The eUpgrades currency is a reward for Aeroplan Elite Status members to be able to upgrade into a higher class of service on Air Canada flights. In this article, we’ll look at some optimal ways to use your eUpgrades under the new Aeroplan parameters.
While the eUpgrades program has been redesigned and revamped, some readers have commented that it takes a degree in linear algebra to fully grasp the program. Our goal is to break down the intricacies of eUpgrades into digestible bits so you can maximize their value.
If you haven’t already, may I highly recommend that you read through Ricky’s overview of the new eUpgrades and my closer look at eUpgrades before continuing, as this article assumes you have a reasonable familiarity with eUpgrades as we discuss the best strategies for using eUpgrades under the new Aeroplan program.
How to Determine eUpgrade Availability
Before delving into the strategies, let’s remind ourselves of how to determine eUpgrade availability, which is different from the regular award availability in premium economy and business class.
There are two ways to determine eUpgrade space on a particular flight.
The first is to do a Flight Availability search on ExpertFlyer. Under “Only Show Classes,” enter “R”.
If there is “R” space available on a flight, then there will be eUpgrade space available. ExpertFlyer allows you to quickly determine which flights have eUpgrade space on particular aircraft throughout the day.
Thankfully, the new Aeroplan search engine has made it a lot easier to seamlessly view eUpgrade availability as well.
After completing a search for points bookings, click on “Sort and filter” at the upper left-hand corner of the search results.
Under “Display Options”, select “eUpgrades”. If you have logged in to your account, your status will auto-populate. Then, select the desired class of service to which you’d like to upgrade.
The search results show if there is confirmed eUpgrade space with a green arrow, or if there is waitlisted eUpgrade space with a yellow clock.
After clicking on the Economy or Premium Economy fare, you are presented with the cost in points of booking a Standard, Flex, or Latitude fare. The eUpgrades required for each fare are displayed at the bottom of the fare description.
The Latitude Attitude
One feature of the new Aeroplan program that is of great interest to Aeroplan Elite Status members is the ability to redeem points for Latitude fares on Air Canada flights.
Recall that Latitude fares are the most expensive, and therefore least restrictive, fares among Air Canada’s Economy fare family.
In addition to all of its other benefits, like free cancellations and preferred seat selection, Latitude bookings also require the fewest amount of eUpgrades to upgrade to premium economy or business class. Compared to Standard and Flex, the savings in eUpgrade credits and the absence of any co-pay fees can be significant.
Furthermore, what’s special about Premium Economy (Flexible) and Latitude fares is that they can confirm an eUpgrade at any time, with no need to wait until the clearance window opens:
As you can see in the chart, all other fare types require you to wait until a clearance window of 3–14 days before your date of departure in order to clear eUpgrades into a higher class of service. However, Premium Economy (Flexible) and Latitude bookings can clear at any time, including immediately after you’ve made your booking.
With the above information in mind, there is a very interesting strategy in play for booking business class flights under the new program:
- Book an Economy Latitude fare using Aeroplan points.
- Instantly confirm an eUpgrade to business class.
Yes, you will pay more in points than a Standard or Flex fare, but in many cases, you will pay substantially fewer points than if you booked in business class or premium economy to begin with. Plus, you have the added bonus of free cancellations and changes, should your travel plans change (or, say, be sidelined by a pandemic).
Let’s walk through a few scenarios to consider the optimal eUpgrade strategies on a few different Air Canada routes, taking the example of an Aeroplan 25K member with 20 eUpgrades at their disposal.
Note that at the time of writing, prices for flights are at a historic low due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As such, the cash and Aeroplan values may change significantly once travel begins to resume “normal” operations.
Example 1: Toronto–Vancouver
For the first scenario, let’s consider a perennial favourite for Prince of Travel research: Toronto to Vancouver in a lie-flat pod seat.
On a random date within the eUpgrade validity period, the search results show the following possibilities to either book or upgrade into business class on AC101 on the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner:
- Standard: 13,900 Aeroplan points + 11 eUpgrade credits + $250 co-pay
- Flex: 19,400 Aeroplan points + 10 eUpgrade credits
- Latitude: 24,900 Aeroplan points + 4 eUpgrade credits
- Premium Economy (Lowest): 17,100 Aeroplan points + 4 eUpgrade credits
- Premium Economy (Flexible): 24,100 Aeroplan points + 2 eUpgrade credits
- Business Class (Lowest): 98,700 Aeroplan points
Let’s forget about the Standard fare, because even though it has the lowest cost in points, the $250 co-pay fee strips away much of the value.
The Flex fare is slightly more expensive than the Premium Economy (Lowest) fare, and it requires an additional 6 eUpgrades, so this option can also be ruled out.
The Premium Economy (Lowest) fare offers a good value proposition, but since you are subject to the eUpgrade booking window of upgrading within four days of travel for Aeroplan 25K, you decide to consider Latitude and Premium Economy (Flexible) instead.
In this case, the Premium Economy (Flexible) fare wins out, as it costs marginally fewer points than the Latitude fare, but comes with the same perks and would require 2 eUpgrades fewer to upgrade into business class. And, of course, it saves you a cool 74,600 Aeroplan points compared to booking business class directly.
Taking a look at the corresponding cash fares on this flight, we have:
- Latitude: $1,321
- Premium Economy (Flexible): $1,486
- Business Class (Lowest): $1,602
As you can see, the redemption value for Premium Economy (Flexible) is a very solid 6 cents per point (cpp); moreover, the ability to book business class for only 24,100 points + 2 eUpgrade credits represents significant savings compared to booking business class directly using either cash or points.
Example 2: Calgary–Maui
For the second scenario, let’s look at a flight from Calgary to Maui. Recall that flights to Hawaii have become much more affordable using Aeroplan points in the new program. A search brings up the following results:
- Standard: 15,900 Aeroplan points + 11 eUpgrades + $250 co-pay
- Flex: 22,400 Aeroplan points + 10 eUpgrades
- Latitude: 28,900 Aeroplan points + 4 eUpgrades
- Premium Economy (Lowest): 27,500 Aeroplan points + 4 eUpgrades
- Premium Economy (Flexible): 35,500 Aeroplan points + 2 eUpgrades
- Business Class (Lowest): 32,600 Aeroplan points
Again, let’s forget about the Standard fare due to the $250 co-pay requirement.
At 22,400 Aeroplan points plus 10 eUpgrades, the Flex option is decent. As is Premium Economy (Lowest) at 27,500 Aeroplan points plus 4 eUpgrades. But, due to the constraint of the booking window, we instead look to the Latitude and Premium Economy (Flexible) fares for the ability to instantly confirm an upgrade.
While the Premium Economy (Flexible) fare requires only 2 eUpgrades, the cost is actually higher than the Business Class (Lowest) fare – a peculiarity which is somewhat commonplace in the new Aeroplan search engine.
On the other hand, the Economy (Latitude) fare saves 3,700 points and comes with the added flexibility with free cancellations compared to the Business Class (Lowest) fare.
So, in this case, we can say aloha to the Latitude fare using Aeroplan points, and then use 4 eUpgrade credits to instantly confirm our spot in business class.
For comparison, let’s look at the cash fares:
- Latitude: $1,444
- Premium Economy (Flexible): $1,733
- Business Class (Lowest): $1,273
Therefore, booking Latitude for only 28,900 points (plus about $80 in fees) equates to a respectable redemption value of 4.7cpp for your Aeroplan points, while 28,900 points + 4 eUpgrades is a highly attractive price point to book business class compared to shelling out $1,273.
Example 3: Toronto–London
For the last example, let’s look at a flight from Toronto to London during the upcoming holiday season. To be clear, the upcoming holiday travel season is vastly different from normal, so these values are sure to increase in the coming years.
Here, we see a steady progression of cost in Aeroplan points. The fares break down as follows:
- Standard: 26,200 Aeroplan points + 21 eUpgrades + $750 co-pay
- Flex: 31,200 Aeroplan points + 18 eUpgrades + $500 co-pay
- Latitude: 39,700 Aeroplan points + 11 eUpgrades
- Premium Economy (Lowest): 37,400 Aeroplan points + 12 eUpgrades
- Premium Economy (Flexible): 44,900 Aeroplan points + 11 eUpgrades
- Business Class (Lowest): 48,100 Aeroplan points
For this comparison, let’s forget about both Standard and Flex fares due to the hefty eUpgrade and co-pay requirements.
Between the Premium Economy fares, the Lowest fare is attractive as it only costs an additional 1 eUpgrade, but saves 7,500 Aeroplan points. With free cancellation on all bookings made before December 31, 2020, the cancellation fee also becomes less of an issue.
But remember, the Economy Latitude fare comes with the ability to instantly confirm the upgrade, despite costing 2,300 more Aeroplan points. Further, it saves 8,400 points compared to the Business Class (Lowest) fare.
Here, either the Latitude or Business Class (Lowest) fare could make sense. The Latitude option saves you 8,400 points, but you might also decide that you’d rather pay those additional 8,400 points than pay 11 eUpgrades – perhaps you wanted to save your eUpgrades for when they’d save you even more points, such as the Toronto–Vancouver example described above. It all depends on your travel plans over the upcoming year or so.
For comparison, the cash fares are as below:
- Flex: $446
- Latitude: $1,705
- Premium Economy (Flexible): $1,891
- Business Class (Lowest): $6,624
In this case, the Latitude redemption fetches a value of 4.16cpp compared to the cash fare, while the Business Class (Lowest) redemption clocks in at a value of 13.6cpp compared to the cash fare. As you can see, both are very good options.
Despite the attractive value in this strategy, I should note that the rollout of the eUpgrade program hasn’t been without hiccups.
Despite the search engine showing that there is eUpgrade space on a particular flight, when you go to request the upgrade on a Latitude fare after booking, it often still shows as “Waitlisted” instead of “Confirmed”. But once you submit the request, it clears immediately, and you will indeed receive a confirmation email for each flight that was upgraded.
Some people have also run into difficulties with Latitude bookings coding as “X” instead of “Y” or “B”.
“Y” and “B” are the codes for Latitude fares, whereas “X” is a code for redemption bookings. So, if your flight has been erroneously as “X”, you may run into some issues when you try to instantly confirm an eUpgrade. In this case, reach out to Air Canada via the best method available to you and you’ll be able to confirm the eUpgrade.
Air Canada is aware of both issues, so I’m hoping they won’t be issues for very much longer.
Best Before Date
In addition to the new prevailing strategy of booking Latitude and then applying eUpgrades instantaneously, I also wanted to highlight a few key things to know about how eUpgrades work under the new program.
Take note that eUpgrade requests can only be made for travel that takes place before your eUpgrades expire.
In the vast majority of cases, eUpgrades expire at the end of February, which is the end of the Air Canada benefit year. If you have been gifted status, your eUpgrades may expire at the end of the calendar year instead.
You can find out when your eUpgrades expire by logging into your Aeroplan account on the Air Canada website. The expiry date is found in the eUpgrades section after clicking on “My credit history.”
When your Aeroplan status renews, either through re-qualification or automatic extension during COVID-19 for the 2021 benefit year, another 20 eUpgrade credits will appear in your account. The expiry will be at the end of February of the following year. If you further earn eUpgrades through Select Privileges or reaching spending thresholds, they will also appear in your account.
One of the perks of the new suite of premium Aeroplan credit cards (i.e., the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Privilege, the CIBC Aeroplan Visa Infinite Privilege, and the American Express Aeroplan Reserve Card) is the ability to rollover up to 50 eUpgrades to the next year.
If you have eUpgrades about to expire on a coming February deadline, one way to prolong their lifespan would be to ensure you’re holding onto one of these premium cards during the period between December and March.
eUpgrades can be used for the account holder, plus one other person travelling on the same booking. So, if you are a family of four, you wouldn’t be able to upgrade all four people on the same booking using eUpgrades from the same account.
Instead, it might be a good idea to have both parents of the household aiming for at least Aeroplan 25K status, so that they each earn 20 eUpgrades, which can then be applied on a family trip split into two separate bookings for two passengers each.
The one exception is for Aeroplan Super Elite members, who can nominate one individual per year to use the Super Elite member’s eUpgrades when not travelling with them.
This would allow a family of three could make two separate bookings (Super Elite plus child on one, nominee on the other) and use the Super Elite member’s eUpgrades to upgrade everyone.
Gift of Travel Flight Pass
Lastly, I wanted to give an honourable mention to the new Gift of Travel Flight Pass that is currently available for purchase. Without diving into the intricacies of flight passes, this flight pass may warrant further consideration for some people.
The Gift of Travel Flight Pass can be purchased for flights within Canada, as well as between Canada and the United States, Europe, Asia, South America, and Sun destinations. The pass can be purchased in Standard, Flex, or Business Class.
It is possible to purchase two, four, six, or eight credits, which can be redeemed by two or more travellers for travel up to April 2022. Each credit is good for a one-way journey within the specified travel zone.
On the Gift of Travel Flight Pass for travel within Canada, the Flex credits price out at $529.13 per credit. This means that you can fly anywhere on Air Canada’s domestic route network for $529.13 per person per direction: as long as there is Flex “M” fare space available on a flight, you can redeem a credit on that flight up to one hour prior to departure.
Recall that Flex “M” fares are generally the most expensive within the Flex fare family. As such, the number of eUpgrades required is significantly lower than other fares.
So, our friends in Western Canada or Atlantic Canada can fly coast-to-coast for $529.13 per person per direction, and can upgrade each one-way journey to business class for only 2 eUpgrades, assuming that there is Flex “M” space within your booking window. That can be very good deal during peak periods, when Aeroplan’s new dynamic pricing model might make it difficult to book directly into business class at a reasonable rate using your Aeroplan points.
The ability to book different fare types using Aeroplan points, while applying your eUpgrades to those bookings, is a significant improvement to the program. Depending on your status, travel preferences, and points balance, it is now more possible than ever to pay for economy class and wind up in a better class of service.
In particular, the possibility of instantly confirming an eUpgrade on a Latitude fare gives you flexibility, peace of mind, and more points to keep in your account for future consideration. I imagine that many Aeroplan Elite Status members will turn to using points for Flex or Latitude flights instead of paying directly, especially when the difference between Latitude and Business Class (Lowest) fares is significant.
Feel free to leave a question or comment below with your thoughts on eUpgrades in the age of the new Aeroplan.