An Aeroplan European Luxury Family Vacation: Booking Part 1

This is Part 1 of a 3 Part Series about booking a European Vacation on points. In this part we will go over the basics you need to know before you start searching for flight or hotels.

In our last post, we told you all about our European luxury vacation we have coming up this summer. This post we are going to break down the basics you need to know before attempting to book one of these yourself.

The first thing you need to do is understand what your goals are. What kind of vacation do you want? Do you want business class flights and 5-star hotels? Do you want economy flights and AirBnB? Do you want a combination? Once you know what you want then you’ll know what to look for.

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Athens AirBnB – 25EUR/night | Photo Courtesy of AirBnB

The other important thing to remember is that you have to be flexible. Booking on points isn’t for everyone because there are often multiple layovers when flying to your destination and often times the itinerary you want isn’t available in the perfect order that would be your ideal. Be flexible and open and you won’t have any problems. Some people hate layovers and only want direct flights, if that is you then booking on points may not be the best for you, but if you’re flexible and open to different routes then hop on board with us and let’s book some flights!

Some parts of the vacation are harder to find availability for than others. We like to book our flights in Business Class so for us we always search for flights first. If you want a very specific hotel then maybe you want to look at what dates that hotel is available and then plan around that. For us, we’re very flexible about where we stay and we want the best flight first.

Here is the order we like to book things in:

  1. Longest flights (usually the ones that cross an ocean)
  2. Positioning flight (if necessary, for us we had to get to Toronto first)
  3. Connecting flight (getting you to the other cities you want)
  4. Longer stay accommodations (longer than one night)
  5. Airport accommodations (if necessary)

This is the order we booked our Europe vacation in.

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LOT Airlines Business Class | Photo Courtesy of LOT Airlines

First, we looked for our long flight. For us Canadians to get to Europe you pretty much have to get to the east coast. Toronto (YYZ) and Montreal (YUL) are the only options for getting direct flights to Europe from Canada. The best options for airlines are the ones that don’t have fuel surcharges; in our case, for getting to Europe, that is Swiss Airlines (LX), Turkish Airlines (TK), LOT Airlines (LO),  EgyptAir (MS), and Brussels Airlines (SN).

The airlines to avoid (because they impose high fuel surcharges) when looking at flying to Europe are:

  • Air Canada
  • Austrian
  • Lufthansa

That being said, here are your options when flying from Canada to Europe:

  • Swiss Airlines flies from Montreal to Zurich
  • Brussels Airlines flies from Toronto to Brussels
  • Turkish Airlines flies from Toronto OR Montreal to Istanbul
  • LOT Airlines flies from Toronto to Warsaw
  • EgyptAir flies from Toronto to Cairo*

* EgyptAir is a dry airline which means they do not serve alcohol on their flights

Note: LOT does impose fuel surcharges but they are low enough that they are still worth considering

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Brussels Airlines Business Class Throne Seat | Photo Courtesy of Bart.LA

It’s best to go through your available dates and see if you can find one of those options with availability. If not, you’ll have to reposition to the East Coast USA. New York (JFK, EWR), Boston (BOS), and Washington (IAD) have good availability and if that doesn’t work then you can try Chicago (ORD) which we had to do on the way home.

When flying Business Class you want to make sure you’re on the best plane with the newest and best seat options. Not all planes have the same Business Class seating arrangement and not all Business Classes have the same seats. When looking for flights we like to make sure we’re on one of the following planes as that usually ensures we will be on a plane with seats that are the newest and in the best configuration. In order of our favourite to least favourite:

  • 787-900 (789)
  • 787-800 (788)
  • 777-300 (77W)
  • A330-300 (333)
  • 767-300 (76W)

For the shorter flights you can’t always get on one of those planes because airlines usually reserve those planes for their longer flights. Sometimes you get lucky, though. I wouldn’t worry about the plane type on your short flights because it isn’t worth rearranging your itinerary for a certain plane on a short flight, worry more about the long flights.

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Air Canada’s 787-900 Dreamliner | Photo Courtesy of Elpais

The 787-900 and 787-800 Dreamliners are the newest planes the Boeing is making and they look slick. I’ve become quite the aircraft geek since this hobby started and I dream to fly on one of those planes one day. Unfortunately, this trip won’t be the trip I get to do that as the dates and availability didn’t work out.

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Aeroplan is the best program to book a trip like this through because they have very generous routing rules. There are tons of blog posts out there that go into detail so we will only go over the basics:

  • You can have 2 stopovers longer than 24 hours in addition to your destination
  • You can add one open jaw flight (fly into one city and out of another city in the same region) in lieu of your stopovers
  • You can have unlimited less than 24 hour layovers
  • The stops in all 3 destinations can be as long as you wish but you must return to your origin within 365 days of initial departure
  • You can only stop in the same city once per direction between your origin and destination then again between your destination and origin
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Open Jaw Flight Example | Photo Courtesy of Aeroplan

That is breaking it down very simply but the first point is the point that makes this itinerary so valuable because you get 3 stops as long as you want (less than a year) in each of them. Obviously not everyone can afford the vacation time to do that but the point is that you get tons of flexibility with your routing.

In the last post you saw our routing and our layovers. We get to see 10 cities if you include the cash flights we paid for. Even just on points, we still get to see 8 cities.

In summary, there are 3 keys to booking a vacation like this:

  1. Know what you want
  2. Be flexible when booking
  3. Avoid fuel surcharge airlines

Next post we will show you how to search for and book your flights.

Never stop adventuring!

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