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Aeroplan “Rewards” More Expensive Than Cash Fare

Aeroplan is the most popular loyalty program in Canada for a variety of reasons, including the fact that it’s tied to Air Canada – the largest airline in the country.  Many Elite and Super Elite Aeroplan collectors vouch for the program, swearing that it offers the best value on flights, particularly on long-haul business class trips.

But for the rest of us, Aeroplan is a bit of a mixed bag. Easy to earn and collect points, yet difficult to redeem them due to seat restrictions and ever-changing mileage requirements for flight rewards. Not only that, a bigger gripe is that fees and taxes are charged on top of any flight redemption, which doesn’t make it seem like a reward at all.

Some Aeroplan members suggest that those fees and taxes are often higher than booking directly through Air Canada or another airline. So are Aeroplan rewards more expensive than buying a flight directly?

Related: One Aeroplan member’s somewhat satisfying update

Consider this email that I received from a reader named Anthony:

Currently WestJet is offering flights for $180 from Pearson International (YYZ) to LaGuardia (LGA), return.

Aeroplan reward tickets on the same itinerary are coming in at $185.41, plus miles of course.

I’ve attached a sample itinerary of both (direct flights, leaving almost at identical times).

Aeroplan rewards more expensive than cash fare

WestJet Flight

In other words the fees and taxes on the Aeroplan flights, not even including the points, are more expensive than a cash fare. This would seem to point out in a very clear manner the ridiculousness of the Aeroplan fees and surcharges.

Final thoughts

When I last wrote about Aeroplan members and their frustration with the loyalty program, many readers weighed in with helpful suggestions to help maximize your flight rewards.  Tips such as crossing the border and using another Star Alliance member to avoid Air Canada’s fuel surcharges, or adding another leg to your long-haul trip to avoid the airports that charge higher taxes.

But at some point, Aeroplan collectors need to consider the time, money, and effort spent trying to redeem their rewards and realize that a better option is a more flexible travel rewards program that allows you to book any flight and on any airline without restriction.

Related: So you’re ready to dump Aeroplan: Now what?

Because no matter how valuable you think your rewards are, you’re not actually saving money if it costs you more to redeem your points than it would to book on another airline and pay cash.

11 Comments

  1. Peter H on November 16, 2014 at 12:12 pm

    My last Aeroplan statement showed a balance of 4 miles. And that’s where it’s going to stay. I had enough points to book 3 tickets to southern Europe, but I found a “deal” that allowed me to buy 5 tickets for the same points – of course not in prime time. But that’s fine because we’re flexible. Still, taxes and fees on each ticket were $550 – or about half the price had I paid cash. Seems like not much worth the effort.



    • Robb Engen on November 17, 2014 at 6:58 am

      Peter, there’s something satisfying about getting a reward for free. Say you had around 300,000 miles on a Capital One Aspire Travel card. You could’ve booked those three tickets through any airline, in prime time, cashed in your points, and paid nothing. Paying $550 per “free” ticket doesn’t seem like much of a reward at all. I don’t blame you for abandoning the program.



  2. Hugh Burton on November 17, 2014 at 6:12 am

    We’ve dumped Aeroplan after 20+ yrs for all the stated reasons. Switched to Cuet’s MC which covers medical up to 74 years of age which is an issue with us.



    • Robb Engen on November 17, 2014 at 6:59 am

      Hugh, that’s a great feature and something many people don’t consider until they realize they’re not covered. Thanks for your comment.



  3. Al on November 17, 2014 at 12:11 pm

    With Aeroplan, the trick is to avoid booking Air Canada flights. Fly on United or Turkish and the few other Star Alliance airlines on which you do not pay surcharges.



  4. Dino on November 17, 2014 at 5:14 pm

    I’m glad to finally see this coming to light. The thing to watch out for is that the Aeroplan website that you use to book flights hardly ever shows you United to Europe. You need to call up Aeroplan to find these alternative routings. The website will usually present Air Canada and Lufthansa which both charge you surcharges. Calling will usually cost you a fee but it is made up for by avoiding the fuel surcharge.

    As an example for my last trip to Europe I used my Mileage Plus miles. I researched using both Aeroplan’s website and the MileagePlus one and found flights from Vancouver to Rome in biz class on Lufthansa. Using Aeroplan the cost for the “free” ticket was $1100. With MileagePlus the same flights were $180. So Aeroplan was also not telling the full truth in the article above; Lufthansa using MileagePlus does not have the surcharge, but Lufthansa using Aeroplan does. Who exactly is pocketing that extra $1000 in my example?



  5. Stephen @ How To Save Money on November 18, 2014 at 6:59 am

    Seems like I’m always defending Aeroplan when they are basically indefensible. If you know how to play the game, you can still get really really good value especially if you can come across the miles cheaply (and you don’t have to fly business class).

    However, they need to wake up and change the program so that taxes and fees are covered. They should devalue the miles as much as necessary to make this possible so at least when you redeem for a reward it actually feels like a reward.

    Comparing an ultra cheap fare that may be hard to find to Aeroplan isn’t really fair game – but it does demonstrate the problems with the program. It takes time and some luck to find really good seat sales too you know.

    I’m pretty sure Aeroplan taxes and fees are based on the full fare price (which nobody actually pays) so the bigger the seat sale you are comparing it against, the worse Aeroplan does.



    • Robb Engen on November 18, 2014 at 7:26 am

      Hi Stephen, I agree that it’s not really a fair comparison when you pit a budget airline against the equivalent Aeroplan/Air Canada flight. However, in this case the example was WestJet and the flight was exactly the same. There’s no way the fees and taxes on your “reward” should be the same as a full fair (including fees and taxes) on WestJet. Something is wrong with this program.



  6. Marty on November 19, 2014 at 5:39 am

    i gave up collecting Aeroplan points years ago when I couldn’t get a flight in non prime travel season. I had to make a connection for a European cruise. With Aeroplan the only available seats were 3 days too early or 2 days too late. And this was booking 10 months in advance. I ended up flying KLM. Now I use a different card, get my points, fly any time, any seat, no restrictions and no extra charges.



  7. Jen on November 19, 2014 at 10:17 am

    I totally agree with the comments re aeroplan. I gave up mine a few years ago after I decided to use all my points in business class flying to NZ. A perfect way to get rid of them and any left over I gave to charity, then switched my rewards card.



  8. BRIAN METCALFE on November 20, 2014 at 11:58 am

    After 32 of collecting & using Aeroplan points I intend to cancel when my renewal comes up because I get a better deal on other TD cards that allows me any airline/ any fare\any flight without all the rules & fees etc Aeroplan has got greedy & has made a mess of what was a great reward card in my opinion Buyer Beware BTM



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