So Long Aeroplan AND Air Canada, Hello United Mileage Plus

February 3, 2014

A year ago around this time I posted a blog entry about while I was fed up with Aeroplan, I was going to continue crediting miles to that program to ensure that I would get Elite Status on Air Canada. My reasoning back then was that since Steven was going to get his status on United, we would “diversify” our benefits between the two airlines (e.g. I would still earn Air Canada e-Upgrade credits to upgrade us when we flew on Air Canada metal).

Well it’s now a year later, and I’ve made a total 180-turn on this decision. I did fly over 50,000 miles last year on Star Alliance carriers so I am Air Canada “Altitude” Elite 50K for 2014, but I expect that this will be the last year that I have Altitude status. From now on, all Star Alliance flights that I fly will be credited to United Airlines Mileage Plan.

There are many reasons why I came to this decision, but it comes down to Air Canada / Aeroplan getting worse, and United’s Mileage Plus looking better and better:

Air Canada / Aeroplan Getting Worse

What do you mean I'm not getting full points for this flight? Recent decisions by Aeroplan will make it much harder/more expensive to get full status miles for my flights. More and more Air Canada fare buckets have been moved from Flex fares (which earn 100% status miles) to Tango fares (which earn 25%-50% status miles). That generally means that it will end up costing more to get 100% status miles on a flight. Fewer status miles per flight = more flights needed to achieve status! But an even more draconian move by Aeroplan is that the cheaper fare buckets when flying on United metal will now only earn 50% status miles. Previously these always earned 100%. What this means is that if I were to book a “cheap” United flight from Toronto to Denver, which is about 1300 miles, I would only earn 650 status miles on Aeroplan. No thanks! I would rather get the full 1300 miles by crediting to United!

Downgrades on e-Upgrades. I’m finding Air Canada’s e-Upgrades less and less useful. With Air Canada elite status you get a certain number of ‘e-Upgrade” credits which you can use to upgrade flights from economy to business class. Of course, there are only so many seats in business, so the upgrade is far from guaranteed. I’ve found for most of my flights (the odd time I do fly on Air Canada metal) I get “trumped” by Air Canada elites with “higher” status, so by the end of the year some e-Upgrade credits end up going to waste. And now to add insult to injury, Air Canada is now charging a cash “add-on” fee of $500 to $750 for using e-Upgrades outside of North America, unless you are on a very expensive fare or have the highest 100K Super-Elite status. That makes the e-upgrade credits even less valuable!

United / Mileage Plus Looking Better

Economy Plus baby! United has a section at the front of Economy on most of their planes that provides a few extra inches of legroom. It’s certainly not business class (or even “Premium Economy”), but it’s definitely more comfortable, especially on long-haul flights in a bulk-head or exit row! United only allows their 50K or higher elites to book these seats for free in advance. (25K members can have free access to these seats when they check in). As a Star Alliance Gold member through Aeroplan (or Aegean for that matter), you cannot book these seats for free. Depending on the distance and seat, the extra charge can be from $30 to $200. If I’m flying with Steven (who is 75K United Platinum) I get access to the seats for free, but if I’m flying alone I’m SOL. (For example - we have a trip planned to Bangkok in April which is on United metal from Toronto to Chicago and onward to Tokyo (and then on ANA to Bangkok). To purchase the bulkhead Economy Plus seats (with lots of legroom) for the trip would have been an extra $400, but we got them for free).

Business class baby! Unlike Air Canada’s frustrating e-Upgrade process, United automatically provides upgrades to Business Class for their North American flights. Of course, again since there are a limited number of seats in the cabin there is a “pecking order” for getting these upgrades, and lower elites have a harder time of getting them. But at least it’s done automatically — and Steven has found that he gets upgraded on over half of his flights (it helps that we fly out from Toronto and not a major United hub!). When I fly with Steven on the same PNR I do get put on the upgrade list as well, but generally much lower on the list. Having United status (even if it 50K to Steven’s 75K) will bump me up a bit higher when I fly with him (and will put me on the list in the first place when I fly alone).

I want my status NOW!!! It’s a bit frustrating/confusing when I check in for flights with my United number on my reservation, since I currently have no status with them. Even though I have Star Alliance Gold through both Air Canada and Aegean, not having Star Alliance Gold on my reservation can cause problems when trying to check in my bag for free or when entering the lounge. (Some agents seem ok with giving me the Star Alliance Gold benefits while crediting to another program, while others claim it’s a problem). Thankfully I will be getting United 50K Gold status soon through their challenge program. Steven explains his experience with it in this post. I will use my status on either Cathay Pacific (which I got through my Platinum Amex) or my status on Alaska Airlines (which I got through a status match request to my Air Canada status) to register for the United Challenge. I need to credit 12,500 miles to United (and FLOWN on United) within a 90-day period from the start of the challenge to get to keep United Gold status for the rest of the year. Since Steven and I are flying to Bangkok on United in March, this won’t be a problem! (Toronto-Chicago-Tokyo are on United metal while Tokyo-Bangkok is on ANA, but even the routing to Tokyo will give me enough miles to pass the challenge)

All that said, there are lots of knocks against United Mileage Plus as well. They recently revamped their rewards chart, and now business and first class rewards on their partner airlines cost substantially more miles to redeem. Do doubt this does suck, but on the positive side United does not charge any Fuel Surcharges when redeeming rewards. So while some reward itineraries might take fewer Aeroplan miles than United miles to book, the Aeroplan booking would require a payment of hundreds of dollars for the Fuel Surcharges, so in the end it may even out.

Thoughts? Am I doing the right thing ditching Air Canada and Aeroplan for good?

This article is in the category: Loyalty Programs.



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