How to Choose the Right Air Canada Fare

Air Canada offers a number of fare options for travellers. Some fares are cheaper, but don’t include many benefits, while others are more expensive, but come with more flexibility and perks.

In this article, let’s explore the different fare options for flights with Air Canada, with a focus on shopping for fares with Aeroplan Elite Status in mind. While the majority of the discussion will be on cash fares, we’ll also go over some considerations to keep in mind when booking with Aeroplan points.

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Air Canada’s Fares

When shopping for flights on Air Canada’s website, you’ll notice that there are a number of different options at your disposal for tickets. You’ll pay a different price for a flight depending on which fare you choose.

For example, let’s say that you’re looking to fly from Halifax to Calgary, and you pull up a search result. Initially, you see two different prices for the direct flight: one for economy, and one for business class.

When you click on the economy fare, you’ll notice a number of different options, with the lowest priced at $261 (CAD) and then incrementally higher prices with each different fare.

Under the “Features” column, you’ll see a list of various factors that you’ll want to consider when shopping for a fare. This includes aspects such as refundability, included baggage, Aeroplan-point accumulation, and earning Status Qualifying Miles (SQM) towards Aeroplan Elite Status

There are a number of factors to consider when shopping for an airfare, and it’s not always a straightforward process. Indeed, you’ll want to consider any or all of the following when looking for a fare:

  • Credit card benefits
  • Aeroplan Elite Status benefits
  • Aeroplan Elite Status qualification
  • Number of eUpgrades required
  • Amount of eUpgrade add-on fee (if any)
  • eUpgrade waitlist ranking considerations
  • Fare flexibility

As we’ll show below, the cheapest fare isn’t always necessarily the best deal, but there’s also no point in paying more than you absolutely have to. 

For the purposes of this article, we won’t be focusing on the different fare classes within each fare. Rather, we’ll describe each different fare type, and then weigh the pros and cons of choosing to book each one.

Economy (Basic)

Economy (Basic) fares are the least expensive but most restrictive fares that Air Canada offers. You can find Economy (Basic) fares on domestic, transborder, and international routes, as well as to Sun destinations.

As the name might suggest, there aren’t any bells and whistles with Economy (Basic) fares – you get a seat in a plane, and that’s about it.

Economy (Basic) fares are non-refundable, and aside from bookings to international destinations, you can’t retain the value for a future travel credit. Similarly, you can’t make changes to your booking (even for a fee), and you aren’t eligible for same-day standby.

How to Use Air Canada Same-Day Standby

On domestic routes, you’ll only earn 10% Aeroplan points, and you won’t earn any SQM. On all other routes, you still won’t earn SQM, but you’ll earn 25% Aeroplan points.

You’ll still earn Status Qualifying Segments (SQS) and Status Qualifying Dollars (SQD) on Economy (Basic) fares, but only on eligible international flights and to Sun destinations. 

eUpgrades cannot be applied to Economy (Basic) fares, so if you’re looking to travel in a higher class of service, you’ll want to pay for a higher fare.

You’ll have to pay for checked luggage and seat selection, and you won’t enjoy any included ground perks, such as priority check-in or Maple Leaf Lounge access, unless you already enjoy those through a credit card or with your status.

Who should book Economy (Basic) fares?

Despite being the most restrictive fare, Economy (Basic) fares exist for a reason.

If you’re a price-sensitive traveller who just wants a seat on a plane, and you don’t care much about status or Aeroplan points, then this fare is right for you. This goes for someone who travels infrequently and is just looking for a deal, as well as anyone who doesn’t mind travelling in economy on short-, medium-, and long-haul routes.

Economy (Basic) fares can be useful if you don’t mind travelling in economy

At the same time, if you already enjoy other perks that are included with your status or credit card, such as lounge access, seat selection, priority boarding, and free checked luggage, then Economy (Basic) fares could be right for you, too. Why pay more for a flight if you already enjoy the perks that come with higher fares?

If you’re someone who is seeking qualification for Aeroplan Elite Status, then it’s probably advisable to look for a different fare with a higher accumulation rate. Since you won’t accumulate any SQM, and you’ll only accumulate SQS and SQD on some international and Sun destination routes, Economy (Basic) fares likely aren’t for you if you hope to pursue Aeroplan Elite Status.

An exception to this might be if you generate a lot of SQM through your Aeroplan co-branded credit card and you just need to accumulate some SQD. This would require you to fly in economy on some international routes or to Sun destinations, so bear that in mind if you find yourself in this situation.

Economy (Standard)

The next level up from Economy (Basic) is Economy (Standard). Economy (Standard) fares are available to all destinations, including domestic, transborder, international, and Sun. 

Furthermore, Economy (Standard) fares are available on Aeroplan redemptions.

You’ll start to notice a few more inclusions on Economy (Standard) fares, but they are still more restricted compared to higher fares.

Economy (Standard) fares aren’t refundable, but you can make changes for a fee that varies depending on your destination. On select domestic and transborder routes, Economy (Standard) fares are eligible for same-day standby.

On domestic routes, you’ll earn 25% SQM and Aeroplan points, while on all other routes, you’ll earn 50% Aeroplan points and SQM. Economy (Standard) fares are eligible for SQS and SQD accumulation, and you can apply eUpgrades to your booking, albeit typically with an add-on fee.

Most Economy (Standard) fares come with eUpgrade add-on fees, even to premium economy

Your travel experience on Economy (Standard) fares largely mirrors that of Economy (Basic) fares, with the sole exception of paying slightly less for advance seat selection.

Who should book Economy (Standard) fares? 

The main reasons to opt for an Economy (Standard) fare over an Economy (Basic) fare are:

  • Accumulating slightly more SQM and Aeroplan points
  • Being fully eligible for SQS and SQD accumulation on all routes
  • Applying eUpgrades to your booking (typically with an add-on fee)
  • Having the ability to change your booking (for a fee)

Economy (Standard) fares can be a good idea for someone who tends to qualify for Aeroplan Elite Status through SQS and not SQM. Since you earn 100% of the segments flown, but only up to 50% of the miles flown, you could wind up saving money over the course of the year by booking a lower fare.

Of course, you should also take into consideration the Aeroplan points you’d be earning with a higher fare, which could become meaningful if you are a frequent flyer. 

While you can apply eUpgrades to Economy (Standard) bookings, they almost always come with an add-on fee. If you plan on using them to upgrade to a higher class of service, you’ll want to look at the difference between the total cost of the Economy (Standard) fare plus the add-on fee and a higher fare, which would either come with a lesser add-on fee or none at all.

If you tend to make changes to bookings, then you should likely consider a higher fare to avoid paying change fees in addition to the fare difference (if any).

Should you have free checked baggage, Maple Leaf Lounge access, priority airport services, free seat selection, or any other perks through status or credit card benefits, then Economy (Standard) fares are a decent option. This applies to both Aeroplan and cash bookings, especially if you don’t mind flying in economy.

Economy (Flex)

The next fare brand up from Economy (Standard) is Economy (Flex). Economy (Flex) fares are available across all of Air Canada’s markets, including on Aeroplan redemptions.

Economy (Flex) fares are where we begin to see more meaningful benefits that come with the higher price.

Economy (Flex) fares aren’t refundable, but can be changed. Aside from bookings to international destinations, with which you’ll be charged a change fee, you’ll just need to pay the difference in fare (if any).

Most Economy (Flex) fares don’t have change fees, aside from the fare difference (if any)

On Aeroplan bookings, Economy (Flex) fares can be changed for free, but are subject to cancellation fees.

Same-day airport standby is available on select routes within Canada and to the United States, and same-day airport changes are available for a fee on select routes.

You’ll earn 100% SQM and Aeroplan points for the distance flown on Economy (Flex) fares, as well as full SQS and SQD. The 100% SQM bonus bodes well in your favour if you tend to qualify for status by earning SQM, and the extra Aeroplan points can be meaningful over the course of a year.

Economy (Flex) fares include one free bag, advance seat selection, and Maple Leaf Lounge access for $50 (CAD). 

Who should book Economy (Flex) fares?

The main reasons to pay more for an Economy (Flex) fare over an Economy (Standard) fare are:

  • Accumulating 100% SQM and Aeroplan points 
  • Having fewer eUpgrades required
  • Having a lower add-on fee for eUpgrades (if any)
  • Saving on change fees

Economy (Flex) fares are useful for making the most of paid fares through SQM and Aeroplan accumulation, as well as for saving on change fees in most markets.

On flights within North America and to Sun destinations, all Economy (Flex) fares come without an add-on fee for eUpgrade usage. For international flights, you’ll have to pay an add-on fee, except for if you’re a Super Elite, book an “M” fare, or only upgrade to premium economy. 

Super Elites enjoy waived add-on fees on Economy (Flex) fares

It’s important to note that many of the fare inclusions for Economy (Flex) also come as credit card benefits and with Aeroplan Elite Status. If you already enjoy free checked baggage or seat selection, and if you don’t plan on using eUpgrades, then the buy-up to Economy (Flex) may not always be worth the extra price.

This is particularly the case with Aeroplan redemptions, where it’s not always worth the extra points to move from Economy (Standard) to Economy (Flex). If you plan on using eUpgrades, just be sure to weigh the cost of the add-on fee against the number of extra points required to see if it’s worthwhile.

Economy (Comfort)

Economy (Comfort) fares are the next step up from Economy (Flex). You can find Economy (Comfort) fares available on domestic, transborder, and routes to Sun destinations, but not on international routes or any Aeroplan booking. 

The primary difference between an Economy (Comfort) and an Economy (Flex) fare is that the former is fully refundable at no cost. If you don’t want to risk losing cash if your plans change and you no longer need to fly, then it’s worth considering Economy (Comfort) over Economy (Flex).

You’ll also benefit from greater flexibility, in that you can request a change in advance, a same-day airport change, and a same-day airport standby at no additional cost. For same-day airport changes, you won’t be any additional fees with Economy (Comfort) fares, as long as the flight is operated by Air Canada.

You’ll earn 115% Aeroplan points and SQM on Economy (Comfort) fares, in addition to the usual SQS and SQD accumulation.

The price of Maple Leaf Lounge access drops to $40 (CAD) per visit on Economy (Comfort) fares, and you’ll receive free Preferred Seat selection on all bookings. 

Otherwise, the inclusions largely mirror those of Economy (Flex) fares.

Who should book Economy (Comfort) fares?

The main reasons to book an Economy (Comfort) fare over an Economy (Flex) fare are:

If you’re concerned that you might need to cancel your trip, it’s worth considering Economy (Comfort) fares, since they’re fully refundable at no extra cost. You’ll have to shoulder a higher fare to begin with, but that’s the price to pay for the added flexibility.

You’ll also be able to ration your eUpgrades with Economy (Comfort) fares, since you’ll typically expend fewer than with Economy (Flex) and Economy (Standard) fares. Should you be waitlisted for an eUpgrade, you’ll rank higher than anyone booked on a lower economy fare, which could mean the difference between a lie-flat seat and being stuck in the back.

How Does eUpgrade Waitlist Ranking Work?

The add-on fees for most Economy (Comfort) fares cap out at $200 (CAD), which is modest when compared to the $500–750+ (CAD) fees with the lower fares. 

The extra 15% SQM and Aeroplan-point accumulation could also be meaningful, especially if there are any promotions that you can stack with them. If you’re just shy of an SQM threshold to get to the next status level, that extra 15% may bring you closer to the finish line.

Economy (Latitude)

The least restrictive, and therefore most expensive, of Air Canada’s economy fares is Economy (Latitude). Economy (Latitude) fares are available to all Air Canada markets, including with Aeroplan bookings.

Economy (Latitude) fares feature many of the same benefits of Economy (Comfort) fares, just taken to the next level. 

Enjoy priority check-in with an Economy (Latitude) fare

Economy (Latitude) fares are fully refundable and may be changed in advance without a fee. You can use the same-day airport change and same-day standby benefits, too.

You’ll earn 125% SQM and Aeroplan points, as well as the usual SQS and SQD accumulation.

With Economy (Latitude) fares, you’ll enjoy priority check-in and baggage handling (even if you don’t have status), $25 (CAD) access to Maple Leaf Lounges, two free checked bags, no fee for handling sports equipment, and a free Air Canada Bistro meal on domestic, transborder, and Sun routes.

Who should book Economy (Latitude) fares?

The main reasons to book Economy (Latitude) over Economy (Comfort) are:

  • Using the fewest number of eUpgrades on bookings
  • No add-on fees for eUpgrades
  • Not being subject to the eUpgrade clearance window
  • Slightly higher SQM and Aeroplan accumulation

It’s worth noting that Economy (Latitude) fares can be significantly more expensive than all other economy fares, and in some cases, the cost even rivals business class fares.

The main reason to buy an Economy (Latitude) fare has to do with eUpgrade usage. You’ll expend the fewest eUpgrades on bookings, and you won’t encounter an add-on fee on any routes, but the most important reason is what we’ve coined as the “Latitude Attitude“. 

All other economy fares are subject to the eUpgrade clearance window, which means that you can only instantly confirm a space-available eUpgrade within a certain timeframe prior to departure. On the other hand, Economy (Latitude) fares aren’t subject to a clearance window at all, which means that as long as you tick all of the boxes, you can confirm a seat in business class having paid for economy.

While this remains one of the most valuable ways to redeem Aeroplan points, it can also come in handy for cash bookings when you’d otherwise pay for a business class seat.

For example, let’s look at the cost of a flight from Toronto to London. In this example, an Economy (Latitude) fare costs $1,868 (CAD) and a Business Class (Lowest) fare costs $2,594 (CAD).

If you have the 11 eUpgrades required for the booking, and if you have confirmed that there is eUpgrade space available on the flight, then you’ve just saved yourself over $700 (CAD) for the same seat on the same flight.

There are many other examples where a similar approach could work, and if you’re going to pay for business class anyway, then it’s worth looking at Economy (Latitude) fares as well.

Premium Economy (Lowest & Flexible)

Let’s quickly look at Premium Economy (Lowest & Flexible) fares. While we have a full discussion of why premium economy is a great deal, it’s worthwhile adding it to the discussion of fare shopping.

Why Air Canada Premium Economy Is a Great Deal

The most obvious reason to book in premium economy is that you’ll enjoy an overall better experience to begin with. You’ll get a seat with much more room than economy, a better meal, complimentary drinks, and priority ground services.

Premium Economy (Lowest) fares can, in some cases, be less expensive than Economy (Flex) fares, which is something to always consider when you’re shopping for flights with cash and with Aeroplan points. 

Sometimes, Premium Economy (Lowest) fares are cheaper than economy fares

You’ll be at the top of the eUpgrade waitlist with a premium economy fare, which means that you’ll be ahead of everyone else who book any of the economy fares to begin with. In this sense, you have the best chances of securing an eUpgrade to Air Canada Signature Class if you’ve booked in premium economy and are okay with possibly not securing the upgrade.

In many ways, Premium Economy (Lowest) and Economy (Flex) fares are similar, but you’ll earn 125% SQM and Aeroplan points with the former, and you’ll also enjoy a few more inclusions. eUpgrade add-on fees for Premium Economy (Lowest) fares are much lower than those of economy fares, too.

Premium Economy (Flexible) fares are similar to Economy (Latitude) fares in that they’re refundable and aren’t subject to an eUpgrade clearance window. If, for some reason, it costs less in cash or points to book Premium Economy (Flexible) over Economy (Latitude), then be sure to choose your fare accordingly.

Business Class (Lowest & Flexible)

Let’s end with a quick word about Business Class (Lowest & Flexible fares). These are almost certainly the most expensive of all of Air Canada’s fares, and come with supercharged 150% SQM and Aeroplan earning rate.

Of course, if you want a 100% chance of flying in business class, then you need to book in business class to begin with. 

The primary difference between the two fares is the Business Class (Flexible) is fully refundable for free, while Business Class (Lowest) refunds come at a cost. 

Both fares offer two free checked bags, priority ground services, access to the London Heathrow Arrivals Lounge, and Air Canada’s best in-flight experience.

Enjoy access to the London Heathrow Arrivals Lounge with a Business Class (Lowest or Flexible) fare

The only other consideration to note is that not all business class is created equally. For example, consider if it’s worth paying for a North American-style business class seat, which is largely the same as a premium economy seat, or if there are cheaper ways to score a seat in Air Canada Signature Class.

With some finesse, you should be able to find yourself in a lie-flat pod without having paid the premium for it.

Conclusion

Air Canada offers a range of fares to customers across all of its markets. Lower fares come with fewer inclusions, while higher fares offer greater flexibility and more perks.

When shopping around for flights, it’s important to consider all options, including benefits that you could otherwise enjoy through a credit card or with your Aeroplan Elite Status. You’ll also want to consider if the fare you’re looking at is really the best deal, given your goals, travel patterns, and desired comforts.

If in doubt, you can always get in touch with a qualified travel agent, or reach out to one of the Prince of Travel team on a Points Consulting call to create a plan for status accumulation.