The Grand Plan
One common Aeroplan option that uses very few miles is a “mini-RTW” approach. You can look them up -- we sure did! But after some research we found them to be pretty inflexible. Thus, the grand plan became to use an Around the World Flight Reward as our “skeleton” of major intercontinental flights. At each stopover, we’d allocate a couple of months to explore the area and return to the same airport. For example: fly to South America, spend three months looping out and back, then fly to Africa, spend a month looping out and back, and so on. You get the idea. Our total out-of-pocket cost for the whole ticket was under 2000 CAD for both of us combined.
The Art Woofer
An Aeroplan Around the World Flight Reward (henceforth known as ARTWFR or “art-woofer” once I’ve taken the liberty of shortening the word “Around” to “‘Round”) is a flight reward taking you... well... around the world. It allows you to fly on any Star Alliance carrier that has available inventory on the segments and dates you’re interested in. As a catch, the ARTWFR has a bunch of stipulations on the ticket, some of which do not seem to be publicly available until you call up to book the ticket!
Now: a lot of frequent fliers will tell you that an ARTWFR is a terrible use of your miles. They’ll tell you to fly first class to Hawaii because you’re getting the best “bang for your buck” in terms of the equivalent cash cost of a ticket. Fie to that -- I don’t want to blow all of my miles on a short-haul flight that costs thousands of dollars merely because it’s in first class! They’ll also say that you can construct similar itineraries that technically fly around the world as a series of separate rewards and use fewer points overall. I remain unconvinced.
For example, a round-trip Aeroplan reward from GRU-JNB costs 140,000 miles. If a one-way is half of that, you’ve already used over a third of 200,000 miles just to fly one segment of the itinerary we’ve booked. But hey, if you’re OK with fewer stopovers, by all means look into buying separate flight rewards per-segment. If it works out cheaper, go for it! And if you’re really tricky, you can make each of the segments round-trip rewards and fly around the world once in each direction! Trés baller, no?
Note the open jaw between GIG and GRU as shown by using a comma instead of a hyphen. If you’re not familiar with airport codes, I’ll translate the list I just gave for you (just this once!):
- Toronto, CA
- Rio de Janeiro, BR
- Sao Paolo, BR
- Johannesburg, ZA
- Nairobi, KE
- Addis Ababa, ET
- Delhi, IN
- Chennai, IN
- Bangkok, TH
- Bali, ID
- Seoul, KR
- Beijing, CN
- Chicago, US,
- Toronto, CA
Now that seems like quite the flight ticket, but keep in mind that many of these are not actual stopovers, they’re just connecting flights. ADD, DEL, ICN, PEK, and ORD are all just connections on our itinerary!
Do It Yourself
Here are my complaints about some other options:
KVS Tool: Uses aeroplan.com as a backend. It does allow you to do “power searches" over large swaths of time, but the interface is brutal and often just returns errors or zero results. If it’s just using aeroplan.com itself, why pay to go through a middleman?
expertflyer.com: Doesn't show availability on certain Star Alliance carriers. If I recall correctly, it will also only allow you to check availability on nonstop flights, which is a huge pain for flights over long distances that often have one or more connections.
ANA Reward Search: Has been drastically altered from its former glory and no longer seems to support the same functionality it previously had.
United Airlines Reward Search: Has been reported to hide certain flights that aren’t on United aircraft.
Some of these complaints are admittedly petty. You may find that these sites work for you. If so, go for it! From my perspective, as much as I dislike the Aeroplan reward search (I really hate it, actually) it’s not much worse than any of the alternatives. And again, it’s Aeroplan who you’re eventually booking the ticket with, so I think it’s best to make sure that you’re looking at availability within their system to avoid any issues.
DISCLAIMER: Some of these rules may have changed since publishing this post! Please verify the Terms and Conditions before trying to book your itinerary. Of course, not all of the Terms and Conditions are actually printed there, so you’ll have to phone Aeroplan and wait on hold for thirty minutes if you want to be sure your itinerary is actually valid! And sometimes I think they up the rules as they go along...
Ticket validity has a one year maximum
Your itinerary must be valid from start to finish whenever you make changes
You must make exactly one transatlantic and one transpacific crossing
You cannot have a stopover or connection through the same city twice
You are allowed five stopovers plus one open jaw
If you’ve booked an Economy ARTWFR, you cannot book Premium Economy flight segments
In our case, I saw availability that could get us from Bali to Toronto through Tokyo. It even had a 12 hour stopover in Tokyo, which would be great to check out the city for a little bit! Once I called to try to select it, though, I was told I couldn’t book it because it was a “Premium Economy” flight. Actually, the agent I was speaking with at the time couldn’t even see the flight I was referring to because I guess in their system it’s automatically disallowed due to it being a Premium Economy segment. Watch out!
The maximum allowable distance on the ticket is 34,000 miles
To deal with this one, get a rough idea of your itinerary distance before booking. I can’t guarantee the Aeroplan behind-the-scenes calculation is identical, but you can get a pretty good idea of the distance you’re travelling by heading to gcmap.com and entering your full flight path to check out the great circle distance between all of your stops. Here’s our flight path distance calculated on gcmap.com. Notice the total distance is just over 30,000 miles, so we should be good.
Any open jaw must take place within a single country
Unfortunately, this restriction that the open jaw take place within a single country makes things a lot uglier. You’ll need to use your open jaw within a country that has two major airports with both having reasonable award inventory. Ideally, the cities are also far apart so that you get your money’s worth from the open jaw. Brazil was a good choice for us: we flew into Rio de Janeiro and out of Sao Paolo, both of which are major airports which allowed us to cut down on needless connections.
You have to finish in the same country you started in
You cannot finish the itinerary “beyond” where you started
Cons and Pros
You still have to pay taxes and various surcharges on your flights
Many suggested itineraries have absurd numbers of connections or flight durations
There may be limited or zero availability on certain routes at certain times
I spent months checking back to aeroplan.com trying to find a way to get from AKL to YYZ in December. I checked one year in advance. And then again every couple of weeks for the next six months. Not once did I find a pair of seats available in the entire month of December. Even more frustrating can be those instances where you think you’ve found availability for a “hard” flight (say, AKL to SFO), but are then unable to find a single flight to get you from SFO to YYZ, which you’d think would be a dime a dozen. Extremely maddening.
The thing is, airlines are unlikely to release inventory if they think they can sell out the plane using revenue tickets alone. Why give it away for free if you can charge for it, right? On popular routes during the holidays, airlines have no incentive to release any reward seats whatsoever. This can be brutally frustrating, especially if you’re just trying to plan the last leg of your trip like we were. We ended up returning home through Bali instead. This meant that we had to buy a separate revenue return ticket to AKL from DPS to make it all work, but at least it'll get us home.
You have to work with a very slow, unreliable website with limited functionality
Aeroplan call centre wait times are punishing
I very regrettably lost my “distinction” after our trip started because I wasn’t using my credit card nearly as much. This meant I was stuck in the call queue with the rest of the unwashed masses whenever I needed to phone up Aeroplan. Get ready to wait for twenty to thirty minutes to get somebody on the line, and all the while listening to the same song playing on repeat. You will not be happy.
Once you do finally get somebody on the line, be ready for them to put you on hold a bunch of times while they verify that you’re not breaking any of their rules with the itinerary you’ve planned. Not many people redeem for an Around the World Reward ticket, so the staff generally aren't very familiar with the ins and outs of the process. All in all, the agents I’ve spoken with have been reasonably well-trained, but I’ve still had to do a bit of hand-holding while I help them book/change the ticket for me.
Every time you change the itinerary, you have to pay
In our case, the change fees totalled 180 CAD every time because we had a pair of tickets each charged 90 CAD per change. The biggest result of this exorbitant fee is that you end up operating like a gambler. You want to lump your flight changes together as much as possible so that in one phone call you can alter as many as possible. This will save you change fees in the long run. But if you wait too long, you may lose availability on some of the flights you’re counting on and that could completely screw you over. It’s nerve-wracking and caused me to lose a fair bit of sleep.
To make things even better, try calling Aeroplan from Kenya over Skype and getting disconnected after thirty minutes on hold and a twenty minute conversation. Then call again to start the thirty minute wait time again, only to be disconnected a second time. It’s enough to make you scream. And I did.
It can be an effective use of miles
The world is your oyster
In order to make things as easy as possible for you, I've compiled a small list of tips that may make your experience a little less frustrating than ours.
Just the Tips
If one-way searches fail, just search return trips with fake return dates
Don’t get too fancy with your destinations
I’d really recommend you try to stick to major flight hubs when booking your itinerary. You’ll have better chances of scoring availability in the date range you’re looking for than if you’re trying to get to a smaller regional airport.
Check out the taxes and surcharges!
Agean Airlines, Air China, Air India, Air New Zealand, Avianca, Brussels Airlines, Copa Airlines, Croatia Airlines, EgyptAir, Ethiopian Airlines, EVA Air, Scandinavian Airlines, Shenzhen Airways, Singapore Airlines, South African Airways, Swiss, TAM Airlines, Turkish Airlines and United
You should definitely try to verify these for yourself. This list can obviously change at any time. Fake a booking on aeroplan.com to see the total taxes and surcharges that will have to be paid. If there are alternative carriers available, check them out to see if you can get a better deal. You will be paying these taxes for your reward ticket!
Work out your entire itinerary before calling Aeroplan
Don’t be too hasty in choosing your flights
- Are these Economy or Premium Economy seats?
- Am I choosing the minimum duration option?
- What are the taxes on each available airline?
Live Long and Prosper
Best of luck to all of you, and if you have any questions or comments feel free to send them our way! I’d love to update the post with any tidbits you think may be helpful.