Aeroplan, an independently operated loyalty program used by Air Canada, has long been viewed as an inexpensive way to book business or first class awards to Europe. Even if you don’t collect Aeroplan points, you can transfer them from the Membership Rewards program operated by American Express.
Among the key benefits are that Aeroplan charges fewer miles than United’s MileagePlus program for travel on the same airlines — especially since United has a second, more expensive award chart for its Star Alliance partners. For example, Aeroplan has historically charged just 90,000 miles round-trip for a business class award between North America and Europe on any Star Alliance airline, whereas MileagePlus requires 115,000 miles (United flights) or 140,000 miles (non-United flights).
The downside is that Aeroplan collects fuel surcharges of a few hundred dollars on some flights (e.g., Lufthansa, but not Swiss). United collects no fuel surcharges on any flights. Both programs allow stopovers and one-way awards with various restrictions.
Devaluation Coming on December 15
Aeroplan is making several changes to its award chart that will take effect for awards booked as of December 15, 2015 (HT to One Mile at a Time). In many cases there are no changes for traveler to/from Canada and the continental U.S., though it will raise award prices by over 20% for business or first class travel to Europe.
I’ve highlighted the key changes below for awards that I think are most likely to affect readers of this blog. Definitely read through the entire award chart online. This side-by-side comparison (PDF) will also help.
Travel in other regions is becoming more expensive on almost every route, including some especially good deals like business class awards within Asia 1 (increasing from 30,000 miles to 80,000 miles round-trip) or between Europe 1 and Asia 2 (increasing from 105,000 miles to 150,000 miles.)
I still think that Aeroplan will be a competitive option for booking awards to Europe despite these changes. Business class for 110,000 miles on a quality carrier such as Swiss or Turkish Airlines is usually a better choice than flying United. First class can be significantly cheaper: only 140,000 miles round-trip to Europe 1 instead of 220,000 with United miles.
If you can book these awards without paying fuel surcharges and still redeem fewer miles than United’s MileagePlus program charges, then Aeroplan remains the price leader. Even with fuel surcharges it might be preferable. Would you rather pay $400 or redeem an extra 80,000 points for first class?
Aeroplan also provides an outlet for redeeming Membership Rewards points at a 1:1 ratio. (MR points cannot be transferred to United, but Singapore Airlines’ KrisFlyer is another option with some good Star Alliance awards.)
Which Countries Are Affected?
You should view the entire award chart online, but these are the countries affected by changes within Europe, which is divided into two zones. I’ve listed the new award prices as of December 15. Book before then to lock in old prices:
North America to Europe 1: 110,000 miles Business Class / 140,000 miles First Class
Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Poland*, Portugal, Spain (incl. Balearic Islands; excl. Canary Islands), Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom.
* As of December 15, 2015, Poland will be part of the travel zone Europe 2.
North America to Europe 2: 115,000 miles Business Class / 160,000 miles First Class
Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Greece, Greenland, Hungary, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg*, Macedonia, Malta, Moldova, Montenegro, Romania, Russia (Western), Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Turkey, Ukraine.
* As of December 15, 2015, Luxembourg will be part of the travel zone Europe 1.
Improvements to One-Way Awards
The rules for booking one-way awards will also be changing. Previously there was a separate one-way award chart that only applied to travel departing Canada and the continental U.S. That’s now being scrapped and replaced with a general rule that any award can be booked one-way for 50% of the round-trip price.
This will permit, for example, one-way awards between Europe and Asia. One-way awards are often a great tool to stretch your miles further if you have accounts with two different programs, or if you want to create a more complex itinerary that doesn’t follow the usual round-trip logic.
Even if many people will be upset with the huge increases on some awards (like the intra-Asia and Europe-Asia routes I mentioned above), most North Americans don’t book them because round-trip travel between or within those regions doesn’t make sense. The ability to book one-way awards on such routes will be a net benefit from my perspective.