My Love-Hate with Aeroplan Continues

I wrote previously on this blog about some frustrations with the Aeroplan program from Air Canada. Now that the travel year is coming to a close, I find myself crossing yet another threshold of elite membership status with Air Canada Altitude program, yet somehow remain frustrated by the reward travel “situation”. I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised last week when I was unexpectedly upgraded to business class for my loyalty, which is a very nice gesture (albeit the first time this has ever happened to me in my years of travelling as an elite member).

I did finally book some reward travel successfully, using a combination of spreadsheets, data feeds, advanced analytics, scenario planning, option assessment and systematic and periodic checking of websites and calls to airline reward agents. Oh, and luck. Does this sound familiar to anyone? In the end, I was very pleased by being able to get business class bookings on Japan Airlines via OneWorld and I almost feel like I won the lottery.

However, I was very much struck by the differences in fees when booking my AAdvantage travel rewards compared to Air Canada. This highlights one of my big pet-peeves about Aeroplan bookings. For the same dates in August 2015, here were the reward flight options with fees:

  • Air Canada reward travel through Aeroplan from Vancouver, Canada to Narita, Japan (Business Class round-trip) taxes and surcharges: 150,000 miles + $591.41 per ticket ($518 in fuel surcharges)
  • Japan Airlines reward travel through AAdvantage from Vancouver, Canada to Narita, Japan (Business Class round-trip) taxes and surcharges: 100,000 miles + $74.97

There have been some good blog entries on mitigating fuel surcharges, which effectively recommend trying to get bookings on a partner airline. The Air Canada and Aeroplan fuel surcharge fiasco is not new, as evidenced from some recent episodes on CBC and articles in the Toronto Star. Most explanations provided are vapid at best, citing increased oil prices and fuel costs. I think the bottom-line is that Air Canada and Aeroplan are separate entities, and somebody negotiated a bad deal between them. This is not a problem that other airlines have, as evidenced from my example above. It really is a joke.

The bottom-line: Air Canada and Aeroplan should be avoided for international travel, or at least set your expectations that your hard earned loyalty results in “cost-deferral” at best.

Congestion at Heathrow: Terminal 5 BA Business Lounge

I have been traveling a lot recently on British Airways and I have very much enjoyed the flights, and in-flight service, in business class. I have flown several times on their new Dreamliner aircraft, both from Toronto and on-ward to Hyderabad – I find it both comfortable and cozy. They have started to become my international airline of choice. Also, I do really enjoy Heathrow Terminal 5, and the Wagamama restaurant there is an oasis for me to get a warm, flavourful and fresh meal. But, I have been avoiding more and more the British Airways Club World lounges in Terminal 5. Now, in all honestly, the British Airways lounges are typically better than average and get pretty decent reviews most of the time. However, I actually prefer to sit at the Wagamama than in the lounge. I find the lounges in the main terminal extremely busy, crowded, and littered with all the leftovers from the hundreds or travellers that must pass through there daily. It just seems like they can’t clean-up as fast as the people who whirl through there. Other reviews on the web have described it as “congested and untidy”, which I think is a very concise and accurate representation of my many visits there. The food and snack options are limited and I have often struggled with the performance of their WiFi service (likely owning to all the people packed in there using it). I also seem to find that many of the Type A or B power plugs (USA-type) do not work in the lounge area, and I often find myself pulling out my German Type F adapter. If you are travelling from the B or C gates in Terminal 5, I highly recommend making your way to the lounge in the B-gates. This tends to be a lot less busy.

A world class lounge… hit by a tornado.

A world class lounge… hit by a tornado.

The bottom-line: Yeah, it’s good. But try and make your way to Terminal B or spend some more effort finding a cozy corner.