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Air Canada Introduces New eUpgrades for Aeroplan Members

Air Canada has today unveiled the details of a transformed and simplified system for eUpgrades, the in-house currency for passengers who wish to upgrade to a higher class of service on Air Canada flights.

The new eUpgrades will be easier to use, redeemable on a wider set of underlying fares (including Aeroplan award tickets), and will extend to an Aeroplan Elite Status member’s companions when travelling on the same ticket.

In this post, we’ll go over all of the details that you need to know and I’ll share some of my first impressions of the new eUpgrades; then, next week, our resident Air Canada states and eUpgrades expert T.J. will follow up with a more in-depth look at the optimal eUpgrade strategies.

In This Post

New eUpgrade Redemption Charts

eUpgrades are a special currency earned by Air Canada’s elite frequent flyers (under the program currently known as Altitude, to be renamed Aeroplan Elite Status as of the new Aeroplan’s launch on November 8) as a benefit of their elite status ranks. Members may redeem a certain number of eUpgrades, along with a cash co-pay amount if applicable, to request an upgrade to a higher class of service on an Air Canada flight; these requests will then be cleared based on the available seats in the cabin and in order of members’ elite status.

As of now, Altitude members receive the following number of eUpgrade credits depending on their elite status (the first row represents the base amount that everyone gets, followed by the eUpgrades you may choose as a Select Privilege in the second row):

Historically, the eUpgrade reward system has been marked by its complexity and opacity: the eUpgrade amounts varied based on geographic zone, distance flown, underlying fare, and the member’s elite status level, and Air Canada did not publish all of the information required to predict how many eUpgrades you’d need to upgrade a certain flight.

Now, however, Air Canada has released a brand-new set of charts that give far more transparency as to how many eUpgrades you’ll need for your desired upgrade. These charts can be found here.

Just like the new Aeroplan’s Flight Reward Chart, the eUpgrade chart is divided into geographic zones – in this case, two zones: North America & Sun destinations, as well as International destinations.

Within each zone, there are separate charts for upgrades to business class (from either premium economy or economy) and upgrades to premium economy (from economy). Each of these charts are then further subdivided into eUpgrade requirements for cash fares and Aeroplan tickets.

Here are the eUpgrade requirements for upgrading to business class on a one-way flight within North America or to Sun destinations:

Here are the eUpgrade requirements for upgrading to premium economy on a one-way flight within North America or to Sun destinations:

Here are the eUpgrade requirements for upgrading to business class on a one-way flight to international destinations:

And here are the eUpgrade requirements for upgrading to premium economy on a one-way flight to international destinations:

As you can see, the general structure of the eUpgrade chart remains the same as before: the more expensive your underlying fare option (i.e., Latitude, Comfort, Flex, or Standard), the fewer eUpgrades you’ll need for your upgrade; meanwhile, the greater your distance flown, the more eUpgrades you’ll need.

Compared to before, however, the new eUpgrade chart does a much better job of communicating the vast majority of information needed to calculate how many eUpgrades you’ll need.

Almost all the upgrade possibilities specify an exact number of eUpgrades and the corresponding add-on cash amount (if any), with the only exceptions being at the extreme of upgrading from the lowest possible underlying fare), where occasionally you’ll see “add-on starting at” a given price – as these will presumably be determined by the market forces at the time of requesting an upgrade.

There are a few additional nuances to take note of. Remember, under the new Aeroplan program, all Aeroplan rewards on Air Canada flights will now book into the same booking classes as revenue tickets (“S”, “Y”, “J”, etc., rather than the old “X” and “I” award classes) due to the new dynamic pricing model. Thus, it makes perfect sense that all Aeroplan rewards on Air Canada flights will now be eligible for eUpgrades too.

However, as you can see in the charts, there’s still a distinction between the number of eUpgrades required for an underlying cash ticket and an underlying Aeroplan reward. By and large, the eUpgrade chart for Aeroplan rewards is priced equal to or higher than for cash rewards – and since the cost of Aeroplan reward will more closely track the underlying cash fare under the new program, this indicates that you’d likely still be better off purchasing cash fares if you wish to request an upgrade on the flight.

Air Canada 777 business class

You’ll also notice that the international business class eUpgrade chart contains many more cash add-on requirements than the other charts, which makes sense, given that this is likely the most attractive use of eUpgrades for most elite members.

It’s worth noting here that Aeroplan Super Elite members will be exempt from the cash add-ons in the rows highlighted in blue, whereas the cash add-ons stricken-out in red (for upgrades from premium economy to business class) are waived for all members until March 31, 2021 as a temporary special offer.

A First Look at New eUpgrade Strategies

Let’s take a first look at what you can expect to get out of the new eUpgrades system from the perspective of an Aeroplan 25K member – the first Aeroplan Elite Status tier that you can achieve.

Indeed, many of us earned this status level pretty effortlessly under the Travel at Home promotion earlier this year – and remember, under the new Aeroplan, it will be possible to earn Aeroplan 25K status year after year without flying by earning 100,000 Aeroplan points per year through eligible sources (including flying, credit card spending, eStore shopping, but excluding credit card signup bonuses and points transfers).

As it currently stands, Aeroplan 25K members receive 20 eUpgrade credits per year as part of their Core Privileges. Ideally, you would want to redeem these eUpgrades for the best value, which is almost certainly for an upgrade to business class on routes with Air Canada’s Boeing 777 or Boeing 787 Dreamliner and their lie-flat reverse herringbone seats.

The flagship domestic routes on which the Dreamliner is operated are Vancouver–Toronto and Vancouver–Montreal. Both of these routes fall into the “1,501+ miles” distance band, so based on the eUpgrade chart above, if you purchased a Flex fare for a round-trip flight on these routes, you’d be able to use all 20 of your eUpgrade credits – 10 eUpgrade credits per direction.

Air Canada 787 business class

If you only purchased a Standard fare in the lowest booking classes, each one-way direction would require 11 eUpgrade credits (plus a cash add-on), so you wouldn’t have enough. However, if you purchased a Standard fare in one of the more expensive booking classes (“M”, “U”, or “H”), then each one-way direction would only require 9 eUpgrade credits plus an add-on starting at $100.

(The latter would probably only be advisable if all of the less-expensive booking classes were already full; otherwise, purchasing one of those in Flex instead would be much cheaper, and you could still request your eUpgrades.)

As I mentioned above, our resident eUpgrades expert T.J. will follow up next week with a closer look at optimizing your eUpgrade strategies with the new charts in place.

Simplified eUpgrade Request Process

In addition to a revamped eUpgrades chart, Air Canada has also simplified the process for how members request an upgrade on a confirmed booking. In the past, each member had a different request window based on their elite status, and you’d have to wait until your window opened a given number of days before departure to submit your upgrade request.

Instead of this rather inconvenient approach, the new request process is much more straightforward. Members may submit an eUpgrade request at any time after completing their booking, and these requests will automatically clear, subject to availability, based on a clearance window instead.

The eUpgrade clearance windows are as below:

As you can see, as long as you have any level of Aeroplan Elite Status, your eUpgrades can clear at any time if you book a Premium Economy (Flexible) or Latitude ticket. Meanwhile, higher elite status rewards you with farther-out clearance priority, and North American flights also have a more generous clearance window than international flights.

Combined with the new eUpgrades charts, the entire eUpgrades system has now become more predictable and easier to use than before. Any elite member can figure out exactly how many eUpgrade credits they’ll require for a given flight, as well as how many days in advance their upgrade request will have a shot at clearing, without having to check back at that exact deadline to submit their request before everyone else.

eUpgrade Clearance for Companions

Air Canada has placed heavy emphasis on “enabling the family dynamic” with the new Aeroplan program, and that extends to eUpgrades too. Going forward, any eUpgrade requests for companions travelling on the same reservation as an Aeroplan Elite Status member will clear with the same priority as the elite member themselves (on a space-available basis).

This is a much-needed change based on member feedback, allowing elite members to share the premium travel experience with their families and travelling companions more regularly.

In the past, a Super Elite member whose spouse was only an Elite 35K may find themselves in situations where their own eUpgrade request cleared, but their spouse’s did not, which ultimately detracted from the experience rather than making the member feel rewarded; now, both travellers will enjoy the Super Elite member’s eUpgrade priority.

Air Canada A220 business class

Conclusion

Air Canada’s eUpgrades currency was in significant need of simplification to make it more approachable and predictable for the airline’s elite members, and it’s great to see this work being completed in advance of the new Aeroplan program’s launch on November 8.

Going forward, members will be able to calculate exactly how many eUpgrades they need for any desired upgrade, submit their upgrade request without worrying about request windows, and share their eUpgrade priority with their travelling companions.

Like the changes to the new Aeroplan’s flight rewards, the new eUpgrades chart inevitably contains a mix of increases and decreases in terms of the number of eUpgrades required for a given flight as compared to before, as well as the corresponding optimal eUpgrade usage strategies by an Aeroplan Elite Status member of any given status tier.

All of this analysis, and more, to come next week.