How We Flew Business Class on Etihad Airways Boeing 787-9 on Aeroplan Points (Calgary to Maldives)
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A lot of you have been asking how we managed to barely spend any money on our Business Class long-haul flight leaving for our honeymoon. So we decided to make it easy and explain how we put it together and how you can too!
We did an airline review focusing on the Etihad Boeing 787- Dreamliner experience in their new Business Class pods, flying from Toronto (YYZ) to Abu Dhabi (AUH). But we actually booked our flight itinerary from Calgary (YYC) to Toronto Pearson to Abu Dhabi all the way to our final destination in Male, Maldives (MLE). Yes, three flights, all booked in Business!
But that’s not it. We also included a three-night stopover in Abu Dhabi before flying out to Male for only $100 CAD worth of Aeroplan points (i.e. 5,000 points) per person! It felt like an understatement to say we were balling on a budget.
Let me get right to it and show you guys how we booked our glamorous flight itinerary at a fraction of what we would have to pay out of pocket, and give you tips on how you can start banking points to book your own Business flights!
What Are Aeroplan Points & How Do I Get Them?
Aeroplan is a loyalty program owned by Air Canada, Canada’s flag carrier. It was launched almost 30 years ago and by the time I was 3-years-old (in 1998), my parents had already signed me up as a frequent flyer with Aeroplan in order to collect points when we flew within and outside Canada. It’s incredibly easy to sign up for Aeroplan and anyone can become a member!
Aeroplan miles are not just reserved for traveling with Air Canada. You can both earn points and redeem them with all these travel partners. You’re also eligible to achieving status and privileges as a frequent flyer with Star Alliance, the largest airline alliance in the world. Being a part of the Aeroplan loyalty program opens you up to more global perks than you could imagine.
Earning Aeroplan Miles Without a Credit Card
There are multiple ways to earn Aeroplan points. When I was younger and didn’t yet have an Aeroplan credit card, I was able to keep earning points here and there by filling out surveys and swiping my Aeroplan membership card when making purchases at Aeroplan retail partners. Nowadays, you can still fill out surveys as always and it’s incredibly easy to gain Aeroplan miles through the online portal when you’re making online purchases with their retail partners. These were the best ways for my younger self to keep my Aeroplan account active when I wasn’t flying.
The most common way to earn air miles with any type of frequent flyer program is to actually fly with the partner airlines. Every time you fly with Air Canada and Aeroplan partner airlines, you’ll earn points. By booking flights out of pocket, currently as of September 2022, you rack in Aeroplan points based on the flight miles covered and cabin class you select. Soon in the coming months, Aeroplan will be switching to a revenue-based program which means that the points you earn will be reflected on the airfare (i.e. total cost minus the government-imposed taxes, fees and other third-party charges).
Aeroplan also offers Elite status tiers for their members to achieve. Currently, the more and farther you fly, the more Aeroplan points you earn and the more points you earn, the higher you’ll reach in Aeroplan Elite status. With a higher status, you’ll also get increased percentages of bonus points every time you fly, bringing in more miles for you to bank for your next trips.
Earning Aeroplan Miles Through Aeroplan Credit Cards
Once I was able to apply for other credit cards apart from my entry-level student credit card, I went for the Aeroplan cards at TD. I first got the TD Aeroplan Visa Platinum and then later upgraded to the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite. The great thing about TD is that they’re one of the few card issuers that allow you to receive the welcome bonus offer multiple times. So if you once had a certain type of credit card with them, cancelled or changed the card after holding the account open for the required period, and then got the card again after at least 6 months (subject to change), you would reap the benefits of the current welcome offers on that card on top of the offers you initially received the first time you applied for it!
You can also gain all the welcome offers of a card if you upgrade/downgrade from one product to another. That’s how I still managed to receive all my welcome offers when I switched from my TD Aeroplan Visa Platinum…
to TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite…
to TD First Class Travel Visa Infinite…
to TD Cash Back Visa Infinite…
back to TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite and so on while maintaining each credit card “product” for at least 6 months at a time. With a quick phone call, I could make the switch without having to make any changes to my credit card account. The number and credit card cycle would remain the same and I would receive a new card in the mail to reflect the product change. Right after the phone call with TD Credit Cards, the switch is already complete, so I could still use my old TD Cash Back Visa Infinite card (physically, online, through Apple Pay, etc.) to earn Aeroplan points – after switching to a TD Aeroplan Visa card – while I wait for the new physical card to come in.
TD is also really great at offering annual fee rebates on their credit cards for the first year so you could ultimately never have to fork up any annual fees if you rotate before the credit card anniversary comes up. Sometimes, however, it’s worth keeping the card past the 1-year mark to collect any anniversary bonuses that are part of the welcome offer. If you bank with TD and have an All-Inclusive Chequing Account (monthly fee rebates available), you can have your credit card annual fee waived every single year on one of the select credit cards, such as the Visa Infinites and the Visa Platinum. This is how I manage to always keep my TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite without ever paying the annual fee.
Note: Having at least one Aeroplan credit card at all times is highly advantageous when booking flights with the loyalty program. I elaborate on why this is when booking flights with Aeroplan below. Keep reading to find out!
Applying for credit cards is truly the fastest way to earn air miles. TD is one of the top credit card issuers that provide you with the opportunity to bank in on Aeroplan points and travel perks while giving you the ability to not pay a single penny to do so. CIBC also has their own CIBC Aeroplan Visa Infinite card so it’s great to keep an eye out on both and submit your application for the credit card(s) when you notice that the welcome offers are at their highest.
Converting Other Rewards (AMEX) Into Aeroplan Points
Another major way to bank more in Aeroplan is by converting points that you gained from other loyalty programs, such as other credit card/financial rewards and hotel rewards. This is in fact how we manage to rack in the better part of our Aeroplan miles.
The most common place to start is with American Express. Nothing beats the payout you get and we swear by our AMEX credit cards because of the amazing travel perks they offer and the fact that you can transfer their membership reward points to so many other loyalty programs. This method of gaining Aeroplan points requires a bit of an upfront cost but it is the most rewarding simply because it opens you up to so much more than just Aeroplan. But that’s an article for another day!
The most affordable and everyday Canadian AMEX card is hands down the Cobalt card because of its lower annual fee of $12.99 per month, low spending requirement to receive the welcome bonus and the high points earning you get on everyday purchases – 5x the points per dollar spent on dining and groceries is insane! The mid-tier card that everyone loves is the AMEX Gold Rewards card which often gives really great welcome offers, but the points-to-dollar earnings don’t beat out the Cobalt. There are other advantages to holding a Gold card but the best one in our opinion is the level up.
Our all-time favourite is the Platinum card which beats out every other in terms of travel perks. $200 travel credit every year, insane travel insurance coverage, tip-top concierge service, instant Marriott Bonvoy & Hilton Honors Gold memberships, and best of all, Priority Pass membership and unlimited lounge passes for you and a guest at countless airport lounges across the globe. You travel enough and the $699 annual fee pays for itself. The Platinum card also offers the best welcome offers at at least 100,000 AMEX points, and this is ultimately how we made more than enough points for our Etihad Business Class flight as well as flights before and after this trip.
There are different conversion rates for every loyalty/rewards program to Aeroplan and AMEX provides a 1:1 ratio. It’s incredibly easy to transfer AMEX to Aeroplan online with the click of a button.
Booking Flights with Aeroplan
When booking flights on Aeroplan, the reward points required vary depending on distance and global regions you’re flying to and from. All flights on Air Canada reflect dynamic pricing that follows the market price and all flights on partner airlines remain constant for each distance range. It’ll make more sense if you have a look at the Aeroplan Flight Reward Chart!
As I mentioned earlier, there are advantages to always having an active Aeroplan credit card at your disposal. You never have to worry about your Aeroplan points expiring, especially since you’ll be using your credit card on purchases and keep on earning. But the true perks include things like free first checked bag, preferred pricing and so much more! The crazy thing is that you don’t even need to use your Aeroplan credit card to reap the benefits. They’re automatically provided to you because Air Canada recognizes that you’re an Aeroplan credit card holder. That means that at the time of booking flights through your Aeroplan account, you’ll already see that your flights cost less in points and money than it would for someone who doesn’t have an Aeroplan credit card. As an example, we saw a flight from Calgary to Milan cost 40,000 points if we booked from our account versus 48,800 for our friend who didn’t have an Aeroplan Visa Infinite card.
To search and book your flight itineraries, you’ll need to use the Air Canada app or go online at AirCanada.com. But there are some instances where booking on the phone is the best and only method to ensure you get the itinerary you need. This brings us into the world of stopovers!
It was honestly life-changing to discover that with only an extra 5,000 Aeroplan points, we could layover in a city we would be connecting through for up to 45 days. For instance, if your plan was to fly from Vancouver to Manila and after a quick search on AirCanada you found out that a favourable itinerary using Aeroplan points connected through Seoul – which you had been wanting to visit as well -, you could call up Aeroplan to book the itinerary for you with a stopover in Seoul for as long as you’d like, depending on when the nearest flight out to Manila would be to the date you’d like to leave Seoul. It takes a little bit of flexibility with this but it’s worth looking at if you’re hoping to visit somewhere in between your point of origin and your point of destination. The only small restriction to this is that you have to book through a call agent versus on your own online. That’s it!
This is exactly what we did for the trip that brought you to this article. And coming up in the next section I’ll give you a rundown of how we put all of the aforementioned points together to book our very own Business class outbound honeymoon flight itinerary from Calgary to Maldives, as well as other international flights in 2021, 2022 and even in 2023!
How We Booked Our Business Class Experience on Etihad
After coming home from a long trip in Europe in October of 2021, we started making immediate plans for our honeymoon. We had just booked the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island on points for July 25th-30th, 2022 and searched for flights from YYC to MLE to arrive for then. Eureka! There happened to be a flight from YYC to YYZ to AUH to MLE for only 100,000 Aeroplan points and $150.44 CAD in fees per person, arriving at 6:20am in MLE, with all flight legs in Business Class! The crazy thing was that the Economy tickets were 80,000 points. What?!
We thought it would be a great idea to stop in Abu Dhabi, not only to see the city, but to give ourselves a break in between flights – 30+ hours of flying isn’t easy. We found that we could leave YYC on July 20th and arrive in AUH the evening of July 21st, giving us three full days and nights to enjoy Abu Dhabi before heading on our redeye flight to Maldives.
Jason and I had already pooled all our Aeroplan points together by creating a Family Sharing plan which allows us to combine all our earned points and redeem them together, while still maintaining our individual accounts. Another advantage to this is that if one member has Elite status or preferred pricing through being a credit card holder, the other members can get in on these privileges too! Within the same day of starting our flight search, we transferred some supplementary AMEX points to Aeroplan to have the required 210,000 points to book our flights by phone and the trip was booked soon thereafter. Easy peasy!
Given that we both had been collecting Aeroplan points for a number of years as well as redeeming the miles on various flights already, it’s hard to say how much went into booking this one trip from Calgary to Maldives. But had we started from scratching with 0 Aeroplan or AMEX points to our name, we could’ve easily pooled together enough points to book this trip in a matter of three months more or less. As I mentioned above, it takes only one AMEX Platinum or AMEX Business Platinum application to earn at minimum 100,000 AMEX points if you satisfy the welcome offer conditions. Yes, the spending requirements could be hard to swallow, but if you have hefty expenses coming up – like, say, a wedding perhaps? – then you’ll hit that spend faster than you think.
I hope this post gives you some insight on how you can start collecting points at virtually no cost – except a little bit of effort and research – so that YOU can book your very own Business Class and luxury travel experiences at a tiny fraction of the actual price!