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rob carrick

People really let fly when you ask them about the Aeroplan customer loyalty program.

Check out my Facebook personal finance page entry on Dec. 1, where I invited people to suggest questions for me to ask in a meeting with Kevin O'Brien, Aeroplan's chief commercial officer. I've had some frustrations booking flights on Aeroplan, and I wondered how others felt.

Evidently, I'm not alone because more than a hundred smoking hot questions and comments were posted on Facebook. I grouped them by theme and presented them to Mr. O'Brien, who gamely spent an hour or so providing answers.

Here's a sampling of the questions and comments provided on Facebook, along with edited transcripts of Mr. O'Brien's responses.

Why can't I use Aeroplan miles to pay fees and taxes on reward flights?

We know it's something that people would like to do and therefore it's on the list of things we continue to look at. All [travel rewards] programs actually have taxes and fees – in fact, the taxes and fees are the same. The difference is that others allow you to use your points and we don't. Typically, the value that people get if they use their points for taxes and fees is not the same as what you get if you are actually are buying your ticket.

It's hard to be excited about free flights when often the only ones available include ridiculous layovers and times.

We've actually debated whether we should not show some routes because they don't look attractive. But we've decided to just put them all out there and let the customer decide. Where this is happening on Air Canada, Market Fare flights might be a good answer for some people. If Air Canada flies there direct and you can't get there on ClassicFlight, then Market Fare rewards might get you there direct. [Note: ClassicFlight seats are available for a fixed number of Aeroplan miles; Market Fare, introduced early in mid-2013, makes additional seats available for a variable number of miles, typically more than ClassicFlight.]

Why is it so hard to actually use the points you have to book the flights?

There's somewhat of a false perception that a bunch of [Aeroplan] seats get loaded [added to the pool of available seats] 365 days ahead of the travel date, and that's the availability for the ClassicFlight inventory we get from Air Canada. The reality is that these seats get loaded throughout the course of the year. There are often a number of seats that get loaded within the last month before a travel date. If someone checks 200 days out and there isn't anything, it doesn't mean there is never anything. It just means they might have hit that window where stuff hasn't been loaded yet. There's definitely a benefit if you keep checking back.

I literally dread the hours online it takes to try and find flights.

My heart breaks for that. Travel should be fun. I would love it if the old saying about getting there being half the fun was the case. The Aeroplan part of that should be easier and more fun than maybe it has been. I hope Market Fare actually helps with that. I'm hoping that people who have tried us again, given the changes we've made, maybe don't find it as stressful as they once did.

When will the fuel surcharge disappear … oil is under $70 (U.S.)?

The specific answers would need to come from Air Canada. But if I were in their shoes, it would be difficult to have fuel surcharges coming on and off with the variability of oil prices moving up and down. They need some stability to how they manage that.

How would you respond to the claim that Aeroplan rewards cost more than booking a flight directly?

There are times when just because of competitive pricing pressures, Air Canada will put a great deal on. Maybe just buy that ticket. It's not always the right decision to redeem for a free flight.

Can you book, say, two tickets that you pay for and two on points all on the same plane?

We call that 'combinability' and it's something we'd love to do at some point.

Would Aeroplan points be worth anything if Air Canada goes bankrupt?

Because we're separate from any of our partners, anything that happens to any of the partners happens outside of us. Points are safe.


Aeroplan: A profile

Owner: Aimia Inc., a loyalty management company (AIM-TSX)

Milestone: Celebrated its 30th anniversary in July, 2014

Membership: 4.8 million active members

Partners: 75 companies, 150 brands in the financial, retail and travel sectors

Credit card partners: American Express, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, Toronto-Dominion Bank

Redemptions: To date, 822 billion miles redeemed for more than 21 million seats

Source: Aimia

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