Air Canada eUpgrades: How Does Waitlist Ranking Work?

If you are unable to confirm an eUpgrade prior to your flight, you will be waitlisted for an upgrade at the gate. For everyone who is waitlisted, a list is created that shows the priority ranking for the upgrade request, which is eventually cleared at the gate.

In this post, let’s look at how the eUpgrade waitlist rankings are established. The source of the bulk of this information comes from a FlyerTalk forum thread, and credit goes to the contributors on that thread.

1. Cabin Class of Original Booking

When determining the priority rankings for eUpgrade requests, the first factor to consider is the original cabin class the ticket was purchased in. 

Anyone who purchases a ticket in Premium Economy to begin with will have priority ranking over tickets booked in economy. 

If you have a lower status and you’re hoping to snag an upgrade on a hotly-contested route, such as morning flights between Toronto and Vancouver or on flights to London, it may be worthwhile to consider the cost difference between any economy fare and a Premium Economy fare.

Air Canada 787 premium economy 

This fall, I’ll be flying Vancouver–Montreal–London and back from Paris–Montreal–Vancouver. I booked in Premium Economy and paid cash for the flights to earn Status Qualifying Dollars (SQD) for Priority Rewards, and I’m hoping to secure an eUpgrade to business class either once my clearance window comes (seven days prior to departure), or failing that, at the gate. 

Booking in Premium Economy should give me a good chance, as long as there is space available in the business class cabin. 

Last winter, I had a flight booked in Premium Economy with Aeroplan points from Toronto to Vancouver. My and my wife’s names appeared at the top of the list, and we wound up snagging the last two seats in business class.

There were a number of Super Elites and others gathered at the gate waiting for an upgrade, but I assume that booking in Premium Economy to begin with prioritized our waitlisted upgrade request over everyone else’s. 

2. Aeroplan Elite Status and Credit Cards

The next factor that determines your position in the waitlist is a combination of your Aeroplan Elite Status and whether or not you hold a co-branded Aeroplan credit card.  

For each status tier, there is the same ranking order, which will be outlined below. Those with higher statuses have priority in the waitlist over those with lower statuses.

Within each tier is the following ranking order:

  1. 2 Million Milers (or greater) with a co-branded credit card
  2. 2 Million Milers (or greater) without a co-branded credit card
  3. Million Milers with a co-branded credit card
  4. Million Milers without a co-branded credit card
  5. Aeroplan Elite Status (Super Elite, 75K, 50K, 35K, 25K) with a co-branded credit card
  6. Aeroplan Elite Status (Super Elite, 75K, 50K, 35K, 25K) without a co-branded credit card

The list above makes logical sense, as those who have attained 2 Million Miler status (or above), by earning over two million Lifetime Qualifying Miles with Air Canada, have priority over Million Milers, who have priority over everyone with status, but without at least Million Miler status.

After the priority list moves through a status tier, it moves onto the next level down. For example, Super Elites have priority over those with 75K, who have priority over those with 50K, and so on until the lowest status, 25K, is complete.

Within each status tier, 2 Million Milers and Million Milers have priority. Since 3 Million Milers will always enjoy Super Elite status, 2 Million Milers will always enjoy at least 75K status, and Million Milers always have at least 50K status, those with 35K or 25K status are ranked only according to numbers five and six on the ranking order list.

When Aeroplan was relaunched in November 2020, Air Canada mentioned that the people who are the most engaged with the program will enjoy the greatest benefits. It’s interesting that simply holding a co-branded Aeroplan credit card plays a factor in waitlist upgrade priority; with all else being equal, someone with a co-branded credit card gets priority over someone without one.

3. Fare Class?

Compared to other factors, the role of fare class on the upgrade priority list is less understood. 

Recall that Air Canada sells Basic, Standard, Flex, Comfort, Latitude, and Premium Economy branded fares.

Within each brand of fares are different letters, which represent a different fare within that brand. The difference between the fare codes can be reflected in the price, number of eUpgrades required for an upgrade, and amount of co-pay fee required.

Pertaining to the upgrade priority list, it appears (but has not been confirmed with certainty) that a higher fare family will be prioritized over a lower fare family, even if the actual cost of the lower fare is more than the cost of the higher fare.

For example, a Flex “M” fare is the highest fare in the Flex-branded fare family, and a Comfort “G” fare is in the lowest tier of Comfort-branded fares. With all else being equal, a Comfort “G” fare will likely be prioritized over the Flex “M” fare. 

Getting into the minutiae, it’s not clear if fares within a branded-fare tier play a factor. For example, it’s not clear if there is any difference in terms of upgrade priority sequencing between Comfort “S”, “T”, “L”, “G”, and “K” fares.

4. Check-in Time

The last factor that contributes to your position on the upgrade priority list is check-in time. 

Check-in opens 24-hours prior to the flight’s scheduled departure. It could be worthwhile to check-in as close to this time as possible, in the event that you’re otherwise deadlocked with someone else for an upgrade.

Passenger A, who checks in first, will have upgrade priority over Passenger B, who checks in later but is otherwise on par with Passenger A. 

Air Canada business class – Check-in
Air Canada business class check-in at Toronto Pearson

You can check to see your ranking for check-in by looking at your boarding pass. 

On the Air Canada app and on paper tickets, the number adjacent to “Airline use” indicates your spot in the check-in sequence.

Examples of Upgrade Rankings

For the below examples, let’s assume that there is only one spot left for an upgrade to business class on a flight and the only people on the waitlist are the ones described. 

Example #1

Ricky, Josh, and T.J. are flying from Tokyo to Vancouver with Air Canada after Japan miraculously fully reopened its borders to tourism. Ricky and T.J. are Super Elites with Aeroplan co-branded credit cards, and Josh is a 50K member with a co-branded credit card.

Josh snagged a deal on a Premium Economy “A” fare during a sale, while Ricky and T.J. booked in Flex “M”. 

T.J. checked in first, followed by Ricky, and then Josh.

In this situation, Josh would be prioritized for the upgrade due to the cabin class of his original booking.  Even though Ricky and T.J. have a higher status and checked in before him, Josh’s Premium Economy ticket prioritized him over the other two.

Assuming that Josh’s seat in Premium Economy becomes up for grabs, T.J. would be prioritized over Ricky for the seat, as he was first to check-in. Ricky is stuck in economy for this flight.

Air Canada 777 business class

Example 2

Amy, Rachel, and Rohin are flying from Montreal to Vancouver to spend a weekend on the West Coast. 

They all have Aeroplan 50K Status. Rachel and Rohin are co-branded Aeroplan credit cardholders, while Amy isn’t.

Amy checks in first, followed by Rachel, and then Rohin.

They all booked on a Flex “U” fare.

In this scenario, Rachel would win out on the upgrade, as her holding a co-branded credit card ranked her higher than Amy (who checked in first) and Rohin (who checked in after her). 

Example 3

Ben, Sophie, and Richard are flying from Toronto to London. 

Ben has Aeroplan 25K status which he earned through Everyday Status Qualification. He’s new to the Miles & Points community, but is savvy and excited to maximize his participation.

Sophie and Richard are both Super Elites with 2 Million Miler status. Sophie has a co-branded credit card, but Richard doesn’t. 

Sophie checked in first, followed by Richard, and then Ben.

Sophie and Richard booked on a Flex “M” fare, and Ben booked using Aeroplan points in Premium Economy (Lowest).

Much to Sophie and Richard’s chagrin, Ben wins out on this upgrade, due to the cabin class into which he originally booked. 

Assuming Ben’s seat in Premium Economy is up for grabs, Sophie would be prioritized over Richard, as she holds a co-branded credit card and he doesn’t.

Conclusion

If you aren’t able to confirm an Air Canada eUpgrade prior to your flight, you’ll be put on a waitlist for an upgrade. Once check-in closes, the list is cleared and space-available upgrades are given out in a priority sequence at the gate.

Your position on the list depends on a host of factors, including the original cabin class of your booking, your status and whether or not you have an Aeroplan co-branded credit card, the fare, and your position in the check-in sequence.

The best strategy here is therefore to book in Premium Economy to begin with whenever possible. Waiting for an upgrade at the gate is somewhat nerve-wracking, but is very satisfying if it clears.

26 Comments
  1. Margot

    On my recent Air Canada flight I was waitlisted for the Business Class, but upgraded to Premium Economy. On my way back I got an upgrade, but then was downgraded back to economy. The gate agent said that a passenger had arrived. After 12 hours flight in economy, I regret not reading this article before my flight.

  2. David

    This is a great guide! But, at the end of the day, it seems like we are the mercy of Air Canada following the prescribed algorithm above and/or adapting to the caveats that Ricky mentioned. When waitlisted all we can do is pray we are chosen in their pecking order 😛

  3. Richard

    In addition to the ranking system among passengers using e-upgrade credits, which is what this great article is about, passengers should be aware of other situations that allow passengers to leap to the front of the priority list and scoop those last available seats:
    1) Passengers who were on a confirmed booking on a previous flight who gave up their seat to AC for compensation and bargained for access to the J-Class cabin;
    2) Passengers who complain about something haven gone wrong and either Customer Service or the Concierge make it tight by offering you a complimentary upgrade to Biz Class;
    3) Passengers who for whatever reason get cleared by the Operations Crew days before the flight. I have received an early confirmation of an upgrade based on predicted load factors and revenue maximization strategies.
    4) Other Air Canada considerations like passengers who are VIPs but booked in Economy, and passengers who have bid for an upgrade.
    Basically, while knowing the priority ranking algorithm for E-Upgrades is useful, there are so many other ways Air Canada can decide to allocate the scarce resource to propel any passenger ahead and it can happen at any time until the flight is closed.
    If I know I am not near the top of the list and if I know there are very few J-Class seats available, I know there are still some tricks but they all involve a paradigm shift outside of the e-upgrade priority algorithm.
    2 other very high priority passengers are:
    1) Customers who paid for Biz Class using points with any Star Alliance partner when there was no R-Class fare available; and
    2) Customers who have a Flight Pass and are entitled to a complimentary upgrade.
    Both of these passengers get access prior to any customer who is trying to use e-upgrade credits. And this makes sense since they have contractually paid for Biz Class already.

    1. T.J. YQQ

      Thanks for all of this info. The only way to be sure you’re in a business class seat is to be onboard the plane with boarding completed 🙂

  4. zrh2yvr

    For checkin time – 24 hours is the maximum for your first flight. However, a connecting flight can be up to 48 hours as long as the first flight (before the connection) is able to be checked in. Thus, those who are inbound on a connection have some advantage in that they can secure checkin times between 24-48 hours while originating passengers are only able to checking up to 24 hours in advance.

    1. T.J. YQQ

      Great point – thanks for sharing!

      1. Ruddy

        Well, I am not sure about that. Once I checked in online to my YQB-YYZ-CDG flights (or something similar), but I was given only the first leg boarding card because the following legs were not open for check-in yet…

  5. TW

    This was so helpful- thanks for using the examples.

  6. Susan YYZ

    Is it possible to add yourself to both the business class and premium economy eupgrade lists? I booked a recent flight and am on the eupgrade waitlist to business class. Is it possible to have myself added to the wait list for premium economy as well as the business class list or does it automatically consider me for premium economy if I don’t end up getting a business class seat? If I am able to add myself to both lists, when and how do I add myself to to the premium economy one. Obviously one would want to prioritize the business class upgrade over the premium economy. Thanks for the help

    1. T.J. YQQ

      If you waitlist for business class, you’ll also be waitlisted for Premium Economy if you don’t wind up getting upgraded. It’s automatic, so no further efforts needed.

  7. James

    Just visited a concierge office in YWG and confirmed the ranking you have above is incorrect. A MM with a co-branded credit card would fit above a 50K with a co-branded credit card and a 75K without a co-branded credit card.A 2 MM has 75K status and falls below a straight up SE.

    1. zrh2yvr

      I was thinking the same thing. The SE’s and E75s are above normal MM’s I would expect.

      1. T.J. YQQ

        That’s right – 2MM+ SE with a credit card > 2MM+ SE without a credit card > MM SE with a credit card > MM SE without a credit card > Super Elite with a credit card > Super Elite without a credit card (and so on and so forth, replacing SE with 75K and downward)…

  8. Amy

    T.J.
    Thanks for explaining by examples.

  9. James

    I think there may be an error. I checked on flyer talk forums and the ranking there is different then what you have here. The MM status is only a helper. The 1 MM is 50k status. So you would only out rank a 50k non MM. A base SE would outrank a MM. I wish this was right as I’m retiring next year as aMM with Co branded credit card. But I think a non MM SE out ranks me.

    1. T.J. YQQ

      You can be a Million Miler Super Elite or a 2 Million Miler Super Elite, too. For each tier, the rankings 1-6 follow for SE, then 75K, then 50K, then 35K, then 25K. If you don’t requalify as a Super Elite, yes the status would be 50K for Million Miler or 75K for a 2 Million Miler.

      1. James

        Thanks. I re-read it and it makes sense to me now lol. Maybe I need to read slower. 🙂

  10. Shawn

    If you’re in boarding group 1, next on the upgrade list (assume you were 3rd, then 1st and 2nd positions were confirmed) but the gate agent says it didn’t clear, Is there any use in waiting until everyone else boards?

    1. T.J. YQQ

      Good point. If, by chance, someone doesn’t show up for the flight, there is a last minute possibility that you may be confirmed. It happens rarely, but it could be worth the wait.

      1. Shawn

        I’ve often wondered if they consider a mobile checkin from 24 hours prior as someone ‘confirmed’ or if there is some tie between airport security scanning a boarding pass and airline operations, wherein the airline actually knows if someone is physically present and going to ‘make’ the flight.

        1. T.J. YQQ

          My hunch is that since the sequence number is generated upon check in (mobile or at the airport), they assume that you’re showing up until you don’t.

  11. Leon YYC

    Nice article! I enjoyed the examples you included.
    Can you clarify the true meaning of “eUpgrade Available” as seen on the booking page? I think it should be modified to include “subject to clearance window”

    1. T.J. YQQ

      If “eUpgrade available” shows up, then you can instantly confirm an upgrade if you book in Economy (Latitude) or Premium Economy (Flexible) without being subject to the clearance window. If you book any other fare, you’ll be subject to the clearance window depending on your status.

  12. T.J. YQQ

    If you book a Latitude fare, you’re not subject to the eUpgrade clearance window. So, if there’s eUpgrade space, you can confirm the upgrade immediately.

  13. Al

    Thanks for writing this! Assuming theres no immediate upgrade space, the only benefit to booking latitude Y as a lowly 25k-75k is just a lower # of eupgrade credits since there are a vast majority of SE or millionmillers ahead of us? Thanks.

    1. Leon YYC

      You’d also get more Aeroplan points…

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