The new Aeroplan award chart: A nice net win

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Air Canada promised a new and improved Aeroplan loyalty program to debut in 2020. The award chart / booking details are out today and while there are of course some negative points, I think the new program is a big net win for most travelers. It’s definitely more complicated in some respects, but also a heck of a lot more fun.

High-level summary

A quick high-level summary of the changes:

Positive:

  • One stopover will be allowed per one-way outside of the US & Canada for a fee of 5,000 miles. Note: Stopovers will no longer be allowed within the US or Canada regardless of itinerary origin or destination.
  • Routing rules will be wide open. You can’t backtrack, but can transit (and stopover within) a third region
  • Fuel surcharges are being eliminated

Negative:

  • Award pricing is going up around 13% on average
  • There will be a $39 CAD partner booking fee if you include partner airlines
  • No more free stopovers on round trip awards
  • Variable pricing on Air Canada awards or awards that mix Air Canada with other carriers

The new award charts are both region and distance-based

Direct link to the new full Aeroplan award chart

The most complex part of the new program is that Aeroplan is meshing a region-based chart with distance-based pricing. That is to say that you’ll first need to determine your starting and ending region and then calculate the distance from your starting point to ending point (based on actual distance flown) to determine the associated pricing. That sounds a little difficult, but in reality it will just take an extra couple of minutes when looking at the award chart (and they promise an improved website that should make this very easy). Use a tool like gcmap.com to calculate distances.

Here is a quick look at regions:

That is a far simpler region-based chart that most programs in that there are only 4 regions. The complication comes from then determining the price based on distance. For example, for travel between North America and the Atlantic zone, you’ll pay anywhere from 60K-100K points each way in business class for a partner award and between 90K-130K in first class on a partner airline.

A couple of interesting notes based on that one award chart example that you’ll find interesting and applicable in other circumstances as well:

  • Award pricing is the same from the US to Europe, Africa, the Middle East, or India. Add a stopover on a one-way to see two continents for 5K miles more.
  • According to everything I’ve read thus far, routing rules indicate that you can route however you’d like provided that you do not backtrack. Since each award chart offers a top distance band of X number of miles or more, it looks like you could travel (for example) US to Australia (stopover) then to South Africa (destination) for the same price as flying to Australia alone (or even fewer miles in first class than a ticket to Australia alone).  As an example:
    • US to Australia at the highest distance band (11,000+ miles flown):
      • 75K economy / 105K business / 140K first
    • US to Africa at the highest distance band (8,001+ miles flown):
      • 70K economy / 100K business / 130K first
    •  Add 5K for stopover in Australia:
      • 75K economy / 105K business / 135K first with a stopover

The same type of concept should apply to all of your award chart combinations when flying at the maximum distance band. Given the ability to add a stopover for 5,000 miles, the high end of the distance band would potentially be the most appealing.

The full new award chart is put together in a PDF (again, here’s a link to it) and it hasn’t yet been compressed into an easier-to-access chart. That’s not necessarily a bad thing: a little bit of complexity often keeps some of the sweetest spots alive for the longest.

The negatives aren’t terrible

The key news in all of this is that the negatives aren’t terrible and are mostly mitigated by positives.

The biggest negative that most people will notice immediately is that some of the award chart “sweet spots” are going up in price. Whereas you can currently book business class to Europe for 55K miles each way or first class for 70K miles each way, under the new chart you’ll pay anywhere from 60K-90K for business and anywhere from 90K-130K for first class. In some circumstances, that’s not a small increase. On the other hand, the elimination of fuel surcharges means that you’re potentially saving hundreds of dollars on Lufthansa group airlines. Nobody wants to pay more miles, but I’d rather pay more miles and fewer surcharges. I feel even better about that given the routing creativity that looks to be possible.

The $39 CAD partner booking fee stinks if you were booking an airline that didn’t previously add fuel surcharges. On the other hand, the equivalent of about $29 in USD today isn’t too egregious all things considered.

I’m sure that some people will be very disappointed to see the free stopover on a round trip eliminated. That’s fair. Combined with the award chart increases, it makes for a big bummer for those who typically book round trip flights.

On the other hand, I almost exclusively book separate one-ways to give me wider access to different flights / alliances / open-jaws / etc. I’m happy to pick up a stopover on a one-way for 5K miles as it is not common to be able to book a stopover on a one-way ticket. Keep in mind that you can not stopover within the US and Canada and you can only have one stopover per one-way.

My biggest reservation with the new program is how variable pricing will affect Air Canada awards. On the one hand, it could be that there will still be the equivalent of “saver” awards and the equivalent of “anytime” awards will vary in price. On the other hand, it may be more widely variable. This could make it difficult to plan if you’ll be including any segments on Air Canada.

Two bonuses: point pooling and an improved website

Two final bonuses worth mentioning: in the new program, you’ll be able to pool points with up to 8 members of your family. It looks like Aeroplan is going to let you define what family means to you, though they may make adjustments if there is abuse. At any rate, you will at least be able to combine redeemable points (not elite qualifying points) within a household.

The other potential piece of great news is that Aeroplan claims they will launch an entirely new booking engine that will enable you to more or less piece together any routing you want online. It remains to be seen how this will work or when it will launch, but if it’s true it could make the program a game-changer in terms of the ease of complex routings. Combined with liberal routing rules and the top ends of the distance bands, it could certainly make Aeroplan the go-to program for folks looking to build big trips.

Bottom line

These are big changes to the Aeroplan award chart and booking rules, but the net result looks pretty positive to me. Some will surely be unhappy as is the case with any award chart change, but overall the loses aren’t huge and the potential wins are. We will have a complete guide to the entire new Aeroplan program coming soon, but at first glance this looks pretty good.

H/T: One Mile at a Time

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