Aeroplan To Europe Via Mexico Introduction
School is out for summer! Yay! For those who don’t know, my partner Brad is a teacher, and as such we need to make most of the summer holidays like most others. While I’m travelling the world throughout the year, Brad is in a classroom doing what he loves, so it’s important we get away on a great trip together at least once per year. This year we decided to use Aeroplan to Europe, but elected to take the road less travelled (as I always like to do) and stop in Mexico on the way for no additional miles.
While not technically a mini round-the-world, we are maximizing Aeroplan’s generous routing rules (similar to what Kyle did for his family trip to Europe), and will be employing a few tricks to save money on fees, taxes, and surcharges, while ensuring we get the very best flights. I hope….
Aeroplan To Europe Via Mexico – The Flights
Right now our routing is simple (intentionally) from Vancouver to Munich via Mexico City (more on why I booked such a simple route below).
Of course the real routing will end up looking something like this by the time I’m done, including stops in Cancun, Mexico City, Munich, Berlin, Mallorca, Frankfurt and Vienna.
Aeroplan To Europe Via Mexico – My Strategy
Well, it’s summer, and as you would expect, award availability to Europe using miles is rather…. poor, to say the least. When originally looking, there was direct availability between Mexico City and Munich in business class, but that presented two problems:
- The fuel surcharges were really high (especially for two people)
- Brad really wants to fly first class, and so do I
Also, there was basically ZERO availability coming home, so I knew going in there would be some change fees involved down the road.
Everyone has different opinions regarding change fees, but I’d always rather book what’s available, even if it’s not preferred, and consider the change fee as sort of a cost of doing business. Furthermore, change fees can actually save you money (more on that in a sec).
We needed to be in Mexico on pretty specific dates, as I broke the cardinal rule and made plans without having flights booked, though luckily there was direct availability on Air Canada in business class from Vancouver on the date we needed. With that, I booked perhaps the silliest Aeroplan award ticket I’ve ever seen, with full intent to change everything over the comings weeks except the first segment.
So, What’s the plan to get to Europe?
- Change the flight to Europe to anything but United economy class once we’ve landed in Mexico. Our preferred flight will be to Munich in first class on Lufthansa, but could also fly with one-stop to Frankfurt, or a couple of stops through much of America.
- While I’m doing that, I’ll also change the official destination (turnaround point) from Munich to Vienna. Our actual destination in Europe is Berlin, but Berlin didn’t work with MPM (maximum permitted mileage) coming from Mexico, and by changing it to Vienna it increases the allowable distance without costing more miles and will allow us to manipulate our booking on the return flight to save money.
I chose to book a ‘dummy’ route to Munich initially because it was bookable using the Aeroplan multi-city search tool. Austria was not, despite there being flights, and I really wanted to avoid paying the telephone booking fee knowing I would have to call in to change the flights anyway, at which point I would be charged a change fee, but not a phone booking fee – a savings of $60. Also, most of the flights were on United, without fuel surcharges, which is very important when changing tickets after departure.
I’m fairly confident we’ll be able to get Lufthansa First Class through to Munich or Frankfurt when last-minute availability opens up. The best part is we will not be charged any additional taxes, as Aeroplan can’t recalculate once the journey has started in either direction. Be warned though, this works the other way also. If you book a carrier with high surcharges and then change your flight after departure to a low fee airlines, you will not be issues the refund. This is why I was intentional in booking dummy flights on United.
Coming home will basically be the same thing:
We don’t actually plan to spend any time in Vienna, we just wanted to choose an airport that was further than our preferred destination for maximum MPM, but also so we can change our flights to Lufthansa on the return without paying surcharges. The idea is we will do a quick turn in Vienna to Berlin, where will be staying for a week, and during that week find availability home on Lufthansa first class. Since our journey home technically started in Vienna, we will be able to make the changes without fuel charges being recalculated.
The total cost to do all of this will be $400, which isn’t insignificant by any means, but the same flights would have cost well over $2,000 in taxes and fees for the two of us, and we would have have been forced to pay a telephone booking fee as our preferred routing wasn’t populating in the search results online.
Aeroplan To Europe Via Mexico – The Risks
Overall I would consider this a fairly low-risk strategy, but wouldn’t advise beginners to try this without knowing the basics of travel hacking, and would suggest using a tool like ExpertFlyer to monitor award availability and set notifications.
I can think of a few reasons how this could backfire, but I tend to weigh the risks/reward fairly well, and am actually more nervous about what I can’t predict.
For example, I have monitored route availability over the last few weeks and notice Lufthansa releases A LOT of premium cabin space last-minute between Europe and Mexico. With a day of flexibility for our preferred departure, it’s almost guaranteed we get seats.
The things I can’t predict could be something like Aeroplan ‘enahncing’ their change policy overnight, or increasing their fees, or Lufthansa could go on strike, or a whole lot of other things I’m not considering. Very unlikely, but anything can happen.
Worst case scenario we have a flight to Europe on our preferred dates, though let’s be serious, I would probably just go home and forego the Europe part rather than flying United economy class….
Aeroplan To Europe Via Mexico Bottom Line
I’m really looking forward to this trip, and am confident we’ll be able to score Lufthansa first class last-minute without paying fuel surcharges, which always makes it a little bit sweeter.
Aeroplan is a program that gets a lot of flack for being useless, but there aren’t many programs out there that would let you route through Mexico from Canada en-route to Europe, without costing hundreds of thousands or millions of miles (revenue programs like what I suspect the Westjet program will be).
In total we paid 220,000 Aeroplan miles for two roundtrip tickets in business class, though that will increase to 280,000 miles if we upgrade to first class last-minute. Pretty good value, in my opinion, and maybe one of the last great Aeroplan redemptions we’ll be able to make together before the program changes in 2020.
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