Here is a useful summary of just the very most important pros and cons of the long-awaited new Aeroplan program unveiled by Air Canada, in case you want a brief overview of the key elements and aren’t ready to deep-dive into all the many many changes to the indispensable program for Canadian travelers.
But first, I want to invite you to join our upcoming live video Q&A about travel rewards, exclusively for those signed up to our separate (and free) rewards-specific newsletter. Do so now if you haven’t already to get the invite later today.
You’ll be able to ask me all about Aeroplan, Marriott… or anything else rewards-related.
One last thing before the pros and cons.
Today we’ve also published many other new posts (including a must-read for current Aeroplan members) so you can explore the new Aeroplan program… and there will be much more before the November 8th launch:
Let’s now see the highlights of the program.
New Aeroplan pros and cons overview
As we said when the new Aeroplan was unveiled, the new program is positive overall… but obviously, since it is a variable-value program (and since every traveler is different) it doesn’t mean there are no negatives. Not at all, there are some.
Here are the absolute best (and worse) things about the new program, even if it is not a 100% exhaustive list.
|New welcome bonuses||Overall devaluation for most long-haul flights|
|No more cash surcharges||New $39 partner airline booking fee|
|Award charts maintained for partner airlines||Dynamic pricing on Air Canada|
|Multiple stopovers are back||Distance-based pricing is a bit more complicated|
|Sharing points with family and friends||The new stopover policy has caveats|
|Dynamic pricing is somewhat transparent||No improved earn rates on core credit cards|
|Every seat is available|
|New Points + Cash feature|
|A variety of new sweet spots|
Let’s look at each very briefly.
9 best features of the new Aeroplan
First, the positive.
1. New welcome bonuses
This is by far the best news: amazing new welcome bonus offers will be offered on the new Aeroplan credit cards. I’ll give you a bit more details than for other aspects since this is the foundation of your whole Aeroplan journey.
Something “amazing” is how the Aeroplan executive team described the welcome bonuses to me. We’ve seen welcome bonuses on Aeroplan cards worth over $400 in free travel in the past, so that gives you an estimate of how good this can be. The banks have paid nearly half a billion dollars to secure the Aeroplan credit card program, so they’re well motivated!
These welcome bonuses will go live on November 8th as the program launches, so…
If you’re new to the world of travel rewards:
Don’t apply for cards until then and most importantly, don’t close your old card/cards (now or then). That’s explained in myth #5 of our 25 myths rewards introduction.
If you are experienced in the world of travel rewards:
Make sure to pause your credit card application cycle until then to be ready to reach at least one minimum spend to get at least one welcome bonus (or 2…)
If you are a beginner or an expert, it doesn’t matter:
You can take advantage of multiple cards! Yes, this is amazing and the key to easily earning over $1,000 per year in free travel like I’ve been doing for a decade, while still having an excellent credit score (it’s myth #5 for that as well, and myths #2 and #4 for the importance of welcome bonuses specifically, and plenty of other myths give you details about this very counterintuitive world).
In short, this is the best part of the credit card program: with 3 issuers (AMEX, TD, and CIBC will each offer Aeroplan cards) there will be a whopping 11 different cards.
The only difference is that if you have been in the world of travel rewards for a while (have a good credit score and have cards that have been open for a while) you can take advantage of 2 cards the same day instead of waiting 3 months. We’ll soon explain the benefit of getting two at once, our pro tip (as long as you can reach the 2 minimum spend requirements, which is what should always be central to your card strategy).
You can read more about the 11 options in our post about the new Aeroplan credit cards.
2. No more cash surcharges
We hoped this would happen, and it has: all cash surcharges are being eliminated completely.
Surcharges are cash co-pays that are currently imposed on some flights booked with Aeroplan: all flights booked on Air Canada and those on a few of the 30+ partner airlines. They can often cost you hundreds of dollars in addition to the points required. They’re horrible.
Now, no Aeroplan booking will have any surcharges (although watch out for #2 in the negatives below).
This is a lot better than the current program since searches will be a lot simpler and you’ll have many more options to maximize the value of your points. Currently, you have to search specifically for the surcharge-less partners or pay hundreds of dollars (like most do, unfortunately). You won’t have to worry about that aspect anymore!
3. Award charts maintained for partner airlines
Thankfully, Aeroplan is keeping award charts for all partner airlines.
Award charts establish fixed prices for all flights. By their very nature, flights that cost an amount of points unrelated to the cash price are the only ones that can give you outsized value. This is where the magic happens!
I explained the concept of “outsized value” this in the post about the Northern Canada sweet spot that can save you $2,000 per flight and in the Etihad First Class Apartment example that can save you even more on premium cabins.
That’s why variable-value points like Aeroplan are the absolute best for those of us travelers who want to maximize value and get a good deal. Award charts have recently been eliminated by many airlines who decided to prioritize their bottom lines instead of offering great value.
Aeroplan has kept them, at least for airline partners. This is likely where the best value will remain with the program, just as it is now (but for different reasons, now that no airline has any surcharges).
4. Multiple stopovers are back
The recently-lost option to add more than one stopover to a booking is back, giving you the possibility of building a 3-destination “Mini-Round-The-World” (Mini-RTW) once again.
Even better: the routing rules in general are now even more generous (want to stop in Australia on your way to Asia? no problem) and it is now possible to get a stopover on a one-way booking (very very few programs allow this).
This is excellent news for travelers who love exploring multiple destinations on a trip thanks to these stopovers (which, to be clear, are stops in a city for any desired amount of time as opposed to layovers, where you have a maximum amount of time for a connection).
The feature was a favorite of us budget-travelers, serious world explorers, and those who enjoy maximizing the value of points.
I previously gave you more details by explaining my own 6-stop Mini-RTW to the Middle East and Europe (that’s in the guide on the current program, so disregard the rest of that post of course). And don’t miss our upcoming post about the new Aeroplan Mini-RTW and its even greater possibilities.
However, there are 3 caveats about the multiple stopovers being allowed again (#5 in the negatives below).
5. Sharing points with family and friends
One of the most innovative new features, it will now be possible to pool Aeroplan points into a “family” account. It is not limited to strictly family, opening up some clever possibilities that we’ll detail soon.
For an actual family, the sharing feature makes earning enough points for a trip (which can be a bit longer for each separate individual account, despite the welcome bonuses) a lot quicker thanks to the combination of all points into one account.
It will also make it a lot simpler to book as a family.
The account “leader” can also restrict the possibility of booking to only some members. This is to avoid a situation where your teenager uses the number of points you had saved up for 4 roundtrip tickets for the family trip to the US… to instead book himself a one-way business class ticket to Asia!
You will be able to read more in our upcoming post about the family pooling option.
6. Dynamic pricing is somewhat transparent
For Air Canada flights only (not partners), there is now a dynamic pricing system (price closely related to cash price). That’s bad, but… it could have been much worse.
So the positive aspect is that is somewhat transparent at least: there is a price range provided for each Air Canada flight. This is the price travelers will pay for the flight in about 80%-90% of cases. So it’s not a guarantee (it is not a maximum/minimum), it’s an illustrative range to help planning.
This feature could very well have been like similar ones in US programs, where the price of a flight is just whatever the airline decides the price is. Many programs have no way to plan ahead and absolutely zero transparency.
You can read the detailed post about understanding the new Aeroplan pricing system or even the detailed explanation of the reasoning behind the dynamic pricing system.
But despite Air Canada’s transparency, as mentioned previously, the reality is that the best value will likely be with partner airlines and their fixed prices.
So why would anyone book on Air Canada? Well, one reason is that instead of more value, some travelers prefer more convenience… like the next positive feature.
7. Every seat available
Every single seat (on Air Canada only once again) will be bookable with points: no need to find availability.
For those who care more about simplicity than value, this is very positive. For others… not so much. You see, since you can book absolutely any seat, inevitably that means they will cost a lot more points. That’s why flights on Air Canada will now be priced dynamically.
But again, if you don’t mind not getting as much value and want rewards to be easier, this feature definitely makes it simpler to use your points, even if it’s not the best use.
Thankfully, Aeroplan told us that if you were flexible enough to find seat availability on Air Canada under the current system, you should still be able to find the lower-priced seats. If that turns out to be true, then the fact every seat is available really is strictly positive because it just gives you an incremental opportunity to book seats (at a premium) that you couldn’t book before.
8. New Points + Cash feature
There will be a new improved feature to book flights with a mix of cash and points, again to make it quicker to get to a reward flight or just give more flexibility.
Most importantly, the value Aeroplan will assign to its points for this feature will be very competitive (though not fixed or publicly-disclosed). The reality is that a similar option exists already, it’s just that the value offered is simply horrible.
We’ll have more about this feature in a separate post.
9. A variety of new sweet spots
With a complete change in the pricing system comes a variety of new sweet spots and new opportunities. These will be the key to maximizing the value of your points and we’ll list them comprehensively based on your city very soon.
But here are two major new sweet spots: for globetrotters who love to visit multiple destinations and for those who enjoy the so-called sun destinations (outside of all-inclusive packages of course).
Why for international globetrotters? Not just because of the above stopovers. It’s that the new distance-based system has excellent prices for some short-haul flights in many regions of the world (that are sometimes expensive in cash). Easy to combine with a great cash deal on a long-haul flight.
For example, you can fly between any two cities in South America for just 15,000 points! That’s not bad. It even includes the Galapagos Islands, which can be expensive to fly to in cash even from the continental part of Ecuador; now that price applies all the way to Brazil! Anyway, there are plenty of new options for internationally-focused travelers.
Why for sun destinations? Prices for flights to popular Central American & Caribbean destinations have decreased a lot, the perfect occasion for those who are more of the “vacation” type to give a more authentic trip a try by booking it independently and combining some relaxation with experiencing the local area.
For example, flying from Montreal to Costa Rica currently costs 40,000 points: it is going down to 25,000 (a 38% drop). From every Canadian city, Mexico destinations where there are Marriott Category 1 hotels (where you can get 17 free nights easily), which were also 40,000 points, are also now going down to just 25,000.
We’re putting together the most complete list of concrete examples of great uses of the new Aeroplan points, so stay tuned!
6 worst features of the new Aeroplan
And now, the negative.
1. Overall devaluation for most long-haul flights
There is no sugar-coating this part: many flights will cost more points. Shorter flights aren’t as affected, and on all flights remember that you’ll save the surcharges or easily find a lot more options than now. Some longer flights are going down too, it really depends on the route.
But most long-haul flights are increasing. As is the case with all rewards programs after a number of years, prices go up—just like they go up for everything else in life due to inflation (Aeroplan had not increased prices for 6 years).
Then why is the program still overwhelmingly positive? Well, because of the previous 9 positive features (and the other improvements).
And most importantly, because similar programs that have been revamped recently have been, well, a dumpster fire. So this devaluation could have been so much worse. And it’s not like Air Canada has necessarily gotten us used to expect great value in the past, to be honest.
Compared to paying surcharges, in many cases, even by paying more points you still come out ahead overall (that Northern Canada sweet spot was a perfect example). It’s the net value that matters in the world of travel rewards, as explained in the myth that card fees are bad (they aren’t), and the very-wrong myth that getting completely free flights is better (it’s not).
While #3 below is not that encouraging in terms of earning more quickly, maybe the upcoming welcome bonuses on the cards will make up for the higher prices required for some flights.
You can read how to understand Aeroplan’s new pricing and most importantly which flights you should book before November if you already have a stash of Aeroplan points.
2. New $39 partner airline booking fee
Every booking on partner airlines will incur a flat C$39 fee, whether you book a one-way or a roundtrip.
This is a new incentive to book roundtrips over one-ways on partner airlines and a new incentive to book Air Canada flights if the price is the same (which probably won’t be often with the dynamic pricing for Air Canada).
This fee is a way to recoup the huge sums that many people paid in surcharges (either because they didn’t know they could be avoided or had no other choice). In those cases, the fee is a lot lower than the surcharges and you still end up saving of course.
But if you are like me and always booked airlines with no surcharges already, well it’s a negative: you now have to pay $39 compared to $0. At least it’s per booking, so if you consider it a $19.50 fee in each direction, it’s pretty reasonable. But those who loved to maximize are still worse off than before on this specific aspect.
3. Dynamic pricing on Air Canada
Flights on Air Canada no longer have a fixed guaranteed price. Yes it’s a positive that it is somewhat transparent… but it’s still negative.
I explained this in the above positive aspects, so there’s not much to add.
4. Distance-based pricing is a bit more complicated
The current region-based pricing was a lot simpler overall (I know the price of literally any flight leaving from Canada by heart, as I’m sure many other points enthusiasts can also).
The new distance-based system is slightly more complex, even if it’s still not the end of the world (no doctorate required).
To summarize very briefly with one example: before, the amount of points required for any flight from the Canada region to the Western Europe region was the same, always. No matter where you were leaving from, where you were going, where you transited, which airline you flew. Canada to Western Europe = one price. Simple.
Now, since the price is based on the distance flown, it depends on the exact routing. That changes pretty much the whole mechanism.
It’s still pretty easy to understand though, and our article about the new Aeroplan pricing system explains it very simply.
5. The new stopover policy has caveats
Each stopover now costs 5,000 points each, and most importantly, stopovers are no longer possible in Canada & the US.
While it’s still a major positive that you can do stopovers in each direction (many programs simply don’t allow them at all), I often got great value with the North American stopover: currently, any time you book a roundtrip in North America, you get 2 destinations for the exact same price as 1.
You’ll still be able to do that, just not on bookings wholly within Canada or the US.
And you’ll have to pay 5,000 points for any stopover compared to 0 extra points now. But considering how much value you get by adding a stop, it’s still a pretty good deal. Adding stopovers on cash tickets can sometimes be cheap… but most times it is a lot more expensive than just the ≈$75, the (current) Flytrippers valuation of 5,000 Aeroplan points.
6. No improved earn rates on core credit cards
The earn rates on Aeroplan credit cards have not been significantly improved for the core level cards.
We’ve said it before: the welcome bonuses should be great. That’s awesome. And it’s obviously the most important part. Maybe it’s a bit greedy, but we were also hoping for an improved earn rate on the cards, but that’s not the case.
Of course, it’s worth repeating: earning 1% or 2% on your spending is not the right way to do travel rewards, despite what 95% of people think (that’s normal, when we don’t know better it really seems logical—that’s myth #4).
The fact that there aren’t any great category multipliers on the cards means the “churning” of the many available Aeroplan cards for their welcome bonuses will definitely remain the vital trick for casual travelers.
Again, you can read more in our post about the 11 new Aeroplan credit cards.
Want to get more content about Aeroplan?
These are the main pros and cons of the new Aeroplan program, the indispensable program for Canadian travelers. The program changes are overall very positive and we’ll help you prepare to maximize your points as soon as you’re ready to travel.
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