Air Canada Altitude: How Do eUpgrades Work? T.J. March 30, 2020

Air Canada Altitude: How Do eUpgrades Work?

One of the more valuable perks of earning Altitude status with Air Canada is receiving eUpgrade credits.

In this final installment to the Air Canada Altitude series, let’s explore the murky world of eUpgrade credits and how to stretch your credits into the best value possible.

As someone without Altitude status, my experience with eUpgrades comes from working for a travel agency that assists clients with eUpgrades on a daily basis. It has taken me a long time to understand the program, and I hope the below information clarifies the eUpgrade program for anyone who can find it useful. Please feel free to leave any questions in the comments and I will do my best to answer them.

In This Post

What Are eUpgrade Credits?

eUpgrade credits are a type of currency given to Air Canada’s most frequent flyers. These credits can be used to upgrade to a higher class of service on eligible flights operated by Air Canada. In essence, they afford you the ability to travel in a premium cabin for the price of a lower cabin.

Credits are earned through the various tiers of Air Canada’s Altitude status. All Altitude members from Prestige 25K upwards are awarded with 20 eUpgrade credits as part of the Core Privileges of the program. Beginning with Elite 35K status, you can also choose additional eUpgrade credits as part of your Altitude Select Privileges.

eUpgrade credits are also earned by crossing Altitude Qualifying Mile (AQM) or Altitude Qualifying Segment (AQS) thresholds throughout the year. Beginning at 60,000 AQM or 60 AQS in a calendar year, you will earn additional credits as you reach each threshold, according to the chart below.

(I would love to talk to someone who flies upwards of 420,000 AQM or 420 AQS in a given year, as by that point, they would pretty much live in the skies.)

pasted image 0 (23).png

Lastly, eUpgrade credits can be earned as part of Bundle 2 of the Altitude Select Privileges, which is only relevant to those of you who purchase Air Canada Flight Passes.

If you select the option to earn eUpgrade credits for eligible Flight Pass activities, you will earn additional credits for each Flight Pass activity (depending on your status.) The higher your status, the more eUpgrade credits you earn with each eligible Flight Pass activity.

By logging in to your eUpgrade account on Air Canada’s main webpage, you can monitor your eUpgrade accumulation and usage. You can also make a request for an eUpgrade from this page, which is described in more detail below. 

pasted image 0 (25).png

Note that the credits you earn in a particular year expire at the end of February of the following year. So, if you achieved Super Elite 100K status for 2020, your eUpgrade credits will expire at the end of February 2021. Your account should show you which eUpgrade credits you have that are soon to expire and those that don’t expire when you have both new and old credits in your account.

Also note that at the time of writing, due to the effects of COVID-19, Air Canada has given all Altitude members additional eUpgrade credits that expire on May 31st, 2021. 

Understanding eUpgrade Credits

Before making a request for an upgrade, you’ll need to understand the many factors at play when Air Canada assigns upgrades. These factors include: your Altitude status, the availability of eUpgrade space, your flight routing, your fare class, and the upgrade request window for your flight.

Let’s examine each one of these factors in more detail.

1. Altitude Status

Importantly, the number of eUpgrade credits required to upgrade is the same for all Altitude members – a Super Elite requires the same amount as a Prestige 25K.

However, passengers with higher status have a greater upgrade request window than passengers with lower status (more on that below), and therefore have first access to eUpgrades.

Having a higher status also allows you to use eUpgrade credits without any supplementary fees on some international bookings.

For example, when flying from Toronto to Tokyo, an Elite 35K member wishing to upgrade to business class would need to pay 26 eUpgrade credits plus a $850 supplementary fee on a Standard fare, or 26 eUpgrade credits plus a $750 supplementary fee on a Flex fare.

Meanwhile, a Super Elite would have the same cost in eUpgrade credits and supplementary fees for a Standard fare, but wouldn’t have to pay a supplementary fee on a Flex fare, thus saving $750. 

2. eUpgrade availability

Using eUpgrade credits is subject to upgrade availability. Prior to submitting an upgrade request online, you can search for eUpgrade space using ExpertFlyer or on Air Canada’s website. 

On the “Awards and Upgrades” option on ExpertFlyer, you will find a search parameter for eUpgrades when you select Air Canada as the airline. 

The results will display the availability of eUpgrade seats, which are coded as “R”. These results give you an indication of having a confirmed upgrade on a flight as long as you are within the eligible eUpgrade request booking window.

Another way to search for eUpgrade space is on Air Canada’s website. After running a search, select “Display options” on the flight search result page, and then choose “eUpgrades”. Here, you can input the cabin to which you would like to upgrade, as well as your current status. 

The results page will now tell you if you will be confirmed for an upgrade or if you will be waitlisted. If you are unable to confirm an upgrade and are instead waitlisted, a passenger with a higher status will have priority for an upgrade over a passenger with a lower level, with all other factors being equal.

3. Geographic zones

The next factor at play is the geographic location of your origin and destination.

For eUpgrades from economy to Premium Economy, Air Canada lumps its destinations into two categories: 

  • Within Canada and between Canada and the United States;

  • Between Canada and an international destination (i.e., anywhere that is not Canada and the United States)

For eUpgrades from economy to business class, destinations are divided into 4 categories:

  • Within Canada and between Canada and the United States 

  • Between Canada and Sun destinations (Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean)

  • Between Canada and Europe, the Middle East, or South America 

  • Between Canada and Asia or Australia

You can find this chart at the eUpgrade Requirements page on the Air Canada website.

As you can see, each geographical zone lists the number of “eUpgrades starting at” a certain number. The exact number required varies based on the actual distance between the origin and the destination. 

However, while there used to be a handy chart on Air Canada’s website that specified the number of eUpgrade credits required by distance, this chart seems to no longer exist at the time of writing. Therefore, the only way to verify the exact number of eUpgrades required for a certain flight is by searching for it.

4. Originally Booked Fare

Within each flight routing, the exact amount of eUpgrades required also depends on the originally booked fare. Not surprisingly, upgrades from lower fare families will cost more eUpgrade credits than upgrades from higher fare families.

By selecting a specific fare, you can see the amount of eUpgrade credits that are required for an upgrade as well as any applicable add-on fees.

As you can see for the itinerary below, both the Standard and Flex fares require 21 eUpgrade credits plus a $500 add-on fee, while the more expensive Latitude fare only requires 11 eUpgrade credits and no add-on fee.

5. Booking Request Window

The last factor at play is the booking request window. This refers to the number of days before your flight at which you can submit an eUpgrade request.

Your booking request window depends on your Altitude status, originally booked fare, and the location of your destination.

  • Flights within Canada, to the United States, or to Sun destinations have a longer booking request window than flights to overseas destinations.

  • The higher the fare class, the longer the booking request window.

  • The higher your Altitude status, the longer your booking request window.

Given the number of different variables involved, it would be best to consult the details for your specific situation at the booking request window page on the Air Canada website.

Sharing eUpgrade Credits

All Altitude members may share their eUpgrades with other travellers, as long as they are on the same reservation as the Altitude member. 

In addition, Altitude members are usually able to request an eUpgrade for someone travelling on the same flight but on a different booking reference; these requests must be done at the airport on the day of departure. During Air Canada’s transition to Amadeus, however, this option is temporarily not available.

Super Elite 100K members have a further option to add an eUpgrade nominee to their account. The nominee will be able to be upgraded with the Super Elite’s eUpgrades on any reservation. Super Elites can only add one nominee per benefit year, though, and once selected, the nominee cannot be changed until the next benefit year.

Requesting an eUpgrade

The process of actually processing your eUpgrade request is far less complicated than understanding all of the variables. If you have found an eligible flight that represents good value to you, you can submit an eUpgrade request by logging in to your eUpgrade account on Air Canada’s website.

pasted image 0 (36).png

After entering your booking reference and last name, you will be shown the upgrade availability for your flights and the amount of eUpgrade credits required. If there is an add-on fee, it will also be displayed here. Once your request is processed, you will either be confirmed or waitlisted for an upgrade, and the credits will be immediately deducted from your account.

If you are waitlisted for an upgrade and it is not confirmed, or if you decide to cancel your upgrade request, the credits will be returned to your account automatically. It is a good practice to ensure that the credits are indeed returned to your account, as this does not always happen as it should. If they aren’t, you can submit a request for someone to look into the discrepancy. 

If you are confirmed for an upgrade, note that the fare rules from your original ticket still apply. So, even though you will be seated in a premium cabin, you will still be subject to the mileage accumulation, change/cancellation fees, access to airport lounges, and baggage allowance as per your original fare. While this is the official policy, there are plenty of data points of lounge access being granted anyway…

Do eUpgrades Represent Good Value? 

Based on various comments about the Altitude program and eUpgrades on FlyerTalk, it seems that many people don’t find particular value in eUpgrades. I imagine that hundreds of thousands of credits go unused at the end of every benefit year. 

I spoke with a travel agent who is very experienced in eUpgrades about how to extract the most value from the program, and he offered the following advice and examples.

Firstly, compared to other North American airlines, eUpgrades offer a more transparent way for frequent flyers to get access to premium cabins. Whereas some US carriers will give members with status a last minute upgrade, the eUpgrade system allows you to see how many credits you have and how much it would cost to confirm an upgrade. So, it takes away a lot of the guesswork when it comes to being upgraded.

Secondly, if used wisely, eUpgrades can save frequent flyers thousands of dollars every year. For a passenger who wants to fly in business class but doesn’t want to pay full price for it, eUpgrades can unlock significant savings (especially on last-minute bookings and on premium routes).

Recall that the number of eUpgrades required for a specific itinerary depends on the fare class purchased. Note on the below chart that fares coded as “M”, “U”, and “H” under the Flex fare family require two eUpgrade credits, while Flex fares coded as “Q”, “V”, “W”, and “G” require 4=four eUpgrade credits.

On a search for flights between Toronto and Vancouver offering Signature Class, an “H” Flex fare would cost $598 and a “Q” Flex fare would cost $533. So, by spending an additional $65 (plus taxes), you could halve the number of eUpgrades used, thereby extending your eUpgrade balance.

Another example is with Latitude fares (“O” and “B” fares with Air Canada), which are fully refundable. Note that eUpgrades can be confirmed on Latitude fares at any time for all Altitude members, and that Latitude fares require the least number of credits to upgrade.

For example, a round-trip Latitude fare between Toronto and London on random dates costs $3,308, while the same flights at the lowest price for business class cost $5,598. If you have 22 eUpgrade credits (and if there are eUpgrade seats available), then you have just saved yourself $2,290 by using eUpgrades to fly business class instead of booking it outright.

The value here can increase significantly for last-minute flights. A last-minute business class flight from Toronto to London can cost upwards of $9,000, whereas a Latitude fare would cost around $4,400. If eUpgrade space is available, you’ve just saved at least $4,600. 

It isn’t always possible to separate different fares within the same fare family on the Air Canada website. For example, you may just be shown Flex fares, and not the different options within the Flex family.

This is when speaking to a travel agent or using other tools (such as ITA Matrix) to specify certain fares could help you find further value in eUpgrades.

Conclusion

As eUpgrades are only available to passengers with Air Canada Altitude status, you may not ever find yourself poring over the details of the eUpgrade program if you aren’t an Altitude status member.

But if you are a frequent Air Canada traveller who finds yourself with eUpgrades at your disposal, learning all of the intricacies can be daunting, but valuable. The time you put into learning about the program (or paying someone else to do the heavy lifting for you) can result in money saved and a much more comfortable travel experience.

What has your experience with eUpgrades been? Do you find value in the program? Is there anything that you’d like to see changed? Feel free to leave a comment below.

Top Offers

American Express Gold Rewards Card

30,000 Membership Rewards points
25,000 points upon spending $1,500 in the first three months +
5,000 points upon adding a supplementary card at the time of application

  • Transfer points 1:1 to Aeroplan & British Airways Avios
  • 2x points on gas, groceries, drugstores, and travel
  • $150 annual fee
Signup bonus
30,000 MR points
Annual fee
$150
11 Comments
  1. Avatar
    Mike

    Hi, great post! Any info on how wait-list works in more detail? Is it first come first serve (if equal status)? Or is there a specific time or T-x when they prioritize from the remaining pool of elites? If EF shows 0 “R” space, does that mean someone else has to cancel their flight? Will a J request automatically confirm a PY upgrade if J is unavailable? Thanks for any dp!

  2. Avatar
    Paul Dolinar

    Hey Ricky/TJ – you never defined what an "eligible" flight is

  3. Avatar
    Lary

    I use the Full Economy (B class in Latitude) for $3800 for YVR –> LHR for my client. He is a Super Elite and use to pay the usual $6-8k per, so now I save him on average $5k (2 tickets) every trip! It just sucks when connecting via Toronto to miss out on the Signature Club but small downside// Lary

  4. Avatar
    Richard

    Throughout the year, Air Canada announces time-limited additional opportunities to use e-upgrades. They may extend the window; they may include additional fare classes, like X. Typically this happens in the summer.
    In the old days, they issued Altitude Members paper Upgrade Certificates (in 3 different colours) and Members actually sold them for cash if they knew they couldn’t use them. The new system is so much better from a transparency point of view.
    It would be neat to get insight into how Members use their credits: do they burn them quickly or hoard them waiting for their account to build during the year to spend them on long haul flights for themselves and travelling companions. In other words, knowing you will be competing with others, I wonder which months have the fewest active competitors.
    One thing to keep in mind is that you can’t split a booking reference file and use multiple e-upgrade accounts. So if the file has 2 passengers and you hope to upgrade both of you there and back, your account will need 4 times the credits to accomplish your goal. So, you may wish to break the booking into 2 or even 4 separate files. The downside of that is the other member may have a lower Altitude status than you do, and so a request via his account, even for you, will be determined by his status. Often if you can get a confirmed upgrade right away because you are in the window, you grab it with the eupgrade credits of the member with the lowest status, you break the booking into 2 files, and choose to be waitlisted with the credits of the higher status Altitude member.
    The real gamble is when you know you will be waitlisted: do you book a higher class fare in hopes of getting that upgrade or keep your cash cost for the fare down. If you don’t get the upgrade you may thrown away dollars. If you go cheap up front , you may lose your seat to a competitor or you may have to pay an Add On fee that is more than what you would have paid for the higher fare class.

  5. Avatar
    Andrew

    I recently used my segment run e-upgrade to secure my upgrade from PY to J on a shorthaul segment on an AP itinerary booked in J. While it wasn’t a good deal (I was entitled to fly in J pending availability), my upgrade cleared a couple days in advance and I got a confirmed lie flat seat on a short hop from YYZ-YUL which made the flight just a bit better. There was no co-pay required which made the upgrade only cost the e-upgrades.

    The icing on the cake was that there was extensive IROPs the night before and day of my flight so every plane that day was going out full. There’s no chance my upgrade would have cleared having the lowest priority and the PY cabin was full as well. So using a few e-upgrades definitely paid off.

    1. Avatar
      TJ

      Hi Andrew!

      Thanks for sharing your story. I have flown the YUL-YYZ route often over the last year, and the lie-flat is always a more comfortable option.

      It looks like the upgrade would have cost you 2 eUps, right? Given the full flights, having the confirmed upgrade is definitely icing on the cake. Have you upgraded from an Aeroplan booking before?

      1. Avatar
        Andrew

        Yup, I "wasted" 2 eUps on the YYZ-YUL flight to upgrade from PY to J on the booking.

        I’ve never upgraded on an AP booking before and would probably be hesitant to due to the copay and low priority. I’m interested in upgrading from PY to J using eUps on an AP award booking though, although FT suggests it’s not supported.

  6. Avatar
    Leah

    How does this work for Aeroplan Awards in economy? Is it possible to eupgrade? Is it good value to do so?

    1. Avatar
      TJ

      Hi Leah!

      The information on Air Canada’s website since the changeover to Amadeus isn’t clear. On the main eUpgrade calculation page (https://www.aircanada.com/ca/en/aco/home/altitude/eupgrades/calculate.html), upgrades from Aeroplan Fixed Mileage Flight Rewards in economy (X) aren’t included for any destinations.

      But, I found another page (https://www.aircanada.com/ca/en/aco/home/book/special-offers/eupgrade-offer.html) that seems to show that it is possible for all Altitude members to upgrade within Canada and the US only (to business class with a co-pay or to premium economy without a copay)…

      But then, on the booking window information page (https://www.aircanada.com/ca/en/aco/home/altitude/eupgrades/booking-window.html) it shows booking windows for all Altitude members for upgrades on Aeroplan X bookings between Canada and the US and international (Europe, Middle East, South America, Asia, Australia) destinations.

      I reached out to Air Canada for an explanation, but I was referred to the same charts I sent in for clarification. So, my suggestion for the time being would be to have a look at the booking window (3 days for all Altitude members on Aeroplan X bookings), make an Aeroplan Fixed Mileage Reward booking, and attempt to eUpgrade that booking. You can cancel Aeroplan bookings at no cost for 24 hours after booking.

      I’ll follow up if I get a clearer response from Air Canada.

  7. Avatar
    CT

    On my last trip, in mid-Feb I was in Southeast Asia and heading home from HCM city to Vancouver, with a stopover in ICN. After I spent some time in the Asiana Lounge, upon arriving at the gate, getting ready for boarding, I was called and got an upgraded to Business class. It was a surprise treated indeed.
    I have held 50K Elite status for the last four years, but on this trip, I ran out of eUpgrade, and my ticket was Premium Economy (N) class, so I didn’t bother to put in a request for an upgrade, but somehow I got it. I guess it was an operational u/g? And this had happened quite a few times over the last few years. So, AC Upgrade system is quite unpredictable I’ll say.

    1. Avatar
      TJ

      Hi CT! Thanks for sharing your story. I’d say any time you can get bumped up to J without spending more money or using eUpgrade credits is the best case scenario. If you were on the lowest PY fare, you saved 26 eUps and a $750 co-pay. If you were on a Flexible PY fare, you saved 13 eUps. I hope the complimentary upgrades continue for you in the future 🙂 It would be interesting to find out the company’s policy for complimentary upgrades.

T.J.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have an Account? Click here to Login