Come fly with me (OR NOT).

“Bang!  Bang!  BANG!  Crash!  Splat.  Ouch!  OW!”  Don’t worry.  That’s just the sound of me knocking my head against the wall.   frequent flyerGo on, ask me why.  Just trying to use up some of my frequent flier miles, is all.  HA!!  It would probably be easier for me to call the White House and ask to speak to President Obama.  And I know you feel my pain.

Not too sure anyone likes any airline’s loyalty (frequent flier) program, but I think you’d be hard pressed to find an unhappier group than Aeroplan members.  When it first started up, years ago, it belonged to Air Canada.  Then it split off and became a separate entity, although it’s still for passengers who fly Air Canada and its partner airlines.   Frankly I’ve never understood this whole ownership thing, but it doesn’t matter because it changes nothing.  It’s still a crappy program.  It always was impossible to get a seat on a flight to a destination you want, when you want to travel, and it still is.  And it probably always will be.

I can’t remember the last time I was successful, to be honest.  It was that long ago.  I’ve tried to book short haul flights without success.  Well, let me clarify.  When my aunt passed away last August I tried to book a flight to Montreal, a one-hour flight away.  Because it was last minute it would have cost me more than 300,000 points (no, it’s not a typo).   Of course I didn’t book it.  I know you’re asking yourself why I’d waste any number of points on a short, relatively inexpensive flight.  Well the answer to that question is, because if you don’t use your points by certain dates they punish you by taking a substantial number of them away from you.

You can’t win for losing.  Use ’em or lose ’em.  Except you can’t.  Use ’em, that is.  Unless you’d like to go to some godforsaken spot that doesn’t even show up on a map, at a time of year no one would even consider, on a flight with many, many, many stops.  Then it’s real easy.

Several years ago I tried to book a flight to Vancouver, about three months in advance of when I wanted to go.  All I was offered was a flight with two stops for several hundred thousand points.  So what is normally a five-hour flight would have been more than 12 and I would have spent more points than it would have cost me to fly business class to Australia — presuming I’d been able to use my points for a flight Down Under.  Good luck with that!!

I’ve also tried to book long haul flights (seven hours plus) without success, coming up totally empty.  No difference whether I’m trying to book economy or business class either.

A cousin of mine is getting married in September.  She lives in Vancouver.  No luck.  Not one seat on any non-stop flight is available.  Interestingly enough, though, I can’t tell you how many options I had, on how many flights if I’d been buying a ticket.   No shortage there.  So I decided to amuse myself.

Yes, I’m a masochist.  I decided to see if I could book a flight to Australia, leaving January 11, 2016 and returning February 15, 2016.  Nada!  I know that’s a popular destination, it’s the preferred time to go because it’s summer there and January is, after all, only eight short months away, so I tried to book for January 2017.

Tsk, tsk, my dear.  You should know better.  You can’t book that far in advance.  Yes, yes, we know we tell you it’s essential to book well in advance, but we don’t really mean it.  Surely after all these years you have figured that out.

Then I tried to book Marseilles, leaving October 5, 2015 and returning November 2.  Not the most in-demand time of year, so I figured my chances would be better.  And Marseilles isn’t as popular as Paris, right? Nothing. Tried again.  Tried to book a mid-May 2017 departure and a mid-June 2017 return so I could enjoy all the fields of lavender in Provence.  Guess what.

No booking possible past the third week of April 2017.

Becoming almost manic, I started picking destinations willy nilly.  I wasn’t really going, so who cared.  Cape Town in August 2016?  Try later, no bookings possible after April 2016.  Santa Barbara this June?  Actually got a direct flight going, but could only get 1-stop flights coming home — 14 1/2 hour flight instead of five and a half.  No thanks.  Bologna in the fall?  It’s a longish trip so I thought it would be nice to treat myself to business class.  They’re my points, after all.  I can spend them however I want to, right?  Aeroplan didn’t agree.  Could only get business class on the short portion of the trip — from Frankfurt to Bologna and then from Bologna to Vienna, when it didn’t matter.  The rest of the way it was economy or nothing.

Okay, okay you defenders of Aeroplan (all one or two of you).  I concede that in some instances I could have redeemed some points for a flight or two.  But can you blame me if I don’t want my trip to take three times longer than it would if I was buying a ticket?  Especially when really, I have already paid for the ticket.  I did earn the points by spending money, didn’t I?

So here’s the reality:

  • Don’t even think about trying to book a trip anywhere at the last minute, which means even seven or eight months ahead.
  • Don’t bother trying to use points for short haul or domestic trips.  Never ever.
  • You must book long haul and/or popular destination trips far, far in advance.
  • When far, far in advance doesn’t yield a seat forget about booking far, far, far in advance because you cannot.

In other words, pay for the damn ticket or stay home.


14 thoughts on “Come fly with me (OR NOT).

  1. I feel your pain. Air Canada hasn’t been a good airline for awhile. I used up all of my aeroplan points flying back and forth the Dallas while waiting for my green card 8 years ago. Now we are on American and they are a little better. But even the not popular DFW to YYZ trip is not always available on points. Julie has learned the timing to get points flights and we find we can buy one leg of the trip and use points for the other. All of my flights in my queue on my AA app on my phone are to visit home. I almost threw up when you said 300000 points. That’s ridiculous.

    • Yeah, 300,000. Can you believe such a thing? Really it’s outrageous. Julie’s a pro. You really do have to learn the timing. I don’t do it often enough.

  2. You’ll be (un)happy to know that American Airlines has given me similar grief. So I got creative. I have been purchasing a lot of one way tickets either to yyz or to dfw. I’m sure it annoys AA that I found a small loophole that lets me spend my points. And by booking 7 months in advance I could actually use points for American Thanksgiving. I feel your pain. Makes you wonder why we bother collecting the points…

  3. I swapped to avion points and have been more disappointed.
    We (4 of us, complete shock) flew from Northern Alberta to Orlando in January with about 2 weeks notice using my last aeroplan points. I wish I hadn’t Changed now. Avion offers nothing.

    None of these plans are overly user friendly. Sigh.

  4. I know this is not purely flight’s points….. But I have had success with Airmiles…. I have flown to NYC and Las Vegas without issue….

  5. Even though I’m not at all familiar with the subject in question Fransi, I thoroughly enjoyed the post my lap top was nearly in melt down from your experience.

    • Glad you enjoyed it Chris. Please apologize to your laptop for any discomfort or angst I may have causes 🙂

  6. I have never set foot on a commercial flight yet I can (somewhat) feel your pain. Ridiculous. Not to mention bad publicity and lousy customer service.

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