After two years of talking about it, Air Canada finally unveiled its new frequent flyer program this morning and it’s called… Aeroplan.
Market research with thousands of people showed the brand had huge value, so they’ve kept it, but make no mistake, nearly everything else will change when the program goes live on November 8, 2020. The new program aims to combine Air Canada’s Altitude status program with a modernized and more flexible points system, all rebooted under a shiny new logo.
It’s…shutters? Sure, why not.
In briefing media on the program, the Aeroplan team said that the guiding principle behind the new program is a Swiss Army knife. The basic blade function is easy to use and many users will never pull the tool out for anything else, but the Swiss Army knife wouldn’t be a Swiss Army knife without all the other specialized doodads that are available to a more dedicated user, should they deign to use them.
The goal, then, was to create a system with increased benefits for the more average flyer, without sacrificing the benefits that attract the hardcore points hounds and aviation geeks among us.
Whether it delivers remains to be seen, but here are the highlights. I note that Ben has covered new Aeroplan redemptions in-depth here, while I’ll cover the new Aeroplan credit card details separately here.
Think Points, not Miles
Anyone who has been watching changes in Aeroplan/Altitude over the past few years will not be shocked that the new Aeroplan will see points earning tied to spend, rather than literal distance traveled.
In particular, the points you earn for a flight will be based on the base fare and carrier surcharges, excluding taxes. This is consistent with the previous introduction of the Altitude Qualifying Dollar requirement for Altitude statuses, and is now reflected in a terminology shift from Aeroplan miles to Aeroplan points.
While those of us who have relied at times on cheapie trans-pacific tickets to hit status milestones may recoil a little at this, AQD requirements had rendered that style of mileage-running for status somewhat obsolete in the Altitude system anyway.
Given the high price of flying in Canada even for relatively short distances, spend-based earning may be a net benefit for the many Canadians who fly regularly within their home region.
The shift to spend-based earn will also come, in 2021, with earning multipliers both for higher fares, and for status members, making it easier for Latitude, Premium Economy, and Business Class fliers, and Elite and Super Elite members to rack up points at a much higher rate.
Every Seat Availability
I’ve talked before about this being one of the core benefits of Super Elite status, in my opinion. The ability to access any open seat for a redemption makes flying a family on points practical, even during busy periods.
Apparently Aeroplan agrees, and will be extending this benefit across the program. While that may devalue Super Elite somewhat, it’s hard to begrudge a decision that will make redemptions workable for more fliers during more periods, even if they come at a premium.
Everyday Status Qualification
The formal shift toward a spend-focused status system does have some benefits, one of which is adding routes to earn those sweet Elite qualifying points.
Points earned through spend on Aeroplan credit cards, flying with Air Canada and partner airlines, and through other travel and retail partners will now count, in some measure, towards status. This makes status a more realistic goal for people who aren’t spending a ton on plane tickets every year.
In particular, 100K points earned through eligible transactions in a calendar year will equate to 25K status for the following year. There are other ways to parlay Aeroplan credit card spend into status, as well.
Aeroplan’s new system will also allow you to build your own family of users, with a common account. Unlike some older family account setups, this one will not be tied to sharing an address or name; you and up to seven other members are welcome to pool your points regardless of your relationships.
A family account will encompass the pre-existing balances of all members, plus their go-forward spend, and all members of the group will share in at least some of the benefits enjoyed by members who hold Aeroplan Elite status or an Aeroplan credit card.
Of course, the usefulness of a family account is tied closely to the functionality of the family using it. While it will be possible to limit the functionality of some members’ access to the pool (ensuring that my eight year old doesn’t blow the whole balance on Nintendo Switch games, for example), managing the members, points, and redemptions is going to be the responsibility of the members, not Aeroplan.
Our household will be looking closely at the terms and conditions associated with this feature when it goes live before committing.
A New, Fully-Integrated System
No more Altitude, no more flipping between multiple websites or apps to deal with status benefits, points redemptions, and bookings. The new system will be a user-friendly one-stop shop for Aeroplan points, Aeroplan Elite status and benefits, and Air Canada bookings. Aeroplan will be directly connected into Air Canada’s new Amadeus booking system, hopefully making last fall’s rocky transition
The all-in-one website is supported by an entirely new tech stack that should allow for greater functionality and require fewer calls to the customer service centre to track down missing points, manage redemptions, and adjust bookings.
Longer Life for your Points
Keeping your Aeroplan points alive isn’t difficult to do as is, but under the new program you will only need to earn or redeem every 18 months, rather than every 12, to extend the life of your points.
New Rewards for Elite Members
Aeroplan will maintain Altitude’s 25K, 35K, 50K, 75K, and 100K status levels, rebranded as Aeroplan 25K, Aeroplan 35K, Aeroplan 50K, Aeroplan 75K, and Aeroplan Super Elite. Many details on the benefits are pending, but here are a few of the perks that statusholders can look forward to under the new program:
Priority Reward Vouchers
Each of these vouchers will permit the member to book a reward ticket at 50% off base fare, including on partner airlines.
Members will earn a new voucher on crossing EQD thresholds through the year: one will be issued at 4000, 7000, 10,000, 15,0000, and every 5,000 thereafter to a maximum of 11 vouchers. Existing status and the particular threshold will dictate geographic and cabin limitations on the voucher.
While a 50% discount on point spend is obviously a huge benefit, the limited application on a voucher basis, and the geographic and cabin limits on the vouchers themselves, may make it difficult to maximize value for the average flier.
Elite Status Multiplier
This selectable benefit will enable Elite and SuperElite status holders to earn between 10-40% more points than under the present system.
Altitude Elite members have long been issued lounge passes to share with family or friends, giving them one-time access to a Maple Leaf Lounge while travelling without the Elite member.
Status passes up the ante on lounge passes because they will apply for an entire journey, not just a single lounge entry, and come with additional perks like free checked bags, priority check-in, security clearance, and boarding, which apply to all travelers on the reservation to a maximum of nine.
Aeroplan is calling these “50K for a day,” and they might make it worthwhile to kiss up to your elite member sibling or neighbour in advance of that big family vacation.
These are just the broad strokes of the updated program, with more details to come in the run-up to its launch on November 8.
Overall, I’m pleased with the shape of things to come. Increased flexibility in earning, benefits, and redemptions, and a cleaner, simpler interface should make the program infinitely more usable for the average consumer, and may recapture some of the market share in that area from WestJet, whose straight dollar program has proven popular with travelers who don’t want a redemption to require an advanced degree.
I’m interested in your thoughts, though, especially on the obvious focus around benefits that can be shared with family and friends. While that’s in line with my own travel habits and priorities, it definitely caters to a particular type of traveler. What do you think?