American Express' Aeroplan credit cards offer four different options for four different types of travelers. We recommend the AeroplanPlus Gold card for most Canadians, given its low ($120) annual fee and generous 15,000 welcome points bonus, which is enough for a one-way flight anywhere in North America.
Whether you're starting fresh with Aeroplan or looking for a boost for an upcoming trip, the AeroplanPlus Gold card is an excellent choice.
Say you’re a travel savvy Canadian resident looking for credit card options that’ll get you around the world on a budget and you happened to stumble into the Aeroplan credit card. You immediately start wondering what it’s all about; what are its pros and cons, its upsides and downsides, and, in general, how they compare with other American Express credit cards for Canadians.
The name itself, Aeroplan, catches your attention right away and tells you that this is a card for travelers (even if you never heard of it before, the word is a bit of a giveaway), but you ask yourself:
How will it help me travel?
In the following post, I’ll clear everything out for you. We’ll do the math and crunch down all the numbers so you can make an educated decision when choosing the right card for your lifestyle: the one that’ll get you the highest amount of benefits for the least amount of money.
We’ll cover everything from the basics of Aeroplan and Aeroplan miles, to the more interesting and specific aspects of the four American Express Aeroplan Card options (the Standard, Gold, Platinum and Reserve cards).
At the end of the post, we’ll also give you our professional advice on which card is best in which scenario, all this to help you make sense of it all. By the time you finish reading, you’ll be weighing the ups and downs like a pro, and you’ll have learned how to make the best of every option.
To help you navigate through this post, I’ve broken it down in the following sections:
Aeroplan was originally Air Canada’s mileage rewards loyalty program. It was later spun off as an entirely separate company from Air Canada in 2008, continuing to function as the airline’s exclusive loyalty program, but at the same time partnering with other Star Alliance airlines and different travel brands, including hotels, car rentals and consumer goods.
As of today, the company provides its customers the best benefits when flying with Air Canada. However, thanks to is many partners, it also provides plenty of flexibility, allowing travelers to set up itineraries with other airlines that cover over 1,300 different destinations in more than 90 countries worldwide.
If you have ever owned a rewards credit card or are familiar in any way to loyalty programs, you probably already guessed what Aeroplan miles are: They are the “points” or “credits” you earn for every purchase at any of Aeroplan’s partners. In other words, “Aeroplan Miles” are what Aeroplan calls its loyalty reward points.
There are different ways to earn Aeroplan Miles. However, the most obvious way is to fly on a partner airline or to shop at a partner brand, in short, to be loyal to Aeroplan and all its partners (that’s why they call them loyalty programs).
Another great way to earn miles is to use any of the American Express Aeroplan cards, or even other American Express cards like the Gold Rewards card or the Marriott Bonvoy™ card, but we’ll get back to that in a minute. Read on to find out how to maximize your miles, and how to spend them to get the most out of this very popular loyalty program.
American Express partnered with Aeroplan a little while ago to bring forth the Aeroplan Credit Card, also called AeroplanPlus card. This card’s most important feature is the fact that it rewards Aeroplan miles for every dollar spent on any purchase, that go directly to your Aeroplan balance, whether or not you’re purchasing at an Aeroplan partner brand.
If you do decide to shop at a partner brand or pay for flights on partner airlines with your American Express Aeroplan Card, you can still give your Aeroplan number to earn miles in the regular way. If you haven’t put two and two together yet, this means that
…you can earn miles twice on the same purchase if you pay at a partner brand with your Aeroplan credit card, once for using your card, and once for shopping at the partner brand.
Add in Aeroplan’s occasional short time offers that can boost mileage-earning rates to as high as 8 times the normal rate, and you could be earning well over 10 miles for every dollar spent. That’s an almost unrivaled earning rate!
As it happens with so many Amex cards, there are different types of American Express Aeroplan Cards:
Read on to find out the key features of these four cards, their most important pros and cons, and, in general, how they compare in different aspects with each other, and with the other American Express cards we recommend. However, before we dive into the differences that set these cards apart, let’s take a look at the common features they share:
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Below you’ll find a list of the main features that all four AeroplanPlus cards share.
You’ll find that many of the perks on the above list come with other Amex cards as well, not just with Aeroplan cards, so they’ll be more of a plus that comes with choosing American Express. To see the real tiers, we have to look at each one of the Aeroplan Cards separately.
In the table below, you’ll find a summary of the most important characteristics of each of the four American Express Aeroplan Cards:
|Additional Cards||$20||2 for free, $50 for each additional card.||$199||$299|
|Welcome Bonus (Miles)||5,000 (after spending $500)||15,000 (after spending $1,500)||40,000 (after spending $3,000)||50,000 (after spending $3,000)|
|Aeroplan Miles Earning Rate||1 mile per $1 in purchases||1 mile per $1 under $10,000 purchases. 1.25 miles per $1 over $10,000 in purchases||1.25 miles per $1 under $25,000 purchases. 1.5 miles per $1 over $25,000 in purchases||1.25 miles per $1|
|Complimentary Partner Ticket||1 per year (short-haul, up to 15,000 Aeroplan miles)||1 per year (long-haul, up to 25,000 Aeroplan miles)|
|Travel Credit||$200 per year|
|Priority Pass Airport Lounge Membership||✔||✔|
|Aeroplan Priority Booking||✔|
Let’s start squeezing out the info on the table above and see how these cards compare in the most important aspects you should take into consideration when choosing the right card for you:
There are basically two types of Amex cards: Credit cards and Charge cards.
Only the Reserve card is an actual credit card, the rest are charge cards.
A charge card - like the Standard, Gold and Platinum cards - is a card that you have to pay in full every month, or else you will get a high annual interest rate of 30% applied to any unpaid balance. The APR on the Reserve card, on the other hand, is only 19.99% for purchases.
That’s a thumbs-up for the Reserve! However, there are more important things to take into account, in particular if you have a good credit history and always pay your credit cards on time.
You can see right away that there’s a huge difference in the annual fees for each card. Even the Standard card, with its not-too-steep $60 fee, isn’t really cheap, especially considering that there are other Amex cards that’ll give you a lot more benefits for a comparable fee.
If you’re looking for a card with a mid-range fee, you might be tempted to choose the Aeroplan Gold card that goes for $120 a year. However, you’ll get a much better bargain with other options like the American Express Gold Rewards card that’ll cost you $150, but with which you will get $100 in hotel credit and an additional card, for free, that’s worth an extra $50, so the card will pay for itself in no time. You can also transfer your reward points to Aeroplan miles at a 1:1 rate, so you can still earn your beloved miles and trade them in for flight rewards, later on.
The annual fees for the Platinum and Reserve cards are almost prohibitive, but you’ll learn further down this post that the benefits help offset then, at least for the first year. For a long-term credit card, the numbers really don’t add up, in our opinion.
Before comparing the welcome bonuses let’s get an important fact out of the way:
…you have to reach a minimum of purchases charged to your card in order to get the welcome bonus. This means that you won’t have the welcome bonus miles available right away, and it may take a couple of days for the miles to be available in your Aeroplan account even after you do become eligible for the bonus.
This is not an actual downside to the Aeroplan cards because it happens with all other cards as well. Having said that, the Aeroplan card that offers the best bonus to minimum purchase ratio is the Reserve card, which will get you a 50,000 miles bonus after you charge $3,000 to it. The runner up, the Aeroplan Platinum card will get you 10,000 miles less for the same $3,000 of purchases.
However, when you consider that the fee on the Reserve card is 80% higher than the Platinum Card fee (the $400 difference is 80% of $500), but the bonus is only 25% higher, it gets you thinking…
….maybe the Platinum is a better deal than the Reserve.
Don’t decide just yet, there are other things we haven’t factored in.
This is a very important aspect of the different cards, especially if you’re considering a card for the long term. The Standard AeroplanPlus card will get you only 1 mile per $1 spent on any purchase, no matter how often you use your card. You can double that if you give your Aeroplan number at a partner brand, but that’s also true for all other American Express Aeroplan Cards as well.
With the Gold Aeroplan card, you’ll start off at the same 1x rate on the first $10,000 in purchases, but Amex boosts your earning rate to 1.25x on every $1 above those $10,000.
The Reserve Aeroplan card will give you a 1.25x rate, right off the bat, no matter how often you use it, and a 2x rate on a rather short list of eligible Air Canada purchases.
The winner in this category is….
The Platinum Aeroplan card, which starts off at 1.25 miles per $1 of purchases on the first $25,000, then boosts you up to 1.5 miles per $1 above $25,000, on all purchases.
Both the Gold and the Reserve cards offer a complimentary partner ticket once every calendar year. The Gold card for a short haul (worth up to 15,000 Aeroplan miles), and the Reserve card for either a short or a long haul ticket (the latter worth up to 25,000 miles). This is an added, long lasting bonus (unlike the welcome bonus that you’ll only get once), which will help offset the high annual fees of both cards after your first year. The Reserve card also offers $200 in travel credit every calendar year that’ll further help thwart the $900 fee.
Other benefits like Priority Pass Airport Lounge access, Aeroplan Priority booking, Amex Concierge, travel insurance and more, only keep adding value to a card that, all of a sudden, doesn’t look that bad, even for $900 a year.
Now that we’re crystal-clear on how much your Aeroplan miles are worth, and how many miles you can expect to earn with your Aeroplan Credit Cards, let’s do the math and see what the best options are.
We’ll play a little game of worst-case/best-case scenario and calculate how much cash your miles would save you if you spent them in both the worst and the best ways possible. Remember that, in the worst of cases, you would get roughly 1 cent (or $0.01) per mile (it’s actually 0.7 cents, but we’ll round it up make numbers easier to follow), and in the best of cases you would be getting about 4 cents (or $0.04) per mile.
I’m going to break it down in two: the benefits during the first year of card-membership (the short-term benefits) and the benefits after the first year (long-term benefits)
|Card||Annual fee||Welcome Bonus + extra earned miles||
Worst Case Scenario:
Miles x $0.01
Best Case Scenario:
Miles x $0.04
Miles x $0.025
|Standard||$60||5,000 Miles||$50 (net loss of $10)||$200 (net win of $140)||$125 (net win of $65)|
|Gold||$120||15,000 miles||$150 (net win of $30)||$600 (net win of $480)||$375 (net win of $255)|
|Platinum||$500||40,000 + 15,000 (complimentary ticket)= 55,000 miles||$550 (net win of $50)||$2,200 (net win of $1,700)||$1,375 (net win of $875)|
|Reserve||$900||50,000 + 25,000 (complimentary ticket) = 75,000 miles||$750 + $200 (travel credit) = $950 (net win of $50)||$3,000+$200 (travel credit) = $3,200 (net win of $2,300)||$1,875 + $200 (travel credit) = $2,075 (net win of $1,175)|
Notice I also added an average value of 2.5 cents per mile, which is the most likely value an average cardmember will get.
For the long term, neither the Standard nor the Gold cards offer miles bonuses or travel credits, so the only benefits you’ll receive will come entirely from the use you give them. If you use them enough, you’ll obviously be able to accumulate enough miles to offset the annual fee and come out wining in the end, but they won’t pay themselves as they do during the first year.
The Platinum and Reserve cards will give you long lasting benefits that include partner tickets and travel credit (the latter only for the Reserve card):
|Card||Annual fee||Long term benefits||Worst Case Scenario: miles x $0.01 (balance)||Best Case Scenario: miles x $0.04 (balance)||Average: miles x $0.025 (balance)|
|Gold||$120||2 additional cards (worth $100)||$100 (net loss of $20)||$100 (net loss of $20)||$100 (net loss of $20)|
|Platinum||$500||15,000 (complimentary ticket)||$150 (net loss of $350)||$600 (net win of $100)||$375 (net loss of $125)|
|Reserve||$900||25,000 (complimentary ticket)||$250 + $200 (travel credit) = $450 (net loss of $450)||$1,000+$200 (travel credit) = $1,200 (net win of $300)||$625 + 200 (travel credit) = $825 (net loss of $75)|
Just looking at the colors in both tables tells you all you need to know. During the first year, the welcome bonuses on all four cards are more than enough to counterweight the annual fees, even if you redeem your miles in an average way. Among the four cards, the Reserve card is the one that’ll get you the highest amount of savings, easily surpassing $1,000, even after accounting for the $900 fee.
After the first year though, things look a little different. The Platinum and Reserve cards can still pay for themselves with the value of the complimentary partner ticket and the travel credit, but only if you take great care in spending your miles wisely (following our recommendations in this post).
On the other hand, if you redeem your miles carelessly and don’t do the math, you’ll end up losing well over $100 a year, just for having any one of these cards in your wallet.
Earning Aeroplan Miles is easy—all you have to do is follow these simple steps:
Step 1: Sign up for a free Aeroplan card. It takes less than 5 minutes and everyone is accepted.
Step 2: Start earning points by doing any of the following:
These are the most important and effective ways to earn Aeroplan miles. Aeroplan occasionally offers bargains and deals through their partners that increase your mileage-earning rate, but those promotions are usually of short lived so we won’t cover them here.
Before we dive into the American Express Aeroplan Cards, it is essential to be able to estimate how much your miles are really worth, in order to get a clear view of the benefits you’ll receive by signing up to any of the four AeroplanPlus cards.
Aeroplan miles vary in value based on how you use them.
If you’ve read any of our other posts, you may already have an idea as to how to estimate the worth of reward points (or miles in this case). It all boils down to how you redeem them. As mentioned above, Aeroplan offers different ways to spend your miles including flight rewards, car rental, hotel bookings and purchasing different products and services.
Read on to learn the best and the worst ways in which you can use your Aeroplan miles in order to estimate how much they’re worth, while at the same time learning the math behind those estimates.
The best way to redeem miles in Aeroplan is to trade them in for flight rewards, which means paying for flights with miles instead of cash. You could spend hours trying to find good deals that’ll give you more for your miles, but I’ll show you the most important tips that’ll turn you into an Aeroplan flight-hacking guru in no time.
Tip #1: Use your miles for domestic flights, and fly Air Canada whenever possible.
It was only to be expected that the best benefits of using Aeroplan miles should come from trading them in for flights on Air Canada, the company that gave birth to Aeroplan in the first place. However, things aren’t as simple as they seem, as this only applies to domestic flights.
Because Air Canada imposes fuel surcharges on flights paid with Aeroplan miles, which can add up to several hundreds of dollars for international flights, but which are more manageable for domestic flights.
To give you a clearer view of what I mean, let me start by showing you the following international round trip flight from Toronto to Prague on Air Canada, advertised by Aeroplan as a “Great deal” on their landing page:
As you can see, the round trip will cost you 61,800 miles + $597.26 for taxes, fees and surcharges. That means that, besides spending a very large amount of miles, you still have to pay almost $300 in cash for each fare of the round trip!
The same round trip, on the same fight, paid in cash, booked with Air Canada directly would cost $1,066, as shown below.
Ok, let’s crunch some numbers, it’s a lot easier than you think: If you were to use your miles, you would be spending 61,800 miles but you would also have to spend an additional $597.26 in cash. If you were to pay cash only, it would cost you $1,066.28.
This means that the 61,800 miles are saving you the difference of $469, in other words, that
61,800 miles = 1,066 – 597 = $469
At this rate, you would be getting roughly 0.8 cents per mile (all you have to do is divide the worth in cash by the number of miles to get the amount of dollars per mile, than multiply by 100 to get cents).
-Ok, this number alone may not tell you much yet, but you’ll soon find out that you can do way better than that.-
Now let’s take a look at a domestic, long-haul one-way Air Canada flight from Vancouver to Montreal.
To compare these numbers with the above example, since this is a one-way trip, we should multiply everything here times 2. Notice the huge difference in the number of miles (12,500 x 2 = 25,000 compared to 61,800) and in surcharge fees ($73 x 2 =$146 compared to $597), even though the actual price in cash is almost the same ($518 x 2 = $1036 compared to $1,066). This combination boosts the value of your miles.
Using the same logic as before, the 12,500 miles are saving you $518 - 73 = $445, which means you’re getting 3.6 cents per mile.
That’s close to 5 times more than what you would get from a “good deal” on an international Air Canada flight! (I can’t imagine what a bad deal would look like)
Flying domestic on other partner airlines also gives you a good rate, but not as good as an Air Canada flight of equal distance (see summary table a little further down)
Tip #2: Spend your miles on international flights that don’t impose fuel surcharges.
You can see clearly that the problem with Air Canada’s international flights is the surcharge fee.
But, does that mean that you’re limited to using your miles only for domestic flights, if you want to get a good exchange rate?
No, it doesn’t. There are a number of Aeroplan partner airlines that don’t add fuel surcharge fees on international flights, even if you’re paying your ticket with miles. The following list includes some of the best ones
You’ll usually have to pay more miles with these airlines than you would with Air Canada for the same flight plan, but you save hundreds of dollars on fuel surcharges, so you come out wining in the end.
Let me illustrate this with another example, a one-way trip from Toronto to Singapore flying Eva Air. As you can see bellow, this example illustrates two very important differences with the international Air Canada flights: It costs more miles (remember that the 61,800 miles were for the round trip) but only a small fraction of the cash in fees.
With Eva Air, flying from Canada to Singapore can cost you as little as $54 plus 45,000 miles (that’s even better than my previously posted Asia to North America flight for $75 ), instead of the regular price of $747. This gives you a value of 1.5 cents per mile. That’s almost twice as good as flying international with Air Canada (though not as good as flying domestic).
Tip #3: Use your miles for business class flights.
If you like traveling with style and comfort and you can’t suffer economy-class flights, but you still want to save money while you’re at it, then the best way to spend your miles is definitely flying in business class. As you’ll see from our example below, the cost in miles is twice what you would be spending for the economy-class ticket, but the price in cash is more than double whilst the surcharge is not. This combination gets you more value per mile.
In this case, you get 4.1 cents per mile. The same applies when flying business class on the other examples, but I’m sure you get the idea.
The following table summarizes everything I’ve explained so far. In it, you’ll find real examples of the value you can get out of your miles by redeeming them for different flight rewards, including the examples already shown above:
|Flight Plan||Airline||Cost (Booked with the Airline)||Cost (Booked with Aeroplan)||You Save:||Estimated Value (¢ per mile)|
|Aeroplan Miles||+||Taxes, fees and surcharges|
|Toronto (round trip)||Prague (round trip)||Air Canada||$ 1,066||61,800||+||$ 597||$ 469||0.8|
|Vancouver||Montreal||Air Canada||$ 519||12,500||+||$ 73||$ 446||3.6|
|Toronto||Singapore||Eva Air||$ 747||45,000||+||$ 54||$ 693||1.5|
|Vancouver||Montreal||Air Canada (Business class)||$ 1,142||25,000||+||$ 112||$ 1,030||4.1|
|Seattle||New York||United||$ 265||12,500||+||$ 7,5||$ 257.5||2.1|
|Vancouver||New York||Air Canada and United||$ 532||12,500||+||$ 125||$ 407||3.3|
|Vancouver||New York||Air Canada||$ 594||43,100||+||$ 81||$ 513||1.2|
Summary of the estimated value of Aeroplan miles redeemed for different flight rewards. Unless specified otherwise, all flights are in economy class.
The absolute best value comes from flying domestic on Air Canada in business class. After that comes the same flight in economy class. Flying United inside the US is a great way to save both miles and cash, as the said airline doesn’t impose surcharges on its domestic flights.
Another way to redeem your miles is to use them to pay for your hotels. The following is a short list of lodging options in Rome, which you can pay for in full with Aeroplan miles.
This is but a short list of the many available options. The first one, marked as a “Great deal”, normally costs $2.400, but you can pay 259,850 miles instead. In other words
259,850 miles = $2.400
This sums up to 0.92 cents per mile, so it’s really not a good deal, especially considering the insane amount of miles you would be spending. With that amount of miles, you could travel around the world and still have miles left over in the end.
You can also trade in your miles for car rentals, vacations packages and purchases with Aeroplan partner brands, but you’ll never reach even an acceptable value for your miles. In fact, probably the worst way to spend them is to trade them in for a gift card at a partner brand. A $500 gift card will cost you 70,000 miles, giving you an appalling value of 0.7 cents per mile.
In the worst-case scenario, you’ll get a little under a cent per mile. On the other hand, if you spend like a pro, you can easily get away with 4+ cents per mile.
Now that you know how much your miles are worth, let’s go back to the American Express Aeroplan Credit Cards!
If you really want to get an Aeroplan card, we recommend getting the AeroplanPlus Reserve Card for 1 year and no more. The first year is a net win for you -the 50,000 miles bonus + 25,000 miles complimentary partner ticket + $200 travel credit combined are worth about $2,000- but after the first year, the annual benefits simply don't justify the $899 annual fee.
If you're looking for a card that offers lounge access and the Amex Concierge, definitely go for the Amex Platinum instead.
For a card you should keep year after year, we've done the number crunching and firmly believe that the Marriott Bonvoy™ American Express Card is the best card for most Canadians. It offers an exceptional welcome bonus of 60,000 Marriott Bonvoy™ points, and gives you lasting benefits like a free hotel night every year, which you can use at some of the most spectacular hotels in the world.
If you're really keen on building your Aeroplan balance though, we can suggest a couple of alternatives:
If you're savvy, though, you'll skip the AeroplanPlus cards altogether and get the Marriott Bonvoy™ Card today.