Air Canada finally unveiled details of its new Aeroplan program, following two years of planning. And, if nothing else, the loyalty program reflects on its creators. That appears to be a good thing for consumers, at least given the initial information available. The company unveiled details of the new program today, with the formal launch slated for 8 November 2020.
The inmates are running the asylum. We are points junkies ourselves. This is a program being run by loyalty geeks, airline geeks, folks that are airline obsessed.– An Air Canada executive introducing the program to media*
The name stays, nearly everything else changes
The Aeroplan name is sticking around. The company believes there’s simply too much equity in the existing name, though a few other ideas were floated. It turns out no one wants to be Bon Vol!’d after being Bonvoyed, though.
The tier levels (though SE 100k qualification changes slightly). The 35k level even keeps its lounge access benefit. Nearly everything else in the program seems to be changing, from the award charts to the fee schedule to the co-branded credit cards and more.
Yes, some awards are getting more expensive. But surcharges on reward tickets are going away. Saving the hundreds of dollars in YQ/YR fees should make most passengers happy. Even the newly introduced CAD$39 partner booking fee almost seems a non-issue when compared to the lack of fuel surcharges. Though there was also little specific justification offered for why it exists.
For rewards on Air Canada-operated flights the reward prices keep a much broader range of prices, tied more to revenue fares than straight reward availability. There is significant potential for this to end up as bad news if fares spike, but the ability to access last seat inventory all the time may help offset that.
The program also offers a bonus to its elite members or co-brand credit card holders whereby points are worth more on Air Canada flights, making the awards cheaper than for non-status members. Yes, this means that a credit card is a cheap way in to one elite benefit. But it is also a nice nod to the loyalty, regardless of how the consumer achieves it.
A shift in earning rates
Pointing out the new reward chart benefits would be unfair without also calling attention to Aeroplan’s intention of shifting to revenue-based earning of points for flying, launching at some point in 2021. The good news is that all fares – even basic economy within North America – will now earn. The bad news is that 3 points per CAD is likely to leave many travelers a bit disappointed. And it is only 2 points per CAD for the Basic fares. Basic fares will also no longer earn credit towards elite status when the new rules come into play.
Elites will earn 1 extra point per dollar for each tier they climb, though 25k/35k are tied together on that front.
Reward rules are loose. Very loose. Looking to fly from Toronto to Bangkok? If a routing via Sydney is what you’re after then the company will allow that booking. It is explicitly permitted in the rules. No MPM calculations to worry about. Stopovers can be added for 5k additional points, with one permitted for each one-way award city pair, though no more stopovers in North America.
At launch some of the most creative/ridiculous “DIY” options will only be available via the call center, but over time the company hopes to make them available via the online interface.
Similarly, the family sharing plan comes with almost no rules as to who can participate. Other than a limit on how quickly a member can leave and rejoin another family (6 months) and how long you must be in (3 months). Other than that, the 8-member cap is the main restriction. Even the discounted reward rates for elites or CC holders are honored within a family group if any member qualifies. Because sharing truly is caring.
Could this be susceptible to fraud? Sure. But the company appears less concerned about that than making sure the legit users can take advantage of the benefits Aeroplan offers.
Nifty new ideas
The program is far more than the basic earn and burn rates. Aeroplan knows that it needs to appear to a broader range of consumers than the very frequent fliers. Micro-rewards and sharing status benefits are two ways the company approaches that challenge.
The micro-redemptions available at program launch include bidding for upgrades and paying for wifi or lounge access with points. Expanded retail redemption options and digital gift cards are also available in the new online shopping interface.
For those who earn 50K status or above and want to share the experience with someone else the Status Pass option allows a non-elite to get “50K for a day” benefits. This includes the baggage allowance, lounge access and priority handling at the airport. It will be a selectable option for elites in new program year, but all 50K members or above will have one free Pass to share for 2021.
Elite members at the 35K or higher tier will also earn Priority Rewards vouchers that allow for a 50% points discount on rewards, including with partners.
A new tech stack
All of these changes are “not shoehorned into a 1970s system.” The entire digital experience is built new from the ground up. That is a risky move as part of a major program transition, but it also comes with massive benefits. That it is already integrated into the main Air Canada tech stack, months before launch, is also good news. The company has had a lot of time for testing and tweaking to make sure that it will behave as desired. It also means full integration of the new experience into all of the digital touchpoints from day one. With the exception of the crazy routing rewards mentioned above, both the main website and the Air Canada app will have full integration from launch.
I’m biased about this one. Partly because I know the guys who created it (and, yes, it really is the inmates running the asylum, but in a good way) and partly because anything resembling good news in the industry right now is a welcome change. But it really does seem to me to mostly be good news coming, enough to offset the few negatives. Little things, like not blowing up an award price for a short connecting segment that otherwise doesn’t match the long-haul inventory, show that they really thought about the pain points that regular members hit on a regular basis.
With the shift to revenue-based earning it might be more of a program I’d think about transferring points in to rather than trying to earn directly. But that’s pretty much par for the course these days. The options for straight mileage-based earning without accounting for various fare classes is quickly evaporating.
There’s a ton more about the new program I didn’t cover. It is too much for a single report. But it is definitely a program worth considering, even if you’re not regularly flying Air Canada or even based in Canada.
*As a condition of participating in the media preview I am not permitted to directly quote any individual executives who spoke. I think it is stupid, but they made the rules and I agreed to them.
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