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Aeroplan's Best Kept Secret: award flights into Iqaluit

Aeroplan's Best Kept Secret: award flights into Iqaluit

Old Jan 15, 18, 8:47 pm
  #1  
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Aeroplan's Best Kept Secret: award flights into Iqaluit

Just thought I'd share a recent experience I had booking a flight from Ottawa to Iqaluit using Aeroplan miles as I haven't seen much discussion about this on FT or the web generally and it's arguably the best Aeroplan redemption out there.

It's been my dream for a while to explore the Canadian Arctic, something that has been on my bucket list since I was a kid. However, flights between the south (i.e. Ottawa, Montreal, etc.) and the north have been historically expensive (i.e. $1,500-$2,000 CAD roundtrip for a 3 hr flight) and out of reach for me. Imagine my surprise one day while reviewing the Aeroplan redemption chart to see that it's possible to book award flights to Iqaluit using my miles. As an added bonus these redemptions are considered "short haul" by Aeroplan and only use 15,000 miles per booking. I immediately went to the Aeroplan website to try booking the ticket but noticed that Iqaluit did not show up when I entered the airport into the search field.

Frustrated but clearly not willing to be defeated I called Aeroplan to see what's up.

Flights to the North on Aeroplan are unique in several ways. First, they are not operated by AC or a *A partner, but rather by regional airlines (i.e. Canadian North, First Air, etc.). As a result, they aren't bookable online but only by calling an agent who must manually check with the airline for availability before booking. Second, availability is mostly miss - the agent I spoke to mentioned that only one or two seats are made available per flight for Aeroplan members. Considering Canadian North only operates one flight a day from Ottawa to Iqaluit that makes availability extremely limited. I was literally on the phone with Aeroplan for over an hour to find a set of dates where I could book the flight. On a side note tools like ExpertFlyer can made it easier for me to narrow down the potential dates with availability. I can only imagine the amount of time taken by those who don't have access to such tools. Third, the taxes and fees associated with the booking are minimal (I ended up paying the Aeroplan phone booking fee of $30 + ~$35 in taxes and fees). Fourth, the service from these Northern airlines is unlike anything you've seen of a domestic airline - each flight comes with a free checked bag and complimentary meal (with alcohol beverage service) - it's like flying used to be 20+ years ago.

It's worth noting that there are a bunch of destinations you can explore in the North using these short haul awards that are real sweet spots (i.e. Yellowknife to Cambridge Bay where the average ticket price is easily $1,500 CAD). One thing I didn't try doing (but learned about later) was taking advantage of the free stopover rule with Aeroplan where you can "add" a destination to a domestic flight. I'll likely try this in the future to see if I can squeeze another Northern destination into my rewards booking.

As for the destination itself, Iqaluit (and I suspect most of the Canadian Arctic) is unlike anything you've seen before. Depending on your preference for weather, you may want to visit in the summer (where the weather feels more like the winter in the south).

Would be interested to hear fellow FTers experience booking these awards and advice they have.

Safe Travels,

James Simpson
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Old Jan 15, 18, 8:58 pm
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I always wondered how that worked. Thanks for the insights!
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Old Jan 15, 18, 8:58 pm
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Thank you for posting this. I've always thought of AE Awards for long-haul, but you've opened my eyes to some alternatives.

I've always said that as a New Canadian (some 40+ yrs) I should visit all of the country; so far missed NL and the Territories but the latter may be fixed with your post.
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Old Jan 15, 18, 9:01 pm
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I agree. I used a 15,000 roundtrip reward to come home for a friend's wedding while temporarily stationed in nunavik. flight would have cost me >$2000
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Old Jan 15, 18, 9:18 pm
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I've been wanting to head up north for a while, but it's surprisingly hard to find someone to accompany me, even when I'm paying for the flight

I was thinking of Resolute though. Iqaluit just isn't far enough north
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Old Jan 15, 18, 9:24 pm
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Just thought I'd add that the key here is flexibility - there may be entire weeks where this may not work (I remember wanting to book travel at end of October but first open slot was beginning of November). In addition, you should book it as far out as possible, in my case I made the booking at the end of September for travel in November. The only reason I managed to make the booking was due to my flexibility and the use of ExpertFlyer. Also of note, ExpertFlyer won't list availability for First Air (one of the two airlines that flies to Iqaluit), just Canadian North so you're still kind of shooting in the dark.

One thing to keep in mind when travelling to the North is that things are expensive, really expensive. A basic lunch (hamburger and fries) can easily cost you $20 CAD. The cheapest hotel in Iqaluit is around $200 CAD/night (Airbnb is your friend in this case). I would recommend stopping at the restaurant at the Granite Inn restaurant at the Discovery Inn and trying caribou and arctic char meal (cost around $70 CAD but totally worth it). Cell phone service sort of works (you can place calls and use data but if people try to call you it is hit or miss, mainly miss that they'll be able to reach you). Taxis cost a flat $7 regardless of where you are going (if staying at an Airbnb you just tell them the house number and they'll know where it is). Iqaluit's airport is brand new (opened last year I believe) and has many of the creature comforts of a southern airport. If you're chasing the Northern Lights as I was, Iqaluit may not be the best option - it's too far north to get a good sighting (better bets would be Yellowknife or Whitehorse).

Iqaluit is a strange city. On the one hand it's a small city (population of around 8,000) so it won't have the same level of creature comforts you'd find in a large city (i.e. there are only 2 Timmies in all of Iqaluit). On the other hand, as the capital of Nunavut it has a lot of things you'd expect to find in a capital city (i.e. there's a CBC studio, several TV stations, government offices scattered about, etc.)

Depending on the time you go there are a variety of activities possible from Igloo building, northern lights viewing to exploring distant islands. There are a couple of outfitters in Iqaluit (I can't recommend any as I didn't use them given the time I was going didn't have many activities). Parks Canada also maintains a national park in the area Auyuittuq National Park. What's different about this park from most other national parks is that careful planning must be done (including informing the RCMP and Parks Canada of when you want to use it). The risks are obvious, you are in an area with no cell (and extremely limited satellite) phone service, in an unfriendly climate and with the risk of getting attack by polar bears or worse. That being said, I plan on hiking that park sometime in the future when I manage to get all my ducks in a row.

Another top tip about travelling here is to make sure that you dress in layers - don't pack a massive jacket since it won't provide adequate thermal protection,especially if you're like me and go out on 5 hour hikes. It's not the cold temperature that will get you in Iqaluit but the 30-40 km/h winds they constantly get which effectively blow the heat off your body at all times. In my case I took a light down jacket, a merino wool core layer, sweater, pants, and a decent pair of boots with good insulation. Good gloves are a must (you need thermal protection of at least -20). A bottle of coke literally freezes in 5 minutes outside in Iqaluit. It takes time to adjust to the weather, when I returned from my hike on my first day in Iqaluit I hopped into bed right away and curled into the fetal position for several hours. However, by the 3rd day I was completely used to it and now have gained a new level of appreciation for cold weather. If you don't like cold weather, I'd recommend going during the summer.

That being said, travelling to the north was totally worth it. There are things you'll see there that you'll never see anywhere else. I'd recommend going to the Sylvia Grinell Territorial park and to hike the arctic tundra pass between Iqaluit and Apex.

Safe Travels,

James
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Old Jan 15, 18, 9:25 pm
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Originally Posted by canadiancow View Post
I've been wanting to head up north for a while, but it's surprisingly hard to find someone to accompany me, even when I'm paying for the flight

I was thinking of Resolute though. Iqaluit just isn't far enough north
Do they have concierges there?
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Old Jan 15, 18, 9:38 pm
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Ugh First Air flies to YRB, but Canadian North does not, so I can't use EF

I had no issue finding 2 seats on YOW-YFB on dates that worked for me though.
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Old Jan 15, 18, 9:38 pm
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Originally Posted by yyznomad View Post
Do they have concierges there?
Forget that .... is there a do there? If so, I'm in
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Old Jan 15, 18, 9:38 pm
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Originally Posted by canadiancow View Post
I've been wanting to head up north for a while, but it's surprisingly hard to find someone to accompany me, even when I'm paying for the flight

I was thinking of Resolute though. Iqaluit just isn't far enough north
Does the offer still stand?
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Old Jan 15, 18, 10:00 pm
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Few More Points to Consider

Originally Posted by canadiancow View Post
Ugh First Air flies to YRB, but Canadian North does not, so I can't use EF

I had no issue finding 2 seats on YOW-YFB on dates that worked for me though.
BTW EF isn't perfect for this either. There were numerous days where EF listed 1 Aeroplan seat available on Canadian North only to find out that it was not available on that date. From my experience, you want to have at least 2 Aeroplan seats available on EF for Canadian North to have a shot at booking but again there's no guarantee given how odd the booking process is.

If you want to make your life easier you may want to also consider flying out of YWG or YUL (in addition to YOW) to increase availability. For me it's no big deal flying to YUL or YWG as I live near YXU since those flights are typically cheap to purchase with cash and I don't want to pay Aeroplan's insane taxes and surcharges for the luxury of flying on AC. It's also important to note that the 15,000 miles only covers the flight to/from Iqaluit (i.e. if you use Aeroplan to fly from Toronto to Iqaluit it'll be 25,000). Equally important, these flights to Iqaluit seem to take place early in the morning (i.e. my flight from YOW to YFB took off at 9 AM) so you may want to fly into YOW/YUL/YWG the night before because it would suck to miss the connection (would have to wait another day at least).
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Old Jan 15, 18, 10:11 pm
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@j2simpso
Thanks so much for your detailed posts, information, tips and suggestions. Just awesome.
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Old Jan 15, 18, 10:16 pm
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Originally Posted by j2simpso View Post
... an unfriendly climate and with the risk of getting attack by polar bears or worse.
Very good summary, thank you.
But... is there something worse than getting attacked by polar bears?
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Old Jan 15, 18, 10:33 pm
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Originally Posted by Jumper Jack View Post
Does the offer still stand?
Well I have requirements for the person too. I haven't spent enough time with you to commit to sugar daddying you onto a vacation with me

Originally Posted by j2simpso View Post
BTW EF isn't perfect for this either. There were numerous days where EF listed 1 Aeroplan seat available on Canadian North only to find out that it was not available on that date. From my experience, you want to have at least 2 Aeroplan seats available on EF for Canadian North to have a shot at booking but again there's no guarantee given how odd the booking process is.

If you want to make your life easier you may want to also consider flying out of YWG or YUL (in addition to YOW) to increase availability. For me it's no big deal flying to YUL or YWG as I live near YXU since those flights are typically cheap to purchase with cash and I don't want to pay Aeroplan's insane taxes and surcharges for the luxury of flying on AC. It's also important to note that the 15,000 miles only covers the flight to/from Iqaluit (i.e. if you use Aeroplan to fly from Toronto to Iqaluit it'll be 25,000). Equally important, these flights to Iqaluit seem to take place early in the morning (i.e. my flight from YOW to YFB took off at 9 AM) so you may want to fly into YOW/YUL/YWG the night before because it would suck to miss the connection (would have to wait another day at least).
I'd be coming from SFO, in J, so I'd already expect to pay 50k round-trip. As such, I also don't care what airports I go through.

Good advice all around though - I may finally take this trip.
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Old Jan 15, 18, 10:38 pm
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An analogous sweet spot exists for mileage flights (or used to a number of years back) with SK to Norway's high arctic and to Svalbard. And those could be booked on line!
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