Choosing The Best American Express Aeroplan Card For You

January 10, 2020
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American Express’ Aeroplan credit cards offer two different options for two different types of travelers. We recommend the AeroplanPlus Gold Card for most Canadians, given its low ($120) annual fee and generous 15,000 welcome points bonus, which is enough for a one-way flight anywhere in North America. 

Whether you’re starting fresh with Aeroplan or looking for a boost for an upcoming trip, the AeroplanPlus Gold Card is an excellent choice.

Say you’re a travel-savvy Canadian resident looking for credit card options that’ll get you around the world on a budget and you happened to stumble into the Aeroplan credit card. You immediately start wondering what it’s all about; what are its pros and cons, its upsides and downsides, and, in general, how they compare with other American Express credit cards for Canadians.

The name itself, Aeroplan, catches your attention right away and tells you that this is a card for travelers (even if you never heard of it before, the word is a bit of a giveaway), but you ask yourself:

How will it help me travel?

In the following post, I’ll clear everything out for you. We’ll do the math and crunch down all the numbers so you can make an educated decision when choosing the right card for your lifestyle: the one that’ll get you the highest amount of benefits for the least amount of money.

We’ll cover everything from the basics of Aeroplan and Aeroplan miles, to the more interesting and specific aspects of the two American Express AeroplanPlus Cards: the AeroplanPlus Gold and the AeroplanPlus Platinum.

At the end of the post, we’ll also give you our professional advice on which card is best in which scenario, all this to help you make sense of it all. By the time you finish reading, you’ll be weighing the ups and downs like a pro, and you’ll have learned how to make the best of every option.

To help you navigate through this post, I’ve broken it down in the following sections:

What Is Aeroplan?

Aeroplan was originally Air Canada’s mileage rewards loyalty program. It was later spun off as an entirely separate company from Air Canada in 2008, continuing to function as the airline’s exclusive loyalty program, but at the same time partnering with other Star Alliance airlines and different travel brands, including hotels, car rentals and consumer goods.

As of today, the company provides its customers with the best benefits when flying with Air Canada. However, thanks to is many partners, it also provides plenty of flexibility, allowing travelers to set up itineraries with other airlines that cover over 1,300 different destinations in more than 90 countries worldwide.

What Are Aeroplan Miles?

If you have ever owned a rewards credit card or are familiar in any way to loyalty programs, you probably already guessed what Aeroplan miles are: They are the “points” or “credits” you earn for every purchase at any of Aeroplan’s partners. In other words, “Aeroplan Miles” are what Aeroplan calls its loyalty reward points.

There are different ways to earn Aeroplan Miles. However, the most obvious way is to fly on a partner airline or to shop at a partner brand, in short, to be loyal to Aeroplan and all its partners (that’s why they call them loyalty programs).

Another great way to earn miles is to use any of the American Express Aeroplan cards, or even other American Express cards like the Gold Rewards Card or the Marriott Bonvoy™ card, but we’ll get back to that in a minute. Read on to find out how to maximize your miles, and how to spend them to get the most out of this very popular loyalty program.

The American Express® Aeroplanplus® Cards

American Express partnered with Aeroplan a little while ago to bring forth the Aeroplan Credit Card, also called AeroplanPlus card. This card’s most important feature is the fact that it rewards Aeroplan miles for every dollar spent on any purchase, that go directly to your Aeroplan balance, whether or not you’re purchasing at an Aeroplan partner brand.

If you do decide to shop at a partner brand or pay for flights on partner airlines with your American Express Aeroplan Card, you can still give your Aeroplan number to earn miles in the regular way. If you haven’t put two and two together yet, this means that

…you can earn miles twice on the same purchase if you pay at a partner brand with your Aeroplan credit card, once for using your card, and once for shopping at the partner brand.

Add in Aeroplan’s occasional short time offers that can boost mileage-earning rates to as high as 8 times the normal rate, and you could be earning well over 10 miles for every dollar spent. That’s an almost unrivaled earning rate!

As it happens with so many Amex cards, there are different types of American Express Aeroplan Cards:

Read on to find out the key features of these two cards, their most important pros and cons, and, in general, how they compare in different aspects with each other, and with the other American Express cards we recommend. However, before we dive into the differences that set these cards apart, let’s take a look at the common features they share:

Common Features Across The American Express Aeroplan Card Family

Below you’ll find a list of the main features that each of the AeroplanPlus cards share.

  • Earn miles for every dollar in any purchase whatsoever.
  • Earn miles twice with every purchase on partner brands (as explained above).
  • Earn miles and rewards faster with additional cards.
  • Access to American Express’ Front of The Line program, which gives you access to tickets for great events, even before they are sold publicly.
  • Emergency card replacement.
  • Travel insurance coverage.
  • Online account management.
  • 24/7 customer service

You’ll find that many of the perks on the above list come with other Amex cards as well, not just with Aeroplan cards, so they’ll be more of a plus that comes with choosing American Express. To see the real tiers, we have to look at each one of the Aeroplan Cards separately.

Aeroplan Credit Cards Comparison

In the table below, you’ll find a summary of the most important characteristics of both of the American Express AeroplanPlus Cards:

 GoldPlatinum
Annual Fee$120$499
Additional Cards2 for free, $50 for each additional card.$199
Welcome Bonus (Miles)15,000 (after spending $1,500)40,000 (after spending $3,000)
Aeroplan Miles Earning Rate1 mile per $1 under $10,000 purchases. 1.25 miles per $1 over $10,000 in purchases1.25 miles per $1 under $25,000 purchases. 1.5 miles per $1 over $25,000 in purchases
Complimentary Partner Ticket 1 per year (short-haul, up to 15,000 Aeroplan miles)
Priority Pass Airport Lounge Membership 

Let’s start squeezing out the info on the table above and see how these cards compare in the most important aspects you should take into consideration when choosing the right card for you.

#1 Annual Fee

You can see right away that there’s a huge difference in the annual fees on the two cards.

If you’re looking for a card with a mid-range fee, you might be tempted to choose the AeroplanPlus Gold Card that goes for $120 a year. However, you’ll get a much better bargain with other options like the American Express Gold Rewards Card that’ll cost you $150, but which comes with $100 in hotel credit and an additional card, for free, that’s worth an extra $50. You can also transfer your reward points to Aeroplan miles at a 1:1 rate, so you can still earn your beloved miles and trade them in for flight rewards, later on.

The annual fees for the AeroplanPlus Platinum Card is almost prohibitively expensive, but you’ll learn further down this post that its benefits help offset it, at least for the first year. For a long-term credit card, the numbers on the AeroplanPlus Platinum Card really don’t add up, in our opinion.

#3 Welcome Bonus Comparison

Before comparing the welcome bonuses let’s get an important fact out of the way:

…you have to reach a minimum of purchases charged to your card in order to get the welcome bonus. This means that you won’t have the welcome bonus miles available right away, and it may take a couple of days for the miles to be available in your Aeroplan account even after you do become eligible for the bonus.

This is not an actual downside to the Aeroplan cards because it happens with all other cards as well. Having said that, the AeroplanPlus card that offers the best bonus to minimum purchase ratio is the AeroplanPlus Platinum Card, which gets you 40,000 miles for $3,000 in purchases.

Related: 3 Trips To Take With Your American Express AeroplanPlus Platinum Card

Don’t decide just yet, though. There are other things we haven’t factored in.

#4 Miles Earning Rates

With the AeroplanPlus Gold Card, you’ll start off earning 1x on your first $10,000 in purchases, but Amex boosts your earning rate to 1.25x on every $1 above those $10,000.

But the real winner in this category is the AeroplanPlus Platinum Card, which starts off at 1.25 miles per $1 of purchases on the first $25,000, then boosts you up to 1.5 miles per $1 above $25,000, on all purchases.

#5 Complimentary Partner Ticket, Travel Credit And Other Perks

The AeroplanPlus Platinum Card offers a complimentary partner ticket for a short-haul ticket (worth up to 15,000 Aeroplan miles) once every calendar year. This is an added, long-lasting bonus (unlike the welcome bonus that you’ll only get once), which will help offset the annual fee of the card after your first year.

Other benefits like Priority Pass Airport Lounge access, Aeroplan Priority booking, Amex Concierge, travel insurance and more, only keep adding value to a card that, all of a sudden, doesn’t look that bad, even for $499 a year.

Crunching The Numbers

Now that we’re crystal clear on how much your Aeroplan miles are worth, and how many miles you can expect to earn with your Aeroplan Credit Cards, let’s do the math and see what the best options are.

We’ll play a little game of worst-case/best-case scenario and calculate how much cash your miles would save you if you spent them in both the worst and the best ways possible. Remember that, in the worst of cases, you would get roughly 1 cent (or $0.01) per mile (it’s actually 0.7 cents, but we’ll round it up make numbers easier to follow), and in the best of cases you would be getting about 4 cents (or $0.04) per mile.

I’m going to break it down in two: the benefits during the first year of card-membership (the short-term benefits) and the benefits after the first year (long-term benefits)

CardAnnual feeWelcome Bonus + extra earned milesWorst Case Scenario:
Miles x $0.01
Best Case Scenario:
Miles x $0.04
Average:
Miles x $0.025
Gold$12015,000 miles$150 (net win of $30)$600 (net win of $480)$375 (net win of $255)
Platinum$50040,000 + 15,000 (complimentary ticket)= 55,000 miles$550 (net win of $50)$2,200 (net win of $1,700)$1,375 (net win of $875)

Notice I also added an average value of 2.5 cents per mile, which is the most likely value an average cardmember will get.

For the long-term, the AeroplanPlus Gold Card doesn’t offer miles bonuses or travel credits, so the only benefits you’ll receive will come entirely from the use you give them. If you use them enough, you’ll obviously be able to accumulate enough miles to offset the annual fee and come out winning in the end, but they won’t pay for themselves as they do during the first year.

The AeroplanPlus Platinum Card will give you long-lasting benefits like companion tickets. Here are some more of those benefits:

CardAnnual feeLong term benefitsWorst Case Scenario: miles x $0.01 (balance)Best Case Scenario: miles x $0.04 (balance)Average: miles x $0.025 (balance)
Gold$1202 additional cards (worth $100)$100 (net loss of $20)$100 (net loss of $20)$100 (net loss of $20)
Platinum$50015,000 (complimentary ticket)$150 (net loss of $350)$600 (net win of $100)$375 (net loss of $125)

Even a quick look at both tables tells you all you need to know. During the first year, the welcome bonuses on both cards are more than enough to counterweight the annual fees, even if you redeem your miles in an average way.

After the first year though, things look a little different. The AeroplanPlus Platinum Card can still pay for itself with the value of the complimentary partner ticket and the travel credit, but only if you take great care in spending your miles wisely (following our recommendations in this post).

On the other hand, if you redeem your miles carelessly and don’t do the math, you’ll end up losing well over $100 a year, just for having any one of these cards in your wallet.

How To Earn Aeroplan Miles

Earning Aeroplan Miles is easy—all you have to do is follow these simple steps:

Step 1: Sign up for a free Aeroplan card. It takes less than 5 minutes and everyone is accepted.

Step 2: Start earning points by doing any of the following:

  • Give your Aeroplan number whenever purchasing products or services at a partner brand.
  • Apply for an American Express Aeroplan Card and use it to receive a great welcome bonus, as well as one or more miles for every dollar spent on purchases (wait for iiiiit…).
  • Transfer American Express Membership Rewards points to Aeroplan miles at a 1:1 rate.
  • Transfer Marriott Bonvoy™ points to Aeroplan miles at a 3:1 rate.

These are the most important and effective ways to earn Aeroplan miles. Aeroplan occasionally offers bargains and deals through their partners that increase your mileage-earning rate, but those promotions are usually of short lived so we won’t cover them here.

How Much Are Aeroplan Miles Really Worth?

Before we dive into the American Express Aeroplan Cards, it is essential to be able to estimate how much your miles are really worth, in order to get a clear view of the benefits you’ll receive by signing up to either of these AeroplanPlus cards.

Aeroplan miles vary in value based on how you use them.

If you’ve read any of our other posts, you may already have an idea as to how to estimate the worth of reward points (or miles in this case). It all boils down to how you redeem them. As mentioned above, Aeroplan offers different ways to spend your miles including flight rewards, car rental, hotel bookings and purchasing different products and services.

Read on to learn the best and the worst ways in which you can use your Aeroplan miles in order to estimate how much they’re worth, while at the same time learning the math behind those estimates.

Flight Rewards: What Aeroplan Miles Are “Supposed” To Be Used For

The best way to redeem miles in Aeroplan is to trade them in for flight rewards, which means paying for flights with miles instead of cash. You could spend hours trying to find good deals that’ll give you more for your miles, but I’ll show you the most important tips that’ll turn you into an Aeroplan flight-hacking guru in no time.

Tip #1: Use your miles for domestic flights, and fly Air Canada whenever possible.

It was only to be expected that the best benefits of using Aeroplan miles should come from trading them in for flights on Air Canada, the company that gave birth to Aeroplan in the first place. However, things aren’t as simple as they seem, as this only applies to domestic flights.

Why?

Because Air Canada imposes fuel surcharges on flights paid with Aeroplan miles, which can add up to several hundreds of dollars for international flights, but which are more manageable for domestic flights.

To give you a clearer view of what I mean, let me start by showing you the following international round trip flight from Toronto to Prague on Air Canada, advertised by Aeroplan as a “Great deal” on their landing page:

Example 1: Aeroplan Flight Reward round trip from Toronto to Prague on Air Canada

As you can see, the round trip will cost you 61,800 miles + $597.26 for taxes, fees and surcharges. That means that, besides spending a very large amount of miles, you still have to pay almost $300 in cash for each fare of the round trip!

The same round trip, on the same fight, paid in cash, booked with Air Canada directly would cost $1,066, as shown below.

Same flight as above, booked directly with Air Canada runs for $1,066

Ok, let’s crunch some numbers, it’s a lot easier than you think: If you were to use your miles, you would be spending 61,800 miles but you would also have to spend an additional $597.26 in cash. If you were to pay cash only, it would cost you $1,066.28.

This means that the 61,800 miles are saving you the difference of $469, in other words, that

61,800 miles = 1,066 – 597 = $469

At this rate, you would be getting roughly 0.8 cents per mile (all you have to do is divide the worth in cash by the number of miles to get the amount of dollars per mile, than multiply by 100 to get cents).

-Ok, this number alone may not tell you much yet, but you’ll soon find out that you can do way better than that.-

Now let’s take a look at a domestic, long-haul one-way Air Canada flight from Vancouver to Montreal.

Example 2: Aeroplan fixed miles Flight Reward one-way trip from Vancouver to Montreal
Same flight as above, booked directly with Air Canada runs for $519

To compare these numbers with the above example, since this is a one-way trip, we should multiply everything here times 2. Notice the huge difference in the number of miles (12,500 x 2 = 25,000 compared to 61,800) and in surcharge fees ($73 x 2 =$146 compared to $597), even though the actual price in cash is almost the same ($518 x 2 = $1036 compared to $1,066). This combination boosts the value of your miles.

Using the same logic as before, the 12,500 miles are saving you $518 – 73 = $445, which means you’re getting 3.6 cents per mile.

That’s close to 5 times more than what you would get from a “good deal” on an international Air Canada flight! (I can’t imagine what a bad deal would look like)

Flying domestic on other partner airlines also gives you a good rate, but not as good as an Air Canada flight of equal distance (see summary table a little further down)

Tip #2: Spend your miles on international flights that don’t impose fuel surcharges.

You can see clearly that the problem with Air Canada’s international flights is the surcharge fee.

But, does that mean that you’re limited to using your miles only for domestic flights, if you want to get a good exchange rate?

No, it doesn’t. There are a number of Aeroplan partner airlines that don’t add fuel surcharge fees on international flights, even if you’re paying your ticket with miles. The following list includes some of the best ones

  1. United Airlines
  2. Swiss Airlines
  3. Turkish Airlines
  4. Singapore Airlines
  5. Air New Zealand
  6. Eva Airways (SE Asia)
  7. Air China

You’ll usually have to pay more miles with these airlines than you would with Air Canada for the same flight plan, but you save hundreds of dollars on fuel surcharges, so you come out winning in the end.

Let me illustrate this with another example, a one-way trip from Toronto to Singapore flying Eva Air. As you can see below, this example illustrates two very important differences with the international Air Canada flights: It costs more miles (remember that the 61,800 miles were for the round trip) but only a small fraction of the cash in fees.

Example 3: Aeroplan one-way Market Fare Flight Reward from Toronto to Singapore
Same flight as above, booked directly with Eva Air runs for $747

With Eva Air, flying from Canada to Singapore can cost you as little as $54 plus 45,000 miles (that’s even better than my previously posted Asia to North America flight for $75 ), instead of the regular price of $747. This gives you a value of 1.5 cents per mile. That’s almost twice as good as flying international with Air Canada (though not as good as flying domestic).

Tip #3: Use your miles for business class flights.

If you like traveling with style and comfort and you can’t suffer economy-class flights, but you still want to save money while you’re at it, then the best way to spend your miles is definitely flying in business class. As you’ll see from our example below, the cost in miles is twice what you would be spending for the economy-class ticket, but the price in cash is more than double whilst the surcharge is not. This combination gets you more value per mile.

Example 4: Aeroplan Flight Reward for a one-way trip from Vancouver to Montreal in business class.
Same trip, same flight in business class booked with Air Canada paid in cash.

In this case, you get 4.1 cents per mile. The same applies when flying business class on the other examples, but I’m sure you get the idea.

The following table summarizes everything I’ve explained so far. In it, you’ll find real examples of the value you can get out of your miles by redeeming them for different flight rewards, including the examples already shown above:

Flight PlanAirlineCost (Booked with the Airline)Cost (Booked with Aeroplan)You Save:Estimated Value (¢ per mile)
From:To:
Aeroplan Miles+Taxes, fees and surcharges
Toronto (round trip)Prague (round trip)Air Canada$ 1,06661,800+$ 597$ 4690.8
VancouverMontrealAir Canada$ 51912,500+$ 73$ 4463.6
TorontoSingaporeEva Air$ 74745,000+$ 54$ 6931.5
VancouverMontrealAir Canada (Business class)$ 1,14225,000+$ 112$ 1,0304.1
SeattleNew YorkUnited$ 26512,500+$ 7,5$ 257.52.1
VancouverNew YorkAir Canada and United$ 53212,500+$ 125$ 4073.3
VancouverNew YorkAir Canada$ 59443,100+$ 81$ 5131.2

Summary of the estimated value of Aeroplan miles redeemed for different flight rewards. Unless specified otherwise, all flights are in economy class.

The absolute best value comes from flying domestic on Air Canada in business class. After that comes the same flight in economy class. Flying United inside the US is a great way to save both miles and cash, as the said airline doesn’t impose surcharges on its domestic flights.

Using Your Aeroplan Miles For Hotel Bookings

Another way to redeem your miles is to use them to pay for your hotels. The following is a short list of lodging options in Rome, which you can pay for in full with Aeroplan miles.

Example of some partner hotels in Rome you can pay in full with your miles.

This is just a portion of the many available options. The first one, marked as a “Great deal”, normally costs $2.400, but you can pay 259,850 miles instead. In other words

259,850 miles = $2.400

This sums up to 0.92 cents per mile, so it’s really not a good deal, especially considering the insane amount of miles you would be spending. With that amount of miles, you could travel around the world and still have miles left over in the end.

Using Your Aeroplan Miles For Other Purchases

You can also trade in your miles for car rentals, vacations packages and purchases with Aeroplan partner brands, but you’ll never reach even an acceptable value for your miles. In fact, probably the worst way to spend them is to trade them in for a gift card at a partner brand. A $500 gift card will cost you 70,000 miles, giving you an appalling value of 0.7 cents per mile.

The Bottom Line

In the worst-case scenario, you’ll get a little under a cent per mile. On the other hand, if you spend like a pro, you can easily get away with 4+ cents per mile.

Now that you know how much your miles are worth, let’s go back to the American Express Aeroplan Credit Cards!

In Summary

If you really want to get an Aeroplan credit card, we recommend getting the AeroplanPlus Gold Card. With its low annual fee (the same, on an annual basis, as the American Express Cobalt Card) and generous 15,000 welcome points bonus, it’s a great introduction into the Aeroplan ecosystem.

Or if you’re looking for a card that offers lounge access and the Amex Concierge, we suggest going for the American Express Platinum instead.

For a card you should keep year after year, we’ve crunched the numbers and firmly believe that the Marriott Bonvoy™ American Express Card is the best card for most Canadians. It offers an exceptional Welcome Bonus of 50,000 Marriott Bonvoy™ points, and gives you lasting benefits like a free hotel night every year, which you can use at some of the most spectacular hotels in the world.

If you’re really keen on building your Aeroplan balance though, we can suggest a couple of alternatives:

  • Transfer your Marriott Bonvoy™ points to Aeroplan miles.
  • Get the American Express Gold Rewards card that has a fee of only $150, gives you a Welcome Bonus of 25,000 MR points, a $100 hotel credit, a great MR points earning rate and, best of all, you can transfer all your points to Aeroplan miles at a 1:1 rate.