As long as it takes to accumulate frequent flyer miles, it can be even
harder to use them. But I have honed a few techniques for dealing with
Aeroplan, Air Canada’s frequent flyer program, that may help with
the booking process:
1. Plan in advance. If you book months in advance, there’s more
available. Of course I never do that, so I have a lot of fallbackstrategies.
2. Be flexible. If you’re able to be flexible about travel dates,
stopovers, connections, and travel times, there are many more options.
3. Leverage your miles. You can make one stopover in a Canadian city for
(as far as I can tell) as long as you want. That means you can essentially
get two trips on one Aeroplan ticket – for example by flying from
Vancouver to New York for a week, then spending a week in Toronto on the
way back to Vancouver.)
4. Do your homework. Visit the Aeroplan
web site before calling the reservation number, and see whether there
are flights available on the days you want to travel. And be tricky –
if you are trying to get from Vancouver to New York, check all three NY
area airports; check for flights from Vancouver to Toronto and from Toronto
to New York. In principle the system should check all possible connections
but I’ve been able to assemble routes the system didn’t find.
Then write down all possible flight combinations before calling the reservation
5. Book by phone if you can. Unless Aeroplan’s web site offers you
your ideal travel date and routing, you may get more options by calling
the reservation number. The phone agents’ system generally suggests
more options (including connections in the US via United) than what you
get on the Aeroplan web site.
6. Check the web site (again!) The
exception to tip #5 is that sometimes, the web site will give you flight
options that the phone agents can’t access. Apparently, the web
booking system isn’t programmed with quite as many of the booking
rules as human agents are expected to remember. I had one phone agent
who walked me through an online booking that let me fly Vancouver to New
York with an overnight stop in Toronto; because I had an overnight in
Toronto on the way home, the phone agent couldn’t book me overnight
stops in both directions. But the web system didn’t consider the
outbound stopover to be a true “overnight”, because I landed
in Toronto on the last flight one night, and flew to New York on the first
flight the next morning.
7. Throw your weight around. If you have enough points to be part of Air
Canada’s Prestige, Elite, or SuperElite programs, use the reservation
number provided on your card. Then be sure to input your Aeroplan number
when the system prompts you – it seems to put you in a faster queue.
8. Did you say speakerphone? Ignore the recorded message telling you that
an Aeroplan rep will be with you in 5 minutes. Maybe they will…or
maybe it will be an hour. (Of course, sometimes the answering system overestimates
the wait, and you get a human being in 5 when it’s told you the
wait is an hour….) Either way, you don’t want to sit with
the phone crooked in your neck while you wait. Put the thing on speakerphone
(or use a headset), and go about your life until the magic moment when
someone appears on the other end of the line.
9. Not all agents are created equal. Some Aeroplan agents will check route
after route to try and find you a flight; others are sticklers and cut
you off after three tries (another good reason to do your homework by
visiting the Aeroplan web site before calling). If you hit a human wall,
you may do better by calling again.
10. Travel in style. If you have enough miles to travel business class,
there are often Aeroplan seats available even after all the economy Aeroplan
seats are full. It’s not a bad deal (40,000 miles for a long-haul
flight in North America, as opposed to 25,000 for economy) and it is so
11. Nothing is certain but change. Aeroplan seating availability changes
constantly. It’s worth checking back daily, or even several times
a day, to see if flights have opened up. This is particularly effective
if you are in a position to wait until the last minute to book (or change)
a flight, since lots of stuff seems to open up less than a week in advance
(probably as people cancel flights they had previously booked, or Air
Canada releases unsold seats into the Aeroplan system.) I have had some
success booking fall-back flights, then changing to the dates, time, or
routing I want at the last minute.
12. Deal in sunk costs. If you make changes to your Aeroplan booking,
Air Canada will charge you -- $25 to change flight times,
$50 to cancel a ticket and credit the miles back to your account, and
$75 to change your routing (and if you change the city you connect through
on an indirect flight, that counts as routing change). So you have to
think like an economist – don’t worry about how many changes
you’ve already made or paid for, think about whether this next change
is worth the price. If you’ve already paid $25 to change the date
of an indirect flight, don’t let an additional $75 charge stop you
from changing again when a direct flight becomes available.