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Air Canada eUpgrades: How Much Are They Worth? (Part 2: Cash Fares)

 

In a previous post, we looked at how much value can be had from using eUpgrades with Aeroplan bookings.

We came to the conclusion that on average, you should be able to get at least $60 of value per eUpgrade – although you can certainly get more or less.

In this post, I use a similar approach to estimate how much value can be found in using eUpgrades with paid cash fares on a variety of Air Canada routes. With current promotions such as spending your way to a higher status, many of us should have some more eUpgrades at our disposal in 2022 when the skies and borders are more amenable to travel.

If you haven’t already, here are some recommended posts to read about eUpgrades and how to optimize their use:

Valuation Methodology

Similar to the process used for eUpgrades on Aeroplan bookings, I sampled a variety of flights on random dates for Air Canada flights within Canada, to North American and Sun destinations, and on international routes.

For each search, I took the cash price of the flight in economy fares (Standard, Flex, Comfort, Latitude) and premium economy (Premium Economy (Lowest) and in some cases Premium Economy (Flexible)) and added any required co-pay amounts.

Then, I calculated the total cost (fare plus any co-pay) when compared to the Business Class (Lowest) fare and divided by the number of eUpgrades required. This represents the value unlocked by a single eUpgrade credit in each scenario. 

 

[Cost of Business Class (Lowest) flight – (Cost of a Given Flight + Co-Pay Amount) ] / Number of eUpgrade Credits Required]

 

The tables below break down this calculation row-by-row:

  1. Cost of a given flight
  2. eUpgrade credits required to upgrade to business class
  3. Co-pay amount (if any)
  4. Difference between the total cost of a flight (including co-pay) [(1) + (3)] and Business Class (Lowest) fare
  5. Value per eUpgrade credit: (4) ÷ (2)

As with the examination of eUpgrades with Aeroplan bookings, for reasons of parsimony, the charts below do not take into account the eUpgrade clearance window. 

Aside from Latitude and Premium Economy (Flexible) fares, the chance of getting an eUpgrade confirmed within the booking window depends on eUpgrade availability and your status. Those with higher statuses have first dibs on eUpgrades, and those with lower statuses are at the mercy of availability closer to the date of travel.

Domestic Flights

The following table shows examples of the cost of a variety of flights within Canada and the corresponding eUpgrade values.

Economy
(Standard)

Economy
(Flex)

Economy
(Comfort)

Economy
(Latitude)

Premium Economy
(Lowest)

Business Class
(Lowest)

Toronto (YYZ) – Vancouver (YVR)

Cost

$230

$286

$365

$1,199

$732

$1,727

eUpgrades to business class

11

10

8

2

4

Co-pay

$250

Difference to business class

$1,247

$1,441

$1,362

$528

$995

Value per eUpgrade

$113.36

$144.10

$170.25

$264.00

$248.75

Vancouver (YVR) – Edmonton (YEG)

Cost

$177

$212

$254

$793

$526

eUpgrades to business class

5

4

3

1

Co-pay

$75

Difference to business class

$274

$314

$272

$(267)

Value per eUpgrade

$54.80

$78.50

$90.67

Calgary (YYC) – Montreal (YUL)

Cost

$234

$287

$360

$1,118

$645

$1,192

eUpgrades to business class

11

10

8

2

4

Co-pay

$150

Difference to business class

$808

$905

$832

$74

$547

Value per eUpgrade

$73.45

$90.50

$104

$136.75

St. John's (YYT) – Toronto (YYZ)

Cost

$390

$442

$511

$1,034

$1,337

eUpgrades to business class

7

6

5

1

Co-pay

$125

Difference to business class

$862

$935

$866

$343

Value per eUpgrade

$123.14

$155.83

$173.20

$343.00

For this sample of flights, the values range from $37 to $343 per eUpgrade credit, with an average value of $141.25. 

Interestingly, the average value of eUpgrades from a similar sample of flights on Aeroplan bookings had an average value of $29.38 per eUpgrade, which is substantially lower.

On the two routes with three-cabin aircraft (Toronto–Vancouver and Calgary–Montreal), I want to give a shout out to the Premium Economy (Lowest) fare. It is around twice as much as the Economy (Comfort) fare in both cases, and it is also more restrictive (non-refundable). 

But, it requires half as many eUpgrades as the Comfort fare and you are guaranteed to be in a higher class of service for your flight, if that is important for you. This bodes well for rationing your eUpgrades for other bookings and for travelling with some more comfort.

On the routes with two-cabin aircraft (Vancouver–Edmonton and St. John’s–Toronto), I would be inclined to book in an Economy (Flex) or an Economy (Comfort) fare, as there isn’t a substantial difference to Economy (Standard).

If I had extra eUpgrades to burn, then I would apply them to the booking, but otherwise, I’d be inclined to save them for use on a three-cabin aircraft.

Air Canada 787 premium economy

North America and Sun Destinations

The below chart shows flights to North America and Sun destinations and the corresponding eUpgrade values. 

Economy
(Standard)

Economy
(Flex)

Economy
(Comfort)

Economy
(Latitude)

Premium Economy
(Lowest)

Business Class
(Lowest)

Montreal (YUL) – Puerto Vallarta (PVR)

Cost

$463

$513

$588

$1,318

$1,028

eUpgrades to business class

11

10

8

2

Co-pay

$250

Difference to business class

$315

$515

$440

$(290)

Value per eUpgrade

$28.64

$51.50

$55.00

Toronto (YYZ) – Los Angeles (LAX)

Cost

$306

$390

$485

$1,314

$690

$1,038

eUpgrades to business class

11

10

8

2

4

Co-pay

$250

Difference to business class

$482

$648

$553

$(276)

$348

Value per eUpgrade

$43.82

$64.80

$69.13

$87.00

Vancouver (YVR) – Newark (EWR)

Cost

$300

$384

$478

$1,299

$761

$1,280

eUpgrades to business class

11

10

8

2

4

Co-pay

$250

Difference to business class

$730

$896

$802

$(19)

$519

Value per eUpgrade

$66.36

$89.60

$100.25

$129.75

Toronto (YYZ) – Honolulu (HNL)

Cost

$441

$521

$611

$1,552

$831

$2,741

eUpgrades to business class

11

10

8

2

4

Co-pay

$250

Difference to business class

$2,050

$2,220

$2,130

$1,189

$1,910

Value per eUpgrade

$186.36

$222

$266.25

$594.50

$477.50

For this sample, the eUpgrade values range from $28.64 to a staggering $594.50, with an average value of $158.28.

The average value from a similar sampling of Aeroplan flights was $107.81.

In all cases, the $250 co-pay fee bumps the total cost of the Economy (Standard) fare to over the Economy (Comfort) fare.

If you were to book Economy (Standard), you’d be losing out on Aeroplan mileage accumulation and having a refundable fare, and you’d also burn an additional 3 eUpgrade credits per person on the booking.

This is a good reminder to pay attention to co-pay fees when planning on using eUpgrades, as they can erode the value you get out of them. In many cases, it’s worth paying a higher fare in the first place.

The Toronto to Honolulu values show how you can get outstanding value out of eUpgrades on a premium route. At around 10 hours, it is a route where having a lie-flat seat would pay dividends – especially on the overnight return flight from Honolulu.

As it is a Latitude fare, you can instantly confirm an upgrade to business class if there is space available and if your eUpgrade credits are valid for the travel date.

As this is a sought-after route, I wouldn’t want to risk waiting for my eUpgrade clearance window to come, especially as anyone above my paltry Aeroplan 35K status could snap up an upgrade before me. 

Air Canada 787 business class

Additionally, you’d only be using 2 eUpgrade credits per person on this flight, which preserves your eUpgrade balance for use on other bookings.

Now, as someone who is just getting used to having disposable income after transitioning from the frugality of being a student for many years, I may not have considered spending around $3,000 per person on flights as in the realm of reason.

But after working at a travel agency for a few years, I’ve seen many people save tens of thousands of dollars by using eUpgrades on a Latitude (or other economy) fare when they would have spent it on business class anyway.

For people who travel infrequently or who wouldn’t travel if they weren’t in a premium cabin, combining eUpgrades with paid fares can be a great way to save money that can be put toward experiences on the ground.

International Destinations

Lastly, let’s have a look at how eUpgrade values on paid international flights stack up compared to other destinations.

The below chart shows values for a sampling of flights between Canadian hubs and international destinations.

Here, I included Premium Economy (Flexible) fares here as a point of comparison to Latitude fares, as they both are not subject to a clearance window. 

As per the eUpgrades chart, the Premium Economy (Lowest) fares are usually subject to a co-pay amount of $200.

However, when I searched for the flights on Air Canada’s website, the co-pay amount wasn’t shown as part of the requirements. So, for the purpose of this exercise, I’ll assume that this is accurate for the time being.

(For the Vancouver–Tokyo flights, I couldn’t get Air Canada to quote me a Latitude fare. Let’s assume that it is reasonably close to the Premium Economy (Flexible) fare.)

Economy
(Standard)

Economy
(Flex)

Economy
(Latitude)

Premium Economy
(Lowest)

Premium Economy
(Flexible)

Business Class
(Lowest)

Vancouver (YVR) – Tokyo (NRT)

Cost

$621

$1,411

$804

$2,796

$3,891

eUpgrades to business class

21

15

12

11

Co-pay

$750

$500

Difference to business class

$2,520

$1,980

$3,087

$1,095

Value per eUpgrade

$120.00

$132.00

$257.25

$99.55

Calgary (YYC) – Frankfurt (FRA)

Cost

$783

$1,133

$1,838

$1,288

$1,983

$3,048

eUpgrades to business class

21

15

11

12

11

Co-pay

$750

$500

Difference to business class

$1,515

$1,415

$1,210

$1,760

$1,065

Value per eUpgrade

$72.14

$94.33

$110.00

$146.67

$96.82

Montreal (YUL) – Tel Aviv (TLV)

Cost

$541

$931

$1,890

$1,066

$1,839

$2,558

eUpgrades to business class

26

20

13

17

13

Co-pay

$750

$500

Difference to business class

$1,267

$1,127

$668

$1,492

$719

Value per eUpgrade

$48.73

$56.35

$51.38

$87.77

$55.31

Toronto (YYZ) – London (LHR)

Cost

$365

$1,005

$1,658

$1,150

$1,803

$2,416

eUpgrades to business class

21

15

11

12

11

Co-pay

$750

$500

Difference to business class

$1,301

$911

$758

$1,266

$613

Value per eUpgrade

$61.95

$60.73

$68.91

$105.50

$55.73

The eUpgrade values range from a low of $48.73 to a high of $257.25, with an average value of $93.74.

Again, this is higher than a sampling of similar routes on Aeroplan bookings that had an average value of $61.38.

I’d like to give a very honourable mention to the Premium Economy (Lowest) fares here, again. The existence of $750 and $500 co-pay fees on the Standard and Flex fares pushes them to be either higher or close to the Premium Economy (Lowest) fare. 

Further, the eUpgrade requirements for Premium Economy (Lowest) fares are substantially less than those of the Economy (Standard) fares. 

Indeed, in all of the above instances, the value per eUpgrade is the highest with the Premium Economy (Lowest) fares. You’d also get the comfort of knowing that you’ll be seated in a higher class of service if your eUpgrade plans don’t work out.

Air Canada 777 business class

Suppose you earned Aeroplan 25K status through Everyday Status Qualification or the spend $10,000 for status promotion. You then decide to fly to London and book round-trip flights in Premium Economy (Lowest) for $2,300.

As compared to booking in business class to begin with, you’d have squeezed out $2,532 in value out of your eUpgrades that you earned – without giving a dime in Status Qualifying Dollars to Air Canada to begin with. 

Lastly, here we see that the two fare types without eUpgrade clearance windows (Latitude and Premium Economy (Flexible)) are reasonably close to each other in terms of cost and value per eUpgrade. If you are going to pay for a premium fare, again, it is worthwhile to consider the Premium Economy (Flexible) fare as an option, too.

So, What Are eUpgrades Worth? Part 2

In my previous analysis of using eUpgrades on Aeroplan bookings, I gave eUpgrades a value of around $60 (CAD) each. While it is certainly possible to get more value out of them, I believe you should be able to get at least $60/eUpgrade on Aeroplan bookings.

I was surprised to see that the eUpgrade values increased when I did the above analysis on cash fares. In this sample, the average value per eUpgrade is $129.13 – over twice that of the previous valuation.

What was also surprising was that there was significant value to be found for flights within Canada, to North American and Sun destinations, and on international routes. I had expected the values to gradually increase as the value of travelling in a premium product increased, but there was plenty of value in using eUpgrades on paid short-haul flights too.

Air Canada CRJ-900 business class

One important caveat here is that paying for a flight with dollars is different than paying for a flight in Aeroplan points. Especially with recent sky-high signup bonuses, Aeroplan points can be much easier to come by than dollars to pay for flights. I certainly wish I could come by dollars with the same ease as obtaining points, but alas, the hustle continues. 

This brief examination is also very limited in its scope. If I were to examine eUpgrade values on all possible Air Canada routes over a calendar year, I’m sure that a more accurate value could be obtained. I’d rather spend my time planning trips, though.

With the above in mind, I believe that it is reasonable to aim for at least $90/eUpgrade for paid bookings, which is a higher value than the $60/eUpgrade for Aeroplan bookings.

I went with a more conservative valuation here due to the limited sample of flight routes and the instability of flight prices in an ongoing pandemic. While we aren’t seeing 2020-style $500 Latitude fares from Toronto to London any longer, the travel world is still in a state of flux and I’d rather be cautious than overzealous.

As with using eUpgrades on Aeroplan bookings, you can certainly get more value out of them, but I would aim for at least a baseline valuation of $90/eUpgrade to consider getting excellent value out of them. 

Conclusion

With many ways to earn and rollover eUpgrade credits, I imagine that points enthusiasts and frequent flyers have more eUpgrades at their disposal than ever before.

As shown above, if you are willing to shop around for different fares and you are flexible with dates, there is some excellent value to be found in eUpgrades on paid Air Canada bookings.

As someone who books mostly on Aeroplan points, I hadn’t really considered how much value eUpgrades can have with paid bookings prior to doing this exercise. As frequent travel begins to resume, I’ll definitely consider both paid and points options for future bookings. 

I’d love to hear from anyone who has found great value in applying eUpgrade credits to cash fares. Or, if you have the opposite opinion, I’d love to hear from you, too. Feel free to leave a comment below, in the Prince of Travel Elites Facebook group, or join in on the fun in the Prince of Travel Club Lounge on Discord.

 
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11 Comments
  1. Richard

    The first year you are granted e-upgrade credits you will treat them as precious. At least I did. And you will want to maximize their value, of course.
    As the year gets closer to the end, you realise that they are hard to actually use and you will often let them die. So your strategy will change over time to just try to use them whenever you can.
    I often have a SQD goal to make late in the year to reach my desired status and so I will end up choosing the fare that gives me the required dollar spend.
    I think you’ll find that if you can guarantee the upgrade at the time of booking, that this will turn out to be your best use always for an e-upgrade. The downside of making speculative uses of credits and trying to maximize their value per credit is that you will have spent more on the cash fare than you had to for that flight and the e-upgrade did not pan out.
    One reason flyers can’t always make use of these credits is that AC let’s
    people who bid on AC upgrades “win” their upgrade prior to takeoff leaving no open seats in biz class for upgrade with credits.
    I like having your average dollar value per credit to use as a guidepost.

    1. T.J. YQQ

      Thanks for the insight, Richard!

      While I do try to maximize the value from my eUpgrades, I’ve also used them on short-haul routes (e.g. YVR-YEG) toward the end of the year when they would otherwise expire. I tend to book on points, so the difference between Flex and Latitude is often much better value (for me) than the cash difference between Flex and Latitude.

      With eUpgrade rollover on Premium Aeroplan credit cards, I like that I can save eUpgrades for a long-haul, high-value redemption (e.g. YVR-SYD) with my family.

      This is my second year with eUpgrades, so it will be interesting to see how my strategy changes over time.

  2. Amish

    Hi Ricky,
    For eupgrades with points booking, I can use my eupgrads only for me & 1 more perosn. Is same applies when I use my eupgrades with cash fare or I can use for more than 1 perosn flying with me on same booking.
    Pls. Advise

    use my eupgrades with. Ash fare or I can use for more travelers traveling with me.

    1. T.J. YQQ

      For both points and cash bookings, you can use your eUpgrades for yourself and one other person on the same booking reference. You can also request a third upgrade on the day of travel at the airport.

  3. MAVERikbc

    YVR-NRT business class (lowest) for $1,028? When did you search, last year? This is way off.

    1. Ricky YVR

      Thanks, this was actually my mistake when editing. It’s been corrected now.

  4. Duncan

    I tend to lurk and rarely post, but T.J you always have great, relevant, and informative articles.

    It is a shame that this blog is turning into a shill-blog pushing sales, and meaningless filler content without much substance, but at least you have informative gems here and there.

    Keep it up, T.J!

  5. Mike

    Such a great topic of interest. Yet had to skip the 90% of the article due to lack of context since I couldn’t easily read all the data presented. Soooo tired of seeing these non-zoomable tables.

    1. Richard

      I turn my phone sideways and then I can see the whole chart.

  6. trend

    using points to search ticket usually e-upgrade from economy class only able to upgrade to premium economy, not able to upgrade to business class, how to compare its value with e-upgrade from premium economy to business?

    1. T.J. YQQ

      This is a great idea for a future post. Stay tuned!

T.J. Dunn

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