Air Canada Aeroplan is one of my favorite frequent flyer programs. Aeroplan has more airline partners than any other airline loyalty program, and it also allows stopovers on awards for 5000 points, which is an exceptional deal.

Aeroplan points are hard to maximize, so I wanted to talk about that a bit in this post.

A reader’s question about the value of Aeroplan points

Ryan asked if Aeroplan points could be redeemed. I'm going to let you know part of the email.

I’m really struggling to find these great value Aeroplan reward tickets that you constantly mention and wonder if it’s easy to tell me what I’m doing wrong. I think flying out of Canada is my first mistake — it seems to trigger massive inflation of point use especially on Air Canada. That’s no problem because accessing the US is easy enough.

But even trying to fly something as simple at New York to Tokyo never seems to bring up an airline I actually want to fly (like Etihad) and focuses more on ones I don’t (like Air India).

Is there some sort of basic strategy I should be using that I’m not aware of? How far out should I be planning and looking into using these?

How do you get the most value redeeming Aeroplan points?

How do you get the best value with Aeroplan points?

Aeroplan points are best redeemed on partner airlines

Readers in Canada don't like Aeroplan because of the redemption rates on Air Canada. Air Canada doesn't give much saver award space for its own flights. Last seat availability on Air Canada is offered by Aeroplan. It will cost you a lot as it is with so many airlines.

If you just look at Air Canada flights from Toronto to London or Paris, it’s not unusual to see Aeroplan charging 300K-400K points one-way in business class, which isn’t exactly a great use of points.

Aeroplan redemption rates on Air Canada

I find the Aeroplan redemption rates on Air Canada to be the exception rather than the norm. The value with Aeroplan is for partners.

How do you find good partner redemption deals, though?

I understand that Ryan is frustrated, so I would like to discuss how you can maximize the value of your Aeroplan points. Aeroplan points can be used to redeem them on partner airlines for travel in first and business class.

Aeroplan gives you access to 45+ airlines and allows you to redeem points on many of them. It can be difficult to find availability. Let's talk about Aeroplan in addition to the general tips I've shared.

Yeah, award availability isn’t great right now

For the past year or so, award availability has just been terrible, and that's the biggest issue with redeeming Aeroplan points. In the summer I wrote about the lack of award availability and in the fall I wrote about it.

Travel demand has been through the roof, people have all kinds of deferred trips, airlines have been adjusting their schedules, and capacity isn't back to where it was before the recession.

Award options are not great. Aeroplan has so many partners that it leaves you in the best position for this.

The situation hasn't been ideal but my hope is that the world will get better.

Award availability leaves a lot to be desired right now

Be strategic about how you search award availability

Aeroplan has a great award search tool but it only works on a daily basis. Finding availability can be difficult if you can't look at it at a time with one click.

My approach is to always search by segment. Aeroplan offers a way to have fun when award availability is not as good.

If you wanted to fly from Chicago to Tokyo on Etihad Airways, you would have to search for award availability from Chicago to Abu Dhabi.

Aeroplan award availability on Etihad

You could look at the next date with award availability from Abu Dhabi to Tokyo. You could always stop in Abu Dhabi if you wanted to. I believe that this will give you better options than just searching for Chicago to Tokyo, and I hope that the availability of Etihad will show up.

Aeroplan award availability on Etihad

Think strategically about the airlines you want to fly, and then look for routes that might be available. Once you find the flights that suit you, build an itinerary.

Know which partners to search availability for

The award availability on All Nippon Airways is terrible. The airline wasn't particularly generous with award availability to begin with because of the high demand for travel to Japan. It does take a lot of effort to find any available spots.

Aeroplan award availability on ANA

Some of Aeroplan's unique airline partners, like Air Mauritius, Bamboo Airways, and others, will give you good award availability.

Nowadays last minute is the time to book

In the past, I would have told you to book very late or very far in advance. Award availability is not good recently. Most of the Star Alliance airlines don't have a lot of space. It's not always available, but it's hard to find. You should have more options if you have the flexibility to wait.

I hope we see a shift in the way things are done, so that award availability doesn't stay this bad. Across airlines, these have not been normal times. I can tell you that even for the travel I plan for myself, it takes more time and effort than it used to.

An example of what I might recommend booking

I began searching for availability for next September when Ryan mentioned he was going to Japan. I came up with a few options after a short search.

Without knowing how long Ryan wants to travel, he mentioned that he would like to go on a business class trip to Abu Dhabi and Tokyo on September 7.

Aeroplan award availability on Etihad

If you want a simple return, you could take ANA business class from Tokyo to Seattle for just 55,000 points.

Aeroplan award availability on ANA

Do you want a little more adventurous return? If you want to add a stop in Taiwan, you could fly from various points in Japan to Toronto via Taipei.

Aeroplan award availability on EVA Air

Do you want to have more fun? Adding Thailand to the itinerary would allow you to go back and forth between Istanbul and Thailand. Adding Gulf Air to the itinerary would make it possible for you to fly Turkish Airlines the whole way.

Aeroplan award availability on Turkish Airlines

It is easy to come up with something that suits a particular desire, even if it is just a few examples based on a few minutes of searching.

Bottom line

For those of us looking to maximize our rewards with long haul premium travel, it can be difficult to redeem points currency at the moment. Aeroplan has a lot of value and it takes some effort to maximize it.

Aeroplan points can be redeemed if award availability gets better, and this is an example of how it can be done.

What have you experienced with redemption of miles for partner awards?