A while ago, I booked a trip between Sydney SYD and Nuku’Alofa (Tonga) TBU using Aeroplan. On Star Alliance, the only routing available is via Auckland AKL on Air New Zealand, and only in economy (Air New Zealand barely releases business inventory to partner airlines – however, you can typically find one business seat on Shanghai PVG to Auckland AKL). Unfortunately, the AKL-TBU segment is extremely challenging to get two seats on, so I was pretty lucky that I got dates that worked for my itinerary.
A couple weeks ago, I checked my itinerary, and to my surprise, there was a massive change. Previously, I had 22 hours in Auckland, just enough time to sleep and take a tour of Waiheke, a wonderful little park-like village a short ferry away. With this change, my layover changed to 8 hours, arriving around midnight and leaving in the morning. This is really annoying, as it’s a short enough layover that having a chance of a good rest is nearly impossible. On the return, although the timing is a bit better, eliminating a 5hr+ layover, my new flight back to Sydney has me miss my Qantas flight to Brisbane (booked using BA Avios). Although not a big deal as I can cheaply cancel and rebook my Avios tickets, it’s still annoying.
Previously, when I’ve had such major changes on Aeroplan tickets, it’s been no issue to get the phone agents to waive the change fee to make a city change. This time however, although they were happy to waive the change fee so long as I kept my SYD-AKL-TBU routing, they would not waive it if I wanted to change my city of departure. You see, I wanted to change the SYD-AKL segment to Melbourne MEL-Auckland AKL, onward to TBU. Usually they would have no issue making this change, but even after calling 4 different agents, including a supervisor and the “Schedule Change Department,” nobody was willing to budge. If there was more availability on the AKL-TBU flight, I would have been fine leaving a couple days earlier from SYD. As there wasn’t any availability on the AKL-TBU flight, we were stuck with what we had, and I was unwilling to pay the $90p/p change fee to switch the city of departure to MEL (SYD-MEL is cheaper to buy/use Avios).
They would have refunded the award for free, but I didn’t want to lose my AKL-TBU segments, so only a change instead of a cancellation would have worked.
The Aeroplan agents informed me of a rule I didn’t previously know about: if there’s a schedule change, they are willing to waive the change fee if your new city of departure/arrival is within 200KM of the originally booked cities. For example, Ottawa YOW and Montreal YUL are 151KM apart, so Aeroplan would waive the change fee to interchange YOW and YUL. However, in my case, SYD-MEL are 706KM apart, so they would not waive that fee.
In short, if there’s been a major schedule change, Aeroplan will waive the change fee if you’re keeping your original cities, or if those cities are within 200KM of your new cities.
FYI – NZ PVG-AKL usually has 2-3 J seats when they operate the 777. AKL-TBU will have open J seats as well, but only when they fly the 767.
My wife and I picked up 2 J seats for a redemption on exactly that routing last year. TAS-ICN-PVG-AKL-TBU