Why You Shouldn’t Overlook the Aeroplan Loyalty Program

Air Canada's loyalty program is great for travel rewards enthusiasts, even ones that don't fly to Canada often.

Josh Garber, Sally FrenchJanuary 8, 2021
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Air Canada’s loyalty program, Aeroplan, has long been a beloved frequent flyer program for Canadian travelers — in large part due to its award chart, its position as a Star Alliance member airline and its spot as a transfer partner with American Express and Capital One.

Thanks to a slew of new Aeroplan policies announced in November, membership in the Aeroplan loyalty program has changed — mostly for the better. Because of those partnerships, the Aeroplan program can be highly rewarding, even if you never fly the airline. Especially if you travel with family, recent changes make traveling with kids just a bit less stressful.

5 reasons to love the revamped Aeroplan loyalty program

The Aeroplan loyalty program was always pretty swell, but thanks to changes announced at the end of 2020, it got even better. Here are five reasons why the Aeroplan loyalty program is great:

1. No blackout dates

Some airline loyalty programs have blackout dates for reward flights, preventing you from using your points on the days you actually want to fly. With Air Canada, any seat that’s available for purchase in cash is also available for purchase in points. Book an award flight with Air Canada and every fare class is included — with no blackout periods.

2. Air Canada covers any cash surcharges

For Air Canada flights purchased with points, the airline will cover any additional airline surcharges. However, you’re still on the hook for taxes and third-party fees, such as airport fees (though you can cover those in points).

3. The option to book in cash + points

You can pay for your flight in all cash, all points or a combo of both. Few airlines offer the option to book with such a combination (Delta and JetBlue are two other notable exceptions).

The hybrid cash and points option is an especially good one for infrequent travelers who don’t want to be sitting on a few thousand points that might never get used otherwise. Even if you don’t have enough points to cover the entire flight cost, you can at least drain your point balance down to zero. It’s also great if you simply want to save your cash for something else. Points won’t cover your other travel expenses — like poutine at the pub — so pay for as much of your ticket as you can with points and save your cash for everything else.

4. Family sharing

Maybe you’ve earned a ton of points from work trips, and you want to fly your family on vacation for free. Maybe Grandpa doesn’t care about booking flights with frequent flyer points, even though he always flies Air Canada to visit you. With the airline’s new Aeroplan Family Sharing, you can combine Aeroplan points with family members for free.

That makes it convenient to put Grandpa’s otherwise unused points to use (and maybe allow the grandkids to see him for free).

Up to eight family members can join one Aeroplan Family Sharing account, and all points earned by members are added into a shared balance, including their existing point balances. What’s more, even if just one member of the family is an Aeroplan Elite Status Member or holds an Aeroplan-branded credit card, everyone in the family will benefit from their preferred pricing.

5. Lap infants fly cheap (and sometimes for free)

For flights within Canada, you can fly with an infant on your lap at no additional charge. For flights between the U.S. and Canada, you’ll only be on the hook for taxes.

Parents who have braved international travel are likely aware that infant policies can be confusing and inconsistent on other airlines. Happily, it’s straightforward on Air Canada. To fly with an infant on your lap, you’ll simply pay 10% of the adult fare.

Some drawbacks of the Aeroplan loyalty program

While you shouldn’t overlook the Aeroplan loyalty program for any of the myriad reasons stated above, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Some other changes could end up costing you more. Here are a few reasons the Aeroplan loyalty program falls flat against most other frequent flyer programs:

A charge to book with partner airlines: While Aeroplan has always had tremendous transfer partner opportunities, they just got a bit worse, thanks to a new partner booking fee. Aeroplan members will now pay around a $30 fee ($39 Canadian dollars) to book flights with one of Air Canada’s partners. You can use points to cover that fee.

Change and cancellation fees: We’ll start with the good news: You can cancel award flights at no charge within 24 hours of making your booking.

But if you change your mind at any point beyond that, it’s going to cost you. Sure, you can change or cancel award flight reservations up until two hours before you fly and get all your points refunded back into your account, but you’ll have to pay a fee that could be as high as $135 ($175 CAD) to do so.

Considering many other airlines have removed change or cancellation fees amid COVID-19, Aeroplan’s policy just doesn’t hold up.

How to earn Aeroplan points

Aeroplan gives you many ways to accumulate points, even if you don’t actually fly Air Canada.

  • Fly with partner airlines: You can earn points by flying (or transferring existing points) from a partner airline’s frequent flyer program. Air Canada is a member of the Star Alliance, which means you can earn Aeroplan points by flying any of 26 member airlines including United, Swiss International Air Lines, TAP Air Portugal, ANA and Air New Zealand. Aeroplan also partners with a couple of non-Star Alliance airlines like Cathay Pacific and Etihad Airways, offering you a chance to earn points flying those carriers.

  • Transfer points from hotel and credit card loyalty programs: Transfer points from more than a dozen financial and travel partners like Capital One, American Express, Hilton Honors and Marriott Bonvoy. All these programs’ points can be converted to Aeroplan points.

  • Shop with Air Canada’s retail partners: Your new iPhone purchase could help earn you free flights. By shopping through any one of Air Canada’s 100+ retail partners, you can acquire points based on the amount of your purchase. And there’s a good chance your favorite stores are Air Canada retail partners; options include Apple, Adidas, Etsy, H&M, Lululemon, Nike, Old Navy and dozens more. To earn points, click on your intended store in the Air Canada partner portal, and you’ll be redirected to that store’s site where you can shop as usual. Or you can purchase points or take advantage of promotions with companies like Uber Eats, where you can currently earn 2 Aeroplan points for every dollar spent.

  • Purchase points: Though it doesn’t usually turn out to be a good deal, you can purchase points if you need to top up your account just enough to book a flight.

Redeeming Aeroplan points for Air Canada flights

Aeroplan doesn’t have a flat out award chart — but it comes pretty close. When booking flights on rewards points, you’ll encounter what Air Canada calls "predictable pricing." With Aeroplan, the price you pay in points is related to the price of the equivalent cash fare (as opposed to some airlines that assign fixed amounts to routes).

If demand for a certain flight suddenly spikes, the cost to book on points likely will too. But to at least eliminate a lot of mystery, and make it easier for you to understand how many points your travels will cost you, Aeroplan has a type of reward chart that gives you the likely range of points required for the flight you want.

Factors that go into how much your flight will cost include whether you’re traveling between regions (e.g., between North America and Europe, versus travel within North America), as well as the actual distance traveled. Prices also account for high demand, such as if you’re booking very close to the date you want to travel, or if you’re flying at a particularly popular time.

Here’s how much Air Canada award flights cost for travel within North America:

Meanwhile, here’s how many points it’ll cost to travel between North America and what Air Canada calls "Pacific zones," which consists of Oceania and most of Asia:

Other ways to use Aeroplan points

Booking with Star Alliance member airlines: Here’s another sort of Aeroplan redemption that often turns out to be quite good: using points to book flights on partner airlines. As a Star Alliance member, you can typically use your Aeroplan points to book with other carriers such as Turkish Airlines, Lufthansa, Avianca, United and more.

And thanks to a recent partnership with Etihad Airways, using Air Canada points for an award seat in Etihad’s most luxurious cabins are worth the (albeit still hefty) price. If you’re feeling especially swanky, consider booking one of Etihad’s first class flying "apartments," which are private, super-spacious first class suites with a chair and separate bed.

Other redemption options if you’re in a pinch: Although you’re likely to get the best value for your Aeroplan points by redeeming them for flights, you could also redeem your points for car rentals, hotels, vacation packages, gift cards and shopping through Aeroplan’s online portal.

The bottom line

Even if you never fly to Canada, it may be worth your while to sign up for free membership in Air Canada’s Aeroplan loyalty program. Overall, Aeroplan offers a great loyalty program that combines lots of ways to earn points with some great redemption opportunities, especially on partner airlines.

And between the myriad of family-related benefits including points pooling, the ability to take advantage of one members’ status for discounted Air Canada award redemptions and low lap infant fees, Aeroplan is especially a go-to airline for families.

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