After several disappointing (and quite drastic) devaluations over the past few years, Aeroplan miles aren’t quite the valuable currency they once were. However, there are still some valuable perks and ways for you to redeem Aeroplan miles that surpass other airlines. This article will highlight some of the most valuable ways to use Aeroplan miles when booking trips.
Aeroplan (Air Canada) is a member of the Star Alliance, the largest airline alliance out of the big three (One World, Star Alliance, and SkyTeam). This means that you can use your Aeroplan miles to fly on these other airlines (subject to availability).
The trick is to find availability for seats that can be booked with Star Alliance partners. The good news is that Aeroplan has one of, if not the best, websites to perform searches for Star Alliance partner availability. Read about how to find Star Alliance availability here.
How to Get Aeroplan miles from credit cards
Aeroplan is a transfer partner of two major reward programs:
- American Express Membership Rewards (1:1 ratio)
- Starwood Preferred Guests (1:1)*
*Remember, when you transfer Starwood points in increments of 20,000 you receive an additional 5,000 in miles, so 20,000 points will earn you 25,000 Aeroplan miles. In addition, Starwood will often run promotions where you can earn additional bonuses on your transfers, such as up to ~25%!
I personally value the transferability to Aeroplan because I live near a United Airlines hub and fly them often. United transfers at a 2:1 ratio from SPG and is not a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, so I originally thought I was out of luck. However, because I can book United flights with Aeroplan (sometimes with far fewer miles as shown below), I really value the transfer potential here.
There’s also the TD Aeroplan Visa, which offers a 25,000 mile sign-up bonus. You get the 25,000 miles with only $1,000 in spend within the first 3 months of account opening and the $95 annual fee is waived the first year so it’s not a bad deal.
These three options make it pretty easy to accumulate miles for Aeroplan and can make life a lot easier for folks who rely on United Airlines for reward seats.
Avoid costly fuel surcharges
The first thing to look at when redeeming Aeroplan miles is avoiding fuel surcharges. These fees can put a huge dent in your wallet and really take away from your savings.
For example, take a look at the next two flights below.
Notice anything different?
There’s a huge difference in the price. It’s a difference of $190 USD vs $834 USD due to fuel surcharges, so always do your best to book with a partner that does not incur fuel surcharges when booking with Aeroplan.
The following airlines do not carry surcharges when you book them through Aeroplan:
- Air China
- EVA Air
- LOT (has small surcharges)*
Stopovers and Open Jaws
Aeroplan is one of the rewards programs that allow for stopovers and open jaws and they are pretty generous with those. If you’re unfamiliar with these concepts, I suggest reading up on maximizing open jaw and stop overs. In short, stopovers allow you to break up a route so that you can spend time somewhere on your way to your destination. So if you are flying from Chicago to Paris, you could stop over in Geneva en route to Paris.
Open jaws on the other hand allow you to return or depart from from a different destination. So, for example, you could fly from Chicago to Paris and then have your return route be London to Chicago. You would be responsible for getting from Paris to London, however.
Stop overs and open jaws can get a little complex but they can add significant value to your redemptions, essentially offering you free one-way flights.
Photo by Christan Junker via Flickr.
So here’s a breakdown of the Aeroplan rules on stop overs and open jaws.
On roundtrip rewards, stopovers are permitted as follows:
Travel within Canada or between Canada and the Continental USA (not including Hawaii/Puerto Rico):
- One stopover permitted in addition to the point of turnaround. One open jaw is permitted in lieu of the one stopover.
Between Canada/Cont. USA and Hawaii/Puerto Rico/Mexico/Central America/Caribbean:
- Rule for rewards containing only Air Canada flight: Two stopovers are permitted in addition to the point of turnaround. One open jaw is permitted in lieu of one stopover.
- Rule for rewards containing a minimum of one flight on a Star Alliance partner other than Air Canada: One stopover is permitted in addition to the point of turnaround. One open jaw is permitted in addition to the one stopover.
Intercontinental travel (travel between two continents):
- Two stopovers permitted in addition to the point of turnaround. One open jaw is permitted in lieu of one of the two stopovers.
Intracontinental travel (travel within the same continent) except for travel within Canada/Continental USA, or between Canada/Cont. USA and Hawaii/Puerto Rico/Mexico/Central America/Caribbean:
- Stopovers are not permitted. One open jaw is permitted.
North America to Europe
I think the best way to utilize Aeroplan miles right now is to book flights from North America to Europe. For Aeroplan, Europe is divided into two regions (Europe 1 and Europe 2). I’ll use a booking to a country found in Europe 1 as an example of how lucrative these redemptions can be.
Europe 1 consists of the following countries:
- The Netherlands
- The United Kingdom
Let’s say you want to go from Chicago to Paris in business class on Swiss Airlines. This trip will require 110,000 Aeroplan miles. Compare this with the miles required when booking with other airlines:
- United: 140,000 miles (with alliance partners)
- American Airlines: 115,000 miles (no stop overs)
- Delta: 125,000 miles (no stop overs)
As you can see, it’s a great deal but the deal gets even better. That’s because on international flights, Aeroplan allows:
- “Two stopovers permitted in addition to the point of turnaround. One open jaw is permitted in lieu of one of the two stopovers.”
In this case, the “point of turnaround” would be Paris and so you’d be able to book two additional destinations with this itinerary, free of charge. I’ll show you how it would work.
Let’s say you wanted to visit Geneva, Switzerland and Brussels, Belgium in addition to your destination: Paris France. Your trip would look like this:
- Chicago (ORD) -> Geneva (GVA) [stopover] -> Paris (CDG)
- Paris (CDG) -> Brussels (BRU) [stopover] -> Chicago (ORD)
In order to find availability for this route, I would suggest researching on Aeroplan’s website, segment by segment to that you can find the best flights available and then call in to book them. Below are the steps I recently took to search for the above trip, segment by segment.
Here’s the first leg, from Chicago to Geneva.
The second leg from Geneva to Paris…
Now you want to head from Paris to Brussels…
And finally, it’s time to go home again to Chi-Town.
So let’s breakdown how much you’d spend if you booked these reward flights separately.
You would have spent 155,000 miles, or 45,000 more miles for these flights if you did not utilize the stopovers! Instead, you’re only using 110,000 miles to see three countries in business class for a grand total of ~$175 USD in fees — pretty remarkable value in my opinion.
And let’s see how much you would be paying in cash for these same flights.
- Chicago (ORD) -> Geneva (GVA): $7,617
- Geneva (GVA) -> Paris (CDG): $430
- Paris (CDG) -> Brussels (BRU): $603
- Brussels (BRU) -> Chicago (ORD): $3,025
The total cash price of these flights is $11,675.
Subtract the taxes and fees and you come out to $11,500 USD worth of value. The cents per mile value for your 110,000 redemption thus comes out to 10.45 cents per mile. That is a great redemption rate!
Many people value Membership Rewards at around 2 cents per point so if you transferred Membership Rewards to Aeroplan for this redemption you arguably more than quintuple the value of your points!
One way awards
With Aeroplan you can book one way rewards for 50% of the value as a round trip reward. Don’t get confused if you come across articles stating you need to be traveling to or from North America to book a one-way reward ticket — that rule was changed recently in December 2015. Now, you can book one-way rewards for 50% of the value of a round-trip ticket from anywhere in the globe.
No stop overs on one way flights
Aeroplan does not allow stopovers on oneway flights. From their rules:
- “Stopovers are not permitted on one-way flight rewards.”
Aeroplan is known for having some of the best lap-child fares. Basically if you’re going to be flying with an infant on an international flight, you’ll incur the following expenses:
- Economy Class – $50 or 5,000 Aeroplan Miles
- Premium Economy Class – $75 or 7,500 Aeroplan Miles
- Business Class – $100 or 10,000 Aeroplan Miles
- First Class – $125 or 12,500 Aeroplan Miles
These are some of the best rates that you will come across, so if you’re going to be traveling with a little one then definitely consider Aeroplan.
The cancellation fees are pretty reasonable for Areoplan. If you cancel a booking 22 days before departure, you pay $90 and get your fees refunded and points redeposited to do as you please with them. If you cancel within 22 days of your departure, you must use those points within one year of booking on a single reservation, or you lose those miles.
For example, let’s say you have a flight booked for next week and you cancel it today. You will then have one year from the time of booking to use those 110,000 miles. But if you use that credit for a 60,000 mile redemption, you lose out on 50,000 miles so be careful. Also, if you cancel within 22 days of your departure, you won’t be charged the $90 fee until you rebook your flight.
Aeroplan has some of the best customer service phone representatives that can make finding your flights much easier. Sometimes the reps might even be able to find you flights that weren’t showing up on the Aeroplan website. Unfortunately, they charge you a $30 fee for booking over the phone and it’s very rare for them to ever waive the fee. But considering the level of service and potential savings you might come across, the $30 fee isn’t that big of a deal.
I’ll have to reserve another post to discuss the RTW (round the world) options at length but Aeroplan is known for having some valuable “round the world” redemptions due to their stop over and open jaw policies. To read more about booking a RTW trip with Aerplan check here.
Overall, don’t discount Aeroplan, especially if you’re interested in getting to Europe from North America with a couple of stopovers, because that redemption value is definitely among the best!
Cover Photo by Caribb via Flickr.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time credit card rewards/travel expert and has earned and redeemed millions of miles to travel the globe. Since 2014, his content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.