COOL AEROPLAN REWARDS ...KING EDDY DEALS...AIR CANADA NEWS
I've had my issues with Aeroplan in the past, but I gotta say the rewards program has done a good job of branching out beyond free airline tickets.
They did a showing of various Aeroplan reward possibilities in a stunning, sixth floor loft on Queen West Wednesday afternoon to celebrate Aeroplan's 25th anniversary, displaying everything from barbeques that look ready for liftoff to wine-tastings, sleek handbags, digital cameras and Callaway golf clubs.
General Manager of Rewards Management Nathalie Belanger explained that a few years ago only about 1 per cent of rewards people asked for were merchandise and that 99 per cent of requests were for travel. Now, non-travel merchandise requests account for about 20 per cent of rewards.
"We've got more choice and more options. A lot of frequent flyers, the last thing they want to do is get back on a plane."
Among the unusual offerings on display Wednesday were wine tastings, a deal where you can buy into an olive tree in Italy and get a two-litre can of oil from the tree at the end of the the year, powerful Bushnell telescopes (only 13,000 points), Home Hardware garden products, Heys luggage, Dolce and Gabbana watches, Dr. Seuss prints, wine coolers, a portable, Panasonic blu-ray DVD player (112,000 points) and a deal where you can make your own chocolates at a place in Vancouver called Schokolade and then take them home (5,000 points; pretty sweet). Belanger said a Vespa will set you back 600,000 points but we couldn't one on the web site. Damn.
"Electronics are probably tops, followed by gift cards for places such as Esso or Home Hardware. Jewellery is popular at Christmas."
Belanger says Aeroplan carries 700-800 items at a time, varying them by the season so that you can buy more hockey stuff in winter and more golf stuff in summer, naturally.
Many carriers in the U.S. have points programs that only allow travel purchases, so that makes Aeroplan a little unique, she explains.
Folks love to complain (guilty as charged) that there aren't enough Aeroplan seats available on Air Canada flights, but Belanger says that, in fact, eight per cent of all capacity on Air Canada and Air Canada Jazz flights are set aside for reward plan redemption. That would be 24 seats on a 300-passenger plane, which is far more than some people might think.
Still, she concedes folks should book well in advance if they want to redeem their points for flights, which can cost as little at 15,000 points for shorter haul, roundtrip flights from Toronto to Montreal or New York.
"If you want to go to Florida in March you might need to book six months in advance. It's not like that for flights to Milwaukee in December, not that there's anything wrong with Milwaukee."
West Jet has talked about a rewards program but has had trouble getting it off the ground, so to speak.
KING EDDY...AND A ROYAL TOUR
The folks at Le Meridien King Edward, "Toronto's oldest luxury hotel," have announced a historical tour and afternoon tea package. With rates starting at $279 double occupancy, you get a night at the hotel plus afternoon tea for two, valet parking, a 3 p.m. checkout and a two-hour walking tour with Bruce Bell.
I recall the afternoon tea being pretty good from a long time back and I had a great, just wonderful, tour with Bruce Bell last year. Bell is racy and informative and colourful and interesting and he knows more about the city of Toronto, especially the old city in and around St. Lawrence Market, than just about anyone. He'll regale you with great stories and tell you things you simply never knew before. Highly recommended.
Go to www.lemeridien.com/kingedward or call 416-863-9700.
AIR CANADA STABILIZING?
Good for Canadian travellers to see that three unions that represent about 60 per cent of Air Canada's unionized workers have agreed to a no-strike, no-lockout deal. Air Canada chief executive Calin Rovinescu called it a "milestone" deal.
The last thing any of us in the travel biz need is Air Canada having labour troubles. Still, there's more work to do, including nailing down an agreement on pension plans with pilots and flight attendants.
I DO...I REALLY DO
The Sonesta Maho Beach resort & Casino in St. Maarten has a new "Free Wedding Package" that's valid through 2010. Brides and grooms who book at least 10 rooms on the resort's all-inclusive plan get a free wedding with the works, including a wedding consultant, a customized cocktail reception and celebration dinner, the reception and dinner venues, a marriage license (always a good idea), plus an open bar (woo-hoo!) during the event, a custom wedding cake, sparkling wine for the toasts and more.
All-inclusive rates start at $174 U.S. per person per night, based on double occupancy and not including service charges and taxes. Email Sonesta at email@example.com or telephone 602-904-5584.