Anybody who has ever tried to book an Aeroplan award ticket knows about the huge cost of associated fees (colloquially known as ‘scamcharges’).
Here is a typical, non-expert search for a one-way business class flight between Toronto (YYZ) and Rome (FCO) tomorrow:
$558 of fees! Why so high? Well, Aeroplan charges something called YQ on some of their Star Alliance partner airlines, and doesn’t charge YQ on others. Even better, the Aeroplan website likes to show you routings that maximize YQ charges, trying to put you onto Air Canada or Lufthansa (the worst offenders).
Now, if we click on a “Star Alliance” booking, rather than a “Lufthansa” booking, we are presented with a mixed booking with Air Canada and Swiss. Although Air Canada flights have YQ attached, the flight here is only between YYZ-YUL (Montreal), so the YQ would be minimal. Swiss (LX) doesn’t carry YQ charges:
$92!! Now, the Aeroplan website is basically only going to show you either Air Canada, Austrian, or Lufthansa options using this example. This Swiss option was the very last option available, and yet, it only carries $92 of fees as opposed to the $558 Lufthansa wanted. This option is only 15 minutes longer than the Lufthansa option!
Sometimes the Aeroplan website will not show you all available flight options. In that case, use the united.com award search engine, which is pretty good at showing availability. Once you get those exact flight numbers, you can call Aeroplan and book it. They will charge you the telephone booking fee though, so make sure you cannot book your desired flights on the Aeroplan site first.
The following airlines DO NOT charge YQ, so you should look at booking with them first:
Aegean, Air China, Air India, Air New Zealand, Asiana, Avianca, Brussels Airlines, Copa, Croatian, Egyptair, Ethiopian, EVA, SAS, Shenzhen Airways, Singapore, South African Airways, Swiss, Turkish, United.
LOT has very low YQ charges.
Some jurisdictions, namely England, charge an absolutely insane departure fee, which Aeroplan has to pass on to the customer. This air passenger duty is typically $125 if you go transatlantic in economy, and $250 in business – only on leaving the UK, not on arrival. A great way to avoid these fees is to leave the UK on a separate ticket, like on BA Avios, which only requires 4500 points +$25 to leave the UK and get into a jurisdiction that doesn’t charge this duty (like Switzerland, where you can catch the handy-dandy no tax ZRH-YUL flight on LX). If you leave the UK on an Aeroplan ticket and go onward to North America, you will still get charged the UK departure duty – you really should leave the UK on a separate ticket.
Fortunately, some jurisdictions, like Hong Kong and Brazil, regulate these kind of fees in a favourable way. So, if your final destination is ultimately Tokyo (NRT), why not route a final leg onto your trip that goes to Hong Kong (HKG), and skip it (book it as a one-way! If you miss a segment on a ticket, that will cancel your whole ticket)? This will lower your YQ, even if you fly on the Air Canada flight to NRT. If you’re doing this with luggage, ask the check-in agent to short check your luggage to NRT, or best of all, don’t bring luggage at all 😉