This week the all new Air Canada Aeroplan program is launching. A new points program and approach to redemptions are all well and good, but most of us aren’t earning all those Aeroplan points with our butts in seats. Credit cards, even in Canada’s tight regulatory environment, are a critical part of the earn and burn ecosystem.
Let’s take a look at what we know about how Aeroplan credit cards are changing to work with the new Aeroplan program.
Three credit card partners, three levels of cards
Aeroplan’s partners will continue to be TD, CIBC, and American Express. Each partner will be offering three tiers of credit cards, which will have different fees and benefits at each level:
The premium level card from all partners will boast a variety of new benefits.. Before getting into that, however, let’s look at what new benefits are available more broadly across the credit card line-up.
The new entry-level cards from TD and CIBC both offer new cardholders a 10,000 point bonus when they make their first purchase. TD is throwing in an annual fee rebate for those who make that first purchase within 90 days of opening the account.
At the core level, new TD cardholders can expect a 10,000 point bonus when they make their first purchase, plus a Buddy Pass (a one-time voucher allowing the holder to purchase a second ticket for just taxes and external fees when they buy an economy ticket within North America, for use within one year), if they spend $1,000 in the first 90 days after opening the account, plus a rebate on the card’s annual fee.
CIBC is also offering new cardholders 10,000 points at first purchase, as well as Buddy Pass to those who spend $3,000 within the first 90 days, and a rebate on the annual fee.
New prestige cardholders can expect the following from TD:
- 20,000 points at first purchase
- 30,000 points and a BOGO economy flight Buddy Pass for a trip within North America if you spend $1,000 in the first three months
CIBC is lowballing its prestige welcome offer of just 20,000 at first purchase, and a Buddy Pass if you spend $3,000 in the first four months.
Enhanced earn rates
TD and CIBC cards will start at a base earning rate of 1 Aeroplan point per $1.50 CAD in spend. This is the same as is presently offered for their basic Aeroplan cards (the TD Aeroplan Visa Platinum and CIBC Aero Platinum Visa).
The new core level cards, which would be in the same tier as the present TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite and CIBC Aerogold Visa Infinite, will earn at a rate of 1 Aeroplan point per dollar.
At the premium level (TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Privilege and CIBC Aerogold Visa Infinite Privilege), cards will earn 1.25 points per dollar on purchases generally, 1.5 points per dollar on gas and groceries, and 2 points per dollar on Air Canada purchases.
Gas and groceries will have a 1.5x multiplier for both the core and premium card levels, though the American Express Cobalt™ Card will still probably be the better card to use for those purchases.
Purchases from Air Canada or Air Canada Vacations will get a 1.5x multiplier at the core level, and 2x on premium cards. For Americans accustomed to earning 3x or even 5x on airfare, this likely sounds uninspiring, but 2x is on par with the most premium travel card available here.
The core credit cards will “boost” your quest for status by 1,000 status qualifying miles and 1 status qualifying segment per $10,000 eligible annual spend.
The premium card will double that rate, with the same boost for every $5,000 in eligible annual spend.
Note that these “boosts” won’t help you meet the status qualifying dollar target, which at the higher end is the more difficult status criteria to meet, but they are likely to make a difference for semi-regular fliers in getting low and mid-level statuses.
The core-level cards have added a rebate for a NEXUS application or renewal fee for each cardholder as well. On a per cardholder basis, that benefit will come into play at a maximum of $100, once every five years, so it’s not much to write home about.
Expansion of benefit scope
The core-level cards had carried a free first checked bag benefit, but only for a primary cardholder travelling on an Aeroplan redemption. That benefit will now apply to all Air Canada itineraries, and will be available to additional cardholders.
Additional cardholders will also have access to some insurance benefits that had been limited to primary cardholders, including delayed and lost baggage coverage, purchase security and extended warranty (specifically excluding drones, which made me laugh a little), and some of those insurance options will be more broadly applicable overall. Frankly, however, I consider any attempt by a credit card or bank to get me excited about insurance a clear indication that they don’t have much else to be excited about.
Core-level cards that included a Maple Leaf Lounge pass and priority check-in and boarding will be losing those benefits. As they were limited to the primary cardholder flying on an Aeroplan redemption, these were not the most exciting aspects of the cards to begin with, but in a household with two cardholders, they may be a minor factor in holding two primary cards, versus a single premium with a second cardholder.
The premium cards
A number of benefits specific to the new premium cards have also been outlined. The current TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Privilege and CIBC Aerogold Visa Infinite Privilege cards have a $399 annual fee, which will be increasing to $599, so consider the value of these benefits carefully.
Rollover SQM and eUpgrades
Premium cardholders will be able to roll up to 200,000 “leftover” status qualifying miles towards next year’s status.
Similarly, up to 50 unused eUpgrade credits, which would normally expire at the end of the year, can be extended for holders of cards with this benefit, provided that they requalify for status.
Credit card holders to the front of the line
Integrating Aeroplan directly into Air Canada’s status and booking systems will permit premium credit card holders to get a bump in priority for certain benefits.
If this works similarly to how the Delta Reserve cards do in the U.S., upgrades, and standby are where we’re likely to see this play out most often: all other things being equal, a 50K Elite with an Aeroplan premium credit card will get their upgrade before a 50K Elite without one.
Annual worldwide companion pass
With $25,000 of eligible annual spend, a premium cardholder will be entitled to an economy ticket for a companion anywhere in the world. This benefit is limited to one per year, but note that this is not a complimentary companion ticket.
Instead, the price of the companion ticket is based on the destination region — a companion ticket within Canada or the U.S. would be $99, whereas one to Asia or Australia would be $599. Plus the taxes, fees, and fuel surcharges, of course.
This benefit replaces the existing 50% discount on one companion ticket annually.
Changes to lounge access
The present cards come with four annual Maple Leaf Lounge Passes per year, each of which can only be used by the primary cardholder and companions travelling together on an Aeroplan redemption. The new cards, meanwhile, will allow both primary and additional cardholders, each with one guest, to access the Maple Leaf Lounges in North America anytime they are travelling on Air Canada or Star Alliance.
Benefits for additional cardholders
Some airport benefits are also being extended to additional cardholders, including priority check-in, boarding, and a free first checked bag. That said, the annual fee for additional cards is also jumping from $99 to $199.
The new Aeroplan credit cards are now launching. The premium benefits are definitely intriguing — the ability to roll over benefits gives a cardholder so much more flexibility in maximizing the use they can get from their benefits. For high-end users, those premium cards look very attractive, though with high annual fees.
By contrast, the core benefit suite doesn’t seem to have gained much compared to the cards currently on offer, though the potential for status bumps could be nice.