above, ClassicPlus seats are many thousands of points more expensive than standard rates. In fact, their minimum cost is often close to double or very near the cost of the business class ticket and it can rise even further on high demand flights. When you have been saving long and hard for a reward flight, blowing that many extra miles for a seat is not a very attractive option for most people.
So just how bad is this problem? Well, on extremely popular routes like between Vancouver and Australia, the business class rewards seats can be gone within the first hour after they become available. Typically seats are put in the system roughly 355 days in advance of the actual flight so you have to know this and be the first on the phone if you want to snag that high-demand high-value seat. With seats like this being theoretically worth up to $14,000, a little extra effort is definitely worth it! Fortunately, most routes aren’t subject to this kind of demand but you will still usually need to book up to 6 months in advance to get in on the first round of reward seats. I wouldn’t suggest waiting for the second round, because it may never come!
High Taxes And Fees
Booking a reward flight with miles does not cover the taxes and fees! This is pretty standard amongst all airline rewards programs, but what isn’t standard is how comparatively high these fees are with Aeroplan. Here’s an example:
Using Air Canada Aeroplan and American Airlines AAdvantage, a simple spot check was done comparing a return rewards flight from Halifax (YHZ) to New York (JFK or LGA) for the randomly chosen dates departing April 9th, 2011 and returning April 16th, 2011. Both of these flights cost 25,000 miles to book. However, the taxes and fees were vastly different with AAdvantage at 44.96 CAD and Aeroplan at $155.21 CAD. For those keeping score, Aeroplan is 245% higher or 3.45 times as expensive as AAdvantage.
There may be various government regulations and airport improvement fees that only apply to Air Canada at work here, so it can’t be said definitely if Aeroplan or Air Canada is entirely to blame. What can be said is the following:
- The difference is always huge whenever a direct route comparison is done between a USA based carrier and Air Canada.
- Air Canada is quick to charge fuel surcharges and these aren’t covered by the reward booking.
- For cheaper flights, the taxes and fees can sometimes be higher than the cost of the flight itself.
- Fortunately, they do clearly break down the fees so at least you can see exactly what you are being charged for.
Bizarrely, the fees for Aeroplan reward flights are often higher then the fees for the exact same paid flight booked with Air Canada. Here is just one example:
Using Aeroplan.com and AirCanada.com, another spot check was done using the same route (YHZ > LGA) and dates as above. The Aeroplan taxes and fees amounted to $164.25 while those for Air Canada were $123.68. That’s a 32.8% premium for nothing! When comparing the two fee breakdowns, all of the numbers are different but most of them are nearly identical except for the Fuel Surcharge. It appears that at the time of this writing, fuel surcharges on this route only apply to reward bookings and not regular bookings. That added cost, $54.00 in this case, would impact all of the other numbers which are calculated based on the total cost of the ticket. Another difference, this time positive, is that the HST/GST charges are less on the rewards ticket because it is only applied to the fees but not the actual ticket price because that part isn’t technically being purchased.
There are strict rules when it comes to booking or changing an Aeroplan rewards flight that can quickly add up if you aren’t careful.
- $30 + tax booking fee if you want to book using an agent instead of the website which is often necessary.
- $90 + tax fee to make advance changes of any kind to a reward booking.
- Additional miles may be required depending on availability.
- $75 + tax fee to make same day changes while at the airport.
- In this instance, additional miles are not required.
- $90 + tax fee for cancelling an award booking and reinstating the Aeroplan miles.
- This can only be done 22 days or more before scheduled departure.
- For 21 days and less you can only reschedule the flight up to 1 year in the future (change fee applies).