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Debunking the myths around Aeroplan

Canadians have been known to complain about their travel rewards’ programs from time to time. Aeroplan, the rewards program that provides points for folks who fly with Air Canada and other airlines, and who buy products at Esso stations or shop at other Aeroplan partners, is no exception.

As a travel writer, I occasionally hear someone grumble about Aeroplan. As a traveller myself, I use Aeroplan a lot, so I understand.

I use my Aeroplan points every year to buy tickets to California. JIM BYERS PHOTO

I use my Aeroplan points every year to buy tickets to California.

I’ve been an Aeroplan member for 30-something years, give or take, and it’s not perfect. I can’t always find the flight I want for the number of points I’d like to use. But 9 times out of 10, I’d say, it works fine.

Aeroplan recently published a web page that seeks to set the record straight and combat the myths on everything from expiry dates (which don’t exist by the way) to blackout dates (which also don’t exist).

By way of background, Aeroplan (which works with Air Canada and more than 25 Star Alliance member airlines) has two kinds of seats available for redemption. Fixed Mileage Rewards (formerly called ClassicFlight Rewards), which represent a fixed number of seats offered exclusively to Aeroplan members on AC and Star Alliance Flights. Market Fare Flight Rewards usually require more points, but you get access to all available seats on all Air Canada operated flights.

On occasion Aeroplan will do a deal and price Market Fare Flight Rewards at a price where they require fewer miles than Fixed Mileage Flight Rewards. Members with status in Aeroplan can get better deals, so it pays to fly more and build up your status.

More than 70 per cent of Aeroplan flight rewards are booked under the Fixed Mileage category. Last year, Aeroplan said their members needed fewer miles to travel than they would have with any other loyalty program in Canada.

Maui is a great destination that's easy to book with Aeroplan points.

Maui is a great destination that’s easy to book with Aeroplan points.

Trouble is, Aeroplan is quite popular in this country and there are tons of folks trying to redeem points. Flight rewards, especially the cheaper variety, can go fast.

Folks have complained they need to book their tickets a year in advance, but Aeroplan officials say that’s simply not true.

I visit my Dad in California every American Thanksgiving. It’s a big thing for my wife and I, and we always know when we want to travel, so we tend to book that in January to be safe. Not quite a year ahead, but close to it.

Just for fun, I went on the Aeroplan site on the weekend to see if I could book something three months out. I found a ton of options for one-stop flights with short layovers via United Airlines, a Star Alliance members. There were several flights available under the Fixed Mileage Flight Rewards category for 25,000 miles (what I almost always pay) for a departure on Monday, Nov. 21 and a return on Sunday the 27th. I booked slightly more convenient, direct flights back in January, but I could’ve waited until now, roughly three months ahead, and still booked good flights at the usual price point.

A trip to Sydney can be more affordable than you imagined if you use your Aeroplan points. Contrary to what some folks believe, there are no blackout dates with Aeroplan.

A trip to Sydney can be more affordable than you imagined if you use your Aeroplan points. Contrary to what some folks believe, there are no blackout dates with Aeroplan.

Okay, but you don’t care about U.S. Thanksgiving. You want to fly from Toronto to Vancouver to visit your sister in New Westminster for Christmas, right? I went online the other day and found Fixed Mileage flights for 50,000 points (more than you might like want to pay, but better than paying cash, right?), plus $99 in tax. Because I fly a lot, I have Aeroplan status and was able to find Market Reward flights for 41,000 points. So that’s not bad.

Oh, you thought Christmas tickets were blacked out? That’s another myth. Aeroplan doesn’t have blackout dates. Christmas and other times of the year can be very popular, so the cheapest tickets can sell out fast. They are, however, available.

I’ve used Aeroplan several times to book seats on points just a couple months in advance, including a trip earlier this year to the Caribbean. I find by being flexible on travel dates or by perhaps taking a flight with a short layover, I can usually make it work for the Fixed Mileage Flight Rewards category.

Aeroplan members have been known to complain that their points have expired. In fact, Aeroplan says there’s no fixed expiry date. Members do, however, have to stay active and make at least one Aeroplan transaction every 12 months.

You can keep your Aeroplan account active by purchasing gas at an Esso station or buy staying at a Fairmont Hotel, such as the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City.

You can keep your Aeroplan account active by purchasing gas at an Esso station or buy staying at a Fairmont Hotel, such as the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City.

But that doesn’t mean you have to fly from Calgary to Montreal to keep your points going. A transaction could be something as little as buying gas at Esso and using your Aeroplan card, or using it for any other of the dozens of Aeroplan retail partners, including Fairmont Hotels, Delta Hotels, Home Hardware and now The Brick online.

Aeroplan isn’t a perfect travel rewards system. I’ve yet to find one that is. But it’s generally fair and often quite a reasonable way to get air tickets (or hotels and other items) you might not otherwise be able to afford.

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