Extra Air Canada Award Space For Aeroplan Members (And Less For Everyone Else)

While there’s rarely a dull moment around here, sometimes the nuances of searching award space or booking flights with miles aren’t that interesting for a broader audience. Especially now that the US Airways Dividend Miles Comedy Hour is a thing of the past.

When we come across something interesting though, we do our best to share it. Sometimes that’s a trick or a great deal, and other times it’s more of a cautionary tale for others who might find themselves in a similar situation.

In this case, after spending several annoyed hours trying to figure out what was “broken,” we realized we had collective amnesia surrounding an obscure Air Canada policy — that they do, theoretically, give extra space to Aeroplan members.

The Delhi Mystery

Last week our colleague Jordan was helping a client with a trip to India. In searching for various possibilities, he came across a direct flight from Toronto to Delhi on the Air Canada Aeroplan site:

air-canada-enhanced-availability-001

As you can see, Aeroplan was showing space available in “I” class — that’s the fare bucket Star Alliance uses to designate business class saver inventory. Generally all partners have access to “I,” so at first glance it seems like this should be bookable with a variety of miles.

When we went to confirm the routing on the United site, however, the direct flight disappeared:

air-canada-enhanced-availability-002

Puzzled, but not deterred, we called United — the agent confirmed this wasn’t a web display issue, and that their system didn’t show any “I” inventory.

Hmm…

The ANA tool isn’t my favorite way to search Star Alliance space these days, but it’s still a good way to double-check availability.

It didn’t generate the exact same alternative routing options as United, but did confirm the nonstop between Toronto and Delhi wasn’t available to partners in business class:

air-canada-enhanced-availability-003

Now, it’s incredibly rare for a program to show “phantom” availability for their own planes. I actually don’t know that I’ve ever seen that happen (though Air Canada and Aeroplan are disparate enough that if it was going to happen anywhere…)

Yet Aeroplan had “I” inventory that partners didn’t have access to, so something wasn’t making sense.

Why does Aeroplan show more award space?

Frustratingly, nothing nefarious.

No phantom space, no system glitches, no Starnet Blocking shenanigans.

Quite simply, Air Canada is making more inventory available to Aeroplan members than to partners.

Air-Canada-777-Business-Class - 6

That’s completely legitimate, and not even a new policy — just one that caught us off-guard.

It’s partly a bit confusing as the enhanced availability isn’t labeled as such. United, for example, uses the “XN” fare code to designate the “extra” award space available to some members, as opposed to just using the “X” bucket which represents the saver economy space that’s available to all partners as well.

Again, this isn’t technically new, but it also hasn’t happened very often historically, so I’d completely forgotten about it. Even Ben said he’d never seen it before, nor had Matthew at Live and Let’s Fly. That’s a lot of collective hours spent looking at award space, and hopefully gives you a sense of how rare this has been.

As flight loads continue to increase and airlines get better at managing their inventory they are also more strategic with their award space.  I’d anticipate seeing extra space for Aeroplan more frequently going forward.

You still don’t want to use Aeroplan miles for Air Canada flights if you can avoid it

Aeroplan levies fuel surcharges on award tickets where the airline would otherwise list those fees separately. So you really want to use your Aeroplan miles for partners like Swiss and Turkish, which don’t have fuel surcharges.

Similarly, you want to use miles from a program that doesn’t levy fuel surcharges when booking Air Canada flights.

For that flight from Toronto to Delhi you would pay 80,000 United miles, and ~$102 in taxes and fees. Aeroplan would charge 75,000 miles, and a whopping ~$437 in surcharges for that single segment.

So unless you really desperately need the Air Canada flight, and don’t have any alternative routings (or currencies!) I would try and avoid booking Air Canada through Aeroplan.

Bottom line

It’s not unusual for carriers to offer more award space to members of their native frequent flyer programs — in fact, most do. Typically, however, this comes in the form of additional availability at a higher price, with these “rule-buster” awards only being available to members of that program.

What is less common only making a subset of “saver” level award inventory available to partners. Lufthansa does this, and United gives extra availability to elites and credit card holders, so it’s not unheard of — it’s just not as common.

And it’s still not that frequent where Air Canada is concerned. I think this is the first time the difference in availability between Aeroplan and Star Alliance partners has been an active inconvenience for a trip we were trying to book, so whatever percentage of inventory Air Canada is reserving for Aeroplan can’t be all that high.

But as a cautionary tale — don’t assume Air Canada flights you see on Aeroplan are bookable with any other Star Alliance miles. You’ll want to confirm against the United or ANA tools before transferring any points.

Have you noticed enhanced Air Canada availability for Aeroplan members? Any particular routes?

Comments

  1. You make it sound pretty rare, but many Airlines are the case that partners can’t book certain saver awards
    SQ, BR, CX, KE, IB, VS, AF, and others.

    More and more airlines are practicing this.

  2. I love how $335 is “whopping” during a week where OMAAT has been suggesting that readers spend thousands of dollars on Avianca LifeMiles to accumulate miles in that program, and that outright buying business or first class (for considerably more than $335 if it is longhaul) is a reason why airline loyalty is overrated these days.

    Yes, the point is well taken but $335 (plus 5k miles back) for a nonstop out of Toronto instead of a stop in Europe isn’t totally ridiculous if you are in Toronto. It is a fairly modest premium in the scheme of things.

  3. Interesting, I’ve done the same search and seen the same result but never went to book so just assumed it could be called in. I’ve even seen it on domestic segments, like YYZ-YXU-ORD will show up in Aeroplan results but not on United.

  4. Yeah, I’m with eponymous on this one. If you have a pile of Amex miles burning a hole, transferring to Aeroplan and spending ~$400 on fuel surcharges on an 14hr flight is, IMO, a pretty good deal, especially since it’s a brand-new plane with a reverse herringbone product.

    It’s not the best option, sure, but it’s nothing like the $1000+ surcharges on BA for JFK-LHR, a much shorter flight with a mediocre business product..

  5. @ eponymous coward @ BigDaddyJ — Sure, in this case given that the flight isn’t bookable by partners it’s a reasonable tradeoff, and one I’d probably make personally. But the point was more that if you have the option to book an Air Canada flight with Aeroplan or partner miles, a partner that doesn’t levy YQ is going to be less costly.

  6. YYZ to FCO return….110,00 aeroplan points plus another 1000 in fuel surcharges
    same business class ticket for purchase is 2900 so actually 1900 when compared to rewards and between credit card points and miles, it actually make sense to buy the ticket and use points to fly east where the fuel surcharges are nominal

  7. You’ll also find that AC aeroplan will attempt to show availability on their metal only, or a connection requiring a flight on AC metal – thus having to pay fuel surcharges – when other *A reward tickets are available with no/little fuel surcharges to be paid. Be aware! Search carefully!

  8. Was the client an AC Super Elite (100k)? AC regularly opens up more availability for their elites. 50K members get this at 2X the normal points and 100Ks at the normal rate (commonly known as IKK on flyertalk). Also, the YQ surcharges are waived on North America AC metal flights for their elites. 100Ks also have the fees waived on international AC metal flights.

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