Points, points, points. Coupled with our contemporary drive to consume and collect, the industry of rewards cards and incentive programs has truly taken on a life of it's own. In fact, the increasingly popular Canadian Aeroplan Program has become the world's first publicly traded loyalty program on the stock market.

But, what does this all mean? This means that collecting and redeeming points through loyalty programs has become BIG business, and this business can be very complicated and forehead wrinkle-inducing. However, with a foundational understanding (or in grabbing ahold of the shiny compass Flightfox is about to provide), we can better understand how to navigate through the blind streets of the Aeroplan Miles program, and jet off into the sunset… for free!

The first step is to understand how the Aeroplan program works, and how we can take full, hate-worthy advantage of the system for our own benefit. In a nutshell, Aeroplan works by matching dollars spent with miles gained. In other words, through Air Canada and Star Alliance (alongside the other retail partners of Aeroplan), miles are gained when dollars are spent towards flights, services, or products sold. To simply state it, the more cash you spend on all that Aeroplan endorses the more miles you will accumulate.

Your miles can be used on everything from travelling like a rockstar at a heavily discounted (or free) price, to getting Cirque du Soleil tickets for you and a hot date (or your Mom). Sound easy enough? Well, things can get a little complicated, like Shakespearian plot complicated. But, let's try and break it down.

A play-by-play on how to earn Aeroplan Miles

1. Sign up for Credit Cards

A good starting point is to sign up for one of the AmEx AeroplanPlus Cards or the CIBC AeroGold Visa Card. The AmEx Gold Card offers 20,000 Miles after you spend $500 in your first three months of membership and you don't pay an annual fee for the first year (whereas you earn double the miles on the Platinum Card once you spend $1,000 but the annual fee is a cringing $499). The CIBC Visa Card offers 15,000 miles as a signing bonus to new cardholders (but there's a $120 annual fee).

2. Spend with Partners

Aeroplan has a fairly extensive list of partners ranging from Esso to Fairmont Hotels & Resorts. The miles earned are different depending on each partner and on their current promotions. Most credit cards also offer cardholders 1.5 Aeroplan Miles for every $1 in Card purchases.

3. Fly on Air Canada

The Aeroplan Program originated as an incentive for it's frequent flyers. Although the program has evolved, both booking and travelling with Air Canada and Star Alliance is a surefire way to rack up some serious Aeroplan Miles. Not only do you earn Aeroplan Miles when booking Air Canada flights, you also earn when you are high in the sky. On most flights you can earn anywhere between 25% of miles flown on flights within Canada and the Continental U.S.A all the way up to 150% of miles flown to other worldwide destinations.

Air Canada Aeroplan Plane

4. Earn Bonus Miles

Bonus Miles can be earned in countless ways. Some of the ways these coveted Miles can be earned are through:

  • Flying a certain number of flight segments
  • Joining Air Canada's Altitude Program
  • Registering for bonus Aeroplan Mile promotions

As such, the deeper you delve into the underground world of the Aeroplan Program, the more it will pay off (perhaps in points, not friends). By combining point-earning methods, you can really maximize the amount of points you are earning with each purchase or flight you are taking.

Now that you are well-versed in some of the ways to earn more points, let's try and figure out just how much your points are worth.

What are your Aeroplan Miles worth?

What am I worth? Isn't this the pressing question of our adult lives? Everyone wants to know just how much they are worth, and just how far they can run with it. Luckily, in this case we are only talking about Aeroplan Miles. Phew. We can save the therapy session for the beach-side cocktail induced chat kindly brought to us by our Aeroplan Miles. But really, it's time to get a little bit technical.

If we compare our Aeroplan miles directly to CDN dollars, we can better understand how Aeroplan Miles are akin to currency. This will make it easier to understand when we are beating the system and using our points to their full advantage, and when we are getting totally ripped off.

Use a Benchmark to Compare

Let's look at a few economic round-trip flights within Canada and the Continental U.S.A. If we choose Toronto as our departing city and fly to Calgary ($494 RT), Vancouver ($535 RT), or Miami ($464 RT), we can determine that the average red-tag price is around $498 per round-trip flight. Through the Aeroplan Mile program, each of these flights are redeemable for 25,000 Aeroplan Miles, plus the applicable taxes and fees which average to $146.

When the taxes and fees ($146) are subtracted by the average retail price ($498), and then divided by the number of Aeroplan Miles (25,000), we get a figure of 0.014, or 1.4 cents per mile (CPM).

($498 Retail - $146 Taxes & Fees) / 25,000 Miles = $0.014 or 1.4 CPM

This means that the benchmark figure of a reasonably good deal should be about 1.4 CPM. As a general rule of thumb, the higher the CPM, the more favourable the exchange of your miles will be.

Anything above this benchmark figure represents a worthwhile trade-in of your hard earned points, and in using it we can better understand the amazing deals vs. the "deals" that are disguised in sheep's clothing.

Products - Just Say No

Okay, you haven't quite accumulated enough points to jet off to the Mediterranean, so you decide to bring the aromas of the Italian shores to your epidermis. You trade in your Aeroplan Miles for a sensual, large-sized bottle of Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue for Men. The average market value for the cologne is about $80, or 11,500 Miles. When we directly divide the market purchase price of the cologne by the number of Aeroplan Miles, we get 0.69 cents per mile (CPM).

$80 Retail / 11,500 Miles = $0.0069 or 0.69 CPM

According to our benchmark figure, this is absolute merda.

Gift Cards - Resist the Temptation

Let's say that you are looking for immediate gratification with the free weekend food samples and bulk merchandise at Costco. You decide to trade in your Aeroplan Miles for a $100 Costco gift-card. This redemption is worth a total of 13,500 Miles.

$100 Retail / 13,500 Miles = $0.0074 or 0.74 CPM

Wait, that's it? Yes. In comparison to our benchmark figure of 1.4 CPM this redemption of your miles is certainly not worth stocking up on.

How far can you actually go?

Air Canada Aeroplan Flight Paths

Short-haul Economy Flight

A short-haul, round-trip economy flight from Toronto to New York City can be purchased at the red-tag price of $269, or 15,000 Aeroplan Miles plus $176 in taxes and fees.

($269 Retail - $176 Taxes & Fees) / 15,000 Miles = $0.0062 or 0.62 CPM

According to our benchmark figure, is this a good deal? Certainly not. With all of the taxes and fees ringing in close to the full red-tag price, you'd be better of staying at home with your D&G cologne.

International Economy Flight

An international round-trip economy flight from Toronto to Sydney, Australia can be purchased at the red-tag price of $1,700, or 80,000 Aeroplan Miles plus $227 in taxes and fees.

($1,700 Retail - $227 Taxes & Fees) / 80,000 Miles = $0.0184 or 1.84 CPM

Now, according to our benchmark figure, is this a good deal? The answer is simply, "yes" because it exceeds our benchmark figure of 1.4 CPM. So, a) Hallelujah! and b) let's do even better…

Air Canada Aeroplan Hostess

International Business Class Flight

The same international round-trip flight from Toronto to Sydney in Business Class will run you the red-tag cost of a whopping $6,340, or 135,000 Aeroplan Miles plus $239 in taxes and fees.

($6,340 Retail - $239 Taxes & Fees) / 135,000 Miles = $0.0452 or 4.52 CPM

Hopefully, you're drooling with amazement over this much more favourable exchange of your miles. This is what a great deal looks like!

International Upgrade Flight

Okay, let's see if we can get an even more favourable exchange of our Aeroplan Miles. This time, let's look at an international round-trip flight from Toronto to Sydney, but in peak holiday season - over Christmas and New Year. The cheapest Economy class ticket can be purchased for $3,959. This same flight in Business will set you back an incredible $10,166. In order to upgrade, you need to purchase the Air Canada "Latitude" fare at $7,359. Let's waive a magic wand and plug in our numbers.

($10,166 Retail Business - $7,359 Retail Economy) / 30,000 Miles = $0.0936 or 9.36 CPM

Say What?! If you can handle potentially not knowing if your request is approved until rolling away from the gate; dishing out some cash upfront; and jumping through a few hurdles, this is definitely the winner! If you want to know how many miles you need to upgrade, check out this chart.

Warning: Before banking on using your Aeroplan Miles for an upgrade, make sure that there is an upgrade available.

Mini Round the World

If you've thought that some of the other flights were a great redemption on your Aeroplan miles, this one is truly out of this world (or around it)! We call this one the "Mini Round the World", because you can literally do just that without breaking your Aeroplan bank.

On the Aeroplan Rewards Chart, an Around the World trip costs 200,000 miles for Economy, 300,000 miles for Business class, or 400,000 miles for First class. You can have up to 5 stops, but do you even have that amount of miles? Neither do we!

By reading the fine print, you can get a mini global vacation using just 125,000 miles for Business class or 175,000 miles for First.

Now, pay close attention. If we redeem a round-trip flight from Toronto to Bangkok in First Class it will cost 175,000 miles. Aeroplan allows 2 stopovers with this type of reward. This means we can essentially build in extra stops on the trip for free. With this, you can have a stopover in Rome on the way to Bangkok, and a stopover in Istanbul on the way back to Toronto.

Toronto > Rome > Bangkok > Istanbul > Toronto

The current red-tag cost for this First-class, multi-city flight rings in at an astonishing $23,702 or only 175,000 Aeroplan Miles. By utilizing the "stopover policy" you can create a multi-city itinerary with the redemption of one round-trip reward flight! And by flying partner airlines that are not subject to surcharges, taxes can work out to be quite low.

($23,702 Retail - $200 Taxes & Fees) / 175,000 Miles = $0.1343 or 13.43 CPM

Amazing or what?

The best ways to use your Aeroplan Miles

Unlike the competing Air Miles Reward program, Aeroplan is a loyalty program whose loyalties lie with Air Canada. So naturally, the most valuable ways to use up your Aeroplan Miles have proven to be towards flights with Air Canada and Star Alliance. However, with the additional taxes, fees, and surcharges put in place by the airlines, the most favourable exchanges of your miles are coming from longer flights, premium classes and upgrades. With the heftier price of these flight types and classes, the additional charges quickly get absorbed, and your miles seem to go a lot further.

With this, it can be useful to shop around with various airlines in the alliance to find the lowest taxes and fees. For instance, Aeroplan is notorious for having a high fuel surcharge on Air Canada and Lufthansa redemptions, whereas flying United Airlines, US Airways, and Turkish Airlines has no extra fuel surcharge (eyebrow raise?). In saying this, redeeming your points for flight upgrades eliminates entering this whole mess. Although you may have to initially divvy out the most cash, you've already covered the taxes and fees, so you are truly getting the most bang for your buck mile!

Something else that demands a more stern eyebrow raise is that Aeroplan is one of the only loyalty programs that charges 67% of the miles for a round-trip when redeeming a one-way flight. As it currently stands, a one-way short-haul economy flight would cost you 10,000 Aeroplan Miles instead of 15,000 Aeroplan Miles for the full round-trip. However, it's been announced that as of January 1, 2014, Aeroplan will adopt the industry standard of half of the number of miles for a one-way. But wait, shouldn't they have been doing this all along?

As of January 1st, 2014, Aeroplan is changing not just the number of miles required for a one-way flight, but is also launching some major redemption changes. Good news? Think again.

These changes include a major devaluation of current award redemptions.

Air Canada Aeroplan Pout

These devaluations are primarily targeting the Business and First class awards - where currently the best deals are to be had! In fact, the number of Aeroplan Miles required to fly to Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, and Australia in Business and First Class are all increasing. These increases will range from a minimum of 25,000 miles, all the way up to 40,000 miles. This is equivalent to losing out on at least one round-trip flight within North America!

Moving on. Let's recap!

  • Use your miles on long-haul, round-trip flights
  • Better yet, use your miles on international flights
  • Even better yet, use your miles on premium class international flights
  • Until the holy day arrives (January 1, 2014), only book round-trip flights
  • Book your Business and First Class flights before the end of the year
  • Avoid immediate gratification through gift cards, products, and other less favourable exchanges
  • Never trade-in your miles for less than they are worth (minimum 1.4 CPM)

Okay, so now you're well-versed in the often shady and rough streets of the Aeroplan Miles program. You've navigated how to earn more miles, how much your points are worth, how to use a benchmark, and you're beginning to understand the most valuable ways to use your Aeroplan Miles. In other words, you are on your way to becoming a fully-fledged Aeroplan Miles genius… right?

Still not feeling too confident? Let our flight experts at Flightfox do the work for you. They're good at it.