The lounge at Mashpi Lodge, an experiential ecolodge in the Chocó-Darién cloud forest in Ecuador.
Photo by @colbyblount
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Like many of my peers in the points and miles universe, I’m a huge fan of Air Canada’s frequent flier program, Aeroplan. It has more award partners than any other loyalty program in the world—45 and counting. With a whopping 1,300+ global destinations accessible through Aeroplan, I achieved my ultimate travel revenge in 2022 using points for a short-but-profound trip to Ecuador and Panama, accomplishing all my flights exclusively in business class (at just 85,000 points total).
Here’s how I did it, where I went, and how you can follow in my footsteps—and create your own dream trip—by earning Aeroplan points.
In fall 2022, I wanted something bucket list–worthy yet a short flight from my home in south Florida since I was only planning to be gone for one week. I chose to visit Ecuador, a country rich in biodiversity and indigenous culture. I first spent a night in Quito’s historic center before retreating to Mashpi Lodge, an experiential ecolodge in the Choco-Darien cloud forest. On the way back, I took advantage of Aeroplan’s stopover feature, which allowed me to spend two nights in Panama City for an additional 5,000 points.
On my desired dates, I was able to score business-class tickets using Aeroplan points with its partner airline, Copa Airlines. I flew from Fort Lauderdale, Florida to Quito, Ecuador, for 40,000 points, and returned from Quito to Fort Lauderdale with my two-day stopover for 45,000 points. The itinerary, which totaled 85,000 points, priced out at roughly $2,000 for a cash ticket at the time.
Aeroplan’s layover program means you can add a stop in another city for just 5,000 extra points.
Courtesy of Aeroplan
My short but epic trip began with a night at regal Casa Gangotena, a repurposed mansion in the heart of colonial old Quito, the world’s first UNESCO World Heritage site. The boutique hotel’s design is reason enough to stay there. There are original hand-painted Belgian tin ceilings, restored marble staircases, handsome wood trim, and curated pieces from Quito’s archaeological museum.
The view of old Quito from a balcony of Casa Gangotena
Photo by Bicubik Photography
The next day I took a scheduled shuttle from Casa Gangotena to its sister property Mashpi Lodge, enjoying a 3.5-hour car ride through the dramatic scenery of the Andes Mountains, ultimately arriving in the sky-scraping cloud forests of the World Wildlife Fund–declared Chocó-Darién biodiverse hot spot.
Some 500 species of birds inhabit this precious tract of Earth, sharing the land with native oddities like adorable tayras (think: land-based otters), secretive ocelots, enigmatic sloths, and endemic amphibians aplenty. (Multiple species new to science, including the ethereal Masphi glass frog, have been discovered at Mashpi over the past decade.) Given my unwavering love for science, wildlife, and wild places, I had arrived in a true dream destination.
A glass frog new to science was recently discovered near Masphi Lodge in Ecuador.
Photo by Lucas Bustamante
The lodge itself is a high design, three-story, glass-and-steel marvel among the treetops, completely immersed in the forest. Planet Earth unfolds in real time through the floor-to-ceiling windows of all guest rooms and common areas.
Twice-daily activities, included in daily rates alongside all gourmet meals, showcase the best of the natural surroundings, from both above and below. Walking safaris usually end at one of the region’s myriad waterfalls or bird-watching platforms, where birds like the crimson rumped toucanet, the collared trogan, and the glistening green tanager illuminate the sky like fireworks.
A collared trogan at Mashpi Lodge
Photo by Paul Rubio
An extensive aerial network of cables and ziplines allows guests to glide over the forested landscapes by open-air cable car (aka “The Dragonfly”) and aerial bicycle. Following Masphi, I returned to Quito to catch my plane to Panama City. Regrettably, I did not have enough time to visit the Galápagos Islands on this trip, but my new travel friends were all heading to the Darwinian wonderland with Metropolitan Touring, the same luxury outfitter that runs Gangotena and Masphi.
Upon arriving in Panama, I found myself completely enchanted by Casco Antiguo, Panama City’s old quarter, which is in the midst of a cultural and design renaissance. The area flaunts some of the most extraordinary adaptive reuse projects in the Americas, the highlight of which is Hotel La Compañia, a three-wing hotel that spans centuries through reinvented landmark structures. (The c. 1688 Spanish colonial wing, the c. 1739 French colonial, and the c. 1905 American wing are equally impressive.) Hotel La Compañia also houses some of the city’s superlative bars and restaurants, including the French-tinged 1739 restaurant and local rooftop mainstay, Capella’s. Moreover, as part of the Unbound Collection by Hyatt, this stunner goes for a mere 12,000 World of Hyatt points per night (kind of unbelievable to get such a posh place for so little).
With only 30 hours on the ground, I spent much of my Panama City express visit eating, drinking, and photographing my way through the hotel, ambling the neighboring streets, admiring all the architectural grandeur—and loving every second.
A dinner date with history at Hotel La Compañia
Courtesy of Hotel La Compania
While I spent 85,000 points for the travel portion of this multi-country trip to Latin America, I could have applied those points to reach other destinations via Aeroplan. A round-trip ticket from Boston to Zurich, Switzerland, on Swiss Air, for example, costs as low as 120,000 Aeroplan points in business class. For those willing to fly economy, 70,000 points is often enough for a round-trip ticket from New York City to Lisbon, Portugal, on partner TAP Portugal. The options are endless.
Thankfully, amassing Aeroplan points isn’t as hard as you’d imagine. Apply for the Chase-backed Aeroplan® Credit Card, transfer points from other credit card loyalty programs, or pool points with family, and you’ll be on your way to a bucket-list destination or discovering the best place you never knew existed.
The current introductory bonus on Air Canada’s Aeroplan® Credit Card (annual fee $95) allows new cardholders to earn 70,000 points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first three months. You’ll also build up your balance quickly thanks to the card’s excellent earnings rates; they include three points per dollar spent at grocery stores and on dining, including takeout and eligible delivery services.
Those with Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, and Capital One Points can transfer credit card points to the Aeroplan program at 1:1 ratio. This makes it easy to combine points from spending on your Aeroplan card with points accrued on other general travel credit cards, collectively amassing enough for coveted business-class tickets to far-flung places, if you fall short from the Aeroplan card alone.
Aeroplan frequently engages in points-boosting promos with its partners. In September 2022, for example, American Express offered a 15 percent bonus when transferring points from Membership Rewards to Aeroplan. Until November 30, 2022, those who transfer Ultimate Rewards points to Aeroplan Air Canada will get a 30 percent bonus. In addition, until December 31, 2023, Aeroplan cardmembers score an extra 10 percent when they transfer at least 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Aeroplan. The two Aeroplan–Ultimate Rewards offers are stackable, which equates to a 40 percent bonus.
Aeroplan allows members to pool and share points among eight family members, making it even simpler to gather sufficient mileage for your dream award tickets.
I hope my personal Aeroplan adventure evokes wanderlust and inspiration to map out your epic trip. We at AFAR can’t wait for you to start traveling again—and to put our advice and your hard-earned points to great use.
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