Aeroplan

Air Canada Super Elite

For many reasons, Air Canada’s Aeroplan Frequently Flyer Program is often cited as the best loyalty program in Star Alliance (*A). It’s also the one I exclusively use for all of my Star Alliance travel, for several good reasons. Let’s explore those, and several others that might be important to you!

Status Tiers

Aeroplan has one of the lowest qualification criteria of all Star Alliance programs. However, it doesn’t run the promotions for extra status miles that other airlines do, and it also doesn’t offer bonuses for flexible economy tickets (Y or B) that airlines like Continental do, so if you book lots of flexible tickets, you might want to look at Continental instead.

Prestige (25,000 miles or 25 segments)

For 25,000 miles, you’ll earn Air Canada Prestige status, which gets you Star Alliance Silver perks (not much on other airlines, but priority airport check-in and upgrade certificates are two you’ll use for sure). You can select from a number of benefits, which include a 25% mileage bonus on all Air Canada flights taken.

Elite (35,000 miles or 50 segments)

Now you’ll have a reason to celebrate. Star Alliance Gold status unlocks a bevvy of benefits, namely extra baggage, priority baggage handling, priority boarding, and access to all Star Alliance lounges globally when flying a Star Alliance member airline. Elite members on Air Canada also receive AC-specific benefits including discounted priority seat selection, upgrade certificates, and the ability to book an expanded range of award seats at a 100% premium (vs. the 300-400% premium that a non-status member would have to pay).

Super Elite (100,000 miles or 95 segments)

Doesn’t this have a nice ring to it? I’ve been a Super Elite member for the past 5 years, and it’s fantastic. Star Alliance doesn’t have a higher tier than Gold, so all the Alliance-wide Gold benefits are the same as Elite. On Air Canada, however, you will be generally treated better than the top tier customers of any airline in the world. It begins at the airport, with Concierge service in a number of airports providing that extra personal assistance on a missed connection, late airport arrival, or when you forgot your upgrade certificates at home (a switch to electronic upgrades is long overdue!). At the gate, the odd time when I haven’t booked or upgrade to business already, I found myself on the receiving end of a upgrade to business class – you’ll usually be the first selected on an oversold flight. On board, your meal selection will usually be taken first, ensuring you always get what you want to eat! When redeeming points for flights, Super Elite members have access to Priority Awards, meaning that usually you will be able to book seats in the premium cabins for the regular amount of miles.

Upgrades

This section only applies to Air Canada flights. If you fly other Star Alliance airlines, you’re out of luck for now, as Air Canada isn’t yet participating in the Star Alliance upgrade program, which allows members of some airlines to exchange miles for upgrades on others. However, this program generally requires top-tier fare purchase, and the mileage requirements are close to what an award ticket in that class would be, so I’m not convinced it’s worth it anyways.

You want to sit up front, right? Air Canada doesn’t have a “First” class, but calls their domestic & trans-border business class “Executive Class”, and international service “Executive First”. You can upgrade in one of four ways:

  1. Using Upgrade Certificates that you earn as a status member (Prestige, Elite, or Super Elite)
  2. Using Upgrade Certificates that any customer can purchase ($40-50 each), valid only on the highest fares (Y/B), and on specific routes (Toronto – Seattle is one useful long-haul one)
  3. Purchasing a Latitude Flight Pass, which includes free upgrades to Executive Class within 48 hours and pending available space
  4. Taking advantage of a Last Minute Upgrade, offered during online check-in or at the airport, which usually costs $100-200 for short-haul flights, and $400-600 on longer flights.

Top-tier Members can receive three different kinds of certificates: North America (Green), System-Wide (Blue), and Special System-wide (Red). Here’s what they look like:

Air Canada Special System-Wide Upgrade Certificate

The North America and System-Wide certificates can upgrade any Y or B ticket upon booking, if R-class space is available. You can check for space availability before booking by checking the “display only fares eligible for upgrade” box on AirCanada.ca when doing a flight search, calling Air Canada Reservations, or by using a travel availability interface tool (my favourite is KVS)

Most of us won’t be dropping triple the Tango Plus fare cost on a Latitude ticket, so we won’t be using these upgrade certificates much. Lucky for many, Air Canada has run a summer upgrade offer in 2009 and 2010, allowing Status Members to use these certificates on many cheap fares during the summer season.

The System-Wide certificates also allow upgrades from M and U classes of Tango Plus, which are higher non-refundable fares. These upgrades are based on a confirmation window of 2 days (Prestige), 4 days (Elite), or 7 days (Super Elite), so you have to hope that all the seats up front aren’t taken by others booking Latitude fares before your upgrade time window comes up. This nerve-wracking un-confirmed upgrader’s situation is affectionately termed “Aerolotto” for those that deal with it frequently!

Guard your Red certificates like gold. If you selected any as part of your top-tier package, or earned any for passing various mileage Thresholds throughout the year, you can use these to upgrade any Tango Plus fare, within the same booking windows as the System-Wide certificates mentioned above. This means that if you feel like flying in Air Canada’s Executive First Suites to Tokyo this weekend for some authentic grub, and they’ve got a $459 Tango Plus seat sale on the direct flights from Toronto with upgrade space available, you’ll be able to buy yourself all the Kobe beef you can eat for the $5,000 you’ll save on the Executive First fare.

Redeeming Miles

Many people complain about the services fees Aeroplan charges, and there’s no discounts for Status Members. It’s $90 if you want to change or refund a reward ticket (refunds only available outside of 21 days of departure). The web site has some limitations on booking complex routings, and you’ll have a pay a $35 booking fee if your itinerary is too complex to book online.

However, Aeroplan really shines in the redemption of rewards. First of all, unlike United Airlines’ notorious blocking of award seats on other carriers, Air Canada’s Aeroplan program makes available all of the award seats that its Star Alliance partners see fit to share. Secondly, you have the flexibility to add a stop-over to most rewards (other than awards within Canada), and an open-jaw (starting and ending in different cities) is permitted on all bookings. In my experience, I have always been allowed two stopovers instead of one stopover and one open-jaw.

There’s a lot of agreement amongst Frequent Fliers that the best award value Aeroplan has to offer is the 140,000-mile First Class (or 120,000-mile Business Class) redemption from North America to Asia. This award allows travelling across both oceans, which means you could have a ticket like Toronto-Frankfurt-Singapore-Sydney-Seoul-New York-Toronto, and stop over in Frankfurt (stopover #1), Sydney (destination), and Seoul (stopover #2). This kind of ticket, booked for cash, would cost well over $10,000, and offers the opportunity to fly on three fabulous airlines (Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, and Asiana) offering First Class, which is all but gone from North American carriers offerings. I’ve booked this kind of ticket three times now, and I can’t believe the value it offers. It’s effectively the same as a Star Alliance First Class reward, which costs 400,000 miles, but allows only two stopovers instead of five. I’d rather book one or two side tickets in the cities I stop in and save 260,000 miles!

Aeroplan Community

Air Canada has thousands of frequent fliers of all status levels who share the latest news, discuss program changes, and offer helpful tips on award bookings, compensation for delays, and just about anything you can imagine online. They gather mainly in two different online communities, FlyerTalk and CanFlyer. See you there!

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