How to book Air Canada flights using frequent flyer points

GUIDE: Using Points
DIFFICULTY: Intermediate
TIME TO READ: 5 minutes
POSTED: February 1, 2017
UPDATED: June 5, 2018
LOYALTY PROGRAMS: Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, United MileagePlus, Avianca Lifemiles, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles

Canada’s flag carrier flies direct to Vancouver from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, opening up award space across the Pacific, which is one of the hardest routes to redeem on in the world.

In this guide, we outline the most common routes Air Canada operates from Australia and beyond; pricing, searching for and booking Air Canada flights with frequent flyer points; how to choose the best Business Class seat on your flight; and lounge access at key airports.

Key routes for travellers from Australia

As of June 2018, Air Canada flies to Vancouver from:

  • Sydney: daily on the Boeing 777-200LR and onto Toronto on the same flight number
  • Brisbane: daily on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner
  • Melbourne: 3-4x weekly on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner

Qantas also operates a 3x weekly service from Sydney to Vancouver on a Boeing 747 during the months of June-July and December-January.

On all three Air Canada flights, you’ll get the same lie-flat reverse herringbone Business Class seat with direct aisle access in a 1-2-1 configuration.

Air Canada 777 Business Class

Economy Class is configured as 3-3-3 on the Dreamliner, with the 777 squeezing in an extra seat in the middle as 3-4-3.

From Vancouver, there are two common options for Australian travellers: flying onward to Toronto or New York.

The same aircraft and flight number of the Sydney flight continue on to Toronto with a less-than-two-hour layover in both directions to/from all three cities, making that connection quite convenient.

If you wanted to fly on to New York, you again have the option of a short layover and taking a Boeing 787 with Air Canada. We previously reviewed this flight when it was operated by an inferior Airbus A319.

Other Air Canada services are focussed on flights between Toronto and Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe and North Asia.

Comparing redemption options on Air Canada

For travellers in Australia, there are four main programs that are most common for Air Canada redemptions, with each linked to a guide on how to get your hands on points with each one:

Here is a comparison of one-way Business Class pricing on three routes, the first being the direct flight to Vancouver (no extra cost to fly onto anywhere else in North America, including Toronto or New York); the second just a direct flight between Vancouver and Toronto; and the third between Toronto and Europe:

ProgramSydney/Brisbane - Vancouver/Toronto/New YorkVancouver - TorontoToronto - London
KrisFlyer117,00020,00065,000
MileagePlus80,00025,00070,000
LifeMiles80,00025,00063,000
Asia Miles-30,000-

For comparison purposes, a cash ticket from Australia to Vancouver return starts at $5500 return in Business Class and $1500 in Economy.

For just the Transpacific flight, choose MileagePlus or LifeMiles.

You can see that KrisFlyer is quite a bit more expensive than MileagePlus and LifeMiles redemptions on the Transpacific route after the devaluation in December 2017 but we’ve still listed it first as it is a much more common program for travellers in Australia to be involved in. The other two are 37,000 points cheaper, though.

For a flight within Canada, choose KrisFlyer.

If you’re just looking for a domestic redemption within Canada on Air Canada, KrisFlyer offers you the best value.

Sweet spot: for a more extensive North American trip, choose MileagePlus (winner) or KrisFlyer (runner up).

Both of these programs offer one free stopover and an open jaw (fly into one airport and out of another) on roundtrip awards, i.e. double the one-way pricing above to 160,000 for MileagePlus and 234,000 for KrisFlyer.

That means you could fly from Australia to New York via Vancouver and spend however long you like in the Big Apple.

Then you can make your own way to and fly out of Toronto (or any other North American city that Air Canada serves) back to Australia via Vancouver.

The reason MileagePlus has the edge over KrisFlyer in this situation is that:

  1. It doesn’t apply fuel surcharges like KrisFlyer does; and
  2. On roundtrip awards, the Excursionist Perk allows a free one-way flight within one region, i.e. North America. In our example, the white line shows that free flight from New York to Toronto

You can also use your Qantas Points for travel on Air Canada’s main competitor, WestJet.

How to search for and book Air Canada flights

Whatever Air Canada space that shows on the United website at Saver Award level should be available to book through its partners.

Step 1: Go to united.com and input your origin and destination. It’s best to break up the journey, e.g. search Brisbane to Vancouver, then Vancouver to Toronto. Make sure to tick the three boxes so you are searching for award space on nonstop flights across a range of dates:

Step 2: If searching for Business Class space, look for dates with the dots; for Economy, look for the blue line:

Step 3: Click on a date with Business Saver (not Standard) Award availability and it will bring the flight details up for you:

Step 4: Book online with both United MileagePlus and Krisflyer for free, Avianca LifeMiles ($25 USD online vs $85 USD by phone) and for Asia Miles, write down the date, route and flight number and call 1800 129 264.

How to get the best Business Class seats on domestic Air Canada flights

On shorter flights, like Vancouver to Calgary or Toronto to Montreal, expect a very similar product to what we have on most domestic routes here in Australia and New Zealand – angled-flat seats in a 2-2 configuration. We reviewed this product here.

However, on longer transcontinental flights such as Vancouver to Toronto, some flights are operated by Boeing 767, 777 and 787 Dreamliner aircraft, all of which have lie-flat Business Class seats in a 1-2-1 or 1-1-1 configuration, giving direct aisle access to all passengers.

Air Canada 777-200LR Business Class

You can use Google Flights to find out which aircraft is servicing the flight you’re looking at.

With a lot of flight frequencies, it will most likely be the more expensive cash tickets that will have the superior Business Class product, so go to the bottom first.

When I click on one of the more expensive flights, I can see it is operated by a Boeing 767 with lie-flat Business Class seat:

Lounge access

Reviews of Air Canada’s onboard food and drink service are average, so you may want to take the opportunity to dine more substantially in a lounge prior to your flight.

No matter if you are leaving from Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane, you’ll have access to the Air New Zealand or Singapore Airlines SilverKris lounges.

If travelling onward from Vancouver to Toronto or New York, you’ll enter Air Canada’s Maple Leaf Lounge (pictured below).

On the way back, from Toronto, you’ll again enjoy Air Canada’s Maple Leaf Lounge, whilst Air Canada flights from New York’s Newark Airport depart from Terminal A, where there are no Star Alliance lounges, meaning that you would have to access the Lufthansa or SAS lounge in Terminal B or one of the United Clubs in Terminal C and catch a shuttle to Terminal C for your departing flight.

That’s assuming you can access Terminal B or C without a departing flight from one of those terminals, so you may just be best to play it safe and forgo lounge access.

Summing up

Air Canada redemptions are best suited to travellers based on the East Coast, and value is maximised by booking a roundtrip award to North America with KrisFlyer and MileagePlus rather than a one-way in order to take advantage of a free stopover and open jaw.

Supplementary images courtesy Air Canada.

How to book Air Canada flights using frequent flyer points was last modified: June 5th, 2018 by Matt Moffitt