While many of us are very familiar with Aeroplan’s fixed mileage flight reward chart, there is another, lesser known chart that may be a useful tool to travel in a premium cabin without paying the premium fare.
A word of caution, though. This isn’t a magical tool that unlocks thousands of dollars of value to average leisure travelers. Rather, it is a tool that can be helpful to frequent flyers who want to earn miles on international travel (to maintain elite status with an airline, for example) while saving some money. It could also be useful for people who don’t have the required mileage for multiple premium cabin products (e.g., families).
The Star Alliance Upgrade Award Chart
Buried in the depths of Aeroplan’s website is the Star Alliance upgrade award chart. The chart can be found here, and the link to access the Star Alliance upgrade awards section is found below the “Great Deals” section on the flight booking portal, under the “about flight rewards” header.
The chart’s appearance is very similar to that of the fixed mileage flight reward chart, with the required mileage for upgrades from economy to business on one line, and the required mileage from business to First Class on the other.
The premise behind the upgrade award is that you can book an eligible flight in economy or business class, and then use your Aeroplan miles to upgrade from economy to business class or from business class to First Class.
The ability to use frequent flyer points for a cabin upgrade with other member airlines is unique to Star Alliance. For example, you can use the Aeroplan miles you have earned through Air Canada’s frequent flyer program to upgrade from economy to business class on an All Nippon Airways flight. To the best of my knowledge, this is not possible with Oneworld or SkyTeam airlines.
Why Might This Make Sense?
While actually paying for a ticket isn’t nearly as valuable as redeeming points for a premium cabin ticket, using a Star Alliance upgrade award can be a way to stretch your dollars and your points in certain circumstances.
Many businesses book their employees on fully refundable fares, as plans often change and they don’t want to lose out should the flight need to be cancelled.
Likewise, a savvy business owner could see value in booking an employee in economy and using the company’s frequent flyer miles or credit card points to upgrade the employee to business class without paying for a business class flight.
Or, perhaps, as a family of four, you only have enough points to book awards for three people, and you need to buy a fare and upgrade to join the rest of the family.
Some Examples + The Process
Let’s have a look at how the process works and some examples of when it might be a useful tool.
The first step is to do your research and see if this applies to you. There are several quirks to the upgrade awards, and failing to do your homework could result in frustration and having to start from square one.
In order to use the upgrade award, you will need to ensure that you are purchasing an eligible fare and that there is business class award space for your desired flight.
In regard to the former, the list of participating airlines and eligible booking classes can be found here. Note that you won’t be able to buy a very low fare and upgrade using your points – you’ll most likely be paying the “full-fare” for economy (which, in some cases, approximates the cost of a business class flight).
At the end of the day, this caveat is what limits the overall usefulness of the Star Alliance upgrade awards for the average traveller, because most people aren’t going to be buying the expensive “Y” or “B” economy class fares.
For example, I chose a few random dates and a few random routings to compare the cost of a full economy fare with the lowest business class fare.
A ticket from Toronto to Buenos Aires, with an eligible “Y” fare for upgrade, would cost $2,917. The same flight in business class (at the lowest fare) would cost $3,598, which isn’t a significant difference, and probably wouldn’t represent good value.
After some more digging, I found a situation where an eligible fare in economy from Toronto to London would cost $1,931, while the lowest available price in business class would cost $6,529. With such a difference, this might be a wise use of the upgrade award (as long as there is award space available for the flight), especially in the case of business travel.
As a more in-depth example, let’s suppose that Mr. and Ms. Jones would like to spend a week in Switzerland for a ski trip. Ms. Jones, who travels frequently for work, has 150,000 Aeroplan miles in her account, and is hoping to maintain her elite status with Air Canada before the end of the year.
With some research, she finds two award seats in business class available between Montreal and Zurich, having used ExpertFlyer to search within her date range and confirming the availability with Aeroplan.
As a savvy traveller, Ms. Jones checks the table of eligible booking classes and knows that Swiss allows upgrades from an “M” fare, which tends to be a lower cost than “Y” or “B” fares (which are full-fare economy).
She will also earn 100% of the miles flown, which in this case is 7,472 miles, and these miles will count towards her elite status with Air Canada. (These charts can be found under the “Earn Miles” section of the Aeroplan website for each Star Alliance airline.)
Using ITA Matrix, she confirms the price and then compares it with the cost of a business class ticket. Booking an “M” fare economy ticket will cost her $3,065, while the cost of a business class ticket on the same flights will cost her almost twice as much (yikes!) – $5,808.
Having done her homework, she realizes that this is an optimal way for her to earn miles toward maintaining her elite status while saving a sizeable amount of money.
The next step is to see how many miles are required for upgrade awards. The miles required for an upgrade award from economy to business are around one-third of those required for redeeming fixed mileage rewards for business class directly.
For example, upgrading from economy to business class between North America and Europe 1 or Europe 2 would require 20,000 Aeroplan miles per direction, compared to 55,000 miles (Europe 1) or 57,500 miles (Europe 2) as fixed mileage rewards.
With her 150,000 Aeroplan miles, Ms. Jones decides to use 110,000 miles to book Mr. Jones’s award ticket and to use the remaining 40,000 miles in her account to upgrade her soon-to-be purchased ticket.
She then proceeds with booking her flight with Swiss and Mr. Jones’s award flight via Aeroplan, knowing that she can cancel without penalty within 24 hours if, for some reason, something goes awry.
Submitting a request for a Star Alliance upgrade award is relatively straightforward, as long as you have made sure that everything is on the level.
Requests for upgrade awards can be submitted on Aeroplan’s website. There are three steps to this process.
First, you will need to provide your name, ticket number (which is found on your itinerary), and flight information.
The second step will confirm whether or not your flight is eligible for an upgrade, and it also shows the required mileage for the upgrade.
After confirming the above details, your request is sent, and it should be quickly confirmed. Note that it is possible to cancel your request if your travel plans change; the full terms and conditions for Star Alliance upgrade awards can be found at this link.
When using Aeroplan miles to upgrade a Star Alliance ticket, you will earn miles based on the original class of booking, but you will have access to all of the perks of flying in an upgraded cabin (priority check-in, lounge access, additional luggage, etc.)
Aeroplan miles can be redeemed for Star Alliance upgrades from economy class to business class, but the limited set of eligible economy fare classes means that it’s usually a better idea to simply redeem miles for a business class ticket directly.
To put this into perspective, the travel agency that I work for redeems around 100,000,000 Aeroplan miles every year. Many clients purchase fares that are eligible for a Star Alliance upgrade award, but we use this tool maybe two or three times per year.
I can see the Star Alliance upgrade award being useful in some situations, though, like if you travel often for work but your employer isn’t generous enough to put you at the front of the bus. There may also be pockets of value with airlines like Swiss that allow upgrade awards from booking classes lower than full-fare economy (such as the “M” fare). Spending some time exploring these fares could prove to be valuable if you travel frequently on these routes.
Could you see yourself using this tool for your personal or business travel? Can you think of any other way where this might provide value to frequent flyers? Feel free to leave a comment below.