I am a bit of a sucker for crazy trips and routings, like visiting every county in Ohio in under 24 hours or jumping in all 5 Great Lakes in one day. So when I read about Nick Reyes’s trip over on Frequent Miler visiting 6 countries on 5 airlines all one ticket, I was immediately intrigued. My son had wanted to go to Japan for our solo long-distance trip, and I thought an Aeroplan award could be a perfect opportunity for this.
Aeroplan award chart
Aeroplan’s award chart (PDF) currently has 4 different zones:
- North America
- South America
- Atlantic (Europe, Africa and Western Asia)
- Pacific (the rest of Asia and Oceania)
While their award chart has a variety of different options, the one I was most interested in was from the North America to the Pacific Zone, over 11,000 miles, in business class, for 115,000 Aeroplan points. I knew based on Nick’s research that I could fly EASTBOUND from the Eastern United States to Japan on this ticket, and that as long as my routing was “reasonable” and wasn’t more than twice the straight line distance that it should ticket for 115,000 points. And I would be able to build in any number of 23 hour layovers along the way.
Then I had to see what my son thought. I asked him if he would rather spend a couple of extra days in Japan, or if he would rather take more business class flights and see more destinations in a shorter period of time. Most of my other kids have flown business class before but for the trips I’ve taken with this particular kid, he’s never flown business class, so he was pretty excited about that as an option.
Exploring options to Japan
So with the basic idea in place, I started looking at options. Originally I had the idea to do an Aeroplan award one way and fly premium economy (probably DFW-NRT) the other way. But whereas initially I swear I saw plenty of availability AA’s premium economy for 45K AA miles, which seemed like a decent deal, by the time I was ready to book, all that availability was gone.
So then I started thinking about doing 2 Aeroplan awards (or 1 roundtrip award). I also considered an ANA round the world award, but with the added 30% bonus promotion from Chase to Aeroplan and Air Canada’s additional partners, I thought that would be the way to go.
Finding Aeroplan award availability
Finding Aeroplan award availability was a bit challenging. Aeroplan’s website is actually pretty good, as long as you search segment by segment. I started looking at availability on routes and dates and writing it down in a giant Excel spreadsheet. It was both a help and a hindrance that I had pretty much total flexibility on dates and even the routing. In looking at Nick’s 3 Cards, 3 Continents trip, he went to Cairo, Istanbul, Muscat, Abu Dhabi, Bangkok and Singapore (I think?), all on one ticket. Much of that routing seemed perfect for what I was trying to do as well.
The trip started taking shape:
- First, I knew I wanted to end up in Japan. The 2 things my son wanted to do were a “Mario Kart” on-street go kart tour in Tokyo and visiting Super Nintendo World in Osaka. So I had flexibility there. Ideally we would go into one and out the other, taking the Shikansen Bullet Train in between.
- For logistical reasons we wanted to go in either March or April
- The first thing that firmed up was flying from Washington to Cairo. That was the first leg of Nick’s trip as well and that sounded amazing. Flying from Washington also made sure it was on EgyptAir’s 787 which looked much better than the 777 (no flat beds!) from New York.
There was actually a ton of business class availability on IAD-CAI, but the route only flys Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. So that started to set some constraints for the rest of the trip. Initially I wanted to follow Nick to Istanbul, but as I continued down the booking, I had to cut that leg, since the availability wasn’t great and also the extra day it added to the trip made it not work out for what I was trying to do. I mostly used Aeroplan’s site to check award availability, but I also occasionally used United for the month-long view. Etihad’s site was also super useful and easier to see availability weeks at a time. I learned that if it shows a price around 200,000 Etihad Guest miles, it would show up for Aeroplan. If a given date was closer to 800,000 miles, it would not
Calling to book an Aeroplan award
I finally found all of the availability for an award that I thought would work. It was a bit challenging to piece it all together, but it was also kind of fun as well :-). I finally settled on an itinerary on a Tuesday evening, and I thought I would try calling the Aeroplan service center then (800-361-5373). I tried twice on Tuesday night but each time I got an automated notice basically saying “we’re too busy, call back later”.
I thought that did not bode well, but called back at 8 a.m. on Wednesday morning. I was on hold waiting for an agent for about 2 hours. Finally someone picked up, and I walked her through the segments I wanted to book. It started out well but then… disaster! One of the segments was not showing up for her, even though it was showing up on the website. We talked about it back and forth and I thought for awhile that the itinerary was doomed and I’d have to go back to the drawing board.
But then she put me on hold to “try a few things” and came back with an alternative. We could take a later flight on one of the segments and that allowed the main segment to Tokyo to be bookable. I assume that this was some sort of “married segments” rule but it was hard to see or understand. This later flight was not IDEAL but it was doable. She priced it out and it was correct, and I transferred over my Ultimate Rewards points. It was 354,000 Ultimate Rewards points which, with the current 30% bonus yielded just over 460,000 Aeroplan points. When she saw my balance, she initially thought I had misunderstood it to be 230,000 points per person but then I told her that no, I was booking another trip!
This first itinerary wouldn’t ticket for some reason so she was going to call her ticketing desk. I asked if we could put the other segment on hold at least before she did that, and she said that was fine. She also explained that it was probably better to book it as a roundtrip since I’d only have to pay the $30 booking fee once. By this time we had been on the phone for about 45 minutes (plus the 2 hours I was on hold waiting). I actually had to leave my house for another appointment but I took my computer and her on the phone with me. The second half of the trip went much smoother, apart from one segment where I mistakenly gave her the wrong dates.
She put me on hold to call the ticketing office and then returned shortly with the good news – itinerary ticketed! Total time on the phone: 3 hours, 17 minutes and 36 seconds. I mean that’s a lot of time but still 2 hours less than I was waiting for Taylor Swift tickets last week 🙂
The final itinerary and cost of an Aeroplan award
Here was our final itinerary:
- Washington DC to Cairo, Egypt (EgyptAir, 10h30m, Business)
- Cairo, Egypt to Abu Dhabi, UAE (EgyptAir, 3h15m, Regional Business – recliner seats)
- Abu Dhabi, UAE to Tokyo, Japan (Etihad, 10h05m, Business)
- Osaka, Japan to Seoul, South Korea (Asiana, 1h50m, Economy)
- Seoul, South Korea to Abu Dhabi, UAE (Etihad, 9h50m, Business)
- Abu Dhabi, UAE to Washington, DC (Etihad, 14h20m, Business)
- Washington DC to Cincinnati (United, 1h40m, Economy)
We’ll have long (23 hour ish) layovers in Cairo and Abu Dhabi. The Seoul and 2nd Abu Dhabi trip will be shorter layovers where we probably won’t leave the airport. We do need to book the initial flight from Cincinnati to Washington separately because the ideal flight left a 24 hour and FIVE MINUTE layover which was just barely too long to fit onto this ticket. But that’s okay – we’ll use that to do some Washington DC sightseeing (he’s never been) and update the best way from IAD to Washington DC with the new Silver Line extension.
The two adjustments that we had to make were first the Cairo to Abu Dhabi flight. Originally I wanted to take an earlier Etihad flight, and it showed up on Aeroplan’s website but for some reason it wouldn’t book for the agent. She found this later EgyptAir flight which was able to be included. It’s not ideal that it’s an overnight (ish) flight in recliner seats arriving at 4am UAE time but we’ll make it work. The other problem was on the return leg – I originally told her that the Seoul – Abu Dhabi and Abu Dhabi – Washington flights were on consecutive days, but I had written that down wrong in my spreadsheet. The combination of an early morning flight out of Seoul and flying westward means that those two flights are actually on the SAME day.
The final cost (per ticket) was 177,000 Ultimate Rewards points. With the 30% bonus, that turned into 230,100 Aeroplan miles. That was enough for two 115,000 mile tickets. The taxes and fees were $146.44 per ticket. That includes the $30 phone partner booking fee, which there’s no way to get around since complicated awards like this are not bookable online. The agent actually quoted me $391.40 for the 2 tickets, which I was still happy to pay, but then I realized she was quoting me the price in CANADIAN dollars. It was only $292 in “real” money 🙂
The Bottom Line
I know this kind of trip does not appeal to everyone and that’s totally fine. You travel how you want to travel and let me travel how I want to travel. Frankly, I’m not 100% sure this kind of trip appeals to ME :-). But I did enjoy watching my son’s face as I explained to him all the places we were going and things we were going to do (I had only talked about vague ideas since I wasn’t sure what the routing / availability would allow). So I’ll give a full report in a few months of how it went.
Have you booked an Aeroplan award in 2022 or 2023? How did it go? Leave your experience in the comments
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