American Express’ brand new Aeroplan cards offer groundbreaking value for Canadians who travel at least once per year. The American Express Aeroplan Card boasts an Air Canada Buddy Pass (worth $500 or more if used effectively) plus a welcome bonus of up to 15,000 Aeroplan points, subject to spending requirements. The American Express Aeroplan Reserve Card offers worldwide airport lounge access plus an impressive welcome bonus of up to 65,000 Aeroplan points, subject to spending requirements.
I believe the American Express Aeroplan Card is the right choice if you aren’t traveling overseas in the next 12 months due to its lower annual fee ($120 vs. $599). But if you travel frequently, you’ll get even more value out of the American Express Aeroplan Reserve Card due to its higher welcome bonus (65,000 vs. 15,000 Aeroplan points) and worldwide airport lounge access. Whichever one you choose, it’s hard to go wrong with either of these cards.
I’ve been eagerly awaiting the new Aeroplan program, which launched in early November, for more than a year.
And now that it’s finally here, I have to say: Aeroplan and American Express have done a great job designing cards that benefit travelers in a big way.
In this post, I’m going to unpack American Express’ two brand new cards—the American Express Aeroplan Card and the American Express Aeroplan Reserve Card—and show you how to wisely apply the welcome bonus points that come with them to supercharge your travels.
Let’s get started.
#1 Basics & Benefits
|American Express Aeroplan®* Card||American Express Aeroplan Reserve®* Card|
|Welcome Bonus Aeroplan Points||15,000|
9,000 when you spend $1,500 in the first 3 months
1,000 for each of the first 6 months in which you spend $500
35,000 when you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months
5,000 for each of the first 6 months in which you spend $1,000
|Points Earned Per $1 Spent With Air Canada®* and Air Canada Vacations®*||2||3|
|Points Earned Per $1 Spent On Eligible Dining & Food Delivery In Canada||1.5||2|
|Points Earned Per $1 Spent On All Other Card Purchases||1||1|
|Free First Checked Bag||✔||✔|
|Comprehensive Travel Insurance||✔||✔|
|Air Canada Buddy Pass||✔|
|Worldwide Priority Pass Lounge Access||✔|
|Maple Leaf Lounge Access Within North America||✔|
|Priority Check-In, Boarding, & Baggage Handling On Air Canada Flights||✔|
|Priority Airport Services At YYZ||✔|
As you can see in the table above, both of these cards (which I’ll call the “Aeroplan Card” and the “Aeroplan Reserve Card”) offer a lot of value for their annual fee.
I’ve historically valued Aeroplan points at 2 cents apiece, which would mean the welcome bonuses alone would be worth $300 and $1,300 respectively. And while it’s a bit too early to give a solid valuation on Aeroplan points under the new Aeroplan system, I suspect that that number may have increased to something like 2.2 cents or even 2.5 cents, which boosts the value of these cards even more. You’ll see what I mean in the three trip examples below.
If that’s the case, these cards are offering 2-3x their annual fee just from their welcome bonuses alone. And when you factor in the other benefits that come with them, their value goes up even more.
Here’s how I think about things.
The American Express Aeroplan Card
The benefits in the table above are pretty self-explanatory with the exception of just one: the Air Canada Buddy Pass. Let me explain how it works, and how you can unlock its value.
The Air Canada Buddy Pass
The Air Canada Buddy Pass is a companion ticket that can be used on any round-trip or one-way Air Canada flight within North America (including Hawaii, Alaska and Mexico). The Buddy Pass is essentially a ticket with no base fare: the “buddy” only pays the taxes and fees associated with the flight. It can be used on any economy class flight, though it can’t be used in conjunction with an Aeroplan redemption. The Buddy Pass is deposited into your Air Canada account as soon as you meet the Aeroplan Card’s minimum spending requirement. Let’s use an example to make things more clear.
Let’s say you and your partner want to use your Buddy Pass to fly from Toronto to Hawaii in February. You’d start by searching for flights to Hawaii on AirCanada.com. The cheapest option on the days I selected came to $578.
As you can see in the bottom-right, the base fare is $488, and there are $90 in taxes and fees.
So if you used your Air Canada Buddy Pass on this flight, the two of you would pay a total of $668: $578 for the first flight, and $90 in taxes and fees for the second flight on the Buddy Pass.
Total saved on your trip to Hawaii: $488
One great thing about the Buddy Pass is that there are zero blackout dates, so you can use it when flight prices are especially high, like the Christmas holidays and the month of August. This will help you save even more money.
The American Express Aeroplan Reserve Card
The Reserve Card comes with everything that the Aeroplan Card does, with the exception of the Buddy Pass. But I believe the significantly higher welcome bonus (65,000 Aeroplan points vs. 15,000 Aeroplan points) plus the other benefits that come with the card make it a very good option for some Canadians. Here are the two benefits I think will make the biggest difference to you.
#1 Maple Leaf Lounge Access Across North America
On top of the 65,000 Aeroplan points that come with your Reserve Card (when you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months, plus $1,000 in each of the first 6 months), you also get access to Maple Leaf lounges across North America. Many of these lounges are new or recently refurbished, and offer great food and drink options as you wait for your flight. Here’s a shot of the brand new Maple Leaf lounge at St. John’s International Airport.
#2 Worldwide Priority Pass Airport Lounge Access
If you travel frequently outside of North America, you’ll be glad to know that the American Express Aeroplan Reserve Card also comes with a Priority Pass Prestige membership, which holds a value of $429 USD per year. Your Priority Pass membership gets you into more than 1,200 airport lounges around the world without paying a dime.
All Priority Pass lounges have free food (some offer full meals, while others have an array of snacks), drinks (many, though not all, offer alcoholic drinks as well), and many include additional amenities like nap rooms, showers, libraries, printing, and games rooms. Here’s one in Quito with its own wine cellar.
I’ve been using Priority Pass for over 5 years now, and it’s by far my favourite benefit of my American Express cards. I seriously can’t imagine flying without stopping into a Priority Pass lounge now.
How To Use Your Welcome Bonus Aeroplan Points
Now that I’ve covered the key benefits of these two cards, it’s time to talk about how to use your Aeroplan points. Because Aeroplan has completely changed, and its new award chart is, in a word, confusing.
Don’t worry—I’ll help you make sense of it.
The new Aeroplan system uses dynamic pricing, which means the number of Aeroplan points you’ll have to spend for a trip varies based on demand. If you have status with Air Canada (such as Aeroplan 25K, Aeroplan 50K, or Aeroplan Super Elite), you’ll also receive lower prices than those available to non-status Aeroplan members. The prices listed below are for non-status members during periods of low or average demand, so you can expect to pay around these prices or lower if you have status with Air Canada.
Here are three sweet spots that give you great value for your Aeroplan points.
Trip Idea #1: Short-Haul Within North America
The old Aeroplan system used to charge 7,500 points for short-haul one-ways in Canada or the US, but the taxes and fees added onto those flights were often so high that it made more sense to pay with cash.
The new Aeroplan has reduced the number of points and the cash required for these short-haul flights, making them much more affordable. Here’s how things look for a flight between Toronto and Montreal a few days before Christmas, one of the highest demand times of the year:
The same logic holds for other short trips within North America. Here are a few other similarly priced trips you may want to consider:
- Toronto/Ottawa/Montreal to New York City/Washington D.C.
- Ottawa/Montreal/Halifax to Boston
- Vancouver/Calgary to Seattle
- Toronto to Chicago
- Vancouver to Portland
|Old Aeroplan||New Aeroplan|
|7,500 Aeroplan points|
$100 or more
|5,100 Aeroplan points|
Trip Idea #2: Caribbean & Central America
One of the biggest wins of the new Aeroplan comes when flying to Central American and the Caribbean, since those regions are now treated the same as North America. This means you can get some excellent deals to beach destinations like Mexico or Costa Rica, even from the West Coast.
Here are some examples using prices from the first date I looked at, January 19.
Vancouver to Mexico City for 11,800 Aeroplan points + $88:
Montreal to Cancun for 12,000 Aeroplan points + $96:
Toronto to Panama City, Panama for 12,500 Aeroplan points + $95:
There are a lot of different options to choose from here, so I encourage you to do some searching on your own.
|Old Aeroplan||New Aeroplan|
|22,500 Aeroplan points|
$100 or more
|12,000 Aeroplan points|
Trip Idea #3: Western Canada To Asia
Flights from western Canada to a few east Asian cities have dropped significantly thanks to Aeroplan’s new distance-based pricing. The key is to ensure that your flight falls below the 5,000-mile mark, which you can look up here.
For example, a flight from Vancouver to Tokyo used to cost 37,500 Aeroplan points plus taxes and fees of $100 or more, but now it regularly comes in around the 30,000 mark with just $53 in taxes and fees.
The same goes for Calgary to Tokyo, which costs 30,400 Aeroplan points with $58 in taxes and fees.
The distance between Calgary and Tokyo is about 4,940 miles, so you can’t stretch things much further than that. Still, even these two flights alone offer an excellent gateway to/from Asia that’s significantly more affordable than it used to be.
|Old Aeroplan||New Aeroplan|
|37,500 Aeroplan points|
$100 or more
|30,400 Aeroplan points|
If you plan to take a trip to Europe or Asia in the next 12 months, the Aeroplan Reserve Card is the best choice for you. You’ll save hundreds of dollars on your airfare, and the card’s complimentary worldwide airport lounge access will make your trip more special and more smooth. The $599 annual fee may seem steep, but when you consider that your roundtrip flight will easily cost that much or more, it’s really a no-brainer.
If you don’t plan to go overseas anytime soon, the Aeroplan Card may be a better option. Its 15,000 welcome bonus points are perfect for shorter flights within North America, and with the Air Canada Buddy Pass, you can save an additional $500 or more.
Whichever one you choose, I’m confident you’ll be impressed with what you get from these new cards from American Express and Aeroplan.