Air Canada Aeroplan: Reduce award price by switching from a flexible reward

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A few commenters have mentioned this in the past, but I just now had a chance to try this out.  With Air Canada Aeroplan award bookings, it’s possible to book higher priced flexible awards while your plans are uncertain and later change them to lower priced awards once your plans firm up.  That’s awesome.  I’ve long been frustrated by the fact that Air Canada didn’t eliminate change and cancellation fees the way the U.S. carriers did in the past few years (see: Airline Change Fee Quick Reference Chart), but this trick helps make up for that deficiency.

a screenshot of a website

I recently used Aeroplan miles to book a business class flight from London to Chicago.  For that nonstop United flight, Aeroplan charges either 60K miles or 74K miles.  The latter is a “Flexible Reward” which allows you to change or cancel the award flight for free.

I chose the Flexible Reward partly because my plans weren’t yet 100% certain, but mostly because I wanted to tag on a United economy flight from Chicago to Detroit and I couldn’t get aircanada.com to put the flights together into one itinerary.  I figured that this was a great chance to try out the trick: I booked the nonstop flight for 74K and a week or so later I called to add on the United economy flight from Chicago to Detroit.  The agent I spoke with at first priced the adjusted award based on the Flexible Reward price, but then I asked him to price it at the “Lowest Reward” price.  He did and I got miles back.

Notes & Observations:

  • I was able to change to a “Lowest Reward” price when making a material change to the ticket.  I don’t know for certain that I could have changed to the lower priced reward without making any other changes.  I assume one could, but I didn’t test that.  If you’ve tried that, please let us know!
  • The flight distance from London to Chicago is 3,953 miles.  That’s just barely under the 4,000 mile distance in order to lock in Aeroplan 60K business class awards crossing the Atlantic.
  • The flight distance from Chicago to Detroit is only 235 miles, but that’s just enough to push the entire award (London to Chicago to Detroit) to Aeroplan’s next award price: 70K.
  • Since my new itinerary was in a higher distance ban than the original itinerary, my new price was 70K instead of 60K and so I only got back 4K points per person.
  • It would have been cheaper for me to book the original flight at 60K, and separately book the economy leg from Chicago to Detroit for 6K per person with Aeroplan.  I would have paid a little bit more in taxes that way, but I would have saved 4K miles per person, which would have more than made up for the extra taxes.  Once I realized my mistake, I was too lazy to call Aeroplan back to try to fix it.

How to get Air Canada Aeroplan miles
The following table shows which transferable points programs transfer to Aeroplan:

Rewards ProgramAmex Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Chase Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Citi Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Marriott Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Capital One Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Bilt Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Air Canada Aeroplan1 to 1 (Instant)1 to 1 (Instant)60K to 25K (4 to 5 days)1 to 1 (Instant)1 to 1 (~1 Minute)
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