Published in Globe Guide, November 23, 2015
Secret Tricks and Tips for Booking Aeroplan Rewards
If you’ve ever signed up for an Aeroplan card, chances are you have a love-hate relationship with the popular rewards program. On one hand it’s easy to rack up the points thanks to credit card sign-ups and bonuses on everything from gas to drug store purchases, and you can earn also points by travelling with any of their Star Alliance counterparts.
But when it comes time to use all those hard-earned points…that’s when things usually go south. Here are some secret tricks for booking Aeroplan rewards, that will have you flying firstclass for less in no time.
Ditch the taxes
I’m going to cut right to the chase: Aeroplan is one of the worst offenders when it comes to tacking on a stupid amount of taxes for reward flights, which is why the program gets a bad rap. Those who’ve searched for a redemption from Canada to Europe know exactly what I’m talking about—why would anyone in their right mind pay $800 in tax and part with 60,000 points for a trip across the pond, when you can simply buy the ticket outright for about the same price?! Mind boggling. Fortunately, there are some ways around it.
You see, the program passes along a carrier surcharge on behalf of airlines such as Air Canada and Lufthansa, which is why that ‘free’ flight suddenly costs so much when you go to book. But here’s the secret…many of the program’s partners don’t! United, Swiss Airlines, Turkish Airlines, Air China and Singapore Airlines are just some of the carriers who don’t levy the extra fee for redemptions, which is why savvy travellers always look to fly with them to save big bucks.
For example, I once searched for an Air Canada flight to Sydney, Australia via Vancouver, and the taxes were a staggering $1,200 on top of my 80,000 points—umm, no thanks. Instead, I found a United flight that travelled to Sydney via San Francisco, and only paid $250 in taxes!! Not bad for a flight that literally goes around the world.
Pick up the phone
That brings me to my next point. Sometimes it takes a bit of work to find those low-fee redemptions, which is when using your social skills comes in uber-handy. I know what you’re thinking: “Who picks up a phone these days when you can just book everything online?” But when it comes to redeeming Aeroplan rewards, you’ll be surprised at how much you WON’T find on the website, which only an Aeroplan agent can help you track down.
If you have a rough itinerary but can’t find a low-cost reward that fits, it’s worth calling customer service to see what they can pull up on their end. When I was travelling around South America I wanted to book a reward flight with Avianca that was on United’s redemption website, but lo and behold when I went to aeroplan.com it was nowhere to be found. I simply gave them a call, read the agent the flight information, and she managed to book it for me.
One caveat is there is a $30 charge per ticket to book through the call centre, but seeing as how I saved myself hundreds of dollars by forgoing the pricier options (and got first class tickets out of it, to boot) it was well worth the surcharge.
Travel like a celebrity
Are you frugal but want to live like a one-percenter? I have great news for you: booking business and first class tickets are the best use of those coveted Aeroplan miles. Premium plane seats can cost thousands of dollars, but when you break down the cost of redemptions per point it’s actually better value to redeem them for a first class reward versus economy.
You’re welcome. Please save me some champagne.
Here’s another secret about booking Aeroplan rewards: the cancellation fee is only $90. Now you may think be thinking, “A hundred bucks just to change a flight I already paid for!? What the…” but then you’re clearly a person who has never had a modify an itinerary before because then you’d realize THAT’S SO CHEAP.
You see, when you call most airlines to try and change your plans they’re all like, “Oh that’s cute. That will be $600 please, even though your flight was only worth $300” and I’m not even kidding. That’s why Aeroplan is amazing if you need to book a flight but aren’t 100% sure if you’ll need to reschedule—you simply cancel, and they give all your points back minus the $90 bucks!
Update as of November 2016: Aeroplan is changing their cancellation and refund charge structure, which now range in price from $30 to $150 depending on program status.
No turning back
One of my absolute favourite things about the Aeroplan program is that unlike conventional airlines, they don’t penalize flyers for one-way trips. That means the rewards redemption for a one way flight is exactly half the amount of points required for a round trip ticket (as everyone should do, IMO). Smart travellers visiting multiple destinations on one trip can use this to their advantage, for example by flying into Paris and home from Rome.
Now, pay attention as I have a HUGE. TIP. FOR. YOU. It turns out that sometimes you can actually save points by booking two one-way flights, instead of a return flight.
Reward availability occasionally means there are only premium seats for one leg of the flight, but not on the the other. However, Aeroplan will try and ding you points for a premium reward both ways! Yuck! If you’re stealth enough to notice the discrepancy, simply book each leg separately and you’ll get to keep those extra points from the economy leg.