Effective 06 September, two-cabin flights coded as “first class [O]” require three-cabin first class redemption rates when using Air Canada Aeroplan miles.
I discovered the new policy while attempting to book a relatively straightforward award trip for a client traveling to Eastern Europe. Theoretically, the trip should have been bookable on Aeroplan’s website, but the search engine was just not pulling up the combo of flights I was looking for, so I picked up the phone and called Aeroplan.
The agent could not see availability on one of the flights I found, but after instructing her to manually book it, the preferred flight returned as confirmed, as well as the rest of the itinerary. But then she quoted me 145K miles instead of 105K miles. This has happened before (though generally it happened when booking online and required a call to fix), so I gently corrected her, telling her that 105K was the correct amount, and asked her how she arrived at 145K.
The agent explained because one two-hour flight on United Express was booked into first class [O class], the award would be charged at the first class, rather than the business class [I class] rate. I told her that Aeroplan has always priced two-cabin “first class” on trans-border, Mexico, and U.S. domestic flights as business class, and she agreed but stated, “We recently changed the policy.”
I asked for a supervisor and she happily transferred me to a nice guy who verified the new rule in place. In fact, he pulled up the memo on his computer and read it to me verbatim. I did not copy it down or record the call, but essentially due to “revenue inequality” Air Canada has been “forced” to charge first class rates on domestic U.S. flights because the costs became “too much too bear” for the Aeroplan program. I asked where this policy was published and the agent sheepishly stated that I would not find this info anywhere on the Aeroplan or Air Canada website.
This represents a notable devaluation in benefits for North American travelers (and Chinese travelers, as Air China also codes two cabin aircraft as first class and economy class). Not only have domestic first class redemptions in the U.S. now increased from 50K to 70K miles round-trip, but if you are booking a business class award from Los Angeles to Washington to Frankfurt you will now be stuck in economy class on the five hour Los Angeles to Washington flight even though you will be paying the same number of miles. My poor clients going to Eastern Europe will now have to make and additional connection because the non-stop flight I found for them was only available in first class.
Singapore pulls a similar stunt with their Kris Flyer program and though I object to it, some blame should fall on United and US Airways for coding a business class product as “first class” in the first place. Continental codes its domestic premium product as business class, meaning that at least for now you can still get up front on Continental when booking intra-North American segments of a business class Aeroplan award (and of course on Air Canada). Maybe this policy change might urge United and US Airways to start coding domestic first class as business class [I] rather than first class [O].
But I have a huge problem with Aeroplan stealthily making this policy change without notifying Aeroplan members or the public. I consider that a bait and switch tactic and I will steer my clients away from transferring American Express points to Aeroplan whenever possible (though with Continental no longer an option, I sadly suspect I will be doing a lot of business with Aeroplan in the months and years to come.)
So keep this new policy in mind when booking an award—make every effort to book on Continental for your domestic flights or book out of an international gateway city so you do not find yourself on a long flight in economy even though you are paying for a premium cabin.