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?
- Understanding eUpgrade Credits
- Sharing eUpgrade Credits
- Requesting an eUpgrade
- Do eUpgrades Represent Good Value?
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.