On the last posting we did an overview of using Aeroplan, with an emphasis on trying to avoid the dreaded “carrier surcharge” when booking flights. This time we’ll get a little deeper into a few of the complexities. A common feature of Aeroplan, as well as most travel points programs, is that they can be frustratingly complex.
One thing we like about Aeroplan is that you can include up to two stopovers on international flights – one in each direction. But again, it’s not that simple. You can include one stopover using the online booking on the Aeroplan website, searching on the multicity option. But to get two stopovers, you have to call the Aeroplan call centre and book over the phone. However, they charge you $30 plus tax for a phone booking. In some cases, it may be worthwhile to do this when you have a complex international itinerary that may not price out on the Aeroplan website. A good agent might also be able to help find flights when you’re having trouble.
On one trip to Southeast Asia, we could not find a routing on the Aeroplan website with non-surcharge airlines. But by searching individual segments of possible routes we found that there was award availability from San Francisco to Singapore, then to Hanoi, using Singapore Airlines, which is not only surcharge-free, but has a reputation as one of the better airlines in the world. Going through San Francisco wasn’t the most direct route, but it was within the mileage limits allowed by Aeroplan. Once we found award availability between Saskatoon and San Francisco, we were ready to make the booking. This routing still wouldn’t show up on Aeroplan’s website, so we had to call to book over the phone. Although we had to pay the phone booking fee, it was still a significant saving over flying with airlines that impose huge surcharges.
For flights to Southeast Asia, most routings are over the Pacific. But since it is almost half way around the globe, (depending on where you’re going and where in Canada you live), Aeroplan also allows a routing through Europe. This provides an excellent opportunity to do an around-the-world trip and visit both Asia and Europe for the same number of points as Asia alone. As long as you stick to airlines that don’t have carrier surcharges, the fees and taxes aren’t too bad. We did one booking like this for $174 in fees and taxes.
Aeroplan lets you book one-way flights for half the cost of a return flight, which is useful in some cases. In the last posting we gave the example of a flight we took to South Africa using Aeroplan on the way there and Delta Skymiles points for the return. But sometimes it might make sense to use points for one direction and buy a ticket for the other. Our most recent booking was to Mexico City. Air Canada was showing some decent fares, so we thought that we would simply buy a ticket. But to get a good fare for the outward flight meant a horrible connection with countless hours in the airport. The return flight, however, was fine – the lowest price and a convenient connection. So we ended up booking a one-way ticket to Mexico City on Aeroplan, which showed reasonably convenient connections with Air Canada and United, then bought a return ticket on Air Canada. Every situation will be different, and you never know what’s best until you compare schedules and crunch the numbers.
Credit Cards Linked to Aeroplan
Something we consider a must is having a credit card associated with Aeroplan, such as those offered by CIBC and TD banks. They are handy for earning Aeroplan points, but also have a few advantages when travelling. If you pay the fees and taxes on an award ticket using an Aeroplan credit card, you get some insurance coverage for things such as trip interruption (but check the fine print for all the “ifs”, “buts”, and exclusions).
Air Canada, as well as most airlines, charges for checked bags for travel within North America. Using one of these cards, you get the first checked bag free, but only for the card holder (not for anyone else travelling with you, even on the same reservation), and only if you’re travelling on Air Canada on an Aeroplan ticket. If you’re a couple travelling together, it’s best to each have an Aeroplan credit card and separate reservations to take advantage of this.
Another perk is that some Aeroplan credit cards allow you a once per year visit to Air Canada’s Maple Leaf Lounge in major airports. Again, this is only available if you’re travelling Air Canada on an Aeroplan ticket, and it only applies to the cardholder. Another reason for a couple to each have their own tickets, or else there might be some interesting discussions as to who gets to relax and sip wine in the lounge and who is left to huddle with the great masses in the main part of the airport.
Just when you thought that things couldn’t get more complicated, there’s the question of Mexico. Is it part of North America? There’s no clear answer. Air Canada will charge for the first checked bag if you fly to Cancun, but not if you fly to Mexico City. Go figure.