Monday, December 3, 2012

Superelite - Toronto-Tel-Aviv Route: Review and Comments

Leaving Israel Nov 2012
This past year, I have taken advantage of Air Canada "Superelite" status, which I managed to acquire by travelling back and forth between Toronto, Canada and Tel-Aviv, Israel.  This status is achieved by flying back and forth on this route 8.5 times (17 one way trips).  An advantage of Air Canada is that it is part of the "Star Alliance," so you can also accumulate points, for this route, on United, U.S Air, Lufthansa, Austrian Air and Swiss as well as some other airlines.  (Though I have to say, I am simply not interested in flying to Israel on Turkish Airlines...).  It is worth mentioning that Lufthansa and Austrian do not always provide full Aeroplan points accumulation.  For some fares, Austrian does not provide any points.  So if you are close to the borderline of making a status goal - it can be quite costly to take a trip with the wrong airline or ar the wrong airfare...

One of the big advantages of being Superelite is that you can collect Air Canada upgrade points and then use the points to try to upgrade into an Executive First Class seat.  Although you can also do this with Elite status, it is harder to get the upgrades.   Air Canada gives out 15 upgrade points for each 20,000 miles flown but then charges 17 points for upgrades on this route.  You also get an initial alotment at the beginning of the year.  If you have the upgrade points, you can phone Air Canada or log on to the website one week before the flight (to the minute) and request an upgrade.  Superelite flyers will often be upgraded during the week.  Most others trying to get an upgrade will have to show up at the airport and hope for the best.

The biggest advantage of flying in the Executive First Cabin is that the seats recline completely flat into beds.  For the flight from Toronto to Tel-Aviv, this is terrific.  Since the flight leaves Toronto at abou 5:30 p.m., the timing is perfect.  You can have a meal and then go to sleep and wake up about 7 or 8 hours later just in time to arrive.  The flight back is a different story.  Air Canada only flies from Tel-Aviv to Toronto during the day - leaving at about 12:45 p.m. and arriving in Toronto at 6:20.  This is the most significant drawback of flying Air Canada.  The flight is almost 13 hours long, all during the day.  Even with a reclining seat, this is still a dreadfully long flight.

Air Canada offers some very nice menu options on its Executive First Service.  I would describe my eating habits as "liberal kosher," which means that I will eat dairy and fish out of the house, though our house is strictly kosher.  I have tried ordering kosher meals (for much of the time that I have been commuting) but they are simply horrible.  Mainly carbohydrates and beef.  Nothing is fresh.  And due to the various banned ingredients by different rabbis, including many vegetables, the meals seem to be less and less healthy.  So I have also tried vegetarian, asian vegetarian, Indian vegetarian...and other vegetarian meals.  But when flying on Air Canada Executive First, they offer a fish option and that is suitable for me.

Main Course - Salmon on wild rice with asparagus
This is a bit of a risky strategy since the fish can run out.  If that happens - and you can't eat the chicken or beef - you can go hungry.  But the helpful Air Canada staff are then usually able to find an extra Kosher meal on this route from the economy class cabin so there is something to eat.  Of course, superelite flyers get their choice of meals first (supposedly), so when I have been upgraded, I have almost always been able to get a fish dinner.  Here is the salmon dish, served on  wild rice with asparagus.  Quite a good meal for airplane food - in my experience.
Cheese Platter

After the main course, there are usually some different dessert options.  While this may not be a great choice for watching calories, every now and then I can't resist a cheese platter...I might try to eat the cheese without the crackers to save a handful of calories...and the grapes are pretty healthy..Since I am not doing this that often, might as well enjoy the offering along with a glass (or two) of a big oaky California Cabernet...

Fruit Platter
The cheese platter is not the only dessert.  There is usually a subsequent choice of either a three-scoop ice cream platter...or a fruit platter.  (If you are really trying to take advantage of the occasion, you can request both and sometimes get it...not that I would ever know about this kind of gluttonic request).  So, as you have probably guessed, of course, I went with the fruit platter to wash away all of those cheese calories.  I'm not sure that it really works that way...  I am refusing to answer any questions about whether or not I also had the ice cream platter and I certainly do not have any pictures of chocolate, mocha and vanilla ice cream to post on this blog.  Nor do I have any photos of the Remy Martin VSOP Cognac, which is a great finish for this type of meal.

As I mentioned earlier, this would have all been great as a dinner.  However, this was the meal served at abou 2 p.m., near the beginning of a 13 hour flight.  Hard to sleep after that, even after all of these calories.

I try to read, get some work done or watch a few movies.  As it gets later, the sun starts to set and there are some great views from the window.  The Air Canada movies selection is not as varied as the selection offered by United Airlines.  But there were some interesting movies.  I watched The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Little Shop of Horrors.  I hadn't seen either of these movies in years, so it was quite fun to go back to these two bizarre flics.

Finally, as the flight approached Toronto, about two hours out, there was a second meal service.  For the second meal, the choices are only meat choices.  But I had requested, early on, that the crew save me a vegetarian meal and they agreed to do so.  So I had this vegetarian pasta dish, which was quite light in comparison to everything that I had eaten earlier in the day... I believe that it was made with eggplant and zucchini, though I could be wrong.

If you are thinking of trying something like my completely insane commuting schedule, you should have a careful look at Air Canada's 2013 Aeroplan changes.  Essentially, Air Canada has scaled the benefits back dramatically for most categories of frequent flyers.  It will be much harder to achieve Superelite status on this type of route and the benefits will be reduced.  A few examples:

1.  The cheapest fares - "Tango" will now be treated as a lower class between Toronto and Tel-Aviv and will only allow for 50% mileage accumulation.  If you fly
Tango fares, you would need 17 round-trip flights in a year to get Superelite designation.

2.  Less upgrade points will be awarded for every 20,000 miles flown.

3.  Other categories of Air Canada frequent flyers will lose many different benefits.  The most significant impact will be on the "Elite" members who, up until 2012, enjoyed most of the benefits of the Superelite flyers, with some minor distinctions.  That will change dramatically. 

For me, it looks like I will barely make it to Superelite for 2013 but it is now much less likely that I will be upgraded as often as I was in 2012.  Even so, for this route between Toronto and Tel-Aviv, Star Alliance still seems to offer a much better package of services than the alternative of flying El-Al.

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