fbpx

Air Canada Altitude: How Much Is It Worth? (Part 1)

Air Canada & Aeroplan’s “Travel at Home” promotion is very much on our minds during the months of April and May, especially since points transfers from credit card partners (like American Express Membership Rewards) will count towards our total earnings under this promotion. 

As a reminder, Travel at Home allows those of us with no existing Altitude status to earn Prestige 25K status by racking up 50,000 Aeroplan miles before May 31. Meanwhile, it allows those who have existing Altitude status to earn a one-time status upgrade to the next level up, up to a maximum of Elite 75K, by racking up 250,000 Aeroplan miles before May 31.

While T.J. has previously covered the benefits and privileges of Air Canada Altitude status, in this post I wanted to sit down and think about how much I’d personally value the benefits associated with each status level, in order to help you decide whether it’s worthwhile to pursue the Travel at Home promotion in earnest.

Moreover, it seems more and more likely that the new Air Canada points program will be closely interwoven with the Altitude elite program when it launches sometime in 2020, so a high-level understanding of Altitude will definitely be useful knowledge in the long run. 

Given that there are five separate status levels for us to assess, I’m splitting this post into two parts: today, we’ll tackle the valuations of Prestige 25K, Elite 35K, and Elite 50K, while in the next installment we’ll look at the remaining status levels of Elite 75K and Super Elite 100K.

In This Post

How I Think About These Valuations

It’s important to note that the true valuation of the Altitude perks and benefits with of course be subjective to every individual, and will depend on the individual’s travel patterns and likelihood to maximize each of the benefits. 

I’ll be valuing the Altitude benefits from the perspective of what I’d consider the average Prince of Travel reader, which largely reflects my own travel patterns and preferences, such as:

  • Endeavouring to redeem miles for flying in business class on international flights, whenever possible

  • Being content to travel in economy class within North America and save their miles for more valuable redemptions internationally

  • Travelling relatively frequently, to the tune of, say, three international round-trip flights and five North American round-trip flights per year

You might then scale these valuations up or down depending on your own travel patterns. For example, if you travel less frequently than what’s described above, you might lower the valuations accordingly.

Meanwhile, if you mainly travel in economy class on international flights, then you’d get even more value out of Altitude status (since its perks often overlap with what’s offered by a business class ticket), so you’d scale up the valuations accordingly.

These valuations assume that you redeem miles for business class on international flights, whenever possible.

These valuations assume that you redeem miles for business class on international flights, whenever possible.

Prestige 25K: Solid Introductory Benefits

Let’s begin with the benefits offered by the entry-level Prestige 25K status. Remember, if you don’t currently have any Altitude status, then you’ll be able to earn Prestige 25K by accumulating 50,000 Aeroplan miles via any method prior to May 31.

  • Priority contact centre: I don’t value this benefit too highly, since I’m not calling Air Canada day and night. I might call Air Canada a handful times over the course of a year, saving myself an hour or two in the process, so I’d probably value this benefit at $50/year.

     

  • Priority reservation waitlist: While I wouldn’t expect to take advantage of this benefit on most trips, I can see it coming in handy in an IRROPS scenario when I need to be booked on the next flight. Let’s call it $50/year.

     

  • Priority seat selection: Without pulling off funny tricks for selecting priority seats for free, I’d probably find plenty of value in being able to secure extra legroom at the front of the plane when flying in economy within North America, so I’d value this benefit at $50/year.

     

  • Priority airport check-in: I usually check in online, but even then, I like to pick up a paper boarding pass at the airport if possible. It’s always nice to have the priority check-in queue when I’m not flying in business class, especially if there’s a long wait at the regular queue, so I’d value priority check-in at $40/year.

Air Canada priority check-in

Air Canada priority check-in

  • Priority airport standby: This isn’t really important to me, since I usually try to make sure I book the correct ticket ahead of time. The only time I’ve taken advantage of stand-by is when I’d like to reach somewhere sooner, but it’s not necessary that I do so. Because it’s not necessary and simply would be nice to have, let’s call it a token amount of $20/year.

     

  • Priority Zone 2 boarding: This is quite a valuable benefit that allows you to access overhead bin space in advance of other passengers and avoiding having to gate-check your bag. However, note that you can also get this benefit from holding credit cards like the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite, so the valuation wouldn’t be higher than the $120 annual fee on that card. I’d say $80/year is probably fair.

     

  • Complimentary checked baggage (two pieces at 23kg each): Without status, Air Canada charges $30 for the first bag and $50 for the second bag for trips within North America. If we assume that you check an average of 0.5 bags per trip (that is to say, sometimes you check a bag, whereas other times you’re able to limit yourself to a carry-on) on a total of five round-trips (which makes for 10 individual journeys), that adds up to $150/year.

     

  • Select Privileges: You get to choose 2 out of 3 between 25% bonus Aeroplan miles on all your flights, two one-time Maple Leaf Lounge passes, and a 35% discount on Maple Leaf Club membership; for most travellers, I reckon the first two choices would be the most worthwhile.

     

    The valuation of 25% bonus Aeroplan miles would depend on how often you fly on cash fares; for most people I imagine they’d rack up a few thousand extra Aeroplan miles as a result, so $80/year would be fair. Meanwhile, I’d value a visit to a Maple Leaf Lounge at about $20 apiece, especially at airports that don’t have other lounge options, so two lounge passes would be an extra $40/year for a total of $120/year from this benefit.

Prestige 25K members may choose two one-time Maple Leaf Lounge access passes as part of Select Privileges

Prestige 25K members may choose two one-time Maple Leaf Lounge access passes as part of Select Privileges

  • 20 eUpgrade credits: I won’t go into detail on how these are used, as T.J. has written about them in detail.

     

    This is the most subjective valuation, since it completely depends on how often you fly on revenue fares; as a Prestige 25K, you can request an eUpgrade six days in advance, but altogether they are pretty unlikely to clear given your low status ranking (especially on popular domestic routes), and you might have better luck getting them to clear on shorter domestic routes where an upgrade is less meaningful, but still appreciated. Therefore, I’d value these at $100/year at best.

     

  • Fuel surcharge waiver on intra-North America Aeroplan redemptions on Air Canada: This is definitely the most tangible benefit from the perspective of someone who primarily redeems miles for travel.

     

    Fuel surcharges on Air Canada flights within North America are usually around $30–40 per person per direction, so the savings can easily add up very quickly when you’re booking multiple flights for multiple people out of your Prestige 25K account. Assuming around half of your North American travels are booked on Aeroplan miles, and that you’re travelling as a party of two on these trips, then $400/year would be a fair call.

Adding it all up, we arrive at a valuation of $1,060 for one year’s membership as a Prestige 25K. 

Elite 35K: Small Improvements

Next up is Elite 35K, the second-lowest elite level within the program. Elite 35K is widely regarded as being barely much of an improvement upon Prestige 25K, so does that reputation hold true when we take a closer look at the benefits?

  • Elite 35K members enjoy all of the privileges associated with Prestige 25K, so we’ll begin with the $1,060/year valuation from before, and then think about any incremental benefits that Elite 35K offers.

     

  • Third checked bag at 32kg: After the first and second checked bags, Air Canada usually then charges heftier fees for “additional bags” at $105 per bag. While this benefit can therefore easily be worth hundreds of dollars if you routinely check three bags when you travel, we must accept that most people will rarely need to do so, so I think, on balance, the incremental bag allowance can be valued at $100/year for the rare occasions when you might need it.

     

  • Priority security clearance at Canadian airports: This benefit can be replicated at Toronto Pearson by holding the Amex Platinum or Amex Business Platinum, at Montreal Trudeau by holding a Visa Infinite Privilege credit card, and at all Canadian airports by holding a NEXUS card.

     

    Therefore, I’d value this benefit around the same as the cost of getting a NEXUS at $60/year, keeping in mind that the value can be justified multiple times over by even a single instance in which you’re late to the airport and manage to catch your flight thanks to your priority security clearance.

Priority security queue at Toronto Pearson

Priority security queue at Toronto Pearson

  • Priority Rewards: At the Elite 35K level, Priority Rewards on Air Canada allow you to use Aeroplan miles to book any available economy class seat on Air Canada flights at double the usual cost (e.g., Toronto–Ottawa would cost 30,000 miles as a short-haul, while Toronto–Vancouver would cost 50,000 miles as a long-haul).

     

    Having said that, I very rarely witness people taking advantage of this benefit, because most of the time you could just book the business class award at the same cost (double the economy price). I suppose if you used it once a year to visit relatives during Christmas, for example, then you could easily recoup $500+ in value compared to the cash price, but the sheer rarity of its use-cases means that $50/year would be my maximum valuation.

     

  • Domestic and transborder Maple Leaf Lounge access: This is a very useful benefit for a traveller who primarily flies in economy class within Canada and the US, who wouldn’t otherwise be entitled to lounge access. If you took advantage of it at every opportunity throughout the year, I think $150/year would be a fair valuation.

     

Elite 35K members get access to domestic and transborder Maple Leaf Lounges

Elite 35K members get access to domestic and transborder Maple Leaf Lounges

  • Select Privileges: You get to choose 1 out of 3 between 35% bonus Aeroplan miles on all your flights, 10 eUpgrade credits, and a 50% discount on a Maple Leaf Club membership. As before, I don’t think a Maple Leaf Club membership is a worthwhile investment for most travellers.

     

    10 eUpgrade credits may be useful depending on your travel patterns, but as an Elite 35K they’re still unlikely to clear on popular routes; I’d probably value them at $50/year. Meanwhile, 35% bonus Aeroplan miles can again net you a few thousand extra Aeroplan miles, so $100/year might be a fair estimate. Since we get to choose only one of the three, we’d take the maximum and value this benefit at $100/year.

Adding the values of the Prestige 25K benefits to incremental benefits of Elite 35K, we arrive at a valuation of $1,520 for one year of Elite 35K.

Elite 50K: Star Alliance Gold Gives More Weight

Mid-range Altitude status is known as Elite 50K, and is the first status level that corresponds to Star Alliance Gold, giving you access to a similar level of benefits when travelling with other Star Alliance members across the world. So how does this development translate into our valuation of Elite 50K status?

  • As before, we’ll take the $1,520/year valuation of Elite 35K and build upon it using the incremental benefits of Elite 50K.

     

  • Maple Leaf Lounge access for member and immediate family: As an Elite 50K member, you and your family get access to all Maple Leaf Lounges, including international ones, compared to only domestic and transborder lounges (with no guest privileges) as an Elite 35K.

     

    Having said that, if you primarily travel in business class internationally, then you’d get lounge access before your flight anyway, so I’d restrict my valuation of this incremental benefit to another $150/year, with the understanding that it’d be higher if you primarily travel in economy class internationally.

Elite 50K members get access to international Maple Leaf Lounges as well

Elite 50K members get access to international Maple Leaf Lounges as well

  • One more Maple Leaf Lounge guest pass: As an Elite 50K, you get three one-time Maple Leaf Lounge passes per year, instead of two.

     

    However, you’re already able to access lounges on your own and with family members, so these extra passes are really only useful for bringing in guests who aren’t your family members. And since our Elite 35K valuation had included two guest passes that are now less useful thanks to your Elite 50K status, I’m going to call this one a wash – no change to the valuation.

     

  • Air Canada Cafe access: Elite 50K is the first level where you get complimentary access to the Air Canada Cafe in addition to Maple Leaf Lounges. There’s only one Air Canada Cafe at the moment in Toronto, although Air Canada intends to roll out more locations as time goes by. I don’t find the Cafe offering to be materially better than Maple Leaf Lounges, so this is a token value of $20/year to me.

     

  • Star Alliance Gold lounge access, with one guest: Assuming that most of your international travel is in business class, the incremental benefit here is that you’re allowed to bring in one guest, as well as the fact that select lounges around the world have separate spaces for Star Alliance Gold members that are usually nicer than the spaces for business class passengers (one example is the Whisky Club at the Swiss Senator Lounge in Zurich).

     

    Plus, Star Alliance Gold is always a good fallback option for lounge access in case you can’t find business class award space and are stuck in economy. $200/year would be my rough valuation, again with the understanding that it’d be higher if you primarily travel in economy class internationally.

Get access to the Whisky Club 28/10 by Swiss with Star Alliance Gold

Get access to the Whisky Club 28/10 by Swiss with Star Alliance Gold

  • Alliance-wide priority check-in, baggage, security, standby, and three checked bags: As a Star Alliance Gold member, all of these benefits which we discussed previously are now valid on Star Alliance flights, not just Air Canada flights.

     

    These benefits largely overlap with those of a business class ticket, but will definitely prove useful on the occasions when you find yourself in economy class. I’d peg these benefits at $300/year for those who frequently redeem points for business class, with further potential upside otherwise (as above).

     

  • Discretionary benefits as a Star Alliance Gold member: There’s something to be said for the “intangible” benefits of being a Star Alliance Gold member include potential operational upgrades when travelling on Star Alliance flights (I’ve received a few of these myself back when I held Star Alliance Gold), as well as general better treatment in terms of priority during IRROPS situations. $100/year.

     

  • Select Privileges: You get to choose 2 out of 3 between 50% bonus Aeroplan miles on all your flights, 20 eUpgrade credits, and a lower requalification level the following year.

     

    The first two options probably provide the highest tangible benefit, with 50% bonus miles likely netting you around $120/year in value, and 20 eUpgrade credits being usable 12 days in advance and more likely than before to clear successfully. Nevertheless, as an Elite 50K member, your eUpgrade requests are still subject to co-pays when you book lower fare classes initially, so I’d peg the value of 20 eUpgrade credits slightly higher than before, but not too much, at $120/year. Add up the two selections, and we have $240/year.

Putting it all together, we arrive at a total valuation of $2,530 for the year as an Elite 50K member.

Conclusion 

In assessing the value of Air Canada Altitude’s first three tiers of elite status based on their individual benefits, we’ve arrived at rough valuations of $1,060, $1,520, and $2,530 per year for Prestige 25K, Elite 35K, and Elite 50K respectively.

Obviously there’s a lot of room for the valuations to swing up or down based on your individual travel patterns, but overall, I think they make for reasonable “fair values” that fall somewhere in-between the price at which Air Canada would be willing to sell them outright, and the price at which we as savvy travellers would be willing to buy them outright.

Looking at the Altitude Qualifying Dollars (AQD) requirements for achieving each status, Air Canada would like to see members spending $3,000, $4,000, and $6,000 to be granted these three status levels. Meanwhile, I don’t think I would personally pay $1,060, $1,520, or $2,530 to buy these statuses, but I’d definitely jump at the opportunity to unlock them for cheaper, as is currently possible via the Travel at Home promotion.

It should be clear to see that, under Travel at Home, unlocking $1,060 worth of benefits by earning 50,000 Aeroplan miles is easily worthwhile, as is unlocking $1,010 in incremental benefits as a current Elite 35K member by transferring 250,000 MR points (if that’s feasible) and making the jump up to Elite 50K and Star Alliance Gold. In contrast, doing the same thing to jump from Prestige 25K to Elite 35K, unlocking only $460 in incremental value, seems decidedly less attractive.

Stay tuned for the second part of our valuations, in which we’ll establish some dollar values for the lofty benefits of Elite 75K and Super Elite 100K.