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Air Canada eUpgrades: Upgrading at the Airport

On a recent flight from Toronto to Vancouver, I used my eUpgrades to have a friend who was on a different booking join me in premium economy. This was the first time I had redeemed eUpgrades at the check-in desk at the airport, and it was a fairly smooth experience.

This post walks through the process of using your eUpgrades for another passenger who isn’t on the same booking, but is travelling on the same flight as the person with Aeroplan Elite Status

Using eUpgrades for Companions at the Airport

A common complaint amongst travellers with Aeroplan Elite Status is that they can’t use their eUpgrades for family or friends travelling on different bookings.

(The exception to this rule is if you have Super Elite status, in which case you can nominate one person who can use your eUpgrades when travelling separately from the account holder.)

What many people aren’t aware of, though, is that you can indeed use your eUpgrades for family, friends, or a very lucky stranger in specific situations.

To do so, the passenger needs to be travelling on the same flight as the Aeroplan Elite Status member and, importantly, the request can only be made at the airport on the day of travel.

Even then, the upgrade won’t be confirmed until the flight “closes”:

  • For domestic flights, flights close 45 minutes prior to departure.
  • For international flights, flights close 60 minutes prior to departure.

I’ll break the process down into steps below and offer some suggestions for how to maximize the odds of the upgrade clearing.

Air Canada 787 premium economy

Step 1: Research in Advance

Prior to requesting the upgrade, it is worthwhile to look into the flight load to get an idea of how full the cabins are.

If you have a lower status and the flight is full with a large waitlist, the odds are much lower than if there are many empty seats in the cabin, you have higher status, or there aren’t any other people on the waitlist.

All of this information becomes available 24 hours prior to departure.

The easiest way to find out this information is on the Air Canada app. From the home screen, head to the ‘Flight Status’ tab and search for your flight.

Once you select the flight, take a look at the “Standby and Upgrade List.”

Unless you’re flying standby, you can ignore the standby list. When my wife worked for Air Canada as a flight attendant, we flew on standby, and would monitor this list for an available seat on the flight.

Swipe over to the “Upgrade List.”

Here, you’ll see the names and rankings of everyone who is waiting for an upgrade. In a three-cabin aircraft, you’ll see both business class and premium economy lists, and in a two-cabin aircraft, you’ll only see a list for business class.

At the top of each list, it displays the number of seats booked and the number of passengers who have checked in. This will give you the first indication of how full the plane is. 

Underneath this, there is a list of everyone who is waiting for an upgrade. The first three letters of the last name and the first initial are displayed for privacy.

Although the exact criteria for ranking passengers isn’t known, you will be ranked higher on the list if you have higher Aeroplan Elite Status, Million Miler Status, and an Aeroplan co-branded credit card than if you were a 25K member with no credit card. 

Looking at the list will also give you an indication of how likely it is that your companion will get upgraded. The emptier the cabin, the more likely your eUpgrade request at the airport will clear.

After you’ve parsed this information, the next step is to request the upgrade.

Step 2: Request the Upgrade

On the day of travel, the passenger with Aeroplan Elite Status and eUpgrades to spare can request the eUpgrade at the check-in desk or at the gate. It’s easiest if the other passenger is there with you, but you’ll otherwise need their full name and booking reference.

Importantly, they must be travelling on the same flight as you. 

The agent will make the necessary arrangements to waitlist your family member, friend, or lucky stranger, but the upgrade won’t be confirmed at this point.

The number of eUpgrades required for their upgrade, should it be confirmed, will depend on their original booking class.

After checking in any bags and receiving any boarding passes, head through to security and proceed as normal until it’s almost time to board the flight. 

At this point, I would recommend keeping an eye on the waitlist, as you’ll be able to see if anyone else has usurped your companion’s spot in line or if things are still looking favourable.

Air Canada 787 business class

Step 3: Confirm the Upgrade

Once you’re ready to head to the gate, you’ll want to hang around before boarding the plane. 

At 45 or 60 minutes prior to departure for domestic or international flights, respectively, check-in closes and gate agents gain control over the upgrade list. 

If you’ve ever paid attention to gate agents as they prepare for boarding, you’ll notice a flurry of activity.

There are announcements about zones (that many people don’t follow), requests for passengers to avoid crowding around the boarding area (that many people don’t follow), and reminders to have photo identification ready as your boarding pass is checked (again, that many people don’t follow).

Intermixed with these announcements are calls for passengers to see the gate agent. It’s important to pay attention to these announcements, as one of them might be your travel companion’s ticket into a better class of service that you’ve been so generous to share.

If their name was high on the waitlist, you’re likely to get the upgrade soon after boarding starts. If you’re kind, the gate agent may be able to seat you together, but otherwise you may be left to barter for seats once onboard.

If their name is lower on the waitlist, then they may have to wait a little while. 

It’s important to not lose all hope until the gate agents have made the final boarding calls. People miss connections or fail to show up for their flight, and it may be the case that their seat will be forfeited to your lucky +1 closer to the flight closing.

If the upgrade is processed, they’ll receive a new boarding pass and the eUpgrades will be deducted from your account. If the upgrade is not processed, you can bid your companion adieu as you turn left towards comfort, knowing that you’ll have eUpgrades to use for your next flight.

A Recent Example

I recently flew from Toronto to Vancouver before connecting back to Comox. I was on an overnight connection on my way back from Switzerland.

At breakfast, I was speaking with my new friend Roger whom I had met on the trip. He was flying back to Victoria via Vancouver, and we happened to be on the same flight from Toronto to Vancouver.

I had a look at the flight load and noticed that there were four seats available in business class and four seats available in premium economy. At that point, there weren’t any others who were waitlisted, so I decided to give it a go, as the odds were in our favour. 

I myself had upgraded to premium economy a few days prior. After all, with my Aeroplan 35K status, I can request eUpgrades for flights within North America and to Sun destinations eight days prior to departure.

It had cost me 2 eUpgrade credits, and since he was likely booked on the same type of fare, I assumed it would cost another 2 eUpgrade credits. He offered a bag of Cheezies as a gesture of his gratitude, which I very gladly accepted.

After meeting at the airport a few hours before the flight, I requested his upgrade and offered to also treat him to a free visit to the Maple Leaf Lounge, as American Express Aeroplan Reserve Card holders can bring another person into the lounge for free.

I monitored the waitlist, and he was bumped down to second place as we headed to the gate. There were still four seats available, though, so I was optimistic.

Right around 45 minutes prior to departure, his name was called and we asked if there were any adjacent seats to mine. The gate agent moved him next to me, and we headed onto the plane. 

It turns out that he and the other passenger who was sitting next to him shared a mutual friend. The three of us enjoyed some sparkling wine and had great conversations for the duration of the flight.

The whole process was smooth and less clunky that I had expected it might be. Roger was grateful for the more comfortable flight, and in addition to a delicious bag of Cheezies, I got a credit card referral out of it, too.

Air Canada 787 premium economy

Further Applications

For most Aeroplan elite members, this opens up the possibility of using your eUpgrades for three passengers on the same flight:

  • The primary passenger with status
  • A second passenger on the same booking as the passenger with status
  • A third passenger who may or may not be on the same booking reference (but who must also be on the same flight) as the passenger with status

For Super Elite members, this opens up the possibility of using your eUpgrades for up to four passengers on the same flight:

  • The primary passenger with Super Elite status
  • A second passenger on the same booking as the passenger with status
  • A third passenger who may or may not be on the same booking reference (but who must also be on the same flight) as the passenger with status
  • A fourth passenger who is the Super Elite member’s eUpgrade nominee (on a separate booking reference)

Of course, there is no sure-fire way to confirm the airport eUpgrade until you are at the gate, so you run the risk of being outranked on the priority list if the flight is looking full.

But, with some prior research, you should have a pretty good idea of what the chances are well in advance of boarding the flight.

Conclusion

Aeroplan Elite Status holders can use eUpgrades to treat a family member, friend, or a lucky stranger to a higher class of service by requesting an upgrade at the airport on the day of travel. 

When compared with being able to instantly confirm an eUpgrade by adopting the “Latitude Attitude”, this method isn’t quite as reliable. But by paying attention to the waitlist on the Air Canada app, you can keep track of the odds for an upgrade.

I enjoyed my first experience doing this, and I’m sure there are many others out there who have done the same. Feel free to share your experiences requesting eUpgrades at the airport by commenting below, getting in touch on the Prince of Travel Elites Facebook group, or joining in on the fun in the Prince of Travel Club Lounge on Discord.

7 Comments
  1. Richard

    There’s always hope even when things look impossible. For instance, many people check in for a flight 24 hours in advance before they’ve even fully packed. So just because it shows a high number of checked in J biz class passengers, doesn’t mean they will take that flight or even make it to the airport by the cut off time. Many people booked in biz can change their reservation at no cost and will often fly out an earlier or later flight even though they’ve checked in.
    The priority rules are not fully known. But there are ways to play. People who go to the front of the list include: 1) a passenger who is declared by an agent to have been mistreated. 2) a passenger who paid for the biz class seat already with Aeroplan points who has to wait for availability. 3) a VIP with a black card proving they give A LOT of biz to Air Canada.
    The actual priority rules take class of fare as well as whether a passenger is starting travel from this airport or is already in transit into account.
    When the flight closes, I approach the agent to see how it looks. It is best to know as soon as possible before all new boarding passes are printed and handed out.
    If I don’t make the cut, I prefer to board as soon as I can to find room for my carry on baggage and settle in. I recognise that there’s still a chance that a biz class passenger won’t make the gate in time but there are easy ways to predict the chance of an inbound flight being that late and I’d prefer the certainty of knowing where I’ll be sitting rather than being “that guy” who arrives late, sweaty and with way too much stuff to stow.

  2. Curious

    Do you have to be at the gate when they announce your name for the upgrade? Or can you lounge in the lounge, head to the gate ~5 mins before boarding closes, and pick up your new/upgraded boarding pass – without them having given away the upgrade to someone else because you weren’t there at T-55 or T-40?

    1. T.J. YQQ

      Hmm. If the flight isn’t full and if there aren’t others on the waitlist, then I suppose waiting until close to the cut-off time would be fine. But if there are others on the waitlist and they are about to close the flight, then I imagine your upgrade may get bumped. Personally, I’d show up at the gate with some leeway, as I wouldn’t want to lose out on an upgrade.

  3. Mike

    Awesome!

  4. Paulk YYZ

    Thanks for the tips, AJ.
    My family (3 pax) are booked with AP in Premium Y for a flights to BGI in March 2022. After booking, I phoned AC and asked about e-ups to J, but they said since I have 3 pax on the PNR, we were ineligible. I’m currently 25K. In Jan 2022, I’ll be 35K and another pax on the PNR will be 25K. Question – If e-ups are available and there is space in J, call 8 days prior to the trip and request? 4 days? Day of travel? Be interested to here the best way to approach this. Thanks

  5. Amie

    “A common complaint amongst travellers with Aeroplan Elite Status is that they can’t use their eUpgrades for family or friends travelling on different bookings.”

    Oh, snap. I was going to book for my mother to go to the east coast at Christmas using eUps since she’s a nervous flier and could benefit from the Prem.Ec/Business seating. I guess not now. 🙁

  6. canadiancow SFO

    Upgrades are confirmed automatically by PDM on 99.9% of flights, which runs exactly 5 minutes after the flight closes (i.e. T-55 or T-40). The only way you’d get one later than that is if you didn’t make the first cut and there was a no-show.

T.J. Dunn

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