Aeroplan Customers Can Now Pay Fees With Points But Some Still Feel Gouged

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​Aeroplan members can finally fly completely cash-free.

The travel rewards program now allows customers to use points instead of cash to cover those pesky added airline fees like taxes and fuel surcharges.

In the past, many Aeroplan customers have complained that extra fees can lead to a charge of hundreds of dollars for what was supposed to be a free flight.

But not all customers are flying high after hearing the latest news.

That's because for flights with big fees, the extra points required can sometimes add up to more than the points needed for the actual flight.

air canada

(Photo: Canadian Press)

For example, CBC News scoped out a flight from Vancouver to London, England, in July on Air Canada. We found a return flight for 39,000 Aeroplan reward points.

An extra 69,754 points would be required to cover the added $592.91 in fees. That's about 30,000 more points than the actual flight.

We also looked at a round trip during the same time from Toronto to Paris. The Air Canada flight required 60,750 points. The added $585.86 in fees would run an extra 68,924 points — again, more than the amount for the flight.

'Outrageous' amount of points

The math has some Aeroplan customers fuming.

"I am completely disappointed," a disgruntled customer wrote on the company's Facebook site, where it announced the new deal.

"The miles you need to pay for taxes is outrageous," another person commented.

"The take-up is better than we thought and the customer reaction is better than we thought."

— Aeroplan chief marketing officer John Boynton

Travel rewards expert Patrick Sojka says Aeroplan miles are worth just 0.85 cents each when used to cover added fees. But he says when booking a flight with Aeroplan, a point is worth at least 1.5 cents.

"When you're buying a 60,000-mile flight to Europe and having to pay an additional 70,000 miles, that's a tough pill to swallow," says Sojka, founder of the resource site Rewards Canada. "That's another flight to Europe."

Some like it

Aeroplan says it introduced the new policy due to customer demand.

The company says even with the extra fees, whether in cash or in points, it still offers the best deal in town.

"Aeroplan is beyond a doubt way better value than all other travel programs out there," chief marketing officer John Boynton says.

Many customers are taking advantage of the new program, he adds.

"The take-up is better than we thought and the customer reaction is better than we thought."

Aeroplan said it couldn't provide CBC News with actual numbers.

Sojka believes the points-for-fees program will likely be a hit with passengers who collect more reward miles than they know what to do with.

"For some people, it's definitely a great option and it's good that Aeroplan offers this," he says.

pearson airport

Terminal 1 at Toronto's Pearson International Airport. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Some still unhappy

But Aeroplan member Len Dvorkin says he doesn't even consider it an option.

"It's not a wonderful deal," he says from his home in Thornhill, Ont.

In 2014, CBC News interviewed Dvorkin after he got stuck paying $2,565 in added fees when using points for three round-trip Air Canada tickets from Toronto to Milan.

"That's a lot of money for a free ticket," he said at the time.

Although he dislikes shelling out cash for extra charges, Dvorkin says he would never use his reward miles to cover them.

"It's not the best use of your points."

Dvorkin has just booked a second family trip to Milan using Aeroplan points. To avoid paying big bucks for extra fees, he chose flights on carriers that don't include pricey fuel surcharges — Polish Airlines and Scandinavian Airlines.​

The fuel surcharge debate

Added airline fees cover things like airport improvement charges and sales tax. But the most expensive fee by far tends to be the carrier surcharge that only some airlines require. Rewards expert Sojka says "carrier" is just another name for what's commonly known as a fuel surcharge.

And it can add up. For example, on the Aeroplan flight we looked at from Toronto to Paris, of the $585.86 required in extra fees, $456.00 was for Air Canada's carrier surcharge.

Dvorkin believes the ultimate way to please Aeroplan customers would be to eliminate the expensive extra fee.

"Stop making these sky-high fuel charges in the first place," he says, noting the price of oil has dropped dramatically.

Oil has lost more than half its value since 2014. The price of jet fuel is closely linked with the price of oil.

Aeroplan says it has no control over airlines that bill for carrier surcharges.

"You'd have to talk to the airline about those charges," Boynton says.

air canada office

An Air Canada branch office is pictured in Winnipeg Sunday May 22, 2011.

Air Canada says not just about fuel

CBC News asked Air Canada why it still tacks a surcharge on flights when the price of oil is so low.

Spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick responded in an email that many non-fuel factors also influence the charge including "general market conditions, competitive factors, supply and demand, local fees and taxes," plus regulations and, most importantly, the foreign exchange rate.

Regardless of what factors are involved, Dvorkin doesn't want to pay the extra expense. But his solution is not to use up his points to cover the cost.

Instead, he says he'll keep searching for Aeroplan member carriers that don't include pricey surcharges.

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