Air Canada Aeroplan

Air Canada is the biggest airline in Canada and serves the most cities with its massive route network. Aeroplan is the name of the loyalty program which used to actually belong to the airline but spun off as a separate company many moons ago. They are actually parting ways in 2020 and Air Canada are going to create their own loyalty program back under their control. But for now, Aeroplan is still super relevant to Canadians as a lot of people hold miles in the program.

What we will cover in this guide (click to skip ahead):

Why Collect Aeroplan Miles?

  • Easy to earn with lots of retail and bank partners
  • Can redeem miles for free flights
  • Aeroplan has a flexible stopover policy (referred to as the Mini RTW -  Round-The-World) which can be leveraged to create multi-stop flights to visit multiple extra destinations for the same price as just one destination.

Best Ways to Earn Aeroplan Miles

Flying

You can earn Aeroplan miles by flying Air Canada and their partners. How many miles you earn will depend on distance travelled in the air, and also the fare class and price of your ticket. Usually the more expensive and the longer the flight, the more miles you earn. If you are flying Air Canada or one of their partners, make sure you put your Aeroplan number down when you book or at check-in.

Links & Resources

Shopping

You can earn Aeroplan miles by shopping with retailers that they have partnered with. How many miles you earn will depend usually on the dollar amount you spend, but there can often be a promotional multiplier periodically set for certain retailers at certain times of year. If you are spending more than $100 online, it's good to double check if the online retailer partners with Aeroplan to see if you can earn some miles on something you were going to buy anyway. Some notable examples in the past include 5 miles per dollar when shopping for Apple products.

Links & Resources

Credit Cards

By far the most lucrative way to earn Aeroplan miles is through signup bonuses and everyday spend bonuses on affiliated credit cards. There are some cards that earn Aeroplan miles directly, and others that earn flexible points which can be converted to Aeroplan. 

Links & Resources

Co-branded Aeroplan cards earn Aeroplan miles

Flexible Points to convert to Aeroplan miles

Tips for Redeeming Aeroplan Miles

Routes - Where Can I go?

Knowing route options is the first step because you need to find out if and how you can fly to where you want to go. It's also helpful to know if maybe there is a better way to get from A to B and what implications that may have on your planning (extra fees, low quality airline, too many stopovers, etc)

  Interactive Map  showing Star Alliance Destinations and routes. 

Interactive Map showing Star Alliance Destinations and routes. 

Air Canada Aeroplan has access to the Star Alliance network which means a LOT of airlines from all over the world. Star Alliance has a great interactive map showing all of the airports they serve and it also shows direct flights from any of those airports. There are also agreements in place that allow you to redeem for flights on non alliance partners such as Canadian North to get to the arctic circle. Take a look at the Aeroplan Flight Partners list to figure out what options are on the table.

 Kayak's Direct Flight Finder shows distance, flight time, airports, airlines, departure, arrival, and seasonality. Crazy amount of info and you can even look at it on a map.

Kayak's Direct Flight Finder shows distance, flight time, airports, airlines, departure, arrival, and seasonality. Crazy amount of info and you can even look at it on a map.

One other great tool is Kayak's Direct Flight Finder which shows you where you can fly to from a specific airport and all of the days and times which those flights operate on.

Links and Resources

Mileage - How many miles?

Knowing how many miles it may cost to travel to your destination is incredibly helpful. It helps to determine if there may be better programs to use, or perhaps that you can fly to a very nearby city and save thousands of miles just because the program has strange rules.

 Aeroplan's Reward Chart shows how many miles it will cost between different regions

Aeroplan's Reward Chart shows how many miles it will cost between different regions

Air Canada Aeroplan works on a region-based chart, which means the amount of miles you pay depends on which region you start in and which region you end in. That's great because it can mean that it costs just as much to fly from Toronto to Lisbon as it does from Vancouver to Sweden, two vastly different distances involving different flight routes and connections. There is a very detailed chart on their website which outlines the cost. There are also other tools available where you can search by individual airport.

Links and Resources

Availability - Are there any seats?

The way points and miles works, is that on most flights, there will be a certain number of 'seats' allocated that can be booked using points. Once these are booked, more will probably not be released unless the airline has trouble selling paid tickets, and they won't give in until sometimes as close as 1-7 days from the flight's departure. All this just means that there are not an unlimited amount of seats available for use with miles, so you always have to check that there are some available on the day you want to travel.

The best way to do this is using Air Canada Aeroplan's website. You can search for city A to city B and see what shows up as available with miles. There are two major problems that come up when you are searching though;

  • If you are searching for multiple dates or multiple cities, it can take a long time. For these searches it is best to use a tool like Award.Flights (free) or AwardNexus (freemium) so you can search for say a whole week at a time, or search for multiple airports using commas such as BNE, SYD, MEL.
  • If the itinerary is complicated, or the airport is kind of a random one, the results may come back with nothing found. If this happens it is best to try searching on another Star Alliance carrier like United.com or ANA to see if perhaps anything shows up there, or you could try searching on a premium tool like ExpertFlyer (paid). Nothing found does not always mean there is nothing available! So it's best to break down your trip by possible segments and use the various tools to search availability, then once you stitch together the flights, you can call to book.

Links and Resources

Taxes & Fees - Extra charges

When you buy a flight with regular money, the final price you see is usually made up of several parts.

  • Base fare: The cost of the flight as set by the airline/market for that origin/destination combo
  • Carrier charges: Any additional charges that airline decides to charge the customer
  • Taxes and fees: These are usually administration fees charged by the security authorities and airports you depart from, land at or connect in. It may also include taxes charged by the local government or immigration department.

This is important to know because when you book a points and miles flight, this is kind of what happens to those charges:

  • Base fare: Reduced to Zero - this dollar amount is substituted by a set amount of miles
  • Carrier charges: Variable - For Aeroplan, this completely depends on which airlines are flown and when/where you fly them in your journey. More on this below.
  • Taxes and fees: Fixed - These are usually unavoidable and you will pay them no matter what. You may be able to save $20-50 by connecting in fewer airports or avoiding connections in airports that have high fees, but overall these are kinda going to just be a set number you can't get around.

As you can see the only one you have any real control over is the carrier surcharge by choosing which exact flights you want to redeem your points for. So how do you know which airlines charge the high surcharge and which ones don't? Trial and error really. But to save you the effort, here is a list we prepared earlier!

Keep in mind that carrier surcharge is only charged by certain airlines and is dependent on a lot of factors. BUT the main way to reduce them is to find airlines that you know charge them, and avoid flying those airlines specifically for the long-haul or over-the-water segment. When you are searching for flights on Aeroplan or using Award.flights or AwardNexus, keep an eye out for these logos and their IATA airline codes:

Low/No Surcharge - Find these

  • A3 - Aegean
  • CA - Air China
  • AI - Air India
  • NZ - Air NZ
  • NH - ANA
  • AV - Avianca
  • SN - Brussels Airlines
  • CM - Copa
  • OU - Croatia Airlines
  • MS - EgyptAir
  • ET - Ethiopia
  • BR - EVA Air
  • SK - SAS Scandinavia
  • ZH - Shenzhen Air
  • SQ - Singapore Airlines
  • SA - Sth African Airways
  • LX - Swiss
  • TK - Turkish Airlines
  • UA - United
 See Prince of Travel's Beginner's guide to points for more info on reducing surcharge.

See Prince of Travel's Beginner's guide to points for more info on reducing surcharge.

High Surcharge - Avoid these

  • JP - Adria Airways
  • AC - Air Canada
  • OZ - Asiana 
  • OS - Austrian
  • LO - LOT Polish
  • LH - Lufthansa
  • TP - TAP Portugal

The airlines that charge high surcharge do so mostly on long-haul or over-the-water flights. For example, Air Canada may only charge a $25 surcharge to fly domestically, but they charge over $300 surcharge to fly between Canada and Australia. Whereas United charges $0. So don't be afraid of flying these high surcharge airlines to go small distances or to get you to a major hub, but just avoid them for the long-haul or over-the-water segment.

One other thing to remember is that some countries make it illegal for an airline to charge you a surcharge if the flight originates in that country. For a list of countries that don't charge carrier surcharge, I recommend checking out Prince of Travel's blog all about this: Which Countries regulate Fuel Surcharges.

Links & Resources

Rules & Sweet spots

An old boss of mine once told me that the key to becoming an expert at anything in life is to meticulously study the rules, not so that they can be followed, but so that you know exactly when and how they will be broken. Learning all the rules of the Aeroplan game opens up a world of possibilities and usually starts with asking critical questions.

  • Can I get a free stopover for the no extra charge? What are the rules around that?
  • Is there a limit to the number of cities I can visit? What are the rules around that?
  • What determines the flights that are shown to me? Does availability ever change? When?

These types of questions get you down a deep rabbit hole but in the end you can benefit hugely just by reading the rules. This first one involves a quick recap on some terms

STOPOVER RULES

Most trips are made up of an origin and a destination (also known as the point of turnaround). Normally if you can, you will go nonstop to your destination, but if it's not possible or there is nothing nonstop available, then you will 'connect' in a city usually somewhere in the middle. Some people hate these connections, and some other people plan them on purpose so they get to see an extra city. Where your flight starts/ends and how long your connection is, will determine whether your connection is technically defined as a layover, or a stopover. A layover is short and may let you get a quick glimpse of a city or go see a monument or attraction you have always wanted. A stopover is usually longer between 2-14 days (there's isn't really a limit on how long) and allows you to really get to see a whole other city or country. Knowing the difference between them is super important if you want to plan a trip with multiple destinations because usually you can have a bunch of short layovers without causing any trouble, but once something is classed as a stopover, it can affect what you can and can't do for the other legs in your trip.

When you fly into one airport and fly out of a different airport to come home, that is called an open jaw. The same name refers to when you fly out of one airport to a chosen city, then fly from that same city back to a different airport. Whatever happens, it just means that somewhere in your itinerary, there is a gap where you didn't connect all the dots. It can be helpful if you want to travel between two cities by a different mode of transport ie bike, ferry, train, car, etc and pick up your journey without having to go back to that airport you landed at. Let's look at the rules first then we will revisit the definitions to see why it is so important.

These are all the Aeroplan rules paraphrased from this Terms and Conditions page on the Aeroplan website.

 Layovers for domestic flights are actually <4hrs and are described further below. Remember that a point of turnaround (POT) is just another name for a "destination" but for multi-stop itineraries, the POT is technically defined as the furthest city from the origin. This is important for making sure that your multi-stop itinerary sticks to the rules so that you can get the most value out of it.

Layovers for domestic flights are actually <4hrs and are described further below. Remember that a point of turnaround (POT) is just another name for a "destination" but for multi-stop itineraries, the POT is technically defined as the furthest city from the origin. This is important for making sure that your multi-stop itinerary sticks to the rules so that you can get the most value out of it.

  • One way flights
    • No Stopovers allowed
    • Layovers allowed (<4hrs or <24hrs depending on region - see below)
  • Canada → Canada/Cont. USA
    • 1 stopover (>4hrs)/1 open jaw
    • Point of turnaround
    • Layovers (<4hrs) allowed
  • Canada → Hawaii/PR/Mex/Ctrl America/Caribbean
    • AC Only
      • One of either
        • 2 stopovers (>24hrs) OR
        • 1 stop + 1 open jaw
      • Point of turnaround
      • Layovers (<24hrs)  allowed
    • Star Alliance
      • 1 stopover (>24hrs) + 1 open jaw
      • Point of turnaround
      • Layovers (<24hrs) allowed
  • Intercontinental
    • 2 stopovers (>24hrs) / 1 stop (>24hrs) + 1 open jaw
    • Point of turnaround
    • Layovers (<24hrs) allowed
  • Intra-continental
    • 1 open jaw
    • Layovers (<4hrs) allowed

Now let's see why we need to understand layover v stopovers.

Domestic Layover/Stopover

 *Domestic usually refers to flights within the same country. In this instance it means all flights from Canada to Canada or Canada to Continental USA.&nbsp;

*Domestic usually refers to flights within the same country. In this instance it means all flights from Canada to Canada or Canada to Continental USA. 

Domestically, anything less than 4hrs is a layover. This matters because if there are no seats available on connecting flights within 4hrs of you arriving in your connecting city, then that connection will be classed as a stopover.

Int'l Layover/Stopover

 *International flights for this purpose refer to flights from one Aeroplan Region to the next. See the Aeroplan Reward Chart to see the different regions.

*International flights for this purpose refer to flights from one Aeroplan Region to the next. See the Aeroplan Reward Chart to see the different regions.

Internationally, anything less than 24hrs is a layover. So you could arrive into a connecting airport at 4pm on a Tuesday, and as long as the next flight was before 3:59pm the next day, it would only be classed as a layover. Anything longer is a stopover.

This all matters greatly because your stopovers are limited, the rules above state that and Aeroplan's search computer knows that. You may do a search from Vancouver to Toronto that comes back saying "Nothing found", even though there may be flights available from Vancouver to Calgary, and Calgary to Toronto. It is not necessarily saying "Nothing found" because there are no flights/seats available using points, but could be saying it because the flights available don't stick together according to the rules. The ultimate reason to know this is because if you know FOR SURE that a set of flights follows the rules and has availability, then it is a valid itinerary, and can be booked over the phone with the help of an agent. And that could be the difference between you paying $1,000 for a  full fare ticket at christmas, or paying just $100 in fees using points and miles.

Sweet Spots

A sweet spot refers to a set of rules or a redemption option that is particularly prosperous. It's kind of like a highlight of the program that is sometimes so good it goes unpromoted so as not to draw attention. I will touch on these below and provide links where there is more information.

Close-in availability

Flight tickets are like fresh produce in the grocery store. If the grocery store can't sell them before they go bad (or take off) then they don't earn any money on them. So sometimes airlines will wait until they are pretty sure they won't be able to sell a seat for money (A few days before departure), and then they will offer it up for redemption using points and miles. This means you may find flights becoming available within 7-14 days of departure when there previously was none. Aeroplan does this. Read more about this on PointsNerd's blog and take advantage of it for last minute trips. It's a deep dive but useful in understanding the rules.

Mini RTW

A Mini-Round-The-World (Mini-RTW) is a phrase that generally refers to making the absolute most of the Aeroplan stopover and layover rules outlined above. It's called this because there is technically a RTW Aeroplan ticket you can get which costs 200,000 miles. BUT if you carefully plan your trip out you can go around the world and visit 1 destination with 2 stopovers of basically unlimited duration for as little as 90,000 miles. You can even take advantage of Mini-RTW principles to just see a bunch of cities for the price of one. See Prince of Travel's comprehensive guide for more info.

There is always more to learn but this is a fairly comprehensive guide to Aeroplan that hopefully helps get you to the next level. There is a lot to read here but take the time to understand it and you will certainly find that there is so much value in frequent flyer programs, you will wonder why you didn't start doing it earlier.