Air Canada has pulled back the curtains on its rebooted Aeroplan rewards program, which will officially relaunch on November 8, 2020.
The sweeping changes include making every seat on every Air Canada flight available for points-based reward booking, the elimination of airline surcharges on reward bookings, using Aeroplan points for upgrades and booking trips with a combination of points and cash.
However, this doesn’t come without some curveballs: for example, earning Aeroplan points will move from the number of miles you fly to the amount you pay for your ticket.
While the program’s name and the ranking of its five status tiers remain the same, the rest of Aeroplan almost seems as close as you can get to a new loyalty scheme without starting from scratch.
That’s no accident: with Aeroplan once again fully owned by Air Canada, after it was was spun out and sold off across 2005-2008 to become a broader retail-based loyalty scheme, the airline’s loyalty team approached Aeroplan 2.0 as if it was being designed from the ground up.
"Since we announced our commitment to improve Aeroplan, we’ve been listening to feedback from more than 36,000 consumers” says Mark Nasr, Air Canada’s Vice President of Loyalty and eCommerce, who is fond of describing Aeroplan as having being ‘transformed’.
“We’ve benchmarked against loyalty and frequent flyer programs from around the globe.”
As part of the overall Nasr says “we’ve completely rebuilt our digital infrastructure,” which includes rolling Aeroplan into the main Air Canada website and apps and creating a “micro-redemption” platform to allow Aeroplan points to be used for everything from bidding for upgrades at check-in to purchasing lounge access and WiFi.
Here’s a quick run-through of notable Aeroplan changes.
Air Canada has retained the familiar and widely-known Aeroplan name but the ‘currency’ shifts from being Aeroplan Miles to Aeroplan Points.
(Of course, all Aeroplan Miles will automatically be converted to Aeroplan Points on a one-to-one basis.)
How those points will be earned will change “later in 2021”, Air Canada says, with the earn rate geared around how much your ticket cost instead of the number of miles you fly.
This, we’re told, is also behind renaming Aeroplan Miles to the more generic Aeroplan Points.
It doesn’t impact status, just the points you’d typically ‘spend’ with the airline, and Air Canada says that even its cheapest ‘Basic’ fares will earn points.
Aeroplan Elite Status
Air Canada’s assortment of tiers will be rebadged as 'Aeroplan Elite Status' tiers, with simplified names per tier, and they'll kick in after the entry-level Aeroplan Debut at the same rungs as before:
- Aeroplan 25K (formerly Altitude Prestige 25K)
- Aeroplan 35K (formerly Altitude Elite 35K)
- Aeroplan 50K (formerly Altitude Elite 50K)
- Aeroplan 75K (formerly Altitude Elite 75K)
- Aeroplan Super Elite (formerly Altitude Super Elite 100K))
Every seat is now a reward seat
This is a cornerstone of Air Canada’s aim that Aeroplan be “flexible”: every seat in every cabin on every Air Canada flight will be available to book with points.
There’ll be “no restrictions” and "no blackout periods”, the airline promises: if you can buy it with cash, then you can also buy it with points.
(In fact, you’ll be able to buy it with a bit of both: a Points + Cash option will list at least four price points on any ticket, ranging from 100% points to 60% in points and the rest in cash.)
This means there’ll be no more distinction between fixed and ‘market fare’ flight rewards: a ticket’s ‘points price’ will be directly related to its cash price.
Book your trip during a high-demand period, or very close to the date of departure, and you’ll likely need a correspondingly high number of points.
Air Canada intends to make planning those points-based trips easier with an online ‘Points Predictor Tool’ to show “the realistic ranges of points you’ll likely need for a flight reward.”
As a yardstick, to make the quick 90 minute sprint between Toronto and New York in economy you’ll be up for anywhere between 6,000 and 10,000 Aeroplan Points, while the trans-Atlantic hop from Vancouver to London in business class will range from 70,000 to 180,000 points
Likewise, for Vancouver-Sydney in business class starts at 85,000 points and scales up to 200,000 points.
There’s a slight uptick in the baseline of points needed for any given reward booking but Air Canada says this will be more than offset by the removal of its own surcharges, which can translate to a saving of hundreds of dollars on international flights.
Regions and zones: the new Aeroplan Points award table
When it comes to redeeming Aeroplan Points on a flight, a worldwide chart divides the globe into four ‘travel zones’: North America, South America, the Atlantic and the Pacific.
Within each of those is a subset of anywhere from two to five distance-based zones, which then determine the range of Aeroplan Points needed to snare a ‘free’ seat with Air Canada or one of its partners (a roster which includes Star Alliance airlines along with the likes of Cathay Pacific and Etihad Airways).
For example, the mileage-based zones in Air Canada’s North America chart step from 0 to 500 miles; 501 to 1,500 miles; 1,501 to 2,750 miles; and above 2,751 miles.
Flights between the North America and the Pacific zones – which covers Air Canada’s services to Australia and Asia – are graded from 0 to 5,000 miles; 5001-7500 miles; 7,501-11,000 miles; and above 11,001 miles.
There’ll also be a $39 booking fee per ticket for using Aeroplan Points on any partner airlines.
Click here to download the full Aeroplan Flight Reward Chart [1.2MB PDF]
New ways to use your points
Aeroplan Points will also be able to be used to make an auction-style bid for an upgrade to premium economy and business class, and Executive Traveller understands this could extend to being done as late as when you arrive at the airport’s check-in counter.
From December 2020, points will also be redeemable for inflight WiFi and in 2021 they’ll be good for seat and baggage fees, lounge access and ‘buy on board’ items if you’re so inclined.
Air Canada is keen to push these ‘micro-redemptions’ as far as they can, even to what it calls ‘every’ purchases outside of the travel realm, such as buying a cup of coffee – no doubt making good on Air Canada CEO Calin Rovinescu’s statement that Aeroplan “is the next best currency to the Canadian dollar.”
Air Canada Signature Suite lounge access
To date, Air Canada’s swish Signature Suite lounges at Toronto and Vancouver have been available only to travellers holding a paid business class ticket with the airline.
However, under the new Aeroplan rules, using points to book a Business Flexible fare – but not the cheaper standard business fare – will now include Signature Suite lounge access.
We rate these as among the world's best business class lounges, with a relaxed and somewhat exclusive vibe (partly due to the fact that frequent flyer status doesn't get you through the door) and an à la carte menu curated by David Hawksworth, considered one of Canada’s leading culinary talents.
Aeroplan family sharing
This is bound to be one of the most popular improvements to Aeroplan 2.0.
Up to eight family members can pool their Aeroplan Points, with all points earned by each of those nominated family members being added to a ‘shared balance’ which can be drawn upon for reward flights and other perks.
Gift the gift of status
Speaking of sharing, as of March 2021, Aeroplan 50K and Super Elite (100K) members will be able to give the gift of 'instant 50K status' to any other Aeroplan member – a family member, a friend or a colleague – for their next trip.
The Aeroplan Status Pass offers the same benefits as any Aeroplan 50K member would enjoy, and is well-suited to smoothing an economy trip with practical benefits such as priority check-in, three complimentary checked bags with priority handling, priority security clearance, Maple Leaf lounge access and priority boarding.
The passs is attached to the traveller's itinerary and is valid for the entirety of that trip, including the return leg: it's not just a one-day deal.
Perhaps best of all, those perks are available to everybody on same reservation, which means up to nine people – ideal for family holidays or work trips.
Aeroplan 2.0 also overhauls the bonuses issued as members reach specific spending thresholds. Up to 11 Priority Rewards vouchers are issued each year as members hit a Status Qualifying Dollar (SQD) milestone of $4,000, $7000, $10,000 and $15,000, and then for every successive $5,000 up to a maximum of $50,000.
Each voucher is good for a 50% discount on the base fare Aeroplan Points redemption rate in selected cabins and travel zones.
For example, Aeroplan Elite Status 25K and 35K will find their Priority Rewards vouchers can be applied to economy bookings in Canada and the USA; an Elite Status 75K voucher works on worldwide bookings in economy and premium economy; and a Super Elite (100k) voucher is valid for worldwide bookings up to business class.
All in one place
Aeroplan is being integrated into the Air Canada website and apps, so from the one place you’ll be able to search for and book reward flights, as well as log into a member ‘dashboard’ to track points and status and get the most from the program.
For more on the new Aeroplan rewards program, click through AirCanada.com/Aeroplan.