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Air Canada Altitude: How Much Is It Worth? (Part 2)

Following on from the first installment, in which we looked at the rough valuations of Air Canada Altitude Prestige 25K, Elite 35K, and Elite 50K status, today let’s finish by looking at the two highest status tiers: Elite 75K and Super Elite 100K.

In This Post

Reminder: How I Think About These Valuations

Just like last time, it’s worth mentioning that all of the elite benefits have a subjective value depending on the specific individual and their travel habits and preferences.

I’ll be approaching these valuations from the perspective of the average Prince of Travel reader who books both economy and business tickets using a mix of points and cash, while following certain rules of thumb 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

Depending on how often you travel and which classes of service you book, you might scale the valuations up or down (for example, business class tickets often overlap with elite benefits, so if you’re an economy flyer then you’d value the benefits more).

Many elite benefits, like priority boarding, already come with a business class ticket.

Many elite benefits, like priority boarding, already come with a business class ticket.

Elite 75K: Marginal Extra Benefits

Elite 75K is the penultimate status tier within Altitude, and can be earned under the Travel at Home promotion by any existing Elite 50K members who rack up 250,000 Aeroplan miles before May 31.

  • Elite 75K members are treated to all of the benefits of Elite 50K and below, which we had valued in the previous post at $2,530 per year. We’ll build on this valuation as we consider the incremental benefits of Elite 75K.

     

  • Guaranteed reservations in full-fare economy class for yourself and one companion: This benefit allows Elite 75K members to guarantee themselves a seat on a plane when the flight is fully booked or oversold. When you take advantage of this benefit, other passengers will be bumped off the flight to accommodate you and your companion.
     
    The catch is that you must book a full-fare ticket in the “Y” booking class, which is often many times more expensive than the cheapest fare bucket, and one that leisure travellers rarely book. Indeed, this benefit is most useful to business travellers who must be on a certain flight, so I’d say that most leisure travellers would not value the benefit at all. $0 it is. 

     

  • Complimentary preferred seats when booking Flex fares on international flights: Securing exit row seats with extra legroom at no additional cost can definitely be valuable on long-haul international flights, but the requirement to book in Flex fare buckets (which are usually a small percentage more expensive than the cheapest Tango fares) dilutes the value somewhat.

     

    Still, considering that a preferred seat can cost up to $199 in certain markets, I’d peg the value at $100/year on average even if the benefit isn’t used very often. 

Elite 75K members get complimentary preferred seats on Flex fares.

Elite 75K members get complimentary preferred seats on Flex fares.

  • Select Privileges: You get to choose 2 out of 5 between 75% bonus Aeroplan miles, 35 eUpgrade credits, gifting Elite 35K status to a friend, a 12-month Altitude wifi plan, and a lower requalification level the following year.

    Here’s where the most meaningful benefits of Elite 75K kick in, although it may be tough to select only two of these benefits. 75% bonus Aeroplan miles might net you, say, 8,000 to 10,000 extra miles per year based on a handful of paid revenue fares within North America, so we could value that at around $180.

     

    If you choose the 35 eUpgrade credits, then as an Elite 75K member your eUpgrades are quite likely to clear into business class on account of your status, so I’d value them more highly than before at another $150. Meanwhile, a 12-month wifi plan could easily be worth $100 if you’d like to use the onboard wifi whenever you’re flying with Air Canada.

     

    But how do we value the benefit of being able to gift Elite 35K status to a friend? We had previously valued the benefits of Elite 35K at $1,520/year, but that’s how much they’d be worth to the traveller themselves, not to you as a current Elite 75K member.

     

    In the absence of any better valuation techniques, we can say that you’d get some level of satisfaction out of gifting elite status that would be proportional to the value of your gift. Let’s call it 20%, giving us a valuation of roughly $300 for the gift of Elite 35K, which I think matches up pretty closely with what I’d pay someone to be chosen as their Elite 35K designee (not that buying and selling the elite status gift is allowed).

     

    Discounting the somewhat intangible fifth choice of a lower requalification level the next year, and taking the two most highly-valued options as our Select Privileges, we have a total of $300 + $180 = $480 for the year.

Putting it all together, we arrive at a total valuation of $3,110 for the year as an Elite 75K member.

Elite 75k members can gift Elite 35K status to a friend or family member.

Elite 75k members can gift Elite 35K status to a friend or family member.

Super Elite 100K: Outstanding Top-Tier Benefits

Finally, top-tier elite status with Air Canada is known as Super Elite 100K, and is widely recognized as one of the most powerful status levels among the major North American loyalty programs.

Accordingly, it’s excluded from the Travel at Home promotion, and the only way to qualify is to rack up 100,000 Altitude Qualifying Miles (AQM) or 95 Altitude Qualifying Segments (AQS) per year, along with a qualifying spend of $20,000 Altitude Qualifying Dollars (AQD).

Let’s take a look at what exactly makes Super Elite such a prized possession among Air Canada’s most frequent flyers, shall we?

  • Super Elite 100K members get all the perks associated with Elite 75K and below, which we’ve agreed is worth $3,110/year.

     

  • Complimentary preferred seats when booking any fare to any destination: Without the requirement to book in Flex class as we saw for Elite 75K members, Super Elite members can secure themselves preferred seating on any Air Canada flight for no charge, including on Aeroplan redemptions in economy class. Since preferred seats on international flights usually cost $100+ and as much as $199, I’d value this benefit at $200/year on average.

     

  • One additional Maple Leaf Lounge guest pass: You already have unlimited access to Maple Leaf Lounges for you and your immediate family, so the extra guest pass will only be useful for bringing in guests who aren’t family members. And you would’ve already had three guest passes when qualifying for Elite 50K, so the one extra pass likely makes no material difference to the valuation. 

Super Elite 100K members get unlimited Maple Leaf Lounge access for themselves and family, plus four guest passes.

Super Elite 100K members get unlimited Maple Leaf Lounge access for themselves and family, plus four guest passes.

  • Access to the Arrivals Lounge at London Heathrow for you and one guest: Super Elites may visit the Arrivals Lounge upon landing in Heathrow to freshen up before heading into the city. While this is a cool benefit, it’s specific to only one airport, so I’ll give it a token valuation of $20/year.

     

  • Fuel surcharge waiver on all Air Canada flights: Many of Super Elite 100k’s most significant benefits take the form of special perks when redeeming Aeroplan miles, starting with a waiver on fuel surcharges on all Air Canada flights.

     

    As many of us are aware, Air Canada will typically charge at least $200, often $500, and potentially up to $800 in carrier-imposed surcharges when redeeming Aeroplan miles on international flights. As a result, the optimal strategy for most members is to avoid Air Canada flights entirely, often taking a few additional flights and connections to get to your final destination.

     

    Super Elite members don’t need to make the choice between cost and convenience. They are not subject to any fuel surcharges at all, and so can easily go ahead and book that direct Air Canada flight in business class (for themselves or for others) without a second thought if they want to take the most convenient routing and/or maximize their time at the destination.

     

    As you can imagine, the value of this benefit can add up extremely quickly, especially if you’re booking flights for multiple travellers, and I’d value it at $800/year at the very least.

Super Elite 100K members can redeem Aeroplan miles for Air Canada business class with no surcharges.

Super Elite 100K members can redeem Aeroplan miles for Air Canada business class with no surcharges.

  • Priority Rewards: This feature allows Super Elite members to book additional award seats on Air Canada flights using their Aeroplan miles, not just the ones that have regular award availability, to be used up to 10 times per year. North American flights can be booked for any other passenger, while international flights are limited to the member and their own immediate family.

     

    This is an extremely valuable benefit that’s highly prized by Super Elite members, as they are basically able to secure a lie-flat seat onboard Air Canada business class for any trip that they want from a much larger pool of award space (known as “R” space) compared to regular members (who only have access to the more limited “I” space). Combined with the fact that Super Elites don’t pay any fuel surcharges, and the Priority Rewards benefit can easily be worth $500/year.

     

  • No change or cancellation fees on Aeroplan bookings: Another special Aeroplan perk that Super Elites enjoy is a waiver on all change and cancellation fees, which allows you to easily make speculative bookings and hold desirable award space at no cost.

     

    Super Elites may also leverage this benefit to avoid paying the $30 phone booking fee on new Aeroplan bookings, simply by making a simple one-way booking online and then calling in to change to their actual desired booking for no cost.

     

    Considering that the standard change and cancellation fees are $100 per direction ($75 for Aeroplan Diamond members) and $150 per ticket ($30 for Aeroplan Diamond members) respectively, and that these fees can add up very quickly if you’re booking for a large group, I don’t think it’s unfair to value this fee waiver benefit at a $250/year at the very least. 

     

  • Air Canada Concierge: The Concierge team provides dedicated and personalized service to Air Canada’s most valued customers, and by all accounts, they have been known to go above and beyond to make a Super Elite’s travel experience as smooth as possible.

     

    Concierge staff may save the day for a Super Elite by holding up their next flight during a tight connection, walking them from the curb to the aircraft when you’re running late, or greeting them with new boarding passes at the airport when their onward itinerary has been affected by IRROPS.

     

    Everyone will value this level of personalized service differently, but most Super Elites I’ve spoken to have sworn by the Concierge team, as though they wouldn’t fly with Air Canada without them. I’m going to peg this benefit at $500/year, and I invite any Super Elite members to let me know in the comments if you think that’s too high or too low. 

The Concierge team is on hand to provide Super Elite 100K members with as smooth a journey as possible.

The Concierge team is on hand to provide Super Elite 100K members with as smooth a journey as possible.

  • Select Privileges: You get to choose 2 out of 5 between 100% bonus Aeroplan miles, 50 eUpgrade credits, gifting Elite 50K status to a friend, a 12-month Altitude wifi plan, and a lower requalifiication level the following year.

     

    As above, we can think about these choices one by one. 100% bonus Aeroplan miles would probably result in a sizeable extra chunk of miles considering how much you need to fly to earn Super Elite, so we could value this higher than before at $250/year.

     

    Likewise, 50 eUpgrade credits would be more valuable than ever before in upgrading to business class from an economy class ticket, as your eUpgrades can now be applied farther out than anyone else and have the highest priority to clear. Let’s call that another $250/year.

     

    Now, gifting Elite 50K – and therefore Star Alliance Gold – to a friend or family member? That’s quite a generous gift indeed, and if we use the same approach as we did for Elite 75K, we might value this at 20% of $2,530, the value we had established for Elite 50K’s benefits. That comes to about $500/year.

     

    The wifi plan is still only valued at $100, so if we took the two most valuable options into consideration, we’d get a total of $500 + $250 = $750/year for the Select Privileges, whether you choose the bonus Aeroplan miles or the eUpgrades to accompany the gift of Elite 50K.

Not only do Super Elite 100K members enjoy Star Alliance Gold themselves, they can gift it to a friend or family member too.

Not only do Super Elite 100K members enjoy Star Alliance Gold themselves, they can gift it to a friend or family member too.

  • Discretionary benefits: Finally, there will no doubt be some intangible benefits associated with being one of Air Canada’s star customers. You’ll receive the utmost priority treatment everywhere, from speaking to a ticketing agent during IRROPS to getting through to the Aeroplan contact centre ahead of everyone else (which proved invaluable during the Amadeus transition).

     

    You may also receive unpublished benefits as well – to take one example, a Super Elite reader had let me know that he receives complimentary airport transfers whenever he books with Air Canada Vacations.

     

    Throw in the priority meal orders in business class, the fact that every Maple Leaf Lounge staff member likely knows who you are, and the all-round “smug satisfaction” factor of being a top-tier elite member, and I’d value the discretionary benefits at a further $250/year. 

Adding it all up, we arrive at a total valuation of Super Elite 100K at $6,380 for the year. While that may seem like a very generous valuation at first glance, when you consider the amount of flying and spending that’s required to qualify for Super Elite 100K, a set of benefits worth $6,380/year seems like a very fair return. 

Conclusion

Through a close examination of the benefits of each status level, we’ve arrived at “fair values” for Altitude Elite 75K and Super Elite 100K of $3,110 and $6,380, respectively. 

Elite 75K’s benefits aren’t materially more generous than what you get at the Elite 50K level. I’m not sure that it’s worthwhile for any current Elite 50K members to go out of their way to level up to Elite 75K by earning 250,000 Aeroplan miles under the current Travel at Home promotion

Meanwhile, Super Elite 100K offers some of the greatest benefits out of any North American loyalty program, with the fuel surcharge waiver and Priority Rewards on Aeroplan making for a particularly powerful combination.

For most of us, however, its hefty valuation will be of nothing more than academic interest, because membership in Air Canada’s highest elite tier is guarded closely by a set of very high qualification requirements. 

3 Comments
  1. bingo

    Still Air Canada, unfortunately. I wish their service and experience was better. On the routes I often take, which almost always mean I’m flying AC, the service and experience is always subpar. From delays and issues during sunny, and perfect weather, to rude and impolite staff, to the litany of problems on the ground, I simply cannot take AC seriously as "North America’s Top Airline".

    When using miles for personal trips, I avoid AC like the plague.

  2. les dorgo

    SE can not get any J seat only R space if it is left.

    1. Ricky

      Thanks for the correction. That’s what I get for commenting on Super Elite perks as a non-Super Elite myself.

Ricky

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