The Last Aeroplan Hurrah: Introduction

Despite having only flown Air Canada a handful of times in my life, I’ve redeemed close to a million miles with their spun off loyalty program, Aeroplan. Up until last year their award chart was so ridiculously generous that I didn’t know what to do with myself.

My absolute favorite gem on their award chart was US to Asia roundtrip for 120,000 miles in first class. Best of all, they let you route via the Pacific or Atlantic, meaning you could essentially fly four longhaul flights in first class on the same award. Best of all, they allowed two stopovers OR one stopover and one open jaw per award, which are among the most generous policies in the industry.

As a result I was damn near devastated when they announced last April that they would be “modifying” their award chart. While some of the increases were reasonable, like business class to Europe going from 80,000 miles to 90,000 miles, others were more drastic. The US to Asia award I had grown to love so much went from 120,000 miles to 175,000 miles – yes, that’s nearly a 50% increase.

So I was determined to book one last Aeroplan masterpiece to remember the “good old days.” Traveling with others is usually more fun, so I invited a friend to come along. In the end we agreed on the following routing in first class for 120,000 miles per person (points that were transferred from American Express Membership Rewards):

03/16 Lufthansa 459, San Francisco to Munich, 10:05PM-5:25PM (+1 day)
03/18 Swiss 1109, Munich to Zurich, 5:05PM-6:00PM
03/18 Swiss 180, Zurich to Bangkok, 10:45PM-3:30PM (+1 day)
03/21 Thai 606, Bangkok to Hong Kong, 4:00PM-7:45PM
03/23 Asiana 722, Hong Kong to Seoul, 1:15PM-5:30PM
03/24 Asiana 541, Seoul to Frankfurt, 12:50PM-4:35PM
03/25 Lufthansa 490, Frankfurt to Seattle, 9:50AM-11:15AM

And I have to say I was pretty proud of the itinerary. We had two longhaul segments in Lufthansa first class, one of my favorite products, including visits to their First Class Lounge in Munich and First Class Terminal in Frankfurt. We had a segment in Swiss first class, including a visit to their First Class Lounge in Zurich. Then we had one segment in Thai first class departing out of Bangkok, which meant we’d get to experience their amazing lounge and spa, which includes an hour-long full body massage. Lastly, we’d get a longhaul segment in Asiana first class, which is another one of my favorite products. To position myself i San Francisco and Seattle I booked revenue tickets on American, though I won’t cover them since they were pretty ordinary flights.

The taxes came out to a reasonable ~$200 per ticket, and I was pleased to see that there weren’t any major schedule changes with the itinerary, given that we were booking about 10 months out.

Looking back, I’m even happier to have booked this award when we did because the award chart devaluation was only the beginning of the negative changes to awards with Aeroplan. Aeroplan also started imposing fuel surcharges on partner award redemptions, meaning not only did the mileage cost go up by about 50%, but the same ticket would cost about $700-1,000 extra. Furthermore, late last year Lufthansa entirely stopped releasing first class award space in advance to Star Alliance partners. As a result, this award wouldn’t be possible anymore unless booking within a week or two of departure.

I’ll cover my thought process behind hotel choices with each individual installment. In the meantime, sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride. I promise one installment per day, or your money back. 😉

In the meantime, just a few random pictures to get started. Bonus points to anyone that can identify all five locations.

Okay, maybe you don’t have to identify that last location, but I couldn’t resist. Sorry…

Filed Under: Awards, Travel
  1. @ Dan — I don’t think you’re expected to, but I always leave about $10USD. Ultimately it’s still an amazing deal for me (less than what I’d otherwise pay in gratuity for an hour-long massage at a hotel), and it certainly brightens their day.

  2. Pretty sure the third picture is the glockenspiel in Munchen. I was there a couple years ago for 400th Oktoberfest visiting some friends.

  3. I only know the outdoor photos –

    3) Marienplatz in Munich city centre
    4) Hong Kong peak view looking down, with Kowloon across the HK harbour
    6) Top of Victoria Peak looking down on HK Central. As to the laugh-inducing choice of English translation – it happens A LOT more frequently in Mainland China!

    As to the others, since I haven’t had the pleasure of First Class….

  4. My guess…

    1. Swiss FC ZRH-BKK
    2. TG Spa BKK FC Lounge
    3. Munich
    4. HK Ritz Carlton
    5. Ritz Spa HK
    6. Victoria Peak HK

  5. For the record, the sign is in perfectly fine English. A little oddly formal usage for the context, but nothing technically wrong.

    Kinda like using “gay” to mean “happy”; not wrong, just unusual.

  6. “Cum” in the last photo means “and”. It’s fairly common in the UK & hence Hong Kong (which follows British English).

  7. @Samuel. “Cum” is not common usage in the UK but most educated people have learnt Latin, so would know it means with, as in “Summa cum laude”. I would say it’s no more common in the UK than the US.

  8. Looking forward to the Asiana parts the most, since your last trip report on it was a few years ago, so it should be interesting to see how the service is today…granted, you did spoil us about it already lol

    I don’t mean this in a bad way, but I am a little…bored, I guess, with Luftansa and Thai trip reports, since you do them so often. Unless it’s trying out a new product, like with the recent LH 380 report. I hope you got to try out the new 747 seat&bed combo on LH. The trip reports of yours I look forward to these days are new airlines you haven’t reviewed yet (like the Quantas one last year) or re-visiting airlines from previous years to see how their product holds up (like the upcoming Asiana report). I’d love to see you revisit JAL, ANA, and Cathay just to see how you find their product these days…

  9. Hi Lucky,

    Why not try DL’s new Economy Comfort? Blue seats!

    Actually, you reference Aeroplan’s devaluation and it begs the question of what seems to be a well-substantiated rumor that DL is preparing to move to a spend-based FF plan.

    Are there any such plans on large carriers who are members of global alliances? And based on what you’ve seen of them, do they devastate the systems that all the mileage-runners and bonus-points collectors use?

  10. @ Andy — I certainly appreciate the feedback, and I hear ya! The good news is that there are some new hotels and the flight experiences were a bit different than normal (with the exception of Lufthansa, which was excellent as usual). I’ll be making every effort to sample new airlines over the coming months to keep the new experiences coming. Thanks for reading.

  11. @ Adam — Hah, that’s an experience I might just have to pass on.

    You raise a good question. First of all, I don’t see Delta actually following through with the revenue based program. It’s too ball-sy of a move for them to make, in my opinion. But I guess crazier things have happened.

    Ultimately the smart consumer can always stay a step ahead. I’d say that nowadays mileage running isn’t really lucrative anymore. I mean, back in the day I could consistently book transcontinental flights with four connections in each direction for about $220 roundtrip. Nowadays I’m thrilled to see a transcon for under $400 roundtrip. So the concept of mileage running is more or less dead to me.

    At the same time, credit card sign-up bonuses are great, and a much easier/more efficient way to earn miles. So I do think regardless of whether or not Delta switches to a revenue based program, we’re seeing a shift whereby us savvy consumers are having to find new ways to beat the system. But that’s the fun of the game.

  12. Can’t wait for this trip report. I booked my first (and sadly only) mini-RTW on Aeroplan for travel starting in a month and it’s virtually the same itinerary! This is like a free preview of my upcoming vacation.

  13. “Speaking of the Thai first class lounge and massage… do people give a tip for that?”

    Maybe it depends if one enjoys the massage cum spa treatment.

  14. I think you miss out by redeeming miles but spending a effectively one full day in any given city. You spent the 20th in Bangkok and and 22nd in Hong Kong. The rest were partial days at best. 2 full days in any given location on an 8/9 day itinerary. Doesn’t really interest me.

    I completely understand the point of scoring one last 120K (or 240K in this case) super Aeroplan award but not just for the sake of doing so. I know you’ve been to MUC, BKK, HKG and ICN, some repeatedly, but there’s always something else new to do, some place away from the city to see, etc. There’s also the value of simply being somewhere else for a while that isn’t “home”, if you consider TPA to be that. To each his own, of course.

  15. @ ArizonaGuy — My friend is still in school and therefore only had a week to travel. My goal was to book an award from the US to Asia via Europe. Given that, I’d say I did pretty well.

    Yes, this wasn’t a trip to “explore” in great detail, but there are plenty of other opportunities. I’m exploring Thailand/Cambodia next month for two weeks. I’m going to Kyoto in May for a week.

    But sometimes it’s nice to just get away quickly and relax, and for me flying does that. I live in Tampa for a reason (it’s cheap and there’s no state income tax in FL), so at the end of the day it’s cheaper for me to live here and then “escape” as often as I can, as opposed to just moving somewhere interesting.

  16. I understand your point entirely. We’re just quite different – I’d probably have booked an single long-haul somewhere (and maybe a connecting short-haul or train connection) and spent 4 or 5 days in a small region.

    I know you go that way many times (India, the Arabian peninsula, etc) which is what makes this award puzzling. It seems relatively pointless and a waste of valuable miles. But again, to each his own. Not criticizing, mind, just not able to understand.

  17. I mean to say I understand what you wanted to accomplish and why you needed to do so at that time – book the award prior to Aeroplan devaluation – but not able to understand why you would want to do so simply for the sake of doing so.

    Just clarifying since I realize my last comment could be seen as contradictory.

  18. Lucky,

    I follow your blog all the time with great interest. Since you are so well-versed in booking great trips with mileage, I wanted to ask you if there are any airlines left out there which do NOT levy fuel surcharges on mile redemption. I am based in Asia, and normally fly *A, but I can’t seem to find ANY major airline, regardless of alliance,which doesn’t charge surcharges these days…

    Thanks again for the wonderful blog entries.

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