Thursday, June 9, 2016

Booking Flights through Aeroplan Frequent Flyer Points

 When it came down to booking our flights for Africa, the first thing I did was check my frequent flyer points.

Frequent Flyer points are a beautiful thing. They usually (not always) save you money and they add options that I can’t always afford when paying outright for flights.

I’ve been saving my Airmiles for over a decade, so I checked there first. It was no surprise that despite having lots of points, I couldn’t get any flights to where I wanted to go. I will talk more about Airmiles in a future post.....probably on a day that I’m in the mood to rant.

The next place I looked was with Aeroplan. Because I use my Aeroplan points fairly frequently, I only had enough points to get two tickets to Cape Town, South Africa. If we wanted the whole family to be on the same flights, it gets really expensive to pay for the other tickets. We decided to travel in pairs, save some money and meet up in Cape Town. Since my eldest son, Graham and I have flexible schedules, we decided to take a bit more time and book using the points.

Points allowed Graham and me to take advantage of one stop-over option as well as having an open jaw itinerary. (An open jaw is when you fly into one place and out of another). Unfortunately, the Aeroplan web site does not have the capabilities to book an open jaw flight together with a stopover; you must use their call centre to book that type of itinerary...and there is a $30 per ticket fee to book through their call centre.

Graham and I decided we wanted to fly from Toronto and have a one week stop-over in Morocco before flying to Cape Town to meet my husband and younger son, Cameron. At the end of the trip we will fly back to Toronto from Nairobi. So we knew the dates and locations we wanted to fly to, so it was time to use our points.

I prepared before dialing Aeroplan’s call centre. 

It’s a good idea to study the flight options for your destination on the Aeroplan site. Their web site shows the same flight options that are available to the Aeroplan phone consultant. Decide ahead of time which flight options you want so that you are not rushed for a decision when on the phone with the Aeroplan consultant.

In my case, there were many possible airline combinations for the three main flight legs of our trip. I studied the details of all the options.

When looking at the options, the Aeroplan site shows you:
1. How many flight changes (layovers) there are.
2. How long each flight takes.
3. Which airports/city the layovers are in.
4. How long between flights.
5. The total number of hours of the layover.   
6. Total travel time from departure to final destination.

Most people look for the most direct route that takes the shortest time to their final destination. I often look for the longest total travel time because this usually means that you have a very long layover somewhere (hopefully somewhere exciting). If the layover is long enough, say 8-20 hours, you can leave the airport and tour the city.  Our family did this on two separate occasions; once in Barcelona and another time in Istanbul. It’s a great way to get a taste of the city.

If you plan to do this, check how long it takes to travel from the airport to the city centre and factor that along with the time it takes to depart the flight and a minimum of two hours to check in for your next flight. Decide if that gives you enough time to see what you want to see.

Graham and I will have an eight hour layover in Lisbon on our flight from Morocco to Cape Town. We will also have a fifteen hour layover in Dubai, on our way home from Nairobi. 

Plan the details of your layover ahead of time. Do the research so that you can maximize your touring time when you are actually there.

Booking on points is not free. You still have to pay for taxes, fees and surcharges. Sometimes you can pay for these by using extra points or you can pay by cash/credit card. These fees vary greatly depending on which airport you are arriving and departing from, what countries you are in and which airlines you are flying. Literally it can mean hundreds or even over a thousand dollars difference in flight itineraries. For example Air Canada has very high surcharges (including a fuel surcharge that hasn’t gone down with the price of gas), whereas Ethiopian Airlines has very low fees.

The best way to get an indication of what the extra costs are is to go on the site and look at how much it costs if you booked each leg of the flight separately.  As I said, this just gives you an indication of the extra fees because more fees are added if you book a whole itinerary instead of booking each flight separately....Don’t ask me why. That is just the way it is.

If you have any questions, comments or advice on this topic, please drop me a line.

I will let you know about how we got a great price that includes a few layovers with my husband and younger son's paid flights in my next posting.

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