A Beginner’s Guide to Air Canada (AC) Aeroplan Miles

Boeing Dreamliner 787-8 (CNW Group/Air Canada)

In this post, we are going to talk about Aeroplan, a frequent-flyer program of Air Canada (AC). Aeroplan is considered as one of the most rewarding loyalty programs in the Star Alliance. This is partly attributable to AC’s good records itself and its extensive collaboration with other Star Alliance members including United Airlines (referred as United hereafter). On one hand, AC has been awarded as the best airline in North American for the Nth year in a row. On the other hand, AC allows earning and redeeming Aeroplan miles with its Star Alliance partners. Besides, it is notable that Aeroplan program is owned by another company named Aimia rather than AC itself, which is rare in the rewards industry. However, in the past years, Aeroplan is becoming less rewarding of a loyalty program as it used to be, with its devalued award chart, added fuel surcharges and increased difficulty in collecting miles. Nevertheless, Aeroplan remains one of our favorite Star Alliance rewards programs. Experience is that Aeroplan still allows amazing itineraries if you take full advantage of Aeroplan miles together with United Mileage Plus miles and extensive networks of Star Alliance.

In addition to the mileage plan Aeroplan, AC introduces a frequent-flyer program named “Air Canada Altitude”. There are five levels of memberships in Altitude Program: Prestige, Elite 35k, Elite 50k, Elite 75k, SuperElite. To qualify for these levels, a member must earn 25k, 35k, 50k, 75k and 100k Status Miles (or 25, 35, 50, 75 and 100 Status Segments) in a given calendar year, and at least half of these miles or segments have to be operated by AC itself. We are not going to elaborate on Altitude program, since most Altitude members find it difficult to collect status miles as required. Instead, we’ll focus on Aeroplan program. (Some airlines have more than one frequent flyer programs for their target customers, like Cathay Pacific’s Marco Polo and Asian Miles. Airlines like United, AA and Delta have only one loyalty program.)

1. How to earn Aeroplan miles

  1. Certainly you can collect Aeroplan miles with flights on Star Alliance carriers. The miles you earned may vary depending on the airline you fly with. For instance, if you fly AA, you are earning miles based on flight distance. If you travel with DL or United, the miles are based on fare rather than distance. However, AC ties its Aeroplan to both cost of fare and flown distance, which is also a popular approach to calculate miles. Briefly, 150%, 125%, 100% or 25-50% of miles flow are earned for business, economy, discounted economy or lower fare class. We’ll come back to this detail later. Besides, if you are an Altitude Elite member, you may be able to earn additional 25-100% award miles (in addition to status miles) if you fly AC, UA and Lufthansa, etc.
  1. Transfer points from AmEx Membership Rewards (MR) – USA to Aeroplan. The transfer is at a 1:1 ratio in increment of 1000 points. You may link all of your eligible American Express Cards to the Membership Rewards program, including Amex Premier Rewards Gold (PRG) Card, AmEx Platinum Card, PRG Business Card, Platinum Business Card, Gold Card, Green Card, AmEx EveryDay (ED), AmEx EveryDay Preferred (EDP).
  2. Transfer points from AmEx Membership Rewards – Canada to Aeroplan. The transfer ratio is also 1:1. But do remember to transfer in increments of 100 points with a minimum of 1,000 points for each transfer. We recommend Amex Gold Rewards (25,000 signup bonus points with no annual fee for the first year), Platinum or Platinum Business Card if you have Canadian credit history.
  3. Transfer Starpoints into Aeroplan miles/buy Starpoints. You may transfer your Starpoints into Aeroplan miles at a 1:1 ratio. And for every 20,000 Starpoints transferred within the same transaction, you’ll earn 5,000 bonus Starpoints, which will be automatically added to your transfer. In this way, you are getting a conversion rate of 1:1.25. Besides, Aeroplan seems to run two regular promotions each year, offering additional 4,000 bonus miles for every 25,000 miles transfer with a maximum of 25,000 miles. This means you may collect 29,000 miles from 20,000 Starpoints. (However, this conversion rate is still lower than that of AA miles. You may get up to 30,000 miles during AA’s promotions, which offers up to 20% bonus points.) Let’s say you have 100,000 Starpoints. During the promotions, you may collect up to 150,000 Aeroplan miles (100,000 miles+ 5,000*5 (five SPG bonus)+ 25,000 (Aeroplan bonus)), reaching a 1.5:1 conversion rate. What’s more, you can buy Starpoints with cash. And you may enjoy a 10-25% discount during SPG promotions (20,000 Starpoints for $525). Purchasing Starpoints makes sense because points can be transferred into miles, and Aeroplan does not allow buying miles with cash. One exception may be booking tickets with Aeroplan miles, where you can buy miles to cover a maximum of half your travel distance at 3 cents per miles. Not a good option. Notably, one SPG account is eligible for up to 20,000 Starpoints purchase. We recommend applying multiple accounts to get the desired amount of points.
  1. Earn Aeroplan miles with co-branded credit cards issued by CIBC or TD Canada Trust. The eligible type of cards can be found on the official website. The relationship among CIBC, TD and CA can be compared to Barclaycard, Citi and AA in the US. Several years earlier, TD launched an aggressive bid to lure part of the Aeroplan business away from CIBC. Now you have to apply for new co-branded card at TD, since CIBC stops taking new applications.
  2. Earn Aeroplan miles with Amex Canada AeroplanPlus Card. This series includes general card, gold card, platinum card and reserve card. The latter two have great benefits with Air Canada privileges and PP membership. We recommend gold and platinum card.
  1. Earn Aeroplan miles with TD Bank Aeroplan Credit Card. This card has 25,000 bonus Aeroplan miles and an introductory annual fee of $0, then $95. One downside is that its members do not have Air Canada privileges.
  2. Earn miles with spending in Esso stations. When you refuel your cars at Esso, give them your Aeroplan No. to earn miles. You may earn 1 mile for every $3 spent on purchases of regular grade gasoline, every $2 on extra grade gasoline and every $1 on supreme grade gasoline. In addition, earning with Esso is also a good option to keep your miles alive. Next time your Aeroplan is to expire, just call your friends to refuel at Esso with your Aeroplan No. You can also earn 250-500 miles each time you use AVIS or Hertz car rental service. Sometimes, you may even collect miles through filling in Aeroplan quizzes. Not to mention the miles you earned with spending on Canada’s online stores, see here for details.
  3. Transfer your hotel rewards program points into Aeroplan miles. Hotels like Hilton, IHG, Marriott and Wyndham often allow their members to transfer rewards points into miles. It seems that the only exception is Hyatt. However, we discourage you from using your points this way. For Marriott points, we recommend you reserve points for UA transfer. For points of other hotels, you may better redeem the points for hotel stays. Let’s say you have certain AccorHotels points, you can either transfer into Aeroplan at 2:1 ration or redeem every 100 points for 2 euro. The transfer is not a bad option to keep your miles from expiration.

2. Earn miles by flying with Star Alliance carriers

  1. Of course you can collect Aeroplan miles if you fly AC. AC introduces 3 types of fares in economy class: Tango, Flex and Latitude. You will earn 25% of flown miles when you fly within Canada with the purchase of a Tango fare and 50% on international travel. Similarly, you will earn 100%, 125%, 125%, 150% of flown miles with the purchase of Flex, Latitude, Premium economy and business class fare. Here are the details on mileage accumulation.
    Fare optionsMileage accumulation
    Business Class150%
    Premium Economy125%
    YB125%
    MUHQV100%
    WG100% for flights within Canada and flights between Canada and the US, 50% for international flights
    STLFAK25% for flights within Canada, 50% for international flights

    You should know the difference in booking class alignments between domestic flights and international flights. For domestic flights and flights between Canada and the US, Flex fares are booked in MUHQV as well as WG. However, for international flights, Flex are restricted to MUHQV. When you fly within Canada in the lower class, 25% flown miles are earned.

  2. Earn Aeroplan miles by flying United Airlines (UA).
    Fare optionsMileage accumulation
    First/Business150%
    YB125%
    MEUHQVW100%
    STLKGN50%

    Booking class W can be seen as a cut-off. In other words, a W fare is going to be your cheapest option to earn 100% flown miles and to use a GPU to upgrade if you fly United.

  3. Earn Aeroplan miles by flying Air China (CA).
    Fare optionsMileage accumulation
    First Class150%
    Business Class125%
    YLWBMHK100%
    QGSVU50%
  4. Earn Aeroplan miles by flying All Nippon Airlines (ANA).
    Fare optionsMileage accumulation
    First Class150%
    Business Class125%
    YEBM100%
    UHQVWS70%
    LTK50%

Click here for more information on other airlines. Just select the airline you fly with, and click “earning” to see the results. Pay attention to your booking class.

3. AC Aeroplan v.s. UA MileagePlus

We’ll make comparisons between AC Aeroplan miles and UA MileagePlus miles earned from flights. Specifically, the miles referred here is restricted to redeemable miles (like the miles earned from signup bonus). Status miles are beyond our scope.

  1. For instance, a $1000 round-trip flight from US east coast to China (16,000 miles) operated by UA with a purchase of S fare  or lower will earn 8000 Aeroplan miles (0.5*flown distance for lower than W fare) or 5,000 UA miles (5* flight fare). The difference in miles would be even bigger with lower fare. The what about flying in high booking class? If you buy W fare or higher, the trip costs you around $1800. In this case, you will earn 16,000 Aeroplan miles or 9000 UA miles, which makes Aeroplan stand out. However, the difference is largely reduced if you fly from west coast. Here are the details.
    Miles Earned by a Round Trip
    UA Prices including fares and taxes Flown distance and booking classesUA MilesAeroplan Miles
    $1000, 6000miles, Class S or below50006000
    $1000, 8000miles, Class S or below50008000
    $1800, 6000miles, Class W or above900012000
    $1800, 8000miles, Class W or above900016000
  2. Things are a little bit complicated when you fly Air Canada. United MileagePlus members will earn rewards based on flight distance and paid fare for flight ticketed by other airlines. In fact, United members may not be able to earn 100% flown miles in S or below class flight operated by AC since they devalued their earning chart. (Things are different with flights ticketed by UA. In this case, United members are to earn (5* fare) miles.) The earning charts are as follows.
    AC ClassUAAC
    Business class200%150%
    Premium Economy100%125%
    YB150%125%
    MUH100%100%
    QV75%100%
    WG75%100% for US <-> Canada and within Canada; 50% for other international flights
    STLFAK for international flights50%50%
    STLFAK within Canada25%25%

In summary, you’d better credit your miles to Aeroplan if you fly United in US-China route as a regular UA member. However, if you fly AC, you should take booking class into consideration before making your final decision.

4. How to use Aeroplan miles

Let’s move to mile redemption. Here is the official site of Aeroplan. After registering with Aeroplan, click “use your miles”, and select “travel” to start flight searching. Aeroplan’s search engine is one of the most reliable engines. If you want to redeem for award tickets, you may either call +1-800-361-5373,the office phone number of Aimia at EST 7am-0am or redeem online. We recommend the latter whenever possible. When condition doesn’t apply (e.g redeeming for trip with two stop-overs), check each segment and book the ticket over the phone.

First, we’d like to talk about the US-China route. Awards tickets in economy class, business class and first class cost 75K, 150K and 210K miles, respectively. This isn’t too bad if you value business flying. By comparison, you should redeem 160,000 and 240,000 UA miles for tickets in business and first class. But if you prefer economy class, UA and ANA are certainly better. Aeroplan miles can be redeemed for one-way travel within North America or for trans-boarder flights. However, Aeroplan only allows round-trip award tickets with or without one open-jaw on its international flights, and one-way travel or flights with stopovers are not allowed. The miles required for each route are displayed here. (Asia 1 includes China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Thailand, etc. North America is defined as Canada and US continent excluding Alaska and Hawaii)

Miles for round-trip travelEconomy ClassBusiness ClassFirst Class
Within North America25k50k70k
North America- Asian I75k150k210k
North America – Hawaii45k80k110k
North America – West Europe60k90k125k
Within Asian I20k30k50k
Asian I – West Europe75k105k145k

Here are the detailed award charts.

Tips on mileage redemption:

  1. It’s free to book award tickets online. But it costs 30 CAD if you book by phone.
  2. Air Canada charges 90CAD plus taxes for award ticket changes before departure.
  3. After departure, you are allowed to change the airlines and departure dates but not the routing.
  4. AC will allow you to cancel award tickets for 90CAD+taxes until 22 days. Within 22 days, the fee is 180CAD+taxes.
  5. Every award ticket allows up to 10-11 segments. If you are interested, you may try one trip with 11 segments.
  6. Last October, Aeroplan updated its route rules by eliminating the restriction of only being able to exceed the MPM by 5-10%. Despite this improvement, it seems that the new routing rules are considerably stricter. Aeroplan’s computers will start pricing and validating awards. If the computer won’t price or validate an award, the agent won’t be able to get around it. So there could be some cases where itineraries don’t price when they previously would have. For instance, you may not be able to get around in Europe with Swiss Airlines.

Here are some highlights of Aeroplan miles.

  1. AC allows one-way ticket in its certain routes, like UA and AA. The miles required are half of miles for round-trip tickets. For your information, ANA doesn’t allow one-way ticket.
  2. AC allows two stopovers each way or 1 stopover and 1 open-jaw. By comparison, UA allows 1 stopover and 1 open-jaw. Remember you have to call the contact center to book an award ticket with two stopovers. Otherwise, you can book online. So why is it so amazing to have two stopovers. Let’s say you are interested in doing a trip to Phuket when you fly from the US to China. What you can do is to book your ticket as a ticket to Phuket, with two stopovers in China. The entire trip costs 75K miles if you fly economy and 150K miles in business class. However, the same trip will cost you 80K UA miles plus an open-jaw ticket. You can even travel to Australia by using this trick to extreme. It costs you 80K miles. By the way, it is a good option to make a round-the-world trip like US-Europe-China-Japan –US, which costs 75K miles. The following example shows how this trick works out. As you can see, it only costs 80K miles+ $171.9 taxes to fly economy from New York to Shanghai to Melbourne and back, if you put Melbourne as destination and Shanghai as stopover. (If you need another stopover at Shanghai on the returning trip, you need to book the tickets over the phone).1
  3. In AC, Canada / US short haul flights also allows stopovers, in contrast with UA’s routing rules. (It’s inaccurate that one segment has to be operated by Air Canada, as said by some US posts.) In fact, you can fly with UA for the entire trip at a cost of 25K miles without fuel surcharges (as shown below).2
  4. Asia I includes the following areas: China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Thailand, etc. Internal flights in Asia costs 20K in economy class and 30K in business class. That means you can fly business with Singapore Airline between China and Singapore at a cost of 30K miles. The award ticket also allows one open-jaw. You can book tickets with AC online or over the phone with UA. Another good way to use your 30K miles is flying on Air China between China and Taiwan or flying on Air China or ANA between China and Japan. Remember that within the same region, one-way ticket is not allowed outside North America. The internal flights are probably the reason why most people based in Asia prefer AC. Before the new routing rule came into effect, passengers might travel from China to Thailand with an open-jaw at Singapore. However, with the new Aeroplan computer systems, this itinerary doesn’t price since last year. You have to fly with Thai Airways to Ko Samui or Phuket and pay for high fuel surcharges. The picture shows that a round-trip flight between Beijing and Singapore in business class costs 30,000 miles without fuel surcharges.3
  5. A round-trip economy flight between North America and West Europe operated by AC costs 90K miles. By comparison, the same flight if you use UA for UA operated or other Star Alliance operated costs 115K miles or 140K miles. The corresponding first class tickets cost 125K, 160K, 220K when you use AC, use UA for UA or use UA for other Star Alliance carriers. Besides, you can redeem 105K/145K for a round-trip economy/business class flight operated by AC between US and Europe, and redeem 45K for a one-way ticket. The picture shows the Aeroplan miles redeemed for a round-trip business class flight between New York and Paris. The $433.5 fees and taxes include $258 fuel surcharges charged by AC.5
  6. There are no penalties for booking within 21 days preceding the flight date. For AA and UA, the penalty is $75.
  7. A one-way short-haul flight operated by AC costs only 7.5K miles. Aeroplan also provides Market Fare on the flights operated by AC. (Market Fare allows customers to redeem miles for flights in addition award tickets.) AC’s SuperElite 100K members can even redeem miles for tickets regardless of award seat availability (What a privilege!). The picture reveals that a one-way short-haul flight between New York to Toronto operated by AC costs only 7.5K miles. (Altitude members have their fuel surcharges waived with flights within North America).4

5. The fuel surcharges

Then we are going to talk about the fuel surcharges. Students based in US may not hear much about fuel surcharges since UA and AA usually have the fees waived. However, there are many airlines out there charging huge fuel surcharges with their frequent flyer programs. Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific rank high among the list. Aeroplan is between the two categories mentioned above. It is notable that Aeroplan does not impose fuel surcharges for travel on certain airlines. The list includes: Air China, United Airlines, EVA Airways, Shenzhen Airways, Singapore Airlines, Copa Airlines, Turkish Airlines, Swiss Airlines, CroatiaAirlines, Scandinavian Airlines, Brussels Airlines, Aegean Airlines, Columbia Airlines, South African Airways, Egypt Air, Air India. Besides, fuel surcharges imposed on Asiana Airlines, Air New Zealand, Polish Airlines and Air Portugal are really low.

On the other hand, Aeroplan imposes varying fuel surcharges for travel on AC (Altitude members can have the fees waived), ANA, Thai Airlines, Lufthansa and Austrian Airlines. The fees range from moderate (AC and Thai Airlines) to huge (ANA and Austrian Airlines) to outrageously high (Lufthansa). It is not uncommon that fuel surcharges reach thousands of dollars. So avoid redeeming for Lufthansa flight.

In spite of Lufthansa’s pre-dominance in US-Europe route, its 90K round-trip business flight seems less attractive with huge fuel surcharges. Instead, we suggest Swiss Airlines (limited to business class), Scandinavian Airlines (not available on Aeroplan website, try UA or ANA website and book award tickets over the phone) and Brussels Airlines in addition to United.

On China-US route, EVA Airways, United and Air China are the airlines without fuel surcharges. In addition, Asiana Airways has really low fuel surcharges. However, EVA and Air China have limited award seats, and AC certainly has few UA award seats than UA itself. This disadvantage in award seat availability partially explains why CA remains less competitive in China-US route. However, Aeroplan miles have its unparalleled advantages when it comes to Asian internal flights. Refer to this post for more information on fuel surcharges. Anyway, Aeroplan miles are better compared with Lufthansa miles. Here are some examples of fuel surcharges:
6

Aeroplan imposes $433.9 taxes and fees, including $420 fuel surcharges on its AC round-trip flights from US to China.

7

Aeroplan imposes no fuel surcharges for travel on Air China and United in US-China route.

8

Aeroplan imposes $1031.30 taxes and fees, including $856 fuel surcharges on Lufthansa in US-Europe route.

6. Mileage expiration

Aeroplan miles expire when there is no activity (earning or redeeming) for a period of 12 months. You can keep the alive with earning or redeeming. Aeroplan improves its mileage expiry policy by canceling its Seven-year mileage redemption policy several years ago.

However, there is still room for improvement compared with expiry policy of other airlines. For AA and UA, the miles expire after 18 or 36 months of no activity. For Delta, the miles never expire. Anyway, it is still better than ANA miles, which expire 3 years after accumulation.


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