Booking with Points

As mentioned in my blog about loyalty clubs and rewards points, I am going to try to explain why I have chosen the Aeroplan program (at least until 2020 when it is said to be parting ways with Air Canada) and some general rules on how to make the most of those points you accumulate.

That’s enough to go around the world! Almost twice!
  1. I prefer to fly Air Canada and Star Alliance airlines. Say what you will about any issues you’ve had with Air Canada, they’re still rated the number one airline in North America.
  2.  I am able to accumulate Aeroplan points at a rapid rate, allowing me to redeem several free flights a year. Using a combination of flights, credit card points, and random small accumulations at Esso and with the Carrot App I rack up these points far faster than Airmiles or other comparable programs would. Note: travellers, you should be putting EVERY purchase on your travel reward points credit card. Even that $2 tea you buy at Starbucks. Everything. 
  3.  I’ve looked at other reward points programs and most give you a dollar amount that can be applied towards a travel dollar amount. This is great for when you find those seat sales, but I like to use my Aeroplan points for those really expensive or remote trips and am happy to pay (with my travel rewards credit card) for bargain seat sales when it isn’t worth using points.

There are lots of websites out there that will do the math for you on when it is worth using Aeroplan or not. I do not abide by a simple formula, but rather look at opportunities to take advantage of their flat rate travel rewards system to maximize value for remote destinations.

For example, a trip from Vancouver to Whitehorse is typically around $600-700. Because of the short distance, it is only 15,000 Aeroplan points. By contrast, a flight to LAX is 25,000 points but typically costs $200-$300.

Obviously, the flight to Whitehorse is the better value. It is less points for a flight that costs significantly more. If I was to use a different travel rewards program based on monetary amount, I’d be left paying 2-3x as much to go to Whitehorse. But with Aeroplan, I am able to go for 10,000 less points, saving me a significant amount of money.

I have used Aeroplan for short haul flights internationally as well (thanks to the partnership with Star Alliance). This has served me well with an expensive connection to Lithuania from London, as well as from Ecuador to the Galapagos.

Another perk of the Aeroplan program is the ability to include stopovers. I once took a trip from Vancouver to Toronto to Miami and back to Vancouver for 25,000 points. Any trip within North America is 25,000 points but you can add a stopover for free, making this itinerary a better value than just going to Toronto or Miami on their own. In this case, to purchase the ticket would have cost me over $1000.

I have used these single stopovers within North America several times, however I have yet to try the mini RTW (round the world) stopover option. On international roundtrip rewards, Aeroplan allows you to book TWO stopovers. Rather than their full RTW option with 5 stopovers for 200,000 points, this mini RTW option should be able to get you to a couple different continents for a much lower point amount (75,000 – 90,000 points).

Now don’t get too excited and switch all your loyalty to the Aeroplan program. It is not without its faults. It does require some flexibility, either with dates, or with random stopovers – sometimes stopovers that don’t make any sense. This program is best for someone who travels frequently and is able to discern when to best use the points vs. paying for flights. It is not for the person who saves up their points for 5 years for a 60,000 point trip to Europe, only to discover the taxes on the points are more expensive than the latest advertised seat sale.

The taxes on flights are the next largest downside to Aeroplan following the lack of availability.  As mentioned, the taxes on a flight to Europe can be more than paying cash on a flight to Europe ($600+). Likewise, there are some flights that have almost no taxes, like Seattle to Central America where taxes are $15-30. There are several airlines who do not charge all the same fees and levies that Air Canada does, and many airports who do not, hence why flying out of Seattle airport on United airlines, can save hundreds of dollars over an Air Canada flight from YVR.

Unfortunately the Aeroplan website does not have any quick way of comparing things (it would be amazing if they had a platform similar to Google flights!) so researching the best use of your Aeroplan points can be time consuming and onerous. Knowing that availability changes daily, I remember spending every day for a week or two checking flights from YVR to Miami, Fort Launderdale and West Palm Beach every morning until the dates I was looking for opened up.

One last note… Aeroplan also has hotel stays and merchandise. I have never found this to be a value. A night at a cheap Best Western for the same number of points as a flight within North America? No thank you… I stick to using my Aeroplan points only for flights.

This is just a quick blog about why I choose Aeroplan over the points programs based on monetary travel amounts. If you are interested in learning more secrets about how to maximize your Aeroplan points, there are a bunch of fantastic blogs out there that go into serious detail.

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