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Minimizing Aeroplan taxes, fees and surcharges is one of the best ways to maximize the value of your Aeroplan miles. Taxes, fees and surcharges are those pesky charges tacked on to an award ticket when you exchange miles for travel. They can range from a few dollars to several hundred, and are perhaps Aeroplan members’ greatest irritants.

Taxes, fees and surcharges

Every Aeroplan redemption attracts taxes and fees. Examples include departure, immigration and sales taxes, and fees for airport improvement, security, service and navigation. These vary according to a number of influences and it’s difficult to avoid them, short of bypassing certain airports or countries, or limiting the number of stops.

Some Aeroplan redemptions attract fuel surcharges. Some redemptions don’t have any at all. Why is that? Well, when airlines price their tickets, the cost of fuel is one of the factors taken into consideration. Some carriers express that cost as a fuel surcharge and others simply build it in as a cost of doing business. When a fuel surcharge exists, some airlines pass it on to their frequent flyer program members on redemptions, and some don’t.

It is Aeroplan’s policy to apply the same fuel surcharges for flights on those Star Alliance airlines that the respective airlines charge within their own frequent flyer programs. Airlines with fuel surcharges on redemption tickets are Air Canada, Adria Airways, ANA, Asiana Airlines, Austrian Airlines, LOT Polish Airlines, Lufthansa, TAP Portugal and THAI. Until such time as the other Star Alliance member airlines apply fuel surcharges within their own frequent flyer programs, Aeroplan award flights on these carriers are exempt from fuel surcharges.

Therefore, there are two secrets to minimizing taxes, fees and surcharges:

  • knowing which airlines do NOT have fuel surcharges on award tickets; and
  • how to find itineraries with these carriers.

An example WITHOUT fuel surcharges

Last week I booked award travel between Canada and Turkey for September 2015. Taxes, fees and surcharges on various itineraries in economy class at the Aeroplan site were as high as $766.71 (CAD) for a return redemption. For the itineraries I selected, I paid a total of $86.91 (taxes and fees only, NO fuel surcharges). The full cost of the cheapest revenue tickets listed at Kayak was $1270. The price of a return ticket with the exact flights I booked was $2084.

Tips on minimizing taxes, fees and surcharges

Based on my experience, here are some tips on how to make Aeroplan redemptions as successful as possible. Given the focus of this post, “successful” means those with NO fuel surcharges.

Start early. Award seats are first loaded 356 days ahead of departure date. When more than one seat is needed, especially on popular routes, it’s wise to start looking as closely as possible to the first release date. Not all Star Alliance partners load award seats at the 356-day mark so checking back in those early days is advisable. Additional seats can become available throughout the year but I’ve found that the online inventory of itineraries at fixed mileage levels tends to diminish in both quantity and quality the closer departure day looms. Start as early as possible.

Invest time. Before 2004 and the application of fuel surcharges, my selection criteria included total travel time, number of stops, and connecting times between flights. Departure and arrival times were also considered. Applying these criteria was easy, as a quick glance at each outbound and inbound itinerary posted on the Aeroplan site gave me what I needed to make a selection.

While these criteria are still relevant, it’s become necessary to consider the significant impact that taxes, fees and surcharges can have on redemption tickets. Unlike United’s site that displays the taxes and fees with each itinerary on offer (United doesn’t have fuel surcharges), the Aeroplan site isn’t as user friendly. It’s necessary to delve further by clicking the “SELECT” button to reveal what taxes, fees and surcharges are due.

Aeroplan search resultsAnother click on “Taxes, fees & surcharges” reveals a breakdown of these charges. Therefore, searching for a worthy redemption can take time – from a couple of hours to a painstaking process spread over a couple of days. Or, it may be over a couple of months if it involves checking back to see if any award seats have been added to the inventory.

Aeroplan itinerary with no fuel surcharges

Choose airlines with NO fuel surcharges. At the present time, Aeroplan does not levy fuel surcharges on flights with Agean Airlines, Air China, Air India, Air New Zealand, Avianca El Salvador (TACA), Brussels Airlines, COPA, Croatia Airlines, EgyptAir, Ethiopian Airlines, EVA Air, Scandinavian Airlines, Shenzhen Airways, Singapore Airlines, South African Airways, Swiss, TAM Airlines, Turkish Airlines and United.

Star Alliance partners

While this list may appear extensive, in reality Air Canada flights dominate the inventory of award seats and it can take some digging to find flights with these other carriers.

Examine outbound and inbound flights separately. Start by selecting a one-way trip. This is the only way to find out what taxes, fees and surcharges are payable for each portion of the trip. Once the most attractive outbound itinerary with the lowest taxes, fees and surcharges has been identified, it can be combined with the best inbound itinerary (with the lowest taxes, fees and surcharges). Insert the necessary information to activate the search feature (departure and destination airports or cities, dates and preferred cabin).

Aeroplan search

If award travel is available, an inventory of possible itineraries will be revealed on the next page. Some will be identified as Air Canada itineraries, and others as “Multiple Airlines.” To obtain more information about the carriers, flight numbers, stops and connecting times, it will be necessary to click on “DETAILS”.

Aeroplan itinerary - details viewFor international travel, I don’t bother with any of the Air Canada itineraries (with the exception of those within Canada, or between Canada and the USA). These itineraries contain only Air Canada flights that cumulatively produce hefty fuel surcharges. In the interests of time, I’ll often ignore those “Multiple Airlines” itineraries with a departure time that I know to be a long-haul trans-Atlantic Air Canada flight. For example, there’s a direct flight from Halifax to Heathrow that leaves at the same time each day. If my final destination is in Europe, this flight taints the rest of what can be a relatively short journey after Heathrow.

Avoid trans-Atlantic or trans-Pacific flights with Air Canada (or other carriers with fuel surcharges) at all costs.

If no success, search in segments. Let’s say you want to travel from Halifax to Istanbul, and a one-way search reveals an inventory consisting exclusively of Air Canada flights. Your next step will be to break the journey into segments. Search Toronto to Istanbul, or Toronto to Cairo, or Halifax to Boston, and then Cairo or Boston to Istanbul, and so on. The objective is to find airlines without fuel surcharges that regularly fly these routes. This kind of search will invariably uncover flights with United, EgyptAir and Turkish Airlines. You’ll have to enlist the services of the Aeroplan Contact Centre to book your ticket, but the $30 fee will be much less than what you’d pay in fuel surcharges.

Record and shortlist possibilities. Arm yourself with a pen and notepad, and make notes. I find it helps to record dates, airports and flights having potential, as well as those that don’t. With a thorough search, it’s easy to forget where you’ve already been and covering the same ground twice only adds to the challenge. Write down just enough information to differentiate between flights. Your search may be spread over a few days, and you’ll need to be able to return to the inventory to select your best options. Aim for a shortlist containing your best options.

Book without delay. A few nights ago, I helped a friend find a flight to Fort Lauderdale for the day before the departure of her cruise in February. It was a direct flight (rare from Halifax) on a ClassicFlight Reward with a fixed mileage of 12,500 miles. The departure and arrival times were very convenient. It was late at night so my friend waited until the following morning to book online and by that time it had disappeared. Once you find an attractive redemption and you’re in a position to book, do so without delay.

Two one-way or one return booking(s)? A one-way redemption is now half the rate of a return redemption. At last. For example, my trip to Turkey in economy class cost 75,000 miles, 37,500 each way. Once I applied all my selection criteria and identified my best outbound and inbound itineraries, two one-way redemptions attracted $86.91 in taxes and fees. There were no fuel surcharges. One return redemption containing identical itineraries cost $101.91 in taxes and fees.

Lunch at Anadolu Kavağı overlooking the Bosphorus in IstanbulI booked two one-way redemptions and saved myself $15. $15 goes a long way in Turkey. It will be more than enough to cover the costs of a full cruise of the Bosphorus up to the picturesque village of Anadolu Kavağı and a beautiful seafood lunch overlooking the entrance to the Black Sea. I can’t wait.

Be flexible with dates, and departure and destination airports. Being tied to specific dates, and just one departure airport in each direction can limit the options. For example, I’m currently working on an open-jaw redemption for a return trip to Spain in May 2015. Ideally, I had wanted to fly into Palma de Mallorca and return from Málaga. There’s not one online itinerary available for less than $600 in taxes, fees and surcharges. A call to the Aeroplan Contact Centre didn’t reveal any others. Most of the itineraries are dominated by airlines with fuel surcharges – Air Canada, Lufthansa and TAP Portugal. Adding a few days in Barcelona to my travel plans (a bonus) paved the way for a one-way redemption into Barcelona a few days earlier for $86.61 with United. I’m still working on the return. It’s getting complicated, as just about every itinerary out of Málaga, Valencia, Barcelona, Madrid and Lisbon shows flights dominated by those same three carriers with high fuel surcharges.

Look for routings dominated by carriers with NO fuel surcharges. Chances are that most outbound itineraries originating in Canada will have an Air Canada flight as the first one. That’s OK because Air Canada flights within North America attract fuel surcharges of just $27 per direction, and there’s a good chance that charge will be eliminated with the additional flights you book on carriers without fuel surcharges. That was the case with my trip to Turkey. The Halifax to Montreal and Montreal to Halifax segments didn’t attract any fuel surcharges. Jeff at Canadian Kilometers does a good job of explaining how this works.

Look for a routing with a short-haul first flight to a hub where it’s more likely to find carriers without fuel surcharges. My travel mate from Edmonton who is part of our Turkey adventure found a perfect example. Her one-way outbound itinerary consisted of a short-haul United flight to Chicago, then a long-haul Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul. For a one-way redemption, she paid $89.61 in taxes and fees (no fuel surcharges).Aeroplan itinerary without fuel surchargesHad she chosen the itinerary with an Edmonton to Heathrow first flight with Air Canada and a Turkish Airlines second flight to Istanbul, she would have paid $350.61.

Aeroplan itinerary with high fuel surchargesBe creative. A high fuel surcharge can be seen as a barrier or an opportunity. For example, my trip to Spain next spring is proving to be a challenge because of so many itineraries dominated by Lufthansa, TAP Portugal and Air Canada. Most one-way inbound redemptions attract $350 in taxes, fees and surcharges.

By playing with the dates, I found an itinerary with SWISS via Boston for $72 with a 14-hour overnight stop in a city with incredibly high accommodation costs. An expensive overnight stop that adds very little to the travel experience cancels out what I would gain by choosing this option. Unless I reach into my cache of hotel loyalty points and book a hotel within close proximity of Logan International Airport, I’ll likely pass on this option.

Alternatively, I looked at European hubs with the best chance of finding itineraries dominated by carriers such as SWISS, Brussels Airlines, Scandinavian Airlines, Turkish Airlines and United. The Aeroplan site revealed a few possibilities, and a quick glance at Rome2Rio and Skyscanner gave me a sense of the best and cheapest ways to reach a hub where spending a few days would enrich my trip.

For example, a one-way redemption from Geneva to Halifax with United costs $60.20 in taxes and fees (no fuel surcharges). Skyscanner shows a direct flight at a reasonable time of day from Málaga to Geneva for $43 (USD). With an arrival time of 11:30 am in Geneva, I can easily take a train from the airport to central station – a six-minute journey. There’s a hostel with good reviews an eight-minute walk from the station for $40 per night. All this tells me I can spend a few enjoyable days in Geneva for roughly what it would cost in taxes, fees and surcharges returning home directly from Málaga.

Use the Aeroplan Contact Centre as a resource. There have been times I’ve found agents at the Aeroplan Contact Centre to be extremely helpful. If I can’t find award travel out of my departure city, but I can out of New York or Montreal or Toronto, I know that as a backup, I can always call Aeroplan to see if an agent can piece together an itinerary with all the flights I’ve found. Or, perhaps an agent can find other flights but from what I’m told, they have access to the same itineraries appearing online. But experience tells me those itineraries don’t always appear unless I go looking for them in shorter segments involving different airports and routes.

For example, this week I tried to book return travel between Halifax and Taipei at the Aeroplan site. My return date was somewhat flexible and I found an attractive return itinerary consisting of EVA and United flights, and a short final flight with Air Canada. The taxes and fees (no fuel surcharges) amounted to $43.60.

Taipei to HalifaxAs I am already making the two-hour drive to the airport to take a visitor for his flight home to Australia on March 4, that is my preferred outbound departure date. Unfortunately, I could find no itineraries with acceptable taxes, fees and surcharges leaving Halifax on or close to that date. In fact, in an entire 15-day period, there was just one. However, I did find an itinerary out of Toronto for $103.36 and plenty of award seats from Halifax to Toronto but none of these appeared online with a multi-city search (Halifax – Toronto – Taipei – Halifax). I called the contact centre, gave the exact dates and flight numbers of the three different itineraries I’d found, and the agent was able to piece together a booking. And I am able to take the same first flight as our international visitor. How convenient.

I prefer to use Aeroplan’s online system because I can search at my leisure and when I find what I’m looking for, I can make my own booking without incurring the booking fee. However, when availability is limited and an itinerary gets complicated, the Aeroplan Contact Centre can be very useful. Sometimes, an agent can provide enough information where it’s possible to return to the website and take it from there. However, if the agent makes a booking, the service costs $30 ($34.50 tax included).

In conclusion

There are some informative sites where successful travel hackers share advice on this subject. The FlyerTalk Air Canada/Aeroplan Forum is interesting, and Canadian Kilometers has some very useful information. CreditWalk has several articles on getting the most out of Aeroplan. I also like Don’t Call the Airline, Pointshogger and Travel Hacking for Canadians

UPDATE: For more information, see a more recent post titled How to avoid Aeroplan fuel surcharges. You may also be interested in 25 Tips on earning Aeroplan miles.

To summarize tips on minimizing Aeroplan taxes, fees and surcharges:

  • Start as early as possible.
  • Have a list of airlines WITHOUT fuel surcharges close at hand.
  • Search for outbound and inbound itineraries separately. If limited success, search in segments.
  • Shortlist and prioritize possibilities.
  • If it gets complicated, call the Aeroplan Contact Centre.
  • When a selection has been made, book without delay.
  • Spend what’s saved on fuel surcharges on enjoying the rest of the trip.  (I know I will, including hot air ballooning in Cappadocia…)

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What is your experience in booking successful redemptions? If you have additional tips or thoughts, please comment.

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