Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

ASK JOURNEYS: Aeroplan points flying away from travellers

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WHILE the rush for winter destination accommodation is finally in full swing, readers are also planning dream vacations for different times and places. They want to be treated fairly by suppliers, and are looking to find ways to make the travel time on board the aircraft that transports them more comfortable and relaxing.

QUESTION: With the announcement from Aeroplan that they are going to be stealing unused points from us sooner than we think we can use them, we decided to book European business-class flights for next spring.

Even though business class was only available on one direction of our trip, they still charged us for all our points as though it was business class for the entire routing.

On top of that, what is equally annoying is that Air Canada charged each of us a significant Carrier Administration Service Charge in addition to the usual applicable airport fees and taxes. We feel totally ripped off. How can this be justified?

ANSWER: You are likely wise to use your points accumulated before 2007 sooner rather than later. Aeroplan has raised the number of redemption points required for most flights. And at the end of 2013 any accumulated points before that period will be summarily voided.

Thereafter, any points over seven years will be removed on a monthly basis.

I can assure you, as word of this decision by Aeroplan has circulated, the crescendo of complaints has risen dramatically. It will likely become even more deafening the first time some find out in January 2013 that their account has shrunk.

Because I have been receiving a number of questions in this regard I have been recommending no one let them 'steal' points. Rather, use at-risk points to buy products which are now offered online, or donate your extra points to a designated charity.

Even though only a portion of a member's journeys may be in business class, to my knowledge the practise of charging accounts with all points related to full business class travel has been happening since Day 1 of the program.

But there has been one improvement.

If you keep calling Aeroplan, occasionally a business-class segment will open up. Should that occur you will be assigned the seat you planned for initially. However you do have to keep phoning on a regular basis, which can be extremely time-consuming considering the wait times members are often faced with.

Air Canada gets paid for the trips they sell to Aeroplan so why they need an additional administrative fee is a mystery. The policy may be motivated more by the colour of the bottom line than to any services which may be required to complete the transaction.

In a market where the numbers of reward programs keep expanding, companies should perhaps make sure their actions do not appear to be centered on greed, which could lead to the death of the goose that laid the golden egg.

QUESTION: I have some serious difficulty in trying to sleep on long-haul air flights. I get to my destination with more jet lag than I think I should have, and often wonder if I would feel better if I could sleep. Can you offer any solutions?

ANSWER: Many people have trouble falling asleep on airplanes. Yet look across the aisle and you will see others pull down the window shade and effortlessly drift into dreamland surrounded by the white noise of the aircraft.

Researchers say that even short in-flight naps can make a significant improvement in your mental state, and depending on when you sleep overcome at least some of the jet lag symptoms.

Your inability to sleep is a form of flight anxiety unto itself, making the challenge of finding rest even more difficult. How can you overcome at least some of this?

While you may already not drink caffeinated beverages or food on board the flight, psychologists suggest you should stay away from consuming all such items at least eight hours before flight departure.

Since our body temperature drops when we sleep, keeping warm throughout the flight will help your efforts to drift off into a deeper sleep.

While the sound of the aircraft is hypnotic to some, to others it is sheer annoyance. Make sure you can block out sounds with earplugs, and take eyeshades to ease the glare on your eyelids.

Taking sleeping pills is not advised, but dressing for sleep is. While most travellers may not relish the idea of wearing pajamas, the closer you can come to the comfort level you have before going to bed at home, the better are your chances for sleep. That may include packing your own blanket and pillow.

Bring along music that you find relaxing for your iPod, and keep the light above you off for most of the flight. Use the do not disturb sign to protect you during those few short minutes that you are able to doze off. Some airlines actually offer aromatherapy cards that emit lavender or other aroma scents.

Of course, the best way to find sleep may be to blow the budget on business or first-class tickets. These sections now offer seats that recline into beds, with protective walls that surround you into a cocoon of comfort.

Where is that lottery ticket of mine?

Forward your travel questions to askjourneys@journeystravel.com. Ron Pradinuk is president of Journeys Travel & Leisure SuperCentre and can be heard Sundays at noon on CJOB. Previous columns and tips can be found on www.journeystravelgear.com or read Ron's travel blog at www.thattravelguy.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 15, 2011 D8

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