Alaska Airlines' Mileage Plan miles have long been one of the most desired airline miles on the market. They can be used to book flights on Alaska's huge list of partner airlines, both inside and outside Oneworld. Some of its current partners include American Airlines, Aer Lingus and Singapore Airlines, among many others.
In the past, it even had partnerships with Air France, Delta Air Lines and Emirates, but Air France, Delta and KLM were cut as Delta grew in Seattle (SEA) and Emirates was cut shortly after Alaska joined Oneword. Plus, it has a great award chart with very reasonable prices. You can add stopovers to all international award tickets free of charge, and most partners (excluding British Airways) don't have high fuel surcharges.
For a time, this made Alaska Airlines the place to credit your flights. I loved being able to credit my Alaska, American, Delta and various other carriers to a single airline whose miles were so valuable. I was a United flyer at the time and having one place to credit all my non-United domestic flights was a real treat.
These days, however, Alaska Mileage Plan's glory days are behind us, but a new catch-all program is appearing: Air Canada Aeroplan. This program was completely revamped last year and added a handful of new non-alliance airline partners over the past two years. Plus, it has committed to keeping a standard award chart, added stopovers and axed fuel surcharges.
Here are a few ways that I see Aeroplan slowly becoming the new Mileage Plan — and why it's all good news for the consumer. Plus, I'll hone in on one way that the two programs massively differ.
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A growing list of partners
The biggest similarity I see between Aeroplan and Mileage Plan is the abundance of non-alliance partnerships. Air Canada is a member of Star Alliance, so it already has partnerships with major airlines like United Airlines and Lufthansa. But, we've seen the airline add partnerships with non-alliance carriers too, including:
- Air Serbia
- Cathay Pacific
- Gulf Air
Airlines like Air Serbia, Etihad, GOL and Gulf Air aren't members of any major alliance, so there's a good chance I'll credit my flights on these airlines to Aeroplan. This provides a revenue stream for the airline and gets me engaged in Aeroplan, even as an American traveler who rarely flies Air Canada.
As discussed in the intro, this is once how I treated Mileage Plan. If I had a flight on Air France, American, Delta or Emirates, I would always credit it to Mileage Plan. Nowadays, I still do this for American and Oneworld airlines, but some of its other partnerships were severed when Alaska joined Oneworld.
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Related: Pros and cons of the new Air Canada Aeroplan loyalty program
Predictable award charts with stopovers
Aeroplan and Mileage Plan both have great award charts with free stopovers. On the Aeroplan side, all partner flights are priced in accordance with a zone and distance-based award chart. Simply match the regions you're flying to/from, calculate the distance between your origin and destination and match it to its respective distance band on the published award chart (PDF link).
Mileage Plan also kept a standard award chart for partner redemptions, albeit they're a little bit more confusing. Each partner has its own award chart that you can find on Alaska's website.
Regardless, both programs give you a predictable way to redeem your hard-earned miles for partner flights. Both programs are going against the norm as Delta, United and others have moved to dynamic award pricing.
Likewise, both programs let you add stopovers to your award tickets. Aeroplan lets you mix partners and add a stopover wherever you'd like for 5,000 points on a one-way ticket. On the other hand, Alaska gives you a free stopover on all one-way tickets, but only in the hub city of the airline you're flying. You cannot mix partners on Alaska awards, but you can add a connecting leg on Alaska.
This actually makes Aeroplan better than Mileage Plan in some respects. Stopovers are extremely flexible and you can go so far as to transit another region en route to your final destination. This makes things like Vancouver (YVR) to Sydney (SYD) via Hong Kong (HKG) possible.
Related: 19 things you need to know about redeeming with the new Aeroplan
Aeroplan points are getting easier to earn
One thing that differentiates the two programs, however, is the ease of earning Aeroplan points. Mileage Plan miles have long been some of the hardest airline miles to earn. Beyond transferring from Marriott Bonvoy, you cannot transfer credit card points to Mileage Plan miles.
To contrast, Aeroplan has aggressively added credit card transfer partners. We've long been able to transfer American Express Membership Rewards points to Aeroplan. More recently, Capital One Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards added Aeroplan as a transfer partner too.
This makes Aeroplan points easy to earn, and will undoubtedly bring new customers. Some may say this gives Aeroplan a leg up on Mileage Plan, but it's a double-edged sword. Aeroplan could devalue its program in response to growing mileage balances (and a growing balance sheet). That said, I'm not convinced this will happen in the short term as Air Canada works to gain members.
Related: Why Chase adding Aeroplan is a game-changer for Ultimate Rewards
What's next for Aeroplan?
Aeroplan is starting an international expansion, with a special focus on the U.S. It recently announced that it teamed up with Chase to launch a cobranded credit card for American travelers. This card will likely have a sizable signup bonus and get many Americans to start earning Aeroplan points stateside. Similar to Mileage Plan, this shows us that Air Canada is positioning Aeroplan as a program for all travelers, not just travelers who fly with Air Canada.
I think we will see more changes like this in the future. We may see the airline partner with other domestic U.S. carriers that aren't members of a major alliance. Some contenders include JetBlue and Hawaiian Airlines — both airlines have limited Canadian service and would benefit from an Air Canada partnership.
I think we will also see Aeroplan add more retail partnerships too. The program currently has partnerships with Uber Eats and Starbucks, wherein travelers can earn points while dining. We may see more of these partnerships be added in the future at major Canadian and American retailers where it can both generate revenue and expand its footprint.
Unfortunately, one negative change is coming too. Soon, Air Canada fliers will earn Aeroplan points based on the cost of their flight, similar to what we see with American, Delta and United. Alaska is keeping a distance-based earning for the time being, but only time will tell how long this sticks.
Related: Cash cow: Why loyalty programs are a lifeline for airlines and hotels during COVID
In my eyes, Aeroplan is slowly becoming the next Mileage Plan. Air Canada is constantly adding lucrative new partnerships and consumer-friendly changes that make Aeroplan points attractive for all travelers, even if they don't travel to Canada. This is similar to Mileage Plan circa-2016 and in stark contrast to what we're seeing at most major North American airlines.
I hope to see Aeroplan continue to make positive changes over the coming years. While its future move to revenue-based points earning isn't great, I am excited to see the airline add new partnerships, expand on its existing partnerships and launch new credit cards. Only time will tell what's next.
Feature photo by Andrew Kunesh / The Points Guy
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.