Using Air Canada Aeroplan miles is one of the best ways to fly from the US to Europe.
And it offers amazing round-the-world award tickets on Air Canada and Star Alliance partner airlines, like Singapore Airlines, Swiss, and EVA Air.
I’ll give you a quick overview of Air Canada Aeroplan. And explain its main benefits, sweet spots, and pitfalls (and how to overcome them!).
Ultimate Guide to Air Canada Aeroplan Miles Series Index
- Part 1 – Introduction
Introduction to Air Canada Aeroplan Miles
1. What Is Aeroplan?
Unlike US frequent flyer programs, Air Canada and Aeroplan are separate companies. Air Canada used to operate their own miles program, but sold it in 2002.
So unlike Delta, United Airlines, or American Airlines, when you earn or redeem miles with Aeroplan, you’ll be dealing with a company separate from the airline. For most things, you won’t notice a difference, but it means you can’t call Air Canada for help with Aeroplan tickets.
To the surprise of many, Air Canada announced they won’t be renewing their contract with Aeroplan. This means in 2020, Air Canada will start their own miles program. While Aeroplan has announced that they will continue to operate, you should expect your miles to be worth less in 2020.
There’s no reason to worry about using miles with Air Canada Aeroplan until 2020, though I’d recommend that you use all your miles prior to the breakup.
2. Earning Air Canada Aeroplan Miles
You can earn Air Canada Aeroplan miles by flying Air Canada and Star Alliance partners, transferring flexible points, or using a branded credit card.
American Express Membership Rewards convert at a 1:1 ratio instantly to Air Canada Aeroplan miles. You can earn American Express Membership Rewards points with these cards:
You can also transfer Starwood points at a 1:1 ratio to Air Canada Aeroplan miles. For every 20,000 Starwood points you transfer, you’ll get an additional 5,000 mile bonus! It’s best to wait for a hotel point transfer bonus to Aeroplan, which happens occasionally.
With these cards, you’ll earn Starwood points:
- Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
- Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express
You can also open the TD Aeroplan Visa Signature® Credit Card by TD Bank. You’ll earn 25,000 Air Canada Aeroplan miles after spending $1,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of opening your account. That’s enough for a round-trip coach ticket to anywhere within the continental US and Canada!
However, it’s usually better to focus on American Express Membership Rewards or Starwood points, because they are much easier to earn. And folks report it’s tricky to get approved by TD Bank if you don’t already have accounts with them.
3. Best Uses For Air Canada Aeroplan Miles
There are lots of phenomenal uses for Air Canada Aeroplan miles, but the best are:
- Business Class flights from North America to Europe
- “Mini round-the-world” tickets
Aeroplan allows one-way tickets for 50% of the cost of a round-trip ticket for flights that start or end in North America. This is their award chart from the continental US / Canada (numbers are for round-trip tickets):
The best use of Air Canada Aeroplan miles is for Business Class from the continental US / Canada to Europe 1 or Europe 2 zones. These zones are defined:
A one-way Business Class ticket from the continental US / Canada to Europe 1 costs 55,000 Air Canada Aeroplan miles, or 57,500 miles for Europe 2. United Airlines charges 70,000 United Airlines miles for the same partner Business Class ticket!
If you’re booking United Airlines though, you’re better off using United Airlines miles, because they discount award seats on their own flights.
Air Canada Aeroplan also lets you book up to 2 stopovers plus your destination, or 1 stopover, 1 open-jaw, and your destination for the price of a round-trip ticket! This means that you could visit 3 countries on 1 ticket! This is known as a “mini round-the-world” ticket.
I’ll explore these tickets later, but here’s an example of a trip you could do for only 90,000 Air Canada Aeroplan miles in coach, 155,000 miles in Business Class, or 215,000 miles in First Class:
Unlike United Airlines, Air Canada Aeroplan charges fuel surcharges on their own flights and certain partner airlines like Lufthansa. These can run into the thousands of dollars!
But there are tricks to avoid fuel surcharges. You won’t pay fuel surcharges on some airlines, including:
- Air China
- Air India
- Air New Zealand
- Brussels Airlines
- Copa Airlines
- EVA Air
- Singapore Airlines
- South African Airways
- Turkish Airlines
- United Airlines
There are other tricks to lower or remove fuel surcharges, like flying Air Canada to Japan, but I’ll explain that in more detail later.
5. Air Canada Aeroplan Quirks
What Is Altitude?
Confusingly, separate from Aeroplan, Air Canada operates their own loyalty program called Altitude. This program rewards Air Canada frequent flyers with upgrades, lounge access, etc. Essentially, Altitude is the benefits part of Aeroplan, which is owned by Air Canada.
Miles earned with Altitude can NOT be used for award seats, and you can’t earn them with credit cards. Unless you plan on crediting flights to Air Canada Altitude, you don’t need to worry about it.
What Is Distinction?
To make things even more confusing, Aeroplan has their own loyalty program within the loyalty program. This is called the Distinction program. Some Air Canada Aeroplan miles count for Distinction status (such as the sign-up bonuses from the TD Aeroplan Visa Signature® Credit Card), but miles earned from transferring flexible points do NOT count.
There are 3 tiers of the Distinction program:
You need 25,000 Distinction miles for Silver status, 50,000 for Black status, and 100,000 for Diamond status. As you get higher Distinction status, you’ll get benefits like shorter call center wait times, extra miles when flying Air Canada, and lower refund / change fees on award tickets.
I’ll explain the Distinction program in more detail in a later post.
Air Canada Aeroplan offers amazing opportunities to save miles on travel to places like Europe. The biggest problem is trying to avoid fuel surcharges, which you can do by selecting the right airlines.
In the next post, I’ll explain how to open an Air Canada Aeroplan account for free online. Stay tuned!