Aeroplan Short Haul Flights – Good deal or Sucker’s bet

Wednesday 02nd, April 2014 / 10:28 Written by
Aeroplan Short Haul Flights – Good deal or Sucker’s bet
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The Skinny

Aeroplan uses a zone-based redemption system with fixed award mileage rates for each zone. Aeroplan markets its Short Haul award ticket as a great deal, with credit card partners offering a short-haul partner ticket as a benefit. I did some research to figure out if a short-haul reward ticket actually a valuable use of miles.

Despite the hype, the Aeroplan short haul redemption seldom provides value on the routes that people actually want to fly on, mostly because of the unbelievable taxes that Aeroplan charges for flights operated by Air Canada. I talk about the Aeroplan taxes and fees here.

In this article, I conduct an analysis to determine the value that you are getting for your Aeroplan miles by route.

  • If you are redeeming your miles for less than 1¢ / mile, you are selling your miles too cheap and your cost of earning Aeroplan miles is likely higher than what you are selling them for; you would be better off taking a different type of point / reward when given the option to collect Aeroplan miles (ie through credit cards or flying)
  • If you are redeeming your miles for more than 2¢/mile, you are getting great value for your miles and you should continue earning Aeroplan miles

Results

  • Very few routes get more than 2¢/mile
  • Most busy routes are poor value, returning less than 1¢ / mile
  • Most medium routes are also poor value, returning less than 1¢ / mile and almost always less than 1.25¢ / mile
  • When possible, it is always cheaper to use BA Avios to book a flight
    • 9K Avios vs 15K Aeroplan
    • $55 (taxes on Avios awards) vs ~$150 (taxes on Aeroplan awards)
City Average Redemption Value (vs Cash) Average Redemption Value (vs cash or other Frequent Flyer program) Average Value for the City Destinations that Represent the Best Value
Toronto 0.83 ¢/mile 0.52¢/mile Poor Atlanta, Detroit, Minneapolis
Montreal 1.11 ¢/mile 0.65 ¢/mile Fair Boston, Quebec, Ottawa
Calgary 0.98 ¢/mile 0.93 ¢/mile Fair Fort McMurray, Saskatchewan
Vancouver 0.90 ¢/mile 0.65 ¢/mile Poor Edmonton
Halifax 1.31 ¢/mile 1.31 ¢/mile Good Boston, Maritimes
Ottawa 0.73 ¢/mile 0.45 ¢/mile Fair Montreal, Boston, Quebec
Quebec 1.43 ¢/mile 1.38 ¢/mile Great Montreal
Edmonton 0.94 ¢/mile 0.87 ¢/mile Good Vancouver, Regina

 
Toronto Aeroplan Map
Vancouver Aeroplan Map
Halifax Aeroplan Routes

Overview

Under Aeroplan’s zone-based redemption system, a short-haul return Air Canada flight  costs 15,000 miles. Many places will market this as a great deal, but through booking awards for people, I have learned to be particularly sketpical with Aeroplan awards.

A friend recently suggested that we go somewhere to make use of the Aeroplan Short Haul 2-for-1 pass that came with the new TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite card (reviewed here). We are in Toronto and couldn’t find any value out of it, with my top 5 preferred destinations actually being not worth doing, even with the 2-for-1 pass.  This became the impetus for this analysis.

I decided to compare the taxes and fees on Aeroplan short-haul rewards to  the cash fares for the same routes. I also wanted to compare the Aeroplan rates against other frequent flyer program rates for the same routes.

I show the best ways of traveling between various city pairs in my series on the Best Way To Travel from each city.

 

The Aeroplan Short Haul Flight

The Aeroplan award chart separates North America into two different zones. There are short haul flights and long haul flights. This article will focus on the short haul flights.

Economy short haul tickets have the following characteristics:

  • 15K Aeroplan miles + taxes and fees for a roundtrip ticket
  • All flights must be operated by Air Canada (no partners)
  • Flights are limited to those within the province or to adjoining provinces / states as defined in the award chart

aeroplan-award-char

The way this is marketed, it appears that there can be some great value. The variable is the “taxes and fees” portion which would need to remain relatively small. If that portion is high, then the value of an award is easily eroded.

 

The 2-for-1 Offer

Currently, the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite card offers a 2-for-1 short haul Aeroplan award ticket with any application before May 31, 2014. It ends up being a voucher for the mileage portion of the second person’s redemption.

When 1 person books an Aeroplan short haul award for 15K Aeroplan miles + taxes and fees, the voucher allows a second person to book the same roundtrip ticket for only the taxes and fees.

Basically the voucher pays the 15K Aeroplan miles, both passengers are still responsible for the taxes and fees, however.

My personal hurdle rate for redeeming Aeroplan miles is 1.5 ¢/mile. With the 2-for-1 pass, I would need to only receive .75 ¢/mile for it to be worth my redemption. I was unable to find a route where I would get this value from Toronto. If your hurdle rate is less or your routes provide better value than this, you should do well with this 2-for-1 pass.

2-for-1-details

Analysis

I wanted to get a sense of when It might be worthwhile to use the Aeroplan short-haul reward ticket. I live in Toronto, and I like to visit places where I have lots friends or where there are a lot of tourist attractions and things to do. In general, these tend to be the major cities. What I found was that for the well traveled routes, the Aeroplan short haul flight is not a good value.

If, however, you are the guy that flies from Winnipeg to Timmins with some regularity, then you are going to do well with Aeroplan miles.

 

The Best Alternative

When deciding whether or not to use the Aeroplan short haul award , I compared the cost of the Aeroplan award to another best way to travel that route. I think it is important to note this and in my results, I have indicated where a better alternative exists for any given route.

If I were interested in traveling between Toronto and Chicago regularly, I have two other frequent flyer miles options that have good rates on this route. United Airlines has significantly less taxes, and British Airways Avios awards cost significantly less in terms of points.

I have highlighted the two typical ways that you might currently be earning Aeroplan miles.

  • Miles earned by flying
    • Where you normally earn Aeroplan miles for flying, you can simply credit those flights to United instead of Aeroplan
  • Miles earned through credit card spend
    • British Airways Avios is a partner of American Express Membership rewards (Canada) and transfers at the same rate (1:1) as Aeroplan
    • British Airways Avios is a partner of RBC Avion and transfers at 1:1. Regularly there are transfer bonuses where each RBC Avion transfers to 1.5 Avios

Here is the comparison for the roundtrip Toronto to Chicago:

Aeroplan Award United Airlines Award British Airways Award Revenue (Cash) Ticket
Cost 15000 Aeroplan miles 20000 United miles 9000 British Airways Avios $290.00
Taxes & Fees $183.66 $64.06 $53.50
If Earning Miles Through Flying
Flight Miles Required 60,000 miles flown on Star Alliance discount economy (Air Canada Tango) 60,000 miles flown on Star Alliance discount economy (Air Canada Tango) 9,000 miles flown on OneWorld discount economy (American Airlines economy) N/A
If Earning Miles Through Credit Card Spend
Spending Required (all non category) $15,000 charged to TD  or Amex card+$183 out of pocket $40,000 charged to Amex Gold+$64.06 out of pocket $6,000* – $9,000 charged to RBC Avion+$53 out of pocket $14,500 charged to BMO World Elite card+$0 out of pocket
Best Credit Cards TD Aeroplan
Amex Membership Rewards
CIBC Aerogold
Amex Membership Rewards RBC Avion
RBC British Airways
Amex Membership Rewards
BMO World Elite
Scotiabank Amex
MBNA World Elite
Credit Card Earning 1 – 1.5 Aeroplan / Dollar spent .5 United / Dollar 1 – 2 Avios / Dollar $0.02 – $0.04 / Dollar (optimized)

* RBC Avion often has transfer bonuses. The past 2 years have had regular offers to transfer 1000 RBC Avion points for 1500 British Airways Avios.  These are often limited time offers but come regularly.

yyz-ord-avios-award

Defining the Product

When comparing alternatives, I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t cherry picking to show a bad or good result for the Aeroplan short haul flights. I defined the product as transportation between the two cities, by air. This is independent of carrier and specific airport in any given city.

To be fair, the best cash fare has the following characteristics:

  • Direct flights for busy and medium routes
  • 1 stop flights acceptable for routes with less than 10 daily flights
  • Any airport servicing the city is acceptable
  • Toronto to New York could be YYZ-LGA or YTZ-EWR
    • Toronto: YYZ or YTZ
    • New York: LGA, JFK or EWR
    • Chicago: ORD or MDW
    • Washington DC: IAD or DCA
  • Any commercial carrier is acceptable

I wanted to make sure that I was closely comparing apples to apples. Although driving from Montreal to Ottawa is probably faster, cheaper and more convenient, it is not the same product as the flight between YUL and YOW. Similarly, Kitchener airport (YKF) is only 45 minute drive from Toronto Pearson (YYZ) but flights using YKF instead of YYZ would not be acceptable for this analysis.

 

The Results

The following tables show the prices for each route. I have laid out the best fares I was able to find for a week-long trip approximately 5 weeks away. I think that is a reasonable amount of time that you would need to secure an Aeroplan award ticket.

From & To – City Pair

Flights / Day – This is the number of direct flights that are operated on this route. This shows the relative demand for the route. Routes with more than 22 flights / day are considered to be busy. Flights with less than 12 flights / day are considered to be light.

Aeroplan Taxes and Fees –This is the amount of dollars that Aeroplan will charge you, in addition to the 15K Aeroplan miles, for your short haul award redemption

Best Cash Fare – This is the price of a revenue ticket with the restrictions noted above. This is the value we will use to compare against

Avios Taxes – This is the amount of dollars that BA Avios will charge you, in addition to 9K Avios, for a roundtrip on this route, where it is applicable

Value of 1 Aeroplan mile (vs cash) – This is the value you are getting from 1 Aeroplan mile assuming you are comparing to a cash ticket. Values less than 1¢ are definitely bad redemptions. Values above 2¢ are definitely good redemptions. Values in between

Value of 1 Aeroplan mile (vs Avios) – This is the value you are getting from 1 Aeroplan mile assuming you are comparing to aAvios redemption. Negative values here mean that you are paying more money and using more “miles” when you select Aeroplan

 

Breakdown by Region

I decided to break out the results by region. This way you know if it makes sense for you, depending on the region you access.

Toronto

Average Return (vs cash): 0.83¢/mile

Average Return (vs other programs): 0.52¢/mile

Verdict: In general, Aeroplan short hauls are POOR value for most Torontonians

toronto-short-haul

Pretty much all the routes with any serious traffic from Toronto are a poor value using Aeroplan miles. The only routes that have any real value are Atlanta, Detroit and Minnaeapolis. It is ironic that these happen to be Delta hub cities and it looks like they are just overpriced routes, thus making them good value using miles.

There are a fair number of flights on American Airlines and US Airways where you can redeem British Airways Avios, so when doing the analysis against best alternatives, the Aeroplan awards seem extremely overpriced.

 

Montreal

Average Return (vs cash): 1.11¢/mile

Average Return (vs other programs): 0.65¢/mile

Verdict: In general, Aeroplan short hauls are FAIR value for most Montrealers

montreal-short-haul

It seems that the great value comes from flights to very close places. Ottawa, Quebec and Boston show the best value. All of which are places that are easily drivable from Montreal (Boston less so). I imagine that I could drop someone at Montreal airport, drive to Ottawa airport and I would be waiting at the terminal before they were off their flight. These routes seem to have a lot of traffic and are priced relatively highly, giving them good value on Aeroplan miles. The more obscure routes likely have even better value from Aeroplan miles.

Also, BA Avios won’t be available on the routes where there is a lot of traffic from Montreal, giving Aeroplan miles relative strength in this market.

 

Calgary

Average Return (vs cash): 0.98¢/mile

Average Return (vs other programs): 0.93¢/mile

Verdict: In general, Aeroplan short hauls are FAIR value for most Calgarians

calgary-short-haul

Calgary is the hub of western Canada, including the prairies. This means that distances are far. Also, since much of the west is not as densely populated as Ontario, for example, there are fewer flights and the prices are relatively higher. This makes for great value for Aeroplan miles. Unfortunately, Calgary’s busiest routes are to Vancouver and Edmonton, where Aeroplan miles represent very poor value.

I would say that for Calgarians looking to fly to the smaller airports, be it in Saskatchewan or Fort McMurray, Aeorplan miles can provide a great value. For urban Calgarians, looking to travel to other cities such as Vancouver, Edmonton or Seattle, Aeroplan miles represent very poor value.

 

Vancouver

Average Return (vs cash): 0.90¢/mile

Average Return (vs other programs): 0.65¢/mile

Verdict: In general, Aeroplan short hauls are POOR value for most Vancouverites

vancouver-short-haul

Vancouver is the major city on the Pacific and represents a gateway to Asia. Being in British Columbia, there are very few Aeroplan routes that qualify as short haul. The key ones being Edmonton, Calgary and Seattle. The only city in this lot that represents good value using Aeroplan miles is Edmonton as it seems to be a pricey route.

Seattle is the hub of Alaska Airlines, which is a partner of British Airways so flihgts to Seattle from Vancouver are very cheap using British Airways Avios.

 

Other Cities

For the relatively smaller cities in Canada, the value of Aeroplan miles goes up. There are fewer flights, less competition driving cash prices down and fewer other alternatives. This gives Aeroplan reward redemptions relative strength in smaller markets for lesser traveled routes. For example, using Aeroplan miles for a flight between Boston and Halifax would be great value.

Halifax

Average Return (vs cash): 1.31¢/mile

Average Return (vs other programs): 1.31¢/mile

halifax-short-haul

Ottawa

Average Return (vs cash): 0.73¢/mile

Average Return (vs other programs): 0.45¢/mile

ottawa-short-haul

Quebec

Average Return (vs cash): 1.43¢/mile

Average Return (vs other programs): 1.38¢/mile

quebec-short-haul

Edmonton

Average Return (vs cash): 0.94¢/mile

Average Return (vs other programs): 0.87¢/mile

edmonton-short-haul

 

Recap

The Aeroplan short haul award would be a great redemption. Since the taxes and fees are tending to get very high, I wanted to check if it is actually good value.

For most major cities, and on the busiest routes, there are better options for getting a discount on your flight than using Aeroplan miles.

Where possible, British Airways Avios redemptions on flights operated by American Airlines, US Airways or Alaska Airlines will provide much better value for redemption than redeeming Aeroplan miles for the same routes.

Here is the table summarizing the value you might get from your region:

City Average Redemption Value (vs Cash) Average Redemption Value (vs cash or other Frequent Flyer program) Best Destination Value
Toronto 0.83 ¢/mile 0.52¢/mile Atlanta, Detroit, Minneapolis Poor
Montreal 1.11 ¢/mile 0.65 ¢/mile Boston, Quebec, Ottawa Fair
Calgary 0.98 ¢/mile 0.93 ¢/mile Fort McMurray, Saskatchewan Fair
Vancouver 0.90 ¢/mile 0.65 ¢/mile Edmonton Poor
Halifax 1.31 ¢/mile 1.31 ¢/mile Boston Good
Ottawa 0.73 ¢/mile 0.45 ¢/mile Montreal, Boston, Quebec Fair
Quebec 1.43 ¢/mile 1.38 ¢/mile Montreal Great
Edmonton 0.94 ¢/mile 0.87 ¢/mile Vancouver, Regina Good

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21 comments on “Aeroplan Short Haul Flights – Good deal or Sucker’s bet”

  1. Faraz says:

    Hi, I just checked but avios show $98 in taxes instead of $53 for NYC (LGA) and Chicago (ORD) from Toronto (YYZ). Am I missing something?

    • thepointster says:

      Hi I just checked too and was shocked to see it show as 9k Avios + $88. I clicked on the next screen to investigate what the source of that increase in taxes was (ie did they start to charge the fuel surcharge? did the Canadian government increase airport taxes?). On the page where those are broken out, I see the taxes of $54 for the roundtrip. (I imagine that this could be a exchange rate fluctuation from GBP / USD / CAD but I really dont know why it is slightly off by a few cents from the other day)/

      Going through to the payment page, I see USD$54.12 as the requested charge for this route.

      I think that there is just an issue with the displaying of the taxes on the initial page that is corrected on the payment page.

      It is $51 for YYZ-LGA and $2.50 for LGA-YYZ. I imagine that the LGA-YYZ was initially showing the taxes for YYZ-LGA and doubling that giving the higher taxes. Upon going through to the next page, the correct taxes are applied.

      Let me know if you are still having issues after goign through to the payment page.

  2. Tim says:

    Hi, thanks for the post! Your update got me thinking in how we Ontarians can maximize the potential of the short-haul Aeroplan flights. From the Aeroplan website, it says that flights to Nunavut and Manitoba are also 15,000 points, and that small domestic partners such as Air Creebec, Bearskin, Canadian North, and First Air can be used in combination with AC to get to places like Rankin Outlet or Iqaluit. Do you know if this is actually doable, or have you done a trip like this? From a back of the envelope calculation, last minute flights up to Iqaluit can cost >$2000 RT, making the CPM return pretty high (~$0.12/mile). Do you know if this is actually achievable?

    • thepointster says:

      Hi Tim,

      What you suggest is definitely doable and within the letter of the law from Aeroplan. If you are interested in flying to Iqaluit then you could get some great value in CPM. Unfortunately, I have never actually done this as I really dont know anyone who has ever really wanted to go up there.

      This is the reason that I show the business / popularity of a route. The availability of severely discounting a flight such as Toronto – Iqaluit from $2000 to ~$300 really does me no good as I don’t want to go up there. For someone like me, I would have much more use for a program that discounts my Toronto – Philadelphia flight from $350 to $250. This is a much smaller dollar and % discount, but it is much more valuable to me, and clearly most people (due to the number of flights).

      So I would say your statement is very true adn if you ever do want to go up to Nunavat, then Aerolan short haul is a great way to get that at a reasonable price.

      Thanks for the support.

      • Traveler says:

        Thanks for this informative post.
        RE: Nunavut/Aeroplan. a few yrs ago this used to be the best deal in Canada and best way to get to Nunavut from southern Canada.
        Now however, some of my friends who work there have tried to use Aeroplan pts to for holiday flites out, but they have found that there is very little availability. They speculate that AP now limits only a couple of seats per flite and that these get snatched up pretty quickly, leaving only ‘market rewards’ available.
        It seems that one has to book AP seats 300 days or so in advance in order to get the available ‘classic’ rewards seats.

        • thepointster says:

          I would definitely agree that in the recent past, there as been a decrease in the value of Aeroplan rewards due to less and less availabiltity combined with the increase in teh number of Aeroplan miles out there chasing fewer rewards.

          going to Northern Canada would be a great use if you can actually get space.

          Good luck.

      • Dan says:

        However, above in this article, it indicated that the short haul price was for air Canada only- no partners like First Air, etc. The reason I’d like to get there is because there are direct flights to Greenland from there. But its proving to be cheaper to fly to Europe and back track from Iceland then to Greenland. If only I could get from Ottawa to Iqaluit cheaply :). That’s when points came to mind. :)

        • thepointster says:

          I think that First Air counts as a Short Haul flight, according to the Reward Chart on Aeroplan.

          That is too bad that you have to go to Europe to get this flight.

  3. Jay says:

    That is the best article I have read on this issue. Well written and researched, thank you for posting it. I have known Avios is generally better for us in S Ontario but that pretty much says it all. Thanks again!

  4. Jerry says:

    Sorry I missed this blog/article until now, but I’m glad I came to the same conclusion as you, in a way

    I have the TD 2-for-1 voucher also
    I booked YYZ-ATL over July long weekend for 3 people = total of 30K miles + $180 x 3 + infant ($0 + $20 tax)
    Retail is $1800~$2000 (yes, crazy, same money as YYZ-West Coast cities) so I got about 4.8 CPM, I’m happy enough

    Atlanta looks fun/okay for 2~3 days trip, not a week long. It’s also the longest destination (739 miles),
    Charlotte CLT is less interesting

    • thepointster says:

      Good job finding the flight that works for you. I have noticed that for travel to Atlanta, the flights from Buffalo do seem to be reasonably priced.

      I think the YYZ-ATL route pricing seems higher than it should be. As you say, your experience shows that it is pricing at around $600 or so each person roundtrip, which feels much too high for a “short haul” flight.

      Maybe the lesson should be that Aeroplan short haul is great for not having the pay ridiculous fares for routes where the pricing seems artifically high?

      • Jerry says:

        I agree YYZ-ATL at $600 is totally too high, but not surprising on AC monopoly routes
        YYZ-YVR/LAX/SFO/SEA (5 hour flights) are $500~$800 range, and ATL is only 2 hours flight!!
        It costs $1800~$2200 for my dates YYZ-ATL for 3 tickets, what a ripoff

        But I figure I’ll never visit Atlanta on my own unless there’s price error, so may as well use my 2-for-1 on it

        Hopefully you found somewhere to use yours. With a savings of 15K Aeroplan, the final CPM should still be > 2 CPM

  5. Andy says:

    Fly north. Yukon, NWT and Nunavut are all short haul from somewhere, and even flying within a province can be very expensive.

    • thepointster says:

      Definitely. If you are fortunate(?) enough to have to fly an expensive route, then you can get great value from the Aeroplan short haul flights.

      It really comes down to your own travel needs.

  6. ANR says:

    I used my my 2 for 1 TD promotion to book Aeroplan to ticket to Îles-de-la-Madeleine Airport. My dates in August would have cost $1500 for ticket and I paid 15000+ $345 taxes.

  7. Shelley says:

    Great article! I have the Aeroplan 2 for 1 and have been wondering where to use it. I’m going to look into the RBC avion/ British airways transfers too.

  8. sarah says:

    is the first chart under RESULTS accurate? it says in the first row of the chart that Toronto to Atlanta, Detroit, Minneapolis (Column Best Destination) are poor value, but it says in the Breakdown by Region Chart for Toronto that Atlanta, Detroit, Minneapolis are good value. Great analysis generally but I’m confused by that. Also cash value for Atlanta in the second chart is 2.63c but in the first chart lists as .83c. Any insight? Am I missing something?

    • thepointster says:

      Hi Sarah,

      I can see how that is confusing. I will consider how to redo that chart.

      Basically, I am saying that (in general) for Toronto, the average value is $0.83 / mile (if compared to cash) and $0.52 / mile (when considering that BA Avios can be much cheaper). This means that for Torontonians, in general, Aeroplan short haul flights represent a poor value or a relatively poor use of Aeroplan miles.

      However, if you do live in Toronto, then the best use of Aeroplan miles in the Short Haul program would be Atlanta, Detroit and MSP. If you redeem your Aeroplan miles for a Toronto-Atlanta flight, then you will get 2+ cents of value.

  9. Cesil says:

    I have booked 2 for l flights from Ottawa ON to Winnipeg MB and my visa has been charged by Air Canada for 2 X $163.27 = $326..54 Cdn. for taxes and surgharges.
    I went on AC wedsite and started booking the same flights on the same day and their Total for 2 for taxes, Fees and Charges would be $170.00 in US Dollars.
    Are these costs set by the Government or the airlines?

    • thepointster says:

      Hi,

      The “taxes and fees” on Aeroplan award tickets are a combinatino of government taxes and Aeroplan fees.

      CAD$163 is about right for an Aeroplan award ticket taxes and fees roundtrip within Canada on Air Canada planes.

      The actual government taxes are probably less than $100 and about $60 is surcharges that Air Canada passes to Aeroplan. It is a major scam and totally devalues Aeroplan miles. Inn Canada, we have very few options for loyalty programs so Air Canada can do this. In the US, United Air and American Air both do not pass through these surcharges because the competition keeps the other honest (in my opinion).

      Here is some articels I have written on the topics:

      https://www.creditwalk.ca/aeroplan-best-plan-overview-imaged-formatted/
      https://www.creditwalk.ca/aeroplan-basics-taxes-fees/

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