Major improvement with new Aeroplan Distinction program

Better deals on great trips. Special privileges for regular customers. And those three words many folks had been waiting to hear: “no expiry on points.”

The folks at Aeroplan have made a dramatic overhaul of Canada’s favourite travel rewards system with the new Distinction program, which kicks in on Jan. 1, 2014 with a ton of new features.

A lot of the headlines of late have centred on the fact that TD Bank will be taking over a good portion of the Aeroplan business currently done by the CIBC. It’s a change for some folks, for sure, but the bigger issue in my mind is the ease with which Aeroplan members will be able to redeem their points for trips to places like Vancouver or Europe (see photo of Piran, Slovenia at top of page). Which, after all, is rather the point of a travel rewards program.

I had a chance recently to chat with Chris Willoughby, general manager of marketing, planning and communications and we talked at length about the new developments.

“It’s a really exciting time for the program and a really100_3466 exciting time for our members” he said. “We’re giving back to the members who are loyal to us and giving them a host of advantages.”

Right now Aeroplan users have a two-tier system. There’s the Classic Reward that’s been around for years, where you redeem 25,000 points for round-trip, long-haul flights in North America, such as Toronto to Vancouver or Montreal to Los Angeles. Aeroplan also offers Classic Plus seats, which traditionally have involved making all seats available on an airplane for added points; useful if regular Classic Reward flights aren’t available (a not uncommon complaint in some quarters) or if the flight times aren’t good.

The new system brings in something called Market Fare Flight Rewards. It replaces Classic Plus with an improved structure offering significantly better value as the redemption miles needed are slashed by up to 20 per cent on all Air Canada flights (not partner airlines such as United, however).

On top of the 20 per cent savings, members of the new Aeroplan Distinction program get an even better deal. If you’re a dDiamond level Distinction member, you’ll get up to 35 per cent off the seats that already are discounted by 20 per cent. If you’re a dBlack level Distinction member, you’ll get up to 25 per cent of an added reduction, while dSilver members get up to 20 per cent in added savings.

If you look at their microsite, distinction.aeroplan.com, you’ll find that a Classic Plus flight from Toronto to Las Vegas (this is assuming no “regular” Classic flights are available) that would now go for 61,000 points would cost as little as 35,000 points if you’re a dDiamond member. Members in the dBlack category would have to redeem aeroplanchart36,500 points, while those in the dSilver category would redeem 39,450. If you’re not a Distinction member at all, the redemption “price” drops to 49,300; still a significant savings versus 61,000 points and one that leaves nearly 12,000 points in your pocket.

Not everyone flies enough to be a Distinction member. But if you do get on Aeroplan partner airlines enough, here’s how it works.

If you collect or earn 25,000 miles in one calendar year through Aeroplan and partners (don’t forget that in addition to airlines you can get points at a number of retailers, including Esso and Home Hardware) you earn dSilver status. Collect 50,000 eligible miles and you’re in the dBlack category. Collect 100,000 and you’re on the top of the podium with dDiamond status.

In addition to getting better deals on Market Fare flights, Distinction members get other benefits, including more bonus points on flights and hotel bonus points.

“With our Air Canada getaway bonus, members get more points when they fly to selected popular destinations, such as New York, Florida, California, London and Paris. You’d get 1,500 bonus miles if you’re dDiamond status, 1,000 if you’re dBlack and 500 if you’re dSilver.”

Distinction members also can earn hotel mile bonuses of 250 miles (for Diamond and Black members) per stay with select hotel partners. Details of what hotels will participate will be announced later but Aeroplan partners include Starwood, Marriott and the Hilton family. aeroplanaircanada

Bonuses also are available for purchases at the Aeroplan estore, which offers a huge range of merchandise ranging from electronics to “make your own perfume” exercises. Members who reach the dDiamond level will get three times the miles per transaction, while other Distinction members get double the miles.

Aeroplan has more than 100 partners, including Apple and Chapters, so it’s not hard to find a special gift for the holidays or a special birthday.

Another improvement with Aeroplan involves one-way flights. They’re expensive in the current system, but they’re about to get a lot easier. Currently, a roundtrip North American long haul flight is 25,000 points and one-way is 17,000; 67 per cent of the number of points for round-trip. Under the new system a one-way trip is 12,500 points; exactly one-half the number of points for a round-trip ticket. Much simpler and more fair to boot.

“We heard loud and clear … that that (the expiration of points) was a source of irritation,” Willoughby said.

As of now, all you have to do is make one Aeroplan transaction a year and your points will never expire. That transaction would mean redeeming points or flying Air Canada or even donating miles to a charity or buying one item at a participating Aeroplan retailer.

On top of all that, Aeroplan also will be providing flights meant solely for Distinction members. They’ve done flights in the past for premium Aeroplan members but there will be more in the future. And Distinction members also will get other special deals and privileges to be announced later, possibly including concert tickets.

IMG_0640“That’s still in the planning stages,” Willoughby said. “We’re trying to get a better sense of what our members want.”

If you’re lucky enough to earn dDiamond status, you also will get call priority when you call into Aeroplan; a nice feature.

It’s not all good news, as the number of miles required for some flights has increased. For ClassicFlight rewards from Canada or the Continental U.S. to Asia 1 destinations it currently costs 175,000 for business. That increases to 210,000 under the new plan. Other increases are for Asia 2 destinations, as well as Africa, Australia and the South Pacific.

No changes in redemption requirements are being made for North America, Europe or the Caribbean; the most popular destinations. Which is certainly good news.

Air Canada is partners in Aeroplan with 27 other Star Alliance airlines, which fly to some 195 countries around the world.

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