Booking Aeroplan Awards Without Fuel Surcharges

Up until 2011 Air Canada’s (spun off) Aeroplan loyalty program was probably my single favorite frequent flyer program. They had outrageously low award rates for travel in first class on Star Alliance carriers (100,000 miles for roundtrip first class between the US and Europe and 120,000 miles for roundtrip first class between the US and Asia). Then in 2011 Aeroplan announced a huge award chart devaluation, which was quickly followed by them adding fuel surcharges for travel on most Star Alliance partner carriers without advance notice. For the person that was “maximizing” Aeroplan awards (flying from the US to Asia on ANA, Lufthansa, Thai, etc.), I’d say the value of their miles was cut in half virtually overnight.

Anyway, with the United devaluation kicking in February 1, Aeroplan’s award chart is once again looking a bit better by comparison (even though Aeroplan adjusted their award chart again as of last week, though the changes weren’t nearly as brutal as United’s).

As a reminder, Aeroplan does not impose fuel surcharges for travel on Air China, Brussels, EgyptAir, Ethiopian, EVA Air, Scandinavian, Singapore, Swiss, Turkish, United, and US Airways, and the fuel surcharges on LOT are really low.

However, there’s a workaround for avoiding fuel surcharges (for those partner carriers on which they’re ordinarily imposed) on the return portion of an award ticket, which I’ll explain in the form of an example.

Say you want to fly roundtrip in first class from Washington to Frankfurt, which costs 125,000 Aeroplan miles.

If you were to fly United roundtrip, you’d pay 125,000 Aeroplan miles plus $170.30 in taxes and fees. The taxes and fees are fairly low because Aeroplan doesn’t impose fuel surcharges for redemptions on United.

Aeroplan-Award-100
Aeroplan-Award-101

Meanwhile, say that instead you book an award on the same dates, except the return is in Lufthansa first class, on which Aeroplan does impose fuel surcharges. That same award will now cost you 125,000 Aeroplan miles plus $598.30 in taxes, fees, and fuel surcharges (the additional ~$430 account for the one-way transatlantic fuel surcharges that Lufthansa imposes).

Aeroplan-Award-102
Aeroplan-Award-103

However, what’s interesting about Aeroplan is that if you change an itinerary after travel commences they’ll only charge you the $90CAD change fee, and not the difference in fuel surcharges that would apply.

So in the above example if you booked United roundtrip and flew Washington to Frankfurt, you could change your Frankfurt to Washington flight from United to Lufthansa and you would just be charged the $90CAD change fee, and not for the additional ~$430 worth of fuel surcharges that would apply if you had booked it in advance.

This should work for Aeroplan awards on all Star Alliance partner carriers, and is a nice way to at least fly some airlines that ordinarily impose fuel surcharges without paying the total amount.

Comments

  1. If you’ve started your itinerary, are there any change fees? What if you have status or if you have no status?

  2. Hi Lucky, do you have experience with this working for change of dates, airlines, and class of service? Or any combinations thereof? Just wondering if the $90CAD (plus mileage differential) is the only repercussion in all of those scenarios.

  3. Does Aeroplan have the same access to LH First awards as United? Do they have the same phantom availability issues? Can you only book LH First with Aeroplan 15 days or less before the flight?

  4. @ Trevor — Yes, they have the same access to first class Lufthansa space as United, and also show some phantom space unfortunately.

  5. Lucky,

    How do we know if we’re looking at phantom space on Aeroplan? What’s the workaround? Confirming via ANA?

    Also, is there any additional taxes collected on a change fee or just a straight $90 fee?

  6. Lucky do you have any confirmed real experience with this or it is just an assumption? I called a few days ago to switch an award and they recalculated and collecting all the fees, including fuel charges.

  7. wpj — What Lucky says should hold true — read the Aeroplan forum on Flyertalk. Some people have said that they had to “remind” agents not to charge fees. I’ve always assumed this was temporary and they would fix it, though, especially now with exposure.

  8. txs, well apparently they already fixed it, and add it to their intl procedures. the agent told me 3 times she has to calculate the difference in fuel taxes.

  9. Can’t say I’m surprised AC fixed this already. This trick blew up on the blogs the past 2 days.

    Nevertheless, I like seeing more content about Aeroplan as it’s quickly becoming an attractive alternative to MileagePlus; especially for people travelling to Western Europe(Europe 1 in Aeroplan’s chart).

  10. @ Levi — If you’re changing the routing the new taxes should be collected, but if the routing stays the same it should be an even exchange and then just the change fee.

    You’re best off using the ANA tool to verify Lufthansa availability.

  11. Hi,
    Suppose I made a booking using United miles on star alliance before Feb 1st but travel date is after Feb 1st. Would I have to pay in miles according to the new award chart or the older one?

  12. Wouldn’t this “trick” depend also on the AVAILABILITY, which was already hard-to-find?

    e.g. if you started your travel and wanted to change the return to a different date/destinations etc.. there still has to be space to change to?
    and it’ll be quite stressful if you’re overseas trying to find a flight home

    I know, given last minute, availability may actually open up instead

  13. @ flyer — If the routing and airlines stay the same you can make changes without being charged the difference in miles. If you change the airline, routing, etc., then you’ll be charged per the new award chart.

  14. Lucky
    I do not know what to do with you.
    You go spilling the beans one by one!
    By the time I figure it out, you then release the info worldwide.
    And we have full time jobs outside of travel!
    .
    But as to the rest of your posts, keep going.

  15. Lucky- regarding your post#20, if routing, airlines and dates stay the same, will i be able to upgade from LH J to F without paying extra miles (after Feb1)?

  16. @ mangoceviche — Is it already a first class award (due to other segments in the itinerary)? If so, I would guess you could, though am not positive.

  17. yes, it will be a 1st class award. i guess i will find out, if LH ends up releasing F seats. thanks.

  18. Fyi, the $90 change fee is waived (for the first change of an award ticket) for those with 100K (Super Elite) status…

  19. If you are flying LAX-ORD-MUC-IST and you start your trip and land in ORD and have a layover, can you then change your return whilst still in the USA or do you have to wait til you COMPLETE your outbound before calling for the change?

  20. Suppose I book a round trip award in business, and I change the return segment to lufthansa first, then do I have to pay the first class points value just for the return segment or do i have to pay itfor the entire round trip ticket?

  21. @ Jim — Well if you book it as a roundtrip you have to pay for the highest class of service you fly for both directions. If you book it as one ways you can pay the cost for each direction (but can’t use the above trick).

  22. This has been working since at least 2012. Hopefully Aeroplan remains lazy when tabulating taxes :P.

  23. @ Lucky – Have you tried this recently to see if this still work? Trying to book IAD-FRA in May and looks like LH is releasing First class only week of travel. Thinking of booking United for now and changing to LH just before travel.

  24. Sorry for a side question, but I can’t find the answer to this online, and a 1hr wait to ask an Aeroplan agent is the only other alternative I have.

    What if I book a reward with say segments on higher fuel surcharging carriers like Air Canada and Luthansa. But then after booking, and BEFORE starting the trip, I find alternate segments with no changes to the stopovers, but now using lower surcharging carriers such as Swiss and/or United. Since the trip has not started yet, would I get a refund/credit of the surcharges that I’ve already paid when I made the original reward booking?

  25. Thanks! It will make my 1hr wait to speak to a rep more palatable! I have two long segments which should come in at lower YQ, so it will offset the $90 change fee.

  26. Is this still working? Also, can I change from UA to LH before I start my trip, and I will still only be charged the $90?

  27. @ Thanks Lucky! — Should still work, but if you make changes before the trip starts the fuel surcharges and taxes would be recalculated.

  28. Does this still work. I want to book the following.

    R/t biz on Lit. Change return on LH first for a different date than the original LOT. Because LOT doesn’t have an award in my date that I want to come back.

    Here are my questions.

    1. Is this trick still active.
    2. Aeroplan will charge only 45+62.5K for the entire trip?
    3. What happens if agent says they need to re calculate yq? Should I argue that this is an official policy?
    4. Is it better if I book a random united f class instead of a random biz class for the way back?

  29. @ oberbobergrober — It still works, but only if you book it as a roundtrip. If you book a roundtrip you’d pay the highest mileage for the cabin you fly for the entire roundtrip. So you’d pay 125,000 miles for the roundtrip, as opposed to 107,500 miles.

    And no, can’t argue about the policy, since it’s not published/official. Best you can do is hang up and call again.

  30. On a route like YYZ – FRA with the original on UA F thru EWR, will this work to change the return to LH direct FRA-YYZ? thanks

  31. Great workaround – thanks! My issue is that I booked a one-way long-haul with my aeroplan miles, then accumulated the remainder needed to book the one-way ticket back home. I did things separately because I didn’t want to miss out on the availability for the outbound, but was short on miles until now. My outbound was with EVA, so no fuel. My desired inbound is with Lufthansa, so massive fuel fees. Is there a workaround for me here to avoid these fees? Like could I book some other one-way inbound flight with another carrier where fees aren’t charged, and then call aeroplan and change it to the Lufthansa flight I wanted all along and pay only the change fee? Meaning, I guess – does your trick work on one-way trips?

  32. Lucky – To me it seems like Turkish would be the best airline to use Aeroplan miles flying to Europe with no fuel charges, what do you think?

    Where can I find business class availability for Turkish Airways? I tried searching United and Aeroplan but all they show is Austrian availability and you pay fees for those awards.

  33. Ben – would this work if you booked IAD – FRA on United F on the way out and on the way back booked FRA – IAD in United Business Class? Could you still pay $90CAD to change to FRA – IAD in LH F on the way back if it becomes available?

  34. @lucky When is the last time you know it worked? On the other blog, the blogger said (in late 2013) it wasn’t working. He might be wrong if you say it worked this year.

  35. surprisingly still worked…i just changed an award ticket and the only flight available to replace my singapore air leg was thai airways (which has a fuel surcharge), the agent told me it would be $250 in extra taxes when she did the change, but my card was only billed the usual $101.70 (change fee + tax).

  36. @Tomas, that is great news. Lucky, have you tried this out this year? Looking for something more than a one off experience from Tomas.

  37. There is a way to do the same actually and get LH F for 35% less miles(which can also be obtained cheaply by MS). It can be booked on less obscure partner and even though T&C prohibit it it can be done 24 hours before the trip commences(of course without the YQ). I have done just that a little over two weeks ago. More details on FT

  38. Believe it or not, this trick worked for my sister in law just this January.

    It wasn’t really a trick, but a necessity. Due to visa issues, she had to leave DXB 7 days earlier than scheduled. She was suppose to fly United back to Canada via IAD. There were no reward seats available on United on the day she needed. She called the call centre and they rerouted her to fly DXB to BKK to NRT to YVR on Thai and ANA –all for only a whooping $90 change fee! No YQ fees at all.

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