Prince of Travel readers are a pretty savvy bunch, and I’m constantly learning new tricks myself when I go through the blog’s comments.
Indeed, back when T.J. wrote about redeeming Aeroplan miles for Star Alliance upgrades, reader Tim Chen piqued my interest when he mentioned that the EVA Air “B” fare is particularly friendly to the Star Alliance upgrade awards because of how affordably it is priced.
In this post, I wanted to look at this sweet spot in further detail and consider why you might take this alternate route towards flying EVA Air business class rather than redeeming miles outright.
Redeeming Aeroplan Miles for Star Alliance Upgrades
You’ll want to review this post to understand all the basics of redeeming Aeroplan miles for Star Alliance upgrades from economy to business.
Now, most of the time, we talk about redeeming Aeroplan miles directly for business class flights on Air Canada and Star Alliance partner airlines.
The option to redeem miles for upgrades is largely ignored, mostly because, as explained in the above article, you must first buy an economy class fare in one of the highest fare classes (most often the “Y” and “B” fare classes), which are typically disproportionately expensive.
With most Star Alliance airlines, you’d need to spend double the amount of money as the cheapest available economy fare to get one of the “Y” or “B” economy tickets, just to have the chance of redeeming miles for an upgrade. That’s why it’s usually better to focus your efforts on outright redeeming miles for a business class ticket.
It turns out, however, that EVA Air is the exception. The airline’s “Y” and “B” fares are both cheap compared to their peers, with the “B” fare in particular often available at relatively affordable prices on markets between North America and Asia.
The idea is that instead of redeeming miles directly for a flight in EVA Air business class, you can purchase an economy class ticket in the “B” fare class, and then redeem your Aeroplan miles for an upgrade into business class.
Looking at the Star Alliance Upgrade Award chart, we see that an upgrade from economy to business on a flight between North America and Asia would cost only 25,000 Aeroplan miles one-way, compared to the 75,000 miles required for an outright business class ticket.
Keep in mind that, just like a regular award redemption, the upgrade award requires there to be business class award seats available; either “I” fare class (regular award seats) or “Z” fare class (upgrade award seats) on EVA Air flights will work.
While “I” space can be searched easily via ExpertFlyer or the Aeroplan search engine, “Z” space often differs from the regular pool of award seats, and according to FlyerTalk data points is best searched by calling one of EVA Air’s ticketing offices.
How to Search for “B” Space + A Few Examples
It’s essential that you book your economy class ticket in the “Y” or “B” fare classes, because otherwise you won’t be eligible to upgrade.
Most of the general-purpose flight search engines out there, like Expedia or Google Flights, don’t come with the ability to specify the exact fare class you want, but thankfully, the EVA Air website itself does a perfectly fine job of delineating between the many available fare classes during the booking process.
As the website clarifies, you are looking for “Economy Up” fares during the booking process. You can simply plug in your desired origin and destination airports on the EVA Air website’s search engine to get started.
Let’s take an example for a flight from Vancouver to Taipei.
Upon choosing the Economy Up fare for both the outbound and return flights, we see on the right-hand side that our fare of $1,349 corresponds to the “B” fare class, which means that we’d be able to upgrade this fare to business class, availability permitting, using our Aeroplan miles.
Besides Vancouver, EVA Air also serves Toronto among its Canadian destinations. A search on the Toronto–Taipei route reveals an average “B” fare that’s higher than when departing from Vancouver, in the range of $2,000.
However, note that the fare is often lower when continuing onwards to other destinations in Asia, such as the below Toronto–Taipei–Bangkok round-trip, which prices out at $1,767 in “B” class – $250 lower than the direct flights to Taipei.
Fares also generally seem to be cheaper originating from New York JFK compared to Toronto. For example, here’s a New York JFK–Taipei–Bali round-trip in “B” class for only US$1,157 ($1,512)!
Lastly, you don’t need to depart immediately out of an EVA Air gateway airport either, since the EVA Air website allows you to search out of most Canadian airports as well (the first and last flights would be on Air Canada). Just make sure that the long-haul flights on EVA Air continue to fall into the “B” fare bucket.
Upgrading to Business Class with Aeroplan Miles
Once you’ve booked the fare, you may follow the instructions in this post to request an upgrade using your Aeroplan miles. If the “I” class space is indeed available on the same flight, your upgrade should be confirmed immediately.
EVA Air business class award availability tends to be hotly contested, so there are a few approaches here. You could make your “B” fare bookings right at the start of the booking window, when EVA Air tends to release a handful of business class award seats on each flight, and then upgrade to business class before anyone else snags the award space.
Alternatively, EVA Air is known for reliably releasing their unsold business class seats as last-minute awards at about T-5 days before departure, so you could also place your bets on last-minute business class seats opening up on your specific flight.
This of course carries the risk that those seats may not actually open up, but the “B” fare’s generous cancellation policy – which allows you to cancel anytime for only a US$50 penalty charge – means you can always change your mind and book something else instead if you’d rather not fly in long-haul economy.
The above analysis applies to “I” space – the usual award pool for EVA Air’s business class seats. In addition, there’s also a separate pool for upgrades, known as “Z” space – if that’s available, you may also upgrade your “B” class fare, but the existence of “Z” space can only be verified by calling one of EVA Air’s global call centres.
One other thing to note is that Aeroplan’s Star Alliance Upgrade Awards are priced per segment, meaning that if you’re flying, say, Toronto–Taipei–Bangkok, then 25,000 Aeroplan miles would only be enough to upgrade the longer Toronto–Taipei segment to business class.
For the remaining intra-Asia segment, it would be a further 10,000 miles to upgrade if it’s wholly within the Asia 1 zone, or 20,000 miles to upgrade if it’s between Asia 1 and Asia 2. Of course, you could also simply decide that you’re okay with flying for a few hours in economy class, and choose only to upgrade to long-haul transpacific segment.
Why Use Upgrades Instead of Redeeming Miles Directly?
Is it worth purchasing an EVA Air “B” fare and then redeeming Aeroplan miles to upgrade, compared to redeeming for business class directly? Which option is the better value?
Let’s take the example of a Vancouver–Taipei round-trip, which was bookable for $1,349, as seen above. You’d then pay an additional 50,000 Aeroplan miles (25,000 miles per direction) to upgrade both the outbound and the return flights.
On the other hand, if you were to redeem miles for business class directly, that would cost you 150,000 Aeroplan miles in total (plus another $100 or so in fees), as per the Aeroplan Reward Chart for a round-trip between North America and Asia 1.
At first glance, the choice therefore comes down to spending an incremental $1,349 vs. 100,000 Aeroplan miles plus a token amount of fees. I currently value Aeroplan at 2 cents apiece, meaning that 100,000 Aeroplan miles could definitely be used to unlock far greater value with a different redemption, so paying the $1,349 cash fare is probably the better idea.
Even if we were to consider the example of New York JFK–Taipei–Bali for $1,512, upgrading the transpacific legs would cost 50,000 Aeroplan miles, while redeeming for the whole thing would be 155,000 Aeroplan miles. It’s hard to say if there’s a clear winner between paying $1,512 in cash, but flying Taipei–Bali in economy, and paying an incremental 105,000 Aeroplan miles to get the whole thing in business.
But what truly moves the needle in the favour of going through the “B” fares is the fact that you still earn redeemable miles on the “B” fares when you credit the flights to a frequent flyer program. And this can be leveraged in a few different ways.
EVA Air’s “B” fares earn 100% miles in virtually all of the Star Alliance loyalty programs. So you could, for example, credit the miles back to Aeroplan and use those earned miles to offset against the miles you used to upgrade the fare.
Vancouver–Taipei covers a distance of 5,971 miles, so a round-trip would earn you 11,943 Aeroplan miles upon completion of the flights. In effect, then, you’re only redeeming a net 38,057 miles (50,000 – 11,943) for your upgrade, which makes the original value proposition of upgrading from a “B” fare even stronger.
The other approach here is to use these EVA Air “B” fares as a means to earn elite status within a Star Alliance program while still getting to travel in business class at a fraction of the usual price.
I recently wrote about the most favourable programs for earning Star Alliance Gold status. The Asiana Club program, for example, only requires 40,000 qualifying miles over two years to earn Star Alliance Gold.
Fly Vancouver–Taipei–Beijing round-trip on a “B” fare thrice in two years, and you’re there.
Alternatively, flying JFK–Taipei–Bali only twice in two years, and that’ll get you over the threshold as well, all whilst travelling on one of the best Star Alliance business class airlines and conserving your Aeroplan miles for a more valuable future use.
EVA Air’s business class product, whether on the Boeing 777 or their newest Boeing 787 Dreamliners, is truly one of the world’s best. And rather than redeeming Aeroplan miles directly for these flights, it can often be a better deal to use your miles to upgrade instead via the airline’s favourably-priced “B”-class economy fare.
Of course, there are still going to be some situations when redeeming Aeroplan miles directly for EVA Air business class makes the most sense, like if you’re combining it with many other flights as part of an Aeroplan Mini-RTW.
But anytime you’re looking to book a relatively simple round-trip to Asia, consider doing the math to see whether buying a “B” fare and upgrading to available business class seats might work out better in your favour. Not only is it often a better value, but you might even find yourself coming out with a few unexpected elite bag tags!