Deep Dive: Aeroplan's New North America Award Chart - Part 2
In our last article we compared the current Aeroplan program with the new Aeroplan program scheduled to come into effect on November 8, 2020. In this article, we will dive into one of the key features of the new program, distance based pricing , and, more specifically, discuss the best tools available for determining the redemption price for a particular flight.
To refresh, below is the new Aeroplan North America Award Chart and its distance based pricing:
As you can see, there are four tiers each representing difference distance ranges from your departure point (being 0-500 miles; 501-1,500 miles; 1,501 – 2,750 miles; and 2,751+ miles) and the associated number of points required to redeem at each tier. Simple enough, the further you fly from your point of departure, the higher the redemption price. However, for several reasons, which will be explained, it is not necessarily a simple process to determine the actual redemption price for a particular flight.
In this article, we will look at several tools that will assist you in planning your flights and determining what distance tier on the North America award chart your flight will fall into. First up, let's explore Air Canada's own Points Predictor tool.
Air Canada's Points Predictor Tool
As we mentioned in a previous article, Air Canada has a nifty “Points Predictor Tool” that will tell you the award redemption price between any departure and destination that you input. The Points Predictor Tool can be found here. The marketing language Air Canada uses for its Points Predictor Tool is:
"Select your origin and desired destination to see how many points you'll likely need to redeem for a flight reward."
As you will see, the key word is "likely". But first, let's take a spin on the Points Predictor Tool by trying out a sample flight. Suppose we inquire as to the redemption price of a flight from Vancouver to Los Angeles. Below is the result:
The Points Predictor Tool tells us the award price for the flight based on each class of service and whether you are flying with Air Canada or a partner airline.
The Points Predictor tool is very basic. It merely calculates the difference between your departure point and your destination and then, based on that distance, places the flight within the relevant distance tier in the North America award chart. That can be a real problem. Why? Because the new Aeroplan's distance based pricing is not based merely on the distance between your departure airport and destination airport. Rather, it is based on the actual distance travelled. For a one way direct flight you can pretty much rely on the Points Predictor Tool to tell you the correct redemption price. However, if you cannot find an award redemption on a direct flight between two cities, the Points Predictor may not be accurate because it does not take into account the extra miles you will travel in connecting through a different city or cities prior to reaching your destination. Those extra miles travelled may push you into the next higher distance tier. In addition, notwithstanding that the Points Predictor Tool purports to predict the "likely" award price between two cities, it prices out all redemptions as direct flights even if there is no direct flights operated between the two cities.
The bottom line is that you need to be aware that the Points Predictor makes two assumptions: (1) There is a direct flight between every departure and destination; and (2) You are redeeming for a direct flight. If those assumptions are true, knock yourself out and use the Points Predictor Tool. However, as most of us playing this game know, due to limited award inventory, often award redemptions require making one or more connections on your way to your final destination. In that case, you cannot rely on the prices displayed by the Points Predictor Tool, so be aware of the limitations and don't be led astray.
Great Circle Mapper
Another tool that can be used to determine the distance between two airports is to use Great Circle Mapper: http://www.gcmap.com/ To use Great Circle Mapper, you simply type in your departure airport and your destination airport. For example, for flights from Vancouver to Los Angeles, you would type in “YVR-LAX”:
Great Circle Mapper then comes up with a map of the flight and the corresponding distance in miles between the departure point and destination point:
In doing so, we learn that the distance from Vancouver to Los Angeles is 1,081 miles. We can then use that mileage calculation and determine where that trip would fall on the North America award chart. In this case, we learn that 1,081 miles falls within tier 2 of Aeroplan’s new North America award chart.
Accordingly, a one way economy class ticket on this route would cost 10,000-15,000 points on Air Canada or 10,000 points on a partner airline. This result is consistent with the results of Air Canada’s Points Predictor Tool reference above.
What if you want to know, based on your departure point, which destinations fall within each tier on the award chart? We can use Great Circle Mapper to assist us with that as well. Let's take as an example a traveller departing from Las Vegas who wishes to know what destinations fall within each distance tier in Aeroplan's new North America award chart. To find all the destinations that fall into distance tier 1, being within 500 miles distance from Las Vegas, one would type the following into Great Circle Mapper: “500mi@LAS”. Essentially, we are asking Great Circle Mapper to plot out a 500 mile radius around Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport.
The result is a map showing a highlighted circular radius of 500 miles around Las Vegas:
We can now look at this map and determine which cities are within the 500 mile radius and, therefore, fall within tier one of the award chart.
This method can can be used with any departure airport and any distance – just substitute the Airport Code and the distance you are attempting to find. In fact, we can use it to show each distance tier level from the new award chart on the map as well. Again, using Las Vegas as an example, we would type: 500mi, 1500mi, 2750mi@LAS.
The mileage we are typing in corresponds with each of the distance tier levels on the award chart. There is no need to type in the final tier level of 2751+ miles because anything outside the circles plotted on the map will, by default, be in the fourth and final tier. Below are the results of that search:
As you can see on the map above, the first circle represents those destinations within 500 miles of your Las Vegas departure point (distance tier one of the award chart). The second circle represents those destinations within 501-1500 miles of LAS (distance tier two of the award chart). The third circle represents those destinations within 1,501 – 2,750 miles of LAS (distance tier three of the award chart). Any part of the North America zone not within those three circles is over 2751 miles away (distance tier 4 of the award chart). Remember, in looking at the above map, we are only looking at those areas that are within the North America zone under Aeroplan’s program, so ignore South America on this map as South America is a separate zone and, accordingly, has different pricing.
As you can see, Great Circle Mapper is a great tool for exploring how far your might be able to travel from your chosen departure city in each distance tier on the North America award chart. If you want confirmation on the pricing of a particular destination you can always confirm that by putting it into Air Canada’s Points Predictor Tool. Thus far, I have not had a single occasion where the Points Predictor Tool differed from my findings using Great Circle Mapper.
The same caveat I mentioned about Air Canada's Points Predictor tool applies to Great Circle Mapper. It's worth repeating again. The new Aeroplan program does not price based solely on the distance between your departure point and your destination. Rather the price you pay depends on the actual number of miles you fly. Accordingly, provided there is a direct flight between your departure airport and your destination airport you can rely on the results you obtain from the Points Predictor tool or Great Circle Mapper to determine the distance tier your flight will fall into. However, if you cannot obtain a direct flight then you must add up the distance between your departure and destination including each of your layover points. We will show you shortly how Great Circle Mapper can assist in that process.
How can we accurately predict what distance tier a particular flight will fall into? Air Canada's Points Predictor tool only allows you to type in a departure point and a destination point so for anything other than direct flights the tool is of no assistance. That brings us to our next tool which can be used in conjunction with Great Circle Mapper to solve this problem.
I use https://www.flightconnections.com/ to assess what direct flights are operated on routes from a given departure point. The great thing about FlightConnections is that it allows the user to search by airline and even airline alliance.
Returning to our example of a departure from Las Vegas. Using FlightConnections, we set our departure point as “LAS”. We can also use the drop down menus at the top to choose “Star Alliance”, since that is the airline alliance in which Air Canada is a member. That gives us the following results.
From the above results, we can see what direct flights are offered from Las Vegas on Star Alliance carriers. We can now confidently say that there is a direct flight between Las Vegas and Vancouver and that, if we can book an award redemption on that direct flight, based on the previous searches from either the Points Predictor Tool or Great Circle Mapper that flight will fall within distance tier 2 of the North America award chart. Accordingly, we can expect a direct one way economy flight from Las Vegas to Vancouver to cost 10,000-15,000 points on Air Canada.
Suppose we wanted to travel from Las Vegas (LAS) to New Orleans (MSY). We can see from the above FlightConnections search that there is no direct flight between LAS and MSY. This will illustrate the problem we mentioned earlier. If we perform a Great Circle Mapper search, we see that the distance between those two airports is exactly 1,500 miles:
That should put a flight from Las Vegas to New Orleans just barely within tier 2 of the award chart. Indeed, if we use the Points Predictor Tool, it confirms that such a flight would fall into tier 2 as it is priced at 10,000-15,000 points for an Air Canada flight or 10,000 points for a flight on a partner airline.
Using FlightConnections, we can now type in the specific departure airport and destination airport to see what flights we might be able to take on a Star Alliance carrier:
From this search result we can see that the most direct route possible between LAS and MSY would be Las Vegas (LAS) – Houston (IAH) – New Orleans (MSY). However, we already know that a flight from LAS to MSY is at the very limit of distance tier 2 on the award chart. By having to route via IAH on our way to MSY, we are bound to exceed the 1,500 mile limit of distance tier 2.
This is where Great Circle Mapper again comes into play. While Air Canada's Points Predictor Tool only calculates direct flights between two cities, Great Circle Mapper is more flexible and allows you to calculate miles travelled between many different points. In this case, we can check the total distance travelled on the flight by typing “LAS-IAH-MSY” into Great Circle Mapper:
As you can see, by adding in the layover in Houston (IAH), our total mileage has now increased by 26 miles to 1,526 miles. This puts us over the tier 2 distance maximum of 1,500 miles, meaning this particular routing would actually be in distance tier 3, and would cost 12,500 points for a one way economy class ticket instead of 10,000 points. As this would be a domestic US flight, it would be operated by United Airlines so we wouldn’t have to worry about dynamic pricing on this route and need only refer to the partner pricing on the award chart.
We have introduced a few tools that can assist you in determining the redemption price for any particular flight under Aeroplan's new North America award chart. As you can see, one needs to be careful about using Air Canada’s Points Predictor Tool for anything other than a direct flight. Using Great Circle Mapper and FlightConnections will enable you to accurately determine the redemption price on more complicated itineraries.
This also highlights another aspect of Aeroplan’s new award chart. You have a significant advantage if you live in a larger, urban centre serviced by Star Alliance partners. If you live outside a major urban centre and have to fly to a major hub in order to then connect with flights to other destinations, you will be necessarily flying more miles to get to your destination and, accordingly, your redemption prices are likely to be pushed into higher tiers. This is a significant negative of the new program to those who live outside major cities.
In our next article, we will move on to looking at each of the tier levels in the new North America award chart using examples from three Canadian cities, Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto, and examine how the redemption prices have increased or decreased between the current Aeroplan program and the new Aeroplan program. In doing so, we will highlight some of the sweet spots to be found with the new North America award chart.