Aeroplan short haul awards: a nice value in the Atlantic zone

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Yesterday, I wrote about my award ticket from Manila to Doha to Dubai, which I had noted I’d booked in part because of the long layover I could spend in the first class lounge in Doha and in part because of the chance at a cheap Fine Hotels & Resorts stay in Dubai. The other reason I chose Dubai was because my next destination was Europe and I had found an incredibly cheap low-cost carrier flight from Dubai to Budapest on Wizzair (about $67 for the ticket and I paid $20 more for an emergency exit row seat). But before deciding on that flight, I considered a number of short-haul options from the Middle East to Europe using Air Canada Aeroplan. Because of the density of Star Alliance carriers in Europe (and Asia!), this can be a great program for booking short-haul award tickets within a single zone.

Aeroplan’s Atlantic zone is huge and connects what would be at least 4 different regions on many award charts.

Aeroplan pricing within the Atlantic zone

Shown above is the Air Canada Aeroplan award pricing within the Atlantic zone. As you can see, the chart starts as low as 7,500 miles one way in economy class within the zone and one can fly as far as 2,000 miles for just 12,500 miles one-way. Both of those options can be excellent sweet spots for connecting the dots on short-haul awards. Keep in mind also that Air Canada allows a stopover for 5,000 additional miles. In other words, on itineraries of fewer than 1,000 miles, it is possible to book a one-way award with a stopover for 12,500 miles.

To be clear, Air Canada figures your award price based on cumulative distance, not per segment.

As an example, instead of ending up in Dubai on my ticket westward from Asia, I considered Cairo. That’s because Cairo is a short distance from Athens and Cairo airport is served by both Egyptair and Aegean (both Star Alliance airlines). I could have flown nonstop from Cairo to Athens for 7,500 miles.

Or I could have continued onward from Athens and flown Cairo to Athens to Santorini for the same 7,500 miles.

Another option that could be very useful for some would be flying from Cairo to Athens with a stopover in Athens before continuing on to Santorini — all for 12,500 miles (including 5,000 miles for the stopover in Athens).

That specific stopover doesn’t represent a massive value since both Cairo to Athens and Athens to Santorini are flights covering fewer than 1,000 miles flown. These flights could be booked as totally separate tickets for 15,000 total miles — meaning that the stopover here only saves you 2,500 miles. I’m always happy to save miles, and that difference can add up over multiple passengers, but there are spots where the savings would be more significant.

For instance, let’s say you already had an award ticket booked to get to Paris, but you were also hoping to stop in in Munich en route to Muscat, Oman to enjoy some of the incredible snorkeling I wrote about the other day.

If you were to book separate awards, you would pay:

  • Paris to Frankfurt (~300 miles flown): 7,500 miles in economy or 15,000 miles in business
  • Frankfurt to Muscat (~3,200 miles flown): 25K economy or 45K business

In total, booking awards separately, this route would cost you 32,500 miles in economy class or 60K miles in business class. However, booking via Aeroplan with a stopover for 5K miles, you’d pay a total of 30K in economy or 50K in business class (and yes, that Oman Air flight is operated on a 787).

An example demonstrating even better value would be Barcelona to Istanbul and then Istanbul to Muscat. Since Barcelona to Istanbul covers just over 1,000 miles flown and Istanbul to Muscat covers just over 2,000 miles flown, cumulative prices would be more if booked separately:

  • Barcelona to Istanbul: 12.5K economy / 25K business
  • Istanbul to Muscat: 25K economy / 45K business

Cumulative prices would therefore be 37.5K miles on economy or 70K miles in business class if you booked separately. However, you could book the stop in Istanbul as a stopover with Aeroplan for 5,000 miles and pay the same 30K in economy or 50K in business.

Note that the Istanbul-to-Muscat leg in those examples is operated by a 737-MAX, but you could apply the same technique to a multitude of options if you wanted to fly their 787 from another airport in Europe. The purpose here is merely to demonstrate the strength in the stopover pricing versus separate bookings.

Aeroplan partners in the Atlantic region

The main reason the above is so interesting is because Aeroplan has so many partners in the Atlantic region. You could easily plan a stopover in one of many different cities thanks to so many different airline partners. Notice in my Paris-to-Muscat example above, you could opt for a stopover in either Munich or Milan (since Air Canada also partners with Air Dolomiti).

In fact, Aeroplan’s sheer number of partners in the Atlantic region make it relatively easy to take advantage of shorter distance bands on the award chart because there is a very good chance that you have access to a distance-favorable routing given so many partner options.

Consider Air Canada partners that operate flights that exist entirely within the Atlantic region:

  • Austrian
  • Swiss
  • Lufthansa
  • Brussels
  • SAS
  • LOT Polish
  • Turkish
  • Oman Air
  • Etihad
  • Ethiopian
  • South African Airways
  • Air Dolomiti
  • Aer Lingus
  • Air Mauritius
  • Air Serbia
  • Croatia Airlines
  • Egyptair
  • Eurowings
  • Eurowings Discover
  • Gulf Air
  • Olympic Air
  • Middle East Airlines
  • TAP Air Portugal
  • Air India
  • Vistara

That’s 25 airlines that operate flights entirely within the single Atlantic zone. If you plan to visit two destinations within this wide swath of territory, there is a very good chance that you can connect a fairly direct / short routing and pay many fewer miles than other airlines would charge for the same distance.

Flights that connect zones can be solid values

Another thing that really intrigued me about Aeroplan for shorter-distance awards was the ability to connect the dots between zones that would be separated on most traditional airline award charts.

In my case, I needed to figure out a way to get from the Middle East to Europe (in order to take advantage of a different ticket I wanted to book within Europe — more on that to come on Instagram later today!). Most airline programs have the Middle East and Europe in separate zones and award tickets connecting the regions can therefore be somewhat expensive despite covering relatively short distances.

Since Aeroplan includes the entirety of Europe, Africa, the Middle East (and also the Indian subcontinent) in its “Atlantic” zone, you have the ability to connect the dots between traditional award chart zones quite easily and for far fewer miles.

Take for example Cairo to Copenhagen on Friday, October 21st. The flight distance from Cairo to Copenhagen rings it at 1,986 miles flown, so this route costs 12.5K miles in economy class or 20K miles in business class with Aeroplan.

Compare that to other programs to get a sense for the relative value:

  • Turkish Miles & Smiles charges 22.5K economy / 32.5K business
  • Avianca Lifemiles charges 24K economy / 42K business
  • United MileagePlus charges 27.5K economy / 55K business
  • Singapore KrisFlyer charges 20.5K economy / 34K business

Also note that some of those programs additionally add some surcharges on top of those mileage premiums. As you can see, Aeroplan is a huge bargain by comparison.

And Cairo certainly isn’t the only sweet spot here. American Airlines would charge you 20K miles in economy class or 42.5K miles in business class to fly Etihad in business class between Abu Dhabi and Europe. By contrast, you could pay just 12.5K miles from Abu Dhabi to Istanbul in economy class or 20K miles in business class.

And remember that you’re not limited to nonstop flights and that you can still take advantage of a stopover for 5,000 miles when connecting between continents. For instance, here is Bahrain to Istanbul on Gulf Air and then onward to Sofia, Bulgaria on Turkish with a week-long stopover in Istanbul for a total of 17,500 miles in economy class or 25,000 miles in business class.

In business class, that’s fewer miles with a stopover included than most programs would charge to connect these regions without any stopover.

Why I find these options exciting

Most readers of this blog are based in the United States, so what good are these theoretical trips connecting Bahrain to Sofia by way of Istanbul or Cairo to Copenhagen? I find these useful for connecting between regions when you have otherwise taken advantage of award chart sweet spots for great deals.

We have numerous posts highlighting award chart sweet spots for flights to and from North America and you can utilize those sweet spots in conjunction with Aeroplan’s favorable Atlantic zone award pricing to piece together some incredible award values.

Here’s an example trip idea: Turkish Miles & Smiles charges just 47K miles one-way in business class on Star Alliance airlines from North America to the Middle East. Let’s say you booked a Star Alliance to Bahrain with Turkish for 47K miles in business class. Then, you book the Bahrain-to-Istanbul-to-Sofia award noted above for 25K miles, visiting both Istanbul and Sofia. Then, fly home with a Star Alliance carrier for 45K miles one-way with Turkish or 63K miles or less one-way with Avianca and you’ve got yourself a trip to Bahrain, Istanbul, and Sofia for potentially about 117,000 total miles. I find that to be an excellent deal overall for a complicated multiple-stop trip.

Of course, given the current state of award availability, you may not find it easy to piece together an award like this. However, I think that this ability to connect traditional award chart region definitions with Aeroplan points to be a big strength for those with time and ability to book complex awards.

Bottom line

Our 3 Cards 3 Continents trip has really brought to light for me the strengths of Air Canada Aeroplan. To be clear, I understand the frustrations of people who enjoyed Aeroplan’s previous program strengths, which included decent (though not great) award pricing to Europe and a generous stopover policy. There is no doubt that the program has changed and areas that were previously strengths are now weaknesses in some instances (simple North America to Europe trips being a prime example, especially for those based in the western half of the US where the distance-based chart has made awards significantly more expensive between North America and Europe). However, if you can get past the disappointment about what is no longer, I think there is a lot to embrace about the new strengths of Aeroplan. I find these strengths to be exciting because of their uniqueness; there are many ways to book flights between the US and Europe for a better value than Aeroplan’s old award chart pricing, but there are very few ways to fly between the Middle East and Europe or Africa and Europe or even between Europe and India at such potentially good value, particularly with a stopover involved. Even within Europe, given Aeroplan’s extensive list of partner airlines and relatively short distances, awards can be a better value using Aeroplan than many other award programs. While Aeroplan isn’t perfect and I was as disappointed as anyone to see them raise some award redemption rates so early in the new program, there is no doubt that this program can be very exciting for those willing to dig in and flex the flexibility of Air Canada Aeroplan.

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Ziggy

I think this sounds awesome for people who live close to NY, DC, or Boston. Others who live close to the airport with monopolies (looking at you, CLT), good luck find great values to reach the EU unless you are totally flexible.

However, this post drew my attention about the values between the EU and Africa or Asia. Can this plan used so beneficially within the EU countries only?
What CC’s are best to raise a pile of bonus points/miles in Aeroplan?

Thanks

Kirk

This is really awesome! And though I too am US based, I would be interested in more posts exploring similar sweet spots for intra Asia or South American flights.

Mantis

Nick is great at showing the extremes of what you could do, but very few of us actually want to actually do these trips. There are some sweet spots he has highlighted that are genuinely valuable, but some that are just so niche as to be irrelevant. Personally I find it more effective to be earning miles constantly via signup bonuses, so that you always have the miles available to go where you want to go at any given time, as opposed to eeking out the last bit of value out of a small cache of miles by going to some obscure destination, because you got a great cpp.

I guess that’s why I find this challenge so problematic. If you’re willing to sign up for 3 cards, why not 4? Or 5? Or 10? This whole challenge assumes an artificial limit that actually does not exist.

TimR

Nick just about wrapped this up assuming he didn’t go over budget again

LarryInNYC

Yeah, with today’s Instagram is going to be really hard to take it away from him.

king

This is good info Nick.

You should have resource guide updated for Each Reward program and link all these articles under there.

Whenever you guys have time , can update the articles with the latest Reward prog changes and remove irrelevant info .

You guys have done so much research , having it organized and readily available for us will be of greater help

Really appreciate and enjoying all 3 of you guy’s trip

Geoff

So instructive! Thanks, Nick!