Here Comes The New Aeroplan, Not Much Like The Old Aeroplan

Filed Under: Air Canada, Air Canada Aeroplan

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.

Family Sharing

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 more worthwhile.

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.

Status Passes

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.

Initial Impressions

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?

  1. Presumably miles will still be tracked for the purposes of Million Mile status?

    Asking for a friend.

  2. The AC frequent flyers on FT are decidedly unimpressed by the new program – especially the removal of the IKK benefit for Super Elites. A massive loss of what was the biggest benefit.

    What’s up with your never ending praise for Aeroplan in recent weeks Ben? A more objective assessment would be nice – or are you part of their marketing team now?

  3. @ maha — First of all, this post was written by Kate, who is an Air Canada frequent flyer (unlike me). As far as my “never ending” praise of Aeroplan:
    — Aeroplan has done a phenomenal job engaging members from home in recent weeks, and I’ve given the program praise for that; can you name a frequent flyer program that has been more innovative during the pandemic?
    — I am genuinely excited about the new redemption opportunities through Aeroplan, for reasons I outlined in the other post
    — Based on how I accrue Aeroplan miles (through the US credit card market) I love the flexibility provided by the new Aeroplan program; for simple one-ways I can still transfer miles to LifeMiles, while for complex one-ways with stopovers, I can transfer miles to Aeroplan

    I don’t expect everyone to agree with me on everything (that has never been how the internet works), but I hope you can at least appreciate that this is my honest opinion. No, I’m not part of the Aeroplan marketing team…

  4. I think the switch to a points-based system is a net downgrade for most. As an example, a recent flight from New York to Belgrade via Toronto and Munich in Premium Economy (ticket price = $1,255) awards the flyer about 8,300 points for an E50K under the new structure. Under the current structure you would earn almost twice as many miles. I can see this being a win for those that travel in Business/Signature Class, so it makes sense to reward those customers.

    At the current exchange rates, this is about 9.3 points per USD for SE100K vs. 11 points per USD for the highest elite status for most US carriers.

  5. Call me cynical, but as a long time Aeroplan and Air Canada customer who’s done many business class and economy redemptions over the years, I’d bet the ranch this means the flight I want when I want it is going to cost me a lot more points than it does now.

  6. This seems like a horrible time to introduce any new program, especially one based on dollar spent when there are few business travelers and almost no international flights.

  7. @Charlie McMillan, well yes and no. Under the current program, you can’t get what you want when you want, it all depends on availability, unless you are willing to pay the sky high miles under market fare. Under the new program, you can get what you want when you want, for a price, and it is capped (so much lower than market fares). If the lower end was available now, it will be available then. The only change is now you have a choice.

    @FNT Delta Diamond, the new program doesn’t launch until November 8. Air Canada has always been good in giving their members a heads up for any upcoming changes. No one is spending now, but they will in 2021 and beyond.

  8. The CBC article also says they will eliminate carrier surcharges, where the fees on redeeming a flight to Europe for example were as much as a decent priced sale ticket. Here’s the quote:

    Among the other changes, additional airline surcharges, including fuel surcharges, on all flight rewards with Air Canada will be eliminated.

    This would be a huge positive change even if the other changes are net negative for occasional flyers.

  9. Flights to my Asian destination under the old plan was a fixed 75,000 miles RETURN all year round, including peak seasons. Yes, availability was not always there, but at least the miles were predictable and we could long term plan for our trips. Now under the new plan flights are going to cost 45,000 – 80,000 points ONE WAY! So now our flights are going to cost over DOUBLE what they used to because we would often fly during peak seasons.

    Thanks Air Canada… NOT!

  10. Great well written post Kate, thanks. Did I miss how many EQD/points are needed to qualify for each Altitude level? I typically do a lot of higher cost relatively low mileage flights on AC so I’m probably one of those who will benefit. Last year I spent $58k and ended up just short of 50K status.

  11. From what information is present on Air Canada’s website regarding the new Aeroplan program, it seems that Status Qualifying Dollars are still only able to be earned for AC-ticketed itineraries, with no mention as to whether or not a reduced SQD requirement is present for non-Canadian residents (as is the case now with Altitude).

    There may be some great redemption opportunities on offer with the new program, but earning status is still more difficult than in other Star Alliance programs if this is correct.

  12. @John – regarding status earn, the SQD requirements aren’t explicitly listed anywhere but there is a reference to the requirements being the same as they are for Altitude.

  13. Status requirements are listed on the Air Canada website. They are unchanged except
    Super Elite will require 100 segments or 100k miles instead of 95 segments or 100k miles. And they’re dropping the Prestige and Elite names, but keeping Super Elite. No other obvious significant changes to the status programme.

  14. Updates say the new program will offer better value “on average” and the new points will be linked to the actual ticket cost, not distance. Will be interesting to see how this works with business class tickets as ACs website lists some of the most expensive international business class tickets around. Think I’ll redeem my points before this devaluation sets in.

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