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Air Canada and Aeroplan Reward Travel
This wiki page provides information about how to use Aeroplan (Air Canada) miles to secure reward travel flights and other, non-flight, rewards. All of these are managed by Aeroplan, a separate company from Air Canada, that manages the AC rewards program.
Reward types(top)Essentially there are three main categories of rewards, at least as seen from the frequent flyer perspective: reward flights, flight upgrades and non-flight rewards.
Flight rewards(top)The cost of the Aeroplan flight rewards are based on a combination of origin and destination, class of travel and the level of reward availability. You can find the reward chart here.
Note that you can book reward travel in Y (economy) or J (business) on Air Canada, but some Star Alliance partner airlines also offer international F (first), a more luxurious experience than J. Typically the Star Alliance rewards are less expensive for J than those for corresponding Air Canada flights; the rationale is that on Air Canada J is the top class of travel, and on another line that also offers F, the J class might offer a lower level of service than on Air Canada.
On Air Canada, economy reward travel comes out of 'X' booking class, and executive (business) reward travel comes out of "I" booking class. You can use a tool such as AwardNexus, flisea.com, KVS Tool or ExpertFlyer to check for these two booking classes.
For a confirmed "I" class flight, you can standby for an earlier flight for no fee (within North America) ([courtesy of Andrew Yiu/AC]).
If you have used AE miles for an Executive Class Reward ticket (i.e., "I" class) and it has not come through on a particular leg (only if you're ticketed in Executive/Executive First (AC issued tickets only)) you can only request to be added to the upgrade waitlist on the day of departure at the airport; so be sure the ask the check-in agent to do that for you once you get to the airport ([courtesy of Andrew Yiu/AC]).
Star Alliance upgrade rewards(top)As of 2011, Air Canada now participates in the Star Alliance upgrade program, allowing you to secure upgrades to J on most Star Alliance airlines. However, the upgrades are relatively expensive, and often cost almost as much as full reward tickets. The Star Alliance upgrade reward chart can be found here. The Star Alliance FAQ (PDF File) is also a good reference in general
Non-travel rewards(top)Aeroplan also offers many non-flight reward options. The effective value of these options is typically around $0.01 per mile, less than the value of most Y flight rewards and far below the effective value of most J or F rewards. However, if you are unable to take a flight, you need something offered by Aeroplan or you don't have enough miles for a flight, the non-travel rewards are worth investigating. See the Aeroplan web site for details of available non-flight rewards.
Booking reward travel(top)You can book reward travel online, or call Aeroplan using the toll-free number and ask an agent to do the booking for you.
You can find all the details on the Aeroplan Reward Booking Terms and Conditions at this Aeroplan web page. This includes information on potential booking fees, cancellation fees, cancellation rules, standby and airport changes. Look for the Air Booking Terms & Conditions on the left-hand side of the page.
Booking online(top)The reward booking engine is located on the Aeroplan web site here
It tends to be effective for Air Canada flights, but often does not show all the other available Star Alliance flights. It may also not allow the booking of more complex itineraries with stopovers and/or open jaws, such as mini-RTW flights.
Booking through an agent(top)If the booking engine on the Aeroplan web site does not find the flights you want, even though you have confirmed the flights are available (see next section), it will likely be worth your while to call Aeroplan and ask the agent to book it for you, as the agent will have access to many flights that are not shown on the web site.
Having an agent book a flight will cost $30 per ticket. Note that this fee will apply even if the web wite engine did not find a flight that it "should" have found.
Finding reward seat availability(top)To perform a more extensive search for (Star Alliance) flight rewards, you have essentially two options: first, you can purchase a subscription to a tool such as AwardNexus (free option), flisea.com (free), or KVS Tool (all of which supports Award Availability on all Star Alliance partners) or ExpertFlyer (which also has award alerting functionality); or, second, you can sign up for the ANA Mileage Club, and then use ANA's search engine to look for the flights you want. (KVS Tool and flisea.com can also utilize the ANA and a number of other engines). ANA's search engine is generally recognized as the most effective one for Star Alliance rewards.
For a listing of Award Booking Classes on each of the Star Alliance member airlines, please see http://Help.KVSTool.com/#Classes
Booking reward travel early(top)In order to secure reward travel on high-demand routes (such as YYZ-SYD, for example), and especially for travel in J, you may need to book well in advance. Aeroplan will allow you to book reward travel up to 355 days in advance.
On some routes, you may need to book the outbound leg as soon as it becomes available, even before the correct return leg can be booked (ie the return you want may still be more than 355 days out). In such a scenario, the recommended course of action is to book the outbound leg as soon as it becomes available, and to book essentially any random return leg. Then, once the return leg fits into the 355-day window, you will need to make a change to the return flight -- and pay the change fee.
Getting the most value for reward travel(top)Once you've decided to use your hard-earned Aeroplan reward miles for travel, the next step is to make sure you get the best value for those miles.
Generally travelling in J will give you most dollars in ticket value per mile, as J fares are far more expensive than Y, whereas the difference between the reward tickets is much smaller. However, you will need to decide whether you personally value travel in J enough to book J reward tickets. Also, the availability for J reward tickets is much more limited than that for Y rewards.
Reward ticket levels(top)The least expensive tickets, in both Y and J, are the Classic flight rewards, which are priced at fixed levels. ClassicPlus rewards provide access to additional reward seat inventory, but require additional miles. Star Alliance rewards have similar but not identical costs.
Super Elite members also have access to much greater reward seat inventory (though still limited at times) through the "IKK" priority flight rewards. These priority rewards are priced at a 30% premium over the Classic flight rewards.
Minimizing fees and taxes(top)With any Aeroplan reward ticket, you will be responsible for paying all fees and taxes that would be applicable on a standard revenue ticket. Notably this also includes the fuel surcharge (YQ).
As of 2011, for international travel on Air Canada, a substantial portion of the total ticket cost is in the YQ fuel surcharge. As the fuel surcharge is payable with reward tickets as well, the cost of the reward tickets (in addition to the miles) can be substantial. It is often, however, possible to reduce the fuel surcharge cost by using a Star Alliance award instead, as most other Star Alliance airlines have much smaller fuel surcharges.
Additionally UK imposes significant fees on airline travel, and especially so for travel in F or J. As a result, connections through LHR or other British airports can also significantly impact the fees payable on reward travel.
Mini-RTW awards(top)A Star Alliance "Mini-RTW" is likely the best value of all the Aeroplan reward options: a flight around the world, for the cost of an Asia reward ticket. The key point enabling a Mini-RTW is that Aeroplan allows you to route one leg of the Asia ticket across the Pacific and the other across the Atlantic, effectively giving you an around-the-world itinerary.
The Mini-RTW is limited to one stopover and one open jaw in addition to the "destination", as opposed to five stopovers and an open jaw for the conventional RTW reward, but then it costs only 120K miles in F, rather than 400K for the full RTW, and 100K in J. (Note that even on F reward ticket you might not be able to secure all segments in F.)
If you would like to make more stops in, say, Asia or Europe on a Mini-RTW, you could always supplement the Mini-RTW reward with either a Star Alliance intra-Asia/intra-Europe reward (50K in F, 30K in J) or flights on a local low-cost carrier. Again, note that intra-Europe few airlines offer any F at all, and even in J the seats are typically the same ones as in Y.