How to Avoid Aeroplan Carrier Surcharges 2020 (Even on Air Canada)

Aeroplan remains once of the most accessible flight rewards programs to Canadians, though the value of your rewards might get killed by pesky carrier surcharges (YQ), depending on the airline and airport . 

Take for example a round trip flight from Toronto to London from September 5-12, 2020. If you were to pay all cash, the price would be around $826.

On Aeroplan, this flight can actually be booked for only 21,450 miles round trip (as of the publishing date of this blog) as part of a Market Fare Discount. However, the taxes on this flight add up to $716!! This reduces the value of the miles to ($826-$716)/21,450 = 0.51%, which is less than many cash back cards.

The sneaky "Taxes, fees and surcharges" can sometimes be almost as much as the cash fare of the flight, reducing the value of your Aeroplan miles. So how do you avoid them?

The two ways to do this are:
  1. Choose airlines that don't charge YQ. which often means being flexible with connections and avoiding domestic flights as you would have to avoid Air Canada flights
  2. Get Air Canada Altitude Prestige Status to waive the carrier surcharge on Air Canada flights

Choosing airlines that don't charge YQ

This is the most common way of avoiding YQ and there are many blogs out there that list out the airlines that don't charge YQ. To keep things concise on this blog, I've listed out destinations and good airlines/airports to look out for when searching for flights. 

Note that this tip isn't really helpful for domestic Canadian travel as you're pretty much limited to Air Canada.

  • United Airlines (many code shares with Air Canada)
  • Brussels Airlines (look for connections through YUL, JFK or IAD to BRU routes)
  • LOT Polish Airlines (look for connections through YYZ or the U.S. to WAW routes)
  • SAS Airlines (look for connections through the U.S. to CPH, OSL or ARN routes)
  • Swiss Airlines (look for connections through YUL or the U.S. to GVA or ZUR routes)
  • TAP Portugal (look for connections through YYZ or the  LIS routes)
  • Turkish Airlines (look for connections through YYZ, YUL or the U.S. to IST routes)
  • United Airlines (look for connections through the U.S.)
Note that you will need to be flexible with layovers if the airports above aren't your final destination. There is pretty limited reward availability for direct flights between Canada and Europe. Look for connections through major U.S. airports such as New York (JFK), Chicago (ORD), Los Angeles (LAX), San Francisco (SFO), Houston (IAH)

Read More: How to Travel More and Pay Less: Canada to Europe

  • Air India (look for YYZ-DEL routes)
  • EVA Air (look for YYZ-TPE and YVR-TPE routes)
  • Singapore Airlines (look for connections through JFK, SFO, LAX or SEA to SIN routes)
  • United Airlines (look for connections through the U.S.)
There are actually very few Asian airlines that fly to Canada and don't charge YQ, so you will have very flexible with dates and connections to take advantage of these flights.

  • Air New Zealand (look for YVR-AKL routes)
  • Air India (look for YYZ-DEL-SYD routes)
  • EVA Air (look for connections through TPE and SIN to PER)
  • United Airlines (look for connections through LAX and SFO)
I've listed Air New Zealand here as it doesn't charge YQ, but in my experience the reward availability is so limited that you shouldn't really count on it. Instead, I recommend looking at either EVA Air or United Airlines to plan your segments to Oceania.

Read More: How to Travel More and Pay Less: North America to Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific

  • Avianca Airlines (look for connections through the U.S. to BOG or MDE)
  • Copa Airlines (look for connections through YYZ or the U.S. to PTY)
South America doesn't have the best availability or redemption value on Aeroplan, but it could be a worthwhile business class trip if you don't mind the connections.

  • EgyptAir (look for connections through YYZ, LAX, JFK or IAD to CAI)
  • Ethiopian Airlines (look for connections through YYZ or the U.S. to ADD)
  • South African Airways (look for connections through JFK or IAD to JNB)
Keep in mind most of the routes above to Africa originate on the East Coast (Toronto, New York, Washington) so you will need to keep that in mind when planning your flights.

Air Canada Altitude Prestige Status

All levels of Air Canada's loyalty program, Altitude (separate from Aeroplan) offer a waiver of the carrier surcharge on Air Canada flights on Canada and U.S. flight rewards.

The lowest level, Altitude Prestige 25K requires you to fly 25 Altitude Qualifying Segments (AQS) or 25,000 Altitude Qualifying Miles (AQM) and spend 3,000 Altitude Qualifying Dollars (AQD). Unless you're a frequent traveler for work, this can be difficult for most people to achieve.

One way to do this without living on a plane is to do a status match challenge. If you have airline status with a direct competitor such as WestJet or Porter, you can likely email Air Canada to accelerate your path to Altitude.

As an example, Air Canada will match Altitude Prestige 25K to WestJet Silver Status if you complete 4 AQS in 90 days, or 2 round trip Air Canada flights. WestJet Silver Status is sometimes offered with the RBC WestJet World Elite MasterCard, so keep a look out when this promotional offer comes around. So, if you happen to have both WestJet status AND have upcoming Air Canada flights, this is a great way to shortcut your way to Altitude status and get the carrier surcharge waived.