BREAKING: Massive Changes to Aeroplan (Air Canada)

Air Canada’s loyalty program has been living in purgatory, without a house to call home or a known future. Aeroplan was operated by a third-party company, Aimia, only to be sold back to Air Canada. Since the Aeroplan purchase was finalized, nothing regarding program changes is known. Until now.

Many more changes are to come, especially with the migration from RES-III, Air Canada’s legacy Passenger Service System (PSS), to Amadeus Altea PSS scheduled for 2019. While these changes are largely positive, there’s a huge negative that impacts Aeroplan’s value.

Changes to Refunds

24-Hour Refunds

Effective today, Aeroplan will offer 24-hour refunds for flight reservations. Previously, a fee was always charged to refund a booking (unless due to schedule change), which could be as high as $150! However, Aeroplan’s telephone booking fee of $30 + tax per passenger will remain and will not be refunded in the event of a 24-hour refund.

The moment Air Canada acquired Aeroplan from Aimia, I believe it had an obligation to offer 24-hour refunds to most reservations, or at least to/from the United States. This is due to the United States Department of Transportation’s (“DOT”) consumer rule “Enhancing Airline Passenger Protections” (14 CFR 259.5(b)(4), 76 Fed. Reg. 23110, 23166, Apr. 25, 2011). When Aeroplan was operated by Aimia it did so as a travel agency and was not subject to this rule. But now that Aeroplan is owned by Air Canada, bookings made with points are being completed by the airline and therefore are subject to the DOT’s 24-hour rule.

Refunds Up to 2 Hours Prior to Departure

Effective today, Aeroplan will allow refunds up to two hours prior to departure. This rule will apply retroactively to all active bookings even if booked prior to July 15.

This is an improvement to the previous standard that allowed flight cancellations up to 2 hours prior to departure, and refunds only up to 22 days prior. If cancelled after 22 days, you had a credit that had a 1-year lifespan from the original ticketing date that involved a change fee. It was an expensive hassle.

So another pro.

Reduction in Refund Fee

A small win… effective today, refunds processed online will have the fee reduced from $150 to $125. If you’re a dDiamond member, you’ll still enjoy $30 refunds processed online.

Now if you’re a Super Elite member (100K)…

Super Elite (100K) Fee Waivers

Super Elite (100K) members, representing Air Canada’s top flyers, will enjoy fee-free changes and refunds effective today. This refund only applies to Super Elite members and the benefit will extend to any Aeroplan flight reservation booked prior to July 15!

Aeroplan’s Luster Diminishes

Well, this is a bummer. Today, Aeroplan allows on an international round-trip two stopovers (a period of 24 hours or more) plus your destination, OR one stopover, one open-jaw (flying into one city but out of another, getting in-between the two by car, boat, etc.), plus your destination. This is dubbed a “Mini-RTW” (“Round the World”) ticket as you can visit three countries and circumnavigate the globe for the cost of a round-trip ticket.

For example, you can spend in a week in London, another week in Hong Kong, AND visit Melbourne all for the price of a round-trip ticket to Australia. Under this new rule, you can only visit two cities instead of three.

Air Canada is doing good by giving advance notice. This change in rules is effective September 1.

If you need help redeeming your miles for a mini-RTW trip, which is the absolute best use of Aeroplan, you can use my award booking service to deal with the research and planning: Awarding Canada.

Update: Changes to mini-RTW trips booked prior to and changed after September 1 will continue to allow two stopovers/one stopover + open-jaw.

Around-the-Worlds Are Gone

Aeroplan offers a true round-the-world ticket rate (as opposed to a mini-RTW) that allows up to 16 flights on one itinerary. Effective September 1, this award will no longer be available.

In my years of booking hundreds of Aeroplan tickets with Awarding Canada, I’ve never booked an Around-the-World ticket. I don’t think this is a huge loss.

Summary

Moving towards giving customers flexibility in terms of changes and refunds is a huge pro, though something I believe Aeroplan was legally obligated to do anyways. Anytime free changes and refunds for Super Elites will surely make those members happy. And getting rid of Aeroplan’s seemingly arbitrary refund deadline of 22 days prior to departure is logical and pro-customer.

The loss of the mini-RTW ticket is a huge blow, and something many people loved about the program. Getting rid of mini-RTWs, which represents less than 0.3% of all Aeroplan flight rewards redeemed, only seems to damage the relationship with the program’s most engaged members.

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