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Air Canada Altitude: Guide to Qualifying & Privileges T.J. March 18, 2020

Air Canada Altitude: Guide to Qualifying & Privileges

The Air Canada Altitude program rewards its most frequent travellers with benefits and perks that aren’t available to the general public. Broadly speaking, the more often you fly, the greater the recognition and options available to you.

Further to my recent article about benefits for Super Elite 100K status, this post explores how to qualify for Altitude status in more detail, as well as the benefits of the Altitude program across all tiers. 

Some of you may have taken advantage of the recent status challenge to reach Prestige 25K or Elite 35K status, so you’ll want to pay attention to how to maximize your benefits. And judging from comments on the Super Elite post, there seem to be plenty of readers who have status organically with Air Canada (and likely other airlines, too) through frequent travel for work or leisure as well. 

In This Post

How to Qualify for Altitude Status

Air Canada bases its status on how much you have flown within a calendar year and on how much you have spent with the airline within a calendar year. The three determinants of your status are your Altitude Qualifying Miles (AQM), Altitude Qualifying Segments (AQS), and Altitude Qualifying Dollars (AQD).

Altitude Qualifying Miles are determined by the actual distance flown and, importantly, by both the fare class you are booked on and the area of the world you travel to. The percentage of AQM you earn with each fare class and destination is found on Air Canada’s website. The amount of AQM you earn for each flight is the same as the amount of Aeroplan miles you accumulate.

Altitude Qualifying Segments are determined by how many individual flight segments you fly in a particular year. If you are booked on a direct flight from Calgary to Montreal, you will earn 1 AQS. If you are booked on a flight from Calgary to Montreal with a stopover in Toronto, you will earn 2 AQS (as long as you are not booked on a Basic fare). So, if you are close to reaching a threshold for Altitude status by AQS, it could be worthwhile to make a booking with multiple stopovers to generate more AQS.

Altitude Qualifying Dollars are determined by the amount spent on the base fare and carrier-imposed surcharges (YQ and YR) on flights flown with Air Canada and on Star Alliance partner airlines ticketed on Air Canada ticket stock (ticket numbers that begin with “014”). AQD are credited on the actual date flown, not on the date of purchase. 

For example, a direct flight between Toronto and Vancouver has a distance of around 2,085 miles. 

If you book on a Basic fare, you will not earn any AQM, AQS, or AQD. If you book on a Standard fare, you will earn 521 AQM and Aeroplan miles (25% of the distance flown), 1 AQS, and the money spent will contribute to your AQD. A business class fare will net you a juicy 3,127 AQM and Aeroplan miles (150% of the distance flown), in addition to 1 AQM and a good chunk toward your AQD.

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There are 5 different tiers of status with Air Canada Altitude. Each tier is based on your AQM or AQS in a calendar year, and your AQD. So, with each tier, you must have either fulfilled the requirement for AQM or AQS, in addition to having spent the required AQD.

The only exception to the AQD rule is if you reside outside of Canada. In this case, the AQD requirement is halved.

To check your AQM, AQS, and AQD progress, log in to your Altitude account with your Aeroplan number and password and check out your Dashboard. Here, you can track your progress and see how close you are to reaching the next level.

Once you have reached status, you will enjoy the status and perks until the end of the benefit year, through to the end of February of the following year.

For example, if you qualify for Elite 50K status in the 2020 calendar year, you will enjoy the benefits throughout 2021 and to the end of February 2022. 

Core Privileges and Select Privileges

There are two different sets of benefits available to Altitude members. Core Privileges are benefits that do not need to be selected: if you have qualified for an Altitude tier, all of the Core Privileges for that tier are afforded to you. The Privileges are outlined in detail on Air Canada’s Altitude Privileges page.

Select Privileges, however, are bundles of options that must be selected by each Altitude member. There are two bundles to choose from, with Bundle 1 having a range of benefits and Bundle 2 pertaining to benefits with Flight Pass activity.

(We’ll primarily focus on Bundle 1 when discussing Select Privileges in this article, since Bundle 2’s benefits relating to Flight Passes will not be relevant to too many people.)

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These Privileges must be selected by October 31 each year, and the option to select them appears on your Dashboard. If you do not select your Select Privileges by then, they will not be selected for you and you will forfeit the Privileges for the remainder of the benefit year.

Prestige 25K

The lowest Altitude tier, Prestige 25K, is reached by having either 25,000 AQM or 25 AQS, as well as a minimum of $3,000 AQD. The range of benefits is limited compared to higher tiers, but there is still some good value to come from this status.

Beginning with this level, you have access to priority services with Air Canada. This includes front-of-the-line access to Air Canada and Aeroplan call centres, access to seat selection at the front of the economy class cabin, priority check-in, and priority boarding. If a flight is full, you also have a waitlist priority on Air Canada and Star Alliance flights. 

Of the priority services, the priority access to the Air Canada and Aeroplan call centres can save you hours of waiting on hold to have your travel plans changed.

During extraordinary events when call centre wait times are high (such as the current COVID-19 outbreak or the transition to Amadeus), being bumped to the front of the line is a huge timesaver. 

All Altitude members enjoy a carrier-surcharge waiver on Aeroplan Fixed Mileage Flight Rewards within Canada and the United States. This benefit adds value to your Aeroplan miles, as the total taxes and fees required for bookings is reduced in the absence of these surcharges.

For example, from an account without Altitude status, a one-way flight between Montreal and Vancouver assumes $90.97 total in taxes and fees.

The same trip, when booked from an account with Altitude status, costs only $59.93, saving you roughly $30 on a one-way booking.

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Other Core Privileges for Prestige 25K members include two complimentary checked bags, 20 eUpgrade credits, and Star Alliance Silver status. Star Alliance Silver extends your priority reservations waitlist and priority airport standby benefits to other Star Alliance partners, but doesn’t seem to offer much else.

For Select Privileges, Prestige 25K members have the option of choosing two of the following from Bundle 1: 

  • 25% bonus Aeroplan miles

  • 35% discount on Maple Leaf Club Membership

  • Two one-time access passes to a Maple Leaf Lounge

From these, I think the best value comes with the 25% bonus Aeroplan miles, and the second option depends entirely on if you travel enough to get value out of buying a Maple Leaf Club Membership, or whether you’d be better off with simply a couple of one-time lounge passes.

Elite 35K

Elite 35K status is reached when you have either 35,000 AQM or 35 AQS, as well as a minimum of $4,000 AQD. In addition to the Core Privileges outlined for Prestige 25K, this tier affords you three checked bags at 32kg each, two one-time guest passes to the Maple Leaf Lounge, and several more major perks.

If you’re flying on an economy class ticket, beginning with Elite 35K, you have access to priority security clearance. This is usually a dedicated lane that people with Star Alliance Gold status or a business class ticket have access to. Particularly during busy travel periods, this perk could afford you extra time to relax before your flight instead of standing with the masses in long security lines.

At Elite 35K, you will also have access to domestic and transborder Maple Leaf Lounges, even when travelling in economy. So, after fast-tracking through security, you have a quiet place to work, relax, eat, and drink prior to boarding your flight. As a frequent flyer who likely spends a lot of time in airports, this is indeed a valuable benefit.

Aeroplan Priority Rewards are available to Altitude members of Elite 35K status and above. Priority Rewards offer access to any unsold Air Canada seat in economy class when booking a Fixed Mileage Flight Reward. 

For Elite 35K, Elite 50K, and Elite 75K members, the cost is twice that of a regular Fixed Mileage Flight Reward (whereas for Super Elites, the cost is the same as a regular Fixed Mileage Flight Reward). 

This benefit is particularly valuable during busy travel periods or when ticket prices are high. For example, a search for flights from an account without Altitude status between Toronto and West Palm Beach during the winter holidays returns one result with a lengthy layover in Chicago.

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However, when the same search is done from an account with access to Priority Rewards, a variety of options appear, albeit at twice the cost in miles. So, if you have miles to spare, these can represent great value in terms of access to direct flights, flexibility with travel plans, and saving money during peak travel periods. 

(You should always make sure that the same flight isn’t available as a Fixed Mileage Flight Reward in business class for the same amount, because that would obviously the better use of your miles.)

For Select Privileges, Elite 35K members can choose one of the following from Bundle 1:

  • 35% bonus Aeroplan miles

  • 10 eUpgrade credits

  • 50% discount on Maple Leaf Club membership

As domestic and transborder Maple Leaf Lounge access is already included at the Elite 35K level, the Maple Leaf Club membership discount doesn’t seem too useful. The other two options would represent the best value. 

Elite 50K

Elite 50K status is reached when you have a minimum of 50,000 AQM or 50 AQS, as well as a minimum of $6,000 AQD. Note that if you are a member of the Million Mile program, your status will never fall below Elite 50K regardless of your flight activity within a particular year.

Star Alliance Gold status is given to Elite 50K status and above. This extends many of the Altitude benefits offered by Air Canada to when you fly with other Star Alliance partners, including priority airport check-in, priority baggage handling, priority boarding, priority security & immigration, and lounge access across the Star Alliance network.

In addition to the Core Privileges described above, Elite 50K members are entitled to priority baggage handling when flying in economy, complimentary Preferred Seats on Flex fares within North America, access to all Maple Leaf Lounges worldwide (including the Air Canada Cafe in Toronto), and Threshold Rewards.

Air Canada Cafe Toronto

Air Canada Cafe Toronto

Threshold Rewards are given when you earn enough AQM or AQS between tiers, starting with Elite 50K and above. For example, once you’ve reached Elite 50K, if you subsequently reach the 60,000 AQM or 60 AQS threshold, you are given an additional 2,500 AQM to help you reach the next status faster (as well as 2,500 Aeroplan miles to redeem). 

For Select Privileges, Elite 50K members can choose two of the following from Bundle 1:

  • 50% bonus Aeroplan miles

  • 20 eUpgrade credits

  • A lower requalification level for the following year

If you choose the lower requalification level, you will only have to earn 45,000 AQM or 45 AQS to qualify for Elite 50K during the next calendar year. Unless you know that you’ll be travelling less the next year, I think the first two options offer the best value in most cases.

Elite 75K

Altitude’s second-highest tier, Elite 75K, is reached when you earn 75,000 AQM or 75 AQS and spend $9,000 towards your AQD. In addition to all the benefits described above for Elite 50K, Elite 75K members enjoy a couple more perks.

For Elite 75K and Super Elite 100K members, Air Canada guarantees a seat for you and one travel companion on any Air Canada flight as long as you purchase a full-fare ticket (i.e., in the “Y” booking class) at least six hours prior to departure. 

While this may require the airline to deny boarding to someone else (which comes with additional obligations with Canada’s Air Passenger Protection Regulations, EU261, or under the Montreal Convention), you can rest assured that you can get where you need to go at any time. 

Air Canada will deny boarding to other passengers to get an Elite 75K member on their full-fare flight

Air Canada will deny boarding to other passengers to get an Elite 75K member on their full-fare flight

The only other additional perks for Elite 75K members are having complimentary preferred seats on Flex fares worldwide and the ability to use eUpgrade credits on Air Canada Vacations to Sun destinations. Otherwise, there aren’t many differences between Elite 50K and Elite 75K.

For Select Privileges, Elite 75K members can choose two of the following:

  • 75% bonus Aeroplan miles

  • 35 eUpgrade credits

  • Lower requalification level (70,000 AQM or 70 AQS)

  • Gifting Elite 35K status to a friend

  • 12-month Altitude Wi-Fi plan

At this point, the choices become less obvious, and the best choice will vary based on the individual. 

The bonus Aeroplan miles will add up over the year, and could fast-track you to an aspirational redemption. 35 eUpgrade credits (in addition to the base-level 20 credits, plus any earned through Flight Pass activities if selected from Bundle 2) can be very useful to access business class without paying a business class fare.

Meanwhile, gifting Elite 35K status could be very beneficial to someone with a good stash of Aeroplan miles who frequently redeems over the course of a year, and if you work when you fly, the Wi-Fi plan could save you hundreds of dollars over the course of the year. 

Before choosing your Select Privileges, it would be wise to analyze your past, current, and future travel plans to see where you can extract the most value. Once your selections are made, they can’t be changed, so you should be 100% sure of what you want before confirming your choices.

Super Elite 100K

My previous post was dedicated to the perks of being a Super Elite 100K member, discussing in detail the fuel surcharge waiver on all Air Canada flights and the increased access to Priority Rewards in Signature Class.

Here, I wanted to elaborate further on the Concierge service for Super Elite 100K members and go over the Select Privileges.

Super Elites have a dedicated Concierge service who work to streamline the travel experience. In the last article, several Super Elite readers remarked in the comments on how the Concierge team has proactively changed their travel plans during IRROPS, dug through the bowels of airports to find their missing luggage, and even held up planes so they could make their connection. These are some pretty intriguing anecdotes, and it would be interesting to hear other stories of how far the Concierge team has gone for Super Elites.

For Select Privileges, Super Elites can select two of the following from Bundle 1:

  • 100% bonus Aeroplan miles

  • 50 eUpgrade credits

  • Lower requalification level (95,000 AQM or 95 AQS)

  • Gifting Elite 50K status to a friend

  • 12-month Altitude Wi-Fi plan

As with Elite 75K, the value in the Select Privileges will depend on your travel plans. Aeroplan miles will roll in much quicker with a 100% bonus, and with the ability to redeem them on any economy flight and additional Air Canada business class flights at Fixed Mileage values via Priority Rewards, this can add up very meaningfully over the course of a year. 

Similarly, 50 eUpgrade credits can get you access to business class for economy fares, which could save thousands of dollars, and Elite 50K status is a generous gift to someone who could use it (I’d be a very willing recipient for anyone with status to spare 😉).

Conclusion

Air Canada’s Altitude program rewards its most frequent travellers with a variety of perks and privileges. The Core Privileges offer priority services and enhanced travel options, while the Select Privileges offer members the ability to customize their selections.

Of all the benefits, I find the most value comes from access to Priority Rewards, lounge access, complimentary checked bags, priority services at airports and call centres, and enhanced Aeroplan earning. Others may find particular value in eUpgrade credits (which may be confusing at first glance, and will be the subject of a future article) and access to the Concierge service.

As someone who travels mostly on redemptions, I have often noticed the personalized bag tags and wondered what it is like to have status with an airline. While some of the perks seem fantastic, many of them are already included on business class redemptions, so I don’t know if I will be hustling for status any time soon.

But for those of you who travel on paid bookings frequently for work or leisure, there are a variety of benefits afforded to you in the Altitude program. How do you find value out of Altitude status? Feel free to share your thoughts or stories below.

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6 Comments
  1. Avatar
    Bu Man

    During the pandemic when Altitude status gets the automatic extension, do we get to pick select privileges for the 2020 year, and then again in the 2021 year?

    1. Avatar
      Dan R

      I am wondering the same thing. Bu Man did you find out?

      1. T.J.
        T.J.

        Yes, you should be able to pick Select Privileges for 2021 once your status is automatically renewed. The deadline to pick for 2020 was yesterday, so I hope you got yours selected in time.

  2. Avatar
    Lance

    For the Core Privileges – are they extended to passengers whom the status-holder books flights for?

    1. Avatar
      Tony

      Same questions

      1. Avatar
        les dorgo

        no. the status holder needs to fly

T.J.

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