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The temperatures were dropping in the Capital of Canada and daylight-saving time arrived. It was time to book a trip to escape the cold even if for a short while. I looked into flights to Cancun, but did not see any appealing options on Aeroplan. It was either flying on Air Canada Rouge on a direct flight from Ottawa in economy or positioning to a flight out of Toronto or Montreal to fly on a Boeing 777 in lie-flat seats. Only there was one problem – flight planning to Argentina was challenging, thanks to dynamic pricing.
Given how high the prices were since I was booking last minute and during high season, I decided to look into other warm destinations to see how they compare. I picked Argentina because it’s been on my list of places to visit for a long time.
According to the Aeroplan flight reward chart between North America and South America (shown above), flights booked on partner airlines cost 60,000 one-way in business class cabin for distances above 4,500 miles. While award redemptions on Air Canada business class cabin ranged between 60,000 to 200,000 Aeroplan miles.
Outbound flight – flight planning to Argentina
I was doing searches for dates in late December, but there was no option to book on a partner to connect me to Buenos Aires. The only option was to get there via Air Canada or a combination of partner airlines and Air Canada. This meant pricing would be dynamic in both cases. Unsurprisingly, the redemption prices were high. There were Boeing 777-300 flights from Toronto on Buenos Aires, but we would have to connect through Sao Paulo.
I also found what appeared to be direct flights from Montreal to Buenos Aires on the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. However, when I looked closer into the details, I found out that it actually stopped in Sao Paulo before it continued to Buenos Aires.
For this “direct” flight, the business class cabin came at a cost of over 200,000 Aeroplan miles one-way per person. This even exceeded Aeroplan’s published flight reward chart range.
I noticed that the redemption prices were significantly cheaper if we booked in economy latitude, rather than business class cabin. The issue was that we would be subject to a waitlist on the longest leg from Toronto to Sao Paulo. I did not want to risk my eUpgrade (eUp) credits not clearing and being stuck in economy for over 10 hours!
To get around this issue, I used the ExpertFlyer (EF) tool. I did searches under Awards and Upgrades from both Toronto and Montreal to Sao Paulo to search for Business eUpgrade Reward (R) space. After multiple searches, I found one flight departing from Montreal to Sao Paulo, that had eUp availability on business cabin. I quickly booked the flight for two people and was able to confirm my eUps in business class immediately. The total redemption for YOW-YUL-GRU-EZE cost 62,600 Aeroplan miles, 13 eUps and $64.46 in taxes per person. This wasn’t a steal, but considerably better than the other options available at the time of booking my outbound flights.
Two weeks before my flight, I found tickets on business low fare for 57,000 Aeroplan miles and $72.24 in taxes for YOW-YYZ-GRU-EZE. I immediately booked it and cancelled my original economy latitude booking. My eUps were credited back, which I can rollover due to holding a premium Aeroplan co-branded credit card, and I saved 5,600 Aeroplan miles per person. I was comfortable with booking business low as my trip was only days away. Had I booked business flexible, it would have cost 100,500 Aeroplan miles per person, almost double business low!
A few days after booking business low on the flight departing from Toronto, I received a notification from Air Canada. They advised that there’s been an aircraft change. I check and find out that not only was there an aircraft change (Boeing 787-9), but that we were now departing from Montreal instead of Toronto. This was actually the original booking I had made when I had used my eUps. I didn’t mind the change, because I would rather fly out of Montreal, so I accepted it.
Inbound flight -flight planning from Argentina
Booking our return back to Ottawa was much more of a challenge than booking the outband flights. I was aiming for us to return on a Friday or a Saturday, but dynamic pricing was absolutely atrocious for these days. Redemption pricing was between 186,000 to 362,000 Aeroplan miles in business cabin one-way per person. Some dates did not even have economy latitude as an option. Others that did, commended a price over 100,000 Aeroplan miles. I did not book this type of fare anyway because most of my eUp credits were set to expire before my departure from Argentina.
Going to war with dynamic pricing, I had to try to be as flexible as possible. This was my way to try to mitigate the harm it was about to cause to my stash of Aeroplan miles. I experimented with different dates and then instead of just searching Buenos Aires, I started doing searches from Sao Paulo. I still did not get any acceptable results.
Subsequently, I decided to do a search using the nearby city of Rio de Janeiro as the departure point. My perseverance paid off because I finally found a reasonably priced flight from Rio back to Canada in business class. The routing was as follows: SDU-CGH (Azul Airlines) -GRU-YUL-YOW (Air Canada). It was a convoluted routing as we had to go through the two different airports in Rio then connect to Sao Paulo before finally connecting on a flight to Montreal, but it cost 60,000 miles as opposed to paying 200,000 or more Aeroplan miles if went with the other more convenient options.
I then called Aeroplan to see if they can add Buenos Aires to be our point of departure. After looking into options, the Aeroplan agent confirmed that he can make this change. He told me he could also remove the two Rio de Janeiro flights if I would like! The icing on the cake was that I would be getting refunded some of my points and some fees. This was because I no longer had to pay the partner booking fee of $39 since the Azul flight was being removed.
I happily accepted the change and this wonderful Aeroplan agent sent me the updated booking. The updated routing became EZE-GRU-YUL-YOW. The total cost was 57,400 Aeroplan miles and $101 in taxes in business class low fare per person. I was very pleased to get such a helpful agent and was gratified to get a decent redemption that cost just under the 60,000 Aeroplan miles.
Other reward programs – flight planning to Argentina
Besides Aeroplan, there are other airline reward programs that you can utilize as a Canadian to travel to Argentina. This is provided that you are willing to connect in the US or Mexico. All airline alliances (Star Alliance, Oneworld and SkyTeam) operate flights to Buenos Aires
Under SkyTeam, there’s the Air France KLM Flying Blue, which has a partnership with Delta Airlines. You would need to connect from Montreal or Toronto to either New York (JFK), Atlanta (ATL) or Mexico City (MEX) to get to Buenos Aires (EZE) on Delta Airlines.
It’s possible to earn the Flying Blue currency called XP via Brim’s Air France KLM World Elite MasterCard or if you have an American Express credit card that earns Membership Rewards (MR) point, then you transfer them to Flying Blue. You can also transfer MR directly to Delta SkyMiles, although it’s poor value. The transfer ratio to both programs is 1 MR to 0.75. This transfer rate is inferior to transferring from MR to Aeroplan, which is 1:1. Also note that Flying Blue has dynamic pricing, and they do not have a published award chart for their partners.
The other option falls under Oneworld, by flying on American Airlines using the American AAdvantage miles. You would have to connect from Montreal to either Miami (MIA) or Dallas-Fort-Worth (DFW) to reach EZE. From Toronto you have the additional option of connecting in New York (JFK) to get to EZE. There are no Canadian credit cards that earn American AAdvantage miles. However, if you hold an RBC credit card that earns Avion points, you can transfer them to American AAdvantage miles at a transfer ratio of 1:0.70. Just be aware that American Airlines recently announced that its AAdvantage program will be going dynamic in 2023 for booking flight award redemptions on American metal.
Besides Air Canada, under Star Alliance umbrella are a couple of South American airlines that fly to Buenos Aires. This includes Avianca and Copa Airlines. United Airline is also a possibility. Aeroplan is the easiest to use if you want to redeem on any of these Star Alliance airlines and it’s also the most accessible program for Canadians.
Canadians can also transfer their Marriott Bonvoy points to many airlines reward programs. This includes Air France KLM Flying Blue, Delta SkyMiles and American AAdvantage miles at a transfer ratio of 3:1. If you have a large Bonvoy points balance, it is an option you can use if you need to.
Booking a last-minute trip on points and miles can be challenging, especially when booking through a program that has dynamic pricing. However, it is worthwhile to do a trial and error and test out different dates, routings, or nearby cities to your destination. With a little bit of patience and some flexibility, your experimenting may pay off. You may score a reasonably priced redemption or even a favourable one if you get lucky!