Aeroplan Blazes New Trail; Members Ask "What in Blazes?"

Aeroplan Blazes New Trail; Members Ask "What in Blazes?"

That “free” travel award just got more expensive.

As of July 1, award travel through Air Canada’s Aeroplan might be as much as CA$75 more.

The program announced that beginning April 30, “near record-high increases in crude oil and jet fuel prices,” have forced Air Canada to levy a fuel surcharge on all Aeroplan reward travel within Canada.

A surcharge of CA$15 each way will apply to flights under 300 miles; a surcharge of CA$25 each way will apply to flights of 300 miles and over. Air Canada will assess the situation on a regular basis, and adjust the surcharge according to the price of fuel.

And the hits keep on coming: Starting July 1, a service fee of $25 will be added to airline reward tickets booked through the Aeroplan call center.

No fees will be applied to online booking — at least through the end of the year. As of Jan. 1, though, it’s anyone’s guess. Michele Meier, a spokeswoman for the program, said that any fee assessed to online booking in January will be “significantly lower” than the call center fee.

With these changes, Air Canada earns the dubious distinction of being the first carrier in history to charge a fee for award booking. While it is true that many other programs have levied service fees in special situations (last-minute bookings, changes to itinerary, etc.), Aeroplan is the first to apply a fee to all awards.

Meier acknowledged the move might not be popular.

“We appreciate that some might not be happy,” Meier said. “But if they understand why, they might be willing to pay a fee for a great program that gives them what they ask for.”

Meier also said that, unlike the fuel surcharge, which is primarily an Air Canada initiative, the service fee is all Aeroplan’s. According to Meier, the money collected will be directly reinvested into the program, to “secure our ability to invest in program enhancements.”

The announcement also marks the first time a fuel surcharge has been assessed on award travel. Meier suggested that by limiting the surcharge to domestic flights, only about half of Aeroplan redemptions will be affected.

Naturally, the changes have created waves in the Aeroplan community.

“What’s next — maybe a surcharge for seat covers if the price of fabric goes up?” wrote one angry customer in a letter to Air Canada CEO Robert Milton. “Or maybe a take-off and landing charge in the event of increases in the price of rubber tires?”

Aeroplan is no stranger to controversy. In 2002, when the program was contemplating several changes to its elite-level benefits, customer backlash resulted in those changes being rescinded.

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