How to Upgrade to Business/First Class on Air Canada Flights

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Air Canada is somewhat of an enigma. They have a frequent flyer program called Aeroplan, which is completely separate from the airline itself. Aeroplan’s parent company, Aimia, sold Aeroplan to Air Canada in late 2018.

The odd thing is that now, both Air Canada and Aeroplan have their own versions of elite status programs — Air Canada’s version is called Altitude.

In this article, we will only be discussing Air Canada Altitude, which is a fascinating program. We’re not focusing on Aeroplan (except to tell you it’s separate from Altitude!), because Aeroplan elite status does not offer any upgrade advantages/priority. The closest thing it offers is a discount for award flights.

We’ve got quite a bit of ground to cover, so let’s get started.

Types of Upgrades

There are a few types of Altitude upgrades you need to be aware of:

  • eUpgrades: Upgrade using credits issued by Air Canada. These can be used for any Air Canada, Air Canada Express, and Air Canada Rouge itinerary.
  • Star Alliance Upgrade Awards: With participating partners, you can use currencies from other airlines to upgrade your Air Canada and Air Canada Express flights.
  • Air Canada Bid Upgrade: Upgrade any economy or premium economy ticket by bidding cash. Applicable for Air Canada, Air Canada Express, and Air Canada Rouge. 
  • Last Minute Upgrade Purchase: Upgrade using cash at check-in or at a self-service check-in kiosk. Intended to sell seats that would otherwise be empty right before departure. 

How to Find Out if Upgrade Space Is Available

One of the only ways to access the specific number of upgrades available is by using ExpertFlyer — we talk about this more in our guide on the best ways to upgrade to business or first class.

ExpertFlyer is a paid subscription website that charges $99.99 per year billed annually (or more if you pay monthly). However, it is an extremely useful tool for savvy award travelers to have in their arsenal.

Using ExpertFlyer, follow these steps to find upgrade inventory on Air Canada:

  1. Visit ExpertFlyer
  2. Log in to your account with your email and password
  3. Click Awards & Upgrades on the left side of the page
  4. Type in your route and travel dates, and select Air Canada as the airline
  5. You’ll see multiple fare classes pop up
    • Select Business – E-Upgrades (R) for eUpgrade-eligible flights
    • Select Business – International – Upgrade from O/Y/B (P) for upgrades using Star Alliance partner currencies such as Singapore KrisFlyer (not for flights wholly within North America)
    • Select Business – NA – Upgrade from O/Y/B (Z) for upgrades using Star Alliance partner currencies (for flights wholly within North America)
  6. The number of upgrade seats is displayed on the right side
ExpertFlyer Air Canada Search
ExpertFlyer shows Air Canada’s upgrade availability. Image courtesy of ExpertFlyer.com.

As you can see, eUpgrade availability is always more plentiful than mileage upgrades, which gives Altitude elite members an advantage.

Upgrading using miles is only possible with specific fare classes. And to make things even more confusing, the number of miles necessary and eligible fare classes will vary depending on which miles you’re using.

For example, the mileage cost of an upgrade with Singapore KrisFlyer will be different from the cost using United MileagePlus, which is a major source of confusion we’ll address below.

In the meantime, here’s a refresher of Air Canada’s fare classes and what they mean:

Air Canada Fare Classes
Air Canada helps demystify fare classes in this chart. Image courtesy of aircanada.com.

Hot Tip: Upgrades for each flight and ticket will have different availability depending on the booking class, route, and dates. It’s a best practice to check every flight individually.

Upgrade Priority: Who Gets the Upgrade First?

The Importance of Elite Status

Getting upgraded from economy to any premium cabin seat will depend indirectly on your level of elite status with Air Canada Altitude. While airlines such as United use elite status to automatically establish your position on a waitlist, this is not the case for Air Canada Altitude.

Instead, Air Canada Altitude’s main draw is receiving eUpgrades — the higher your status level, the more eUpgrades you receive. So your elite status determines how many eUpgrade credits you get to spend throughout the year.

Furthermore, Air Canada has a program called Early Recognition, which gives you benefits for qualifying for elite status faster than usual.

When you reach a higher status before October 31, 2019, you’ll have the chance to choose your Select Privileges. This means that you can pick 1 item from a list of perks (similar to “choice benefits” offered with some top-tier hotel statuses).

If you make Early Recognition and qualify for the higher status before October 31, 2019, you get to receive up to 10 eUpgrade credits before the new year — essentially an advance of eUpgrades. (The exact number of eUpgrade credits will vary depending on your exact qualifying tier.)

Here are the amounts of eUpgrade credits you could receive for each status, including the number available in advance with Early Recognition’s Select Privileges:

Altitude Status LevelNumber of eUpgrade CreditsNumber of eUpgrade Credits from Early Recognition
Prestige 25K200
Elite 35K305
Elite 50K4010
Elite 75K5510
Super Elite 100K7010

Say you qualified for Elite 75K on October 15, 2019. When you meet the qualification requirements, you will receive 10 eUpgrade credits. Next year, you will still receive your regular 55 eUpgrade credits as well.

Bottom Line: Elite status is very useful because you’ll get more eUpgrade credits depending on which tier you’re in. More eUpgrade credits means you can upgrade more flights!

Details of Using eUpgrades

Your eUpgrade credits typically expire late February of the year after your elite status period, giving you about a year and 2 months to use them.

eUpgrades can be used to book any flight at any Altitude elite status level except sun destinations. (Only Elite 75K and Super Elite 100K members can use eUpgrades on Air Canada Vacations reservations to sun destinations.)

That said, there are different numbers of eUpgrade credits required for each route — luckily, Air Canada has a handy calculator to help you figure out how many eUpgrades you’ll need.

If you want to upgrade a companion, Air Canada offers an avenue to do so: the eUpgrade Travel Companion. If you hold any Altitude status, you can use eUpgrade credits to request an upgrade for both yourself and a traveling companion on the same reservation.

Hot Tip: You can also upgrade a companion on a different reservation, but these requests can only be performed on the day of departure at the airport.

If you’re a top-tier Super Elite 100K member, you can also use the eUpgrade Nominees benefit. You can essentially give 1 upgrade to anybody for any purpose if they are an Aeroplan member. Keep in mind that a nominee can only receive upgrades from a single Super Elite 100K member.

The main difference between eUpgrade Nominees and eUpgrade Travel Companions is that you must be on the same flight with Travel Companions, while eUpgrade Nominees do not need to be traveling with the Super Elite 100K member at all.

If you end up running out of eUpgrades or needing more, you can also complete “Flight Pass activities” to get more eUpgrade credits. You’ll also earn Altitude Qualifying Miles for completing Flight Pass activities.

Altitude Status Level Benefits

Let’s move away from eUpgrades for a moment. Different Altitude status levels also provide benefits when it comes to selecting preferred seats, which includes exit row seats.

Altitude Status LevelSeat Upgrade Benefit
Prestige 25K
  • 50% off preferred seats on Flex fares in all markets
Elite 35K
  • 50% off preferred seats on Flex fares in all markets
Elite 50K
  • 50% off preferred seats on Flex fares in international markets
  • Choose complimentary preferred seat (North American markets only)
Elite 75K
  • Choose complimentary preferred seat on Flex fares in all markets
Super Elite 100K
  • Choose complimentary preferred seat on all fares in all markets

If you’re interested also in priority seat selection, which is simply at the front of economy, you’ll be able to choose those with any Altitude status, starting from Prestige 25K.

Priority and preferred seats are technically not upgrades, though they are an enhancement over regular economy seats.

Bottom Line: The best way to upgrade on Air Canada is by using eUpgrade credits, which have the most award availability and are attainable by qualifying for certain tiers of Altitude elite status. Having Altitude elite status can also provide you with priority or preferred seating, which aren’t upgrades, but can help you secure a better economy seat on flights.

The Value of a TD Aeroplan Visa Credit Card

The TD Aeroplan Visa credit card allows you to earn Aeroplan miles, which you can use to upgrade your flights. However, there are generally much better ways to earn points and transfer them to Aeroplan, which will deliver the same result.

For example, the cards below have better rewards structures and get you more points faster. Remember, there aren’t any cards that increase your upgrade chances/priority on Air Canada — so you might as well get one that has the best rewards.

Recommended Amex Cards (Personal)

The Platinum Card® from American Express - There's currently a welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $5,000 in your first 3 months. This is our favorite card for getting into 1,200+ airport lounges worldwide (including Priority Pass) and we get about $1,500+ in value from the card every year.

Plus, get up to $200 in Uber credits annually ($15 per month and a $20 bonus in December) — and up to $200 in annual credit for airline incidental charges (e.g. baggage fees). For rates and fees of the Platinum Card, click here.
American Express® Gold Card - We love using this card as it earns 4x points at restaurants worldwide and 4x points at US supermarkets (up to $25,000; then 1x). There's no better card in our opinion if you eat out and/or shop at supermarkets regularly.

With a welcome bonus of 35,000 points after you spend $2,000 in your first 3 months and a $100 airfare credit per year, for many this is an easy addition to your wallet. For rates and fees of the Gold Card, click here.

Recommended Amex Cards (Business)

The Business Platinum Card® from American Express - Even though this card carries a hefty annual fee, we get ~$1,250+ in value per year by leveraging as many of the benefits/perks card.

Get access to 1,200+ airport lounges worldwide, $200 in airline fee credits for incidentals (e.g. baggage fees) and a lot more. Also, earn a welcome bonus of up to 75,000 points (terms apply). For rates and fees of the Business Platinum, click here.
American Express® Business Gold Card - probably our favorite Amex business card because we earn 4x points across the top 2 select categories that we spend the most money in each month. The 4x points applies to the first $150,000 in combined purchases from these 2 categories each calendar year. This means you'll max out at a (whopping) 600,000 points per year. After that, you earn 1x. For rates and fees of the Business Gold Card, click here.
The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express - This is a real simple card that earns you 2x points on business purchases up to $50,000 annually (then 1x). There's no annual fee. For rates and fees of the Blue Business Plus, click here.

Upgrading With Miles

There are 2 main avenues to upgrade with miles:

  • You can use Aeroplan miles to upgrade Air Canada flights
  • You can use any other Star Alliance airline’s miles to upgrade your Air Canada flights

Which currency you end up using will depend on your exact situation. This is because airlines have different transfer partners and ratios, which can change the equation depending on what upgrades you’re trying to make.

First, we’ll talk about upgrading Air Canada flights using Aeroplan miles. Then, we’ll move on to discuss the method for using other airline miles to upgrade Air Canada flights.

Aeroplan Mileage Upgrades on Existing Reservations

Using Aeroplan miles to upgrade your flights is very easy:

  1. Book an economy ticket in the Y or B fare classes
  2. Find upgrade availability using ExpertFlyer as shown above
  3. Go to the Aeroplan website and confirm your upgrade

Sounds pretty easy, right? It is, but you’ll need to make sure you read through the terms and conditions carefully before transferring any points 0r miles to Aeroplan for upgrades.

Here’s the upgrade award chart for all Star Alliance flights. Keep in mind that these the booking classes will be based on what you’re upgrading from. So, if you want to upgrade from economy to business, you’ll want to look at the redemption costs for economy booking classes.

Air Canada Star Alliance Upgrade Chart
Air Canada Star Alliance upgrade chart. Image courtesy of aeroplan.com.

For example, if you have a one-way Y fare ticket between Vancouver (YVR) and Tokyo-Narita (NRT), you’ll want to look at North America to Asia 1, and you’ll see that it costs 25,000 miles to upgrade.

While this might seem like a cheap upgrade, you have to also remember that Y and B fare classes are going to be among the most expensive cash tickets in economy. One saving factor, however, is that economy upgrades will move you from economy to business — they skip premium economy altogether.

Hot Tip: Find out more about Aeroplan upgrade regions and which flights are eligible for short-haul upgrades on the Aeroplan site.

To book your upgrade, follow these steps:

  1. Confirm availability for Y and B upgrades using ExpertFlyer as described above
  2. After confirming availability, write down the flight numbers, destinations, and dates
  3. Visit Aeroplan’s Star Alliance Upgrade Awards
  4. Type in the passenger’s information and ticket number
  5. Type in the flights to upgrade
  6. Click search for upgrade
  7. Confirm the upgrade by paying with your Aeroplan miles (plus any other applicable taxes and fees)

Bottom Line: Overall, this process is very easy. Since you’re upgrading with miles, you do not need any form of elite status, eUpgrade certificates, or anything else pertaining to Air Canada Altitude. You simply need to find award availability and follow this step-by-step process.  

Star Alliance Mileage Upgrades

Star Alliance is unique in that you can use any airline partner’s miles to upgrade on any other Star Alliance flight. This means you can spend KrisFlyer miles to upgrade Air Canada flights, or Aeroplan miles to upgrade KrisFlyer flights, for example — the partnership goes both ways.

However, there are some restrictions:

  • You can only upgrade 1 class, either from economy to business or business to first
  • You must upgrade specific fare types
    • This means that you’ll likely need to have an expensive/flexible economy ticket. Some airlines will allow cheaper fare classes to be upgraded; ultimately, it will vary from airline to airline.

Different airlines charge different prices for upgrades, and you’ll want to follow these steps to find out how much upgrading your flight will cost:

  1. Visit the Star Alliance redemptions website
  2. Click Book Your Upgrade
  3. Choose the airline whose miles you want to use
  4. Click Visit Website
  5. Complete the process for Star Alliance Upgrades on the website you’re redirected to

Bottom Line: You’ll need to abide by individual frequent flyer program upgrade rules, but once you’ve done that, you’ll find you can achieve some great value by using any Star Alliance airline’s miles to upgrade your Air Canada flights. 

Upgrading on Partner Airlines

Similar to the process above, you can upgrade flights on Star Alliance partner airlines using Aeroplan miles.

In fact, you’ll pay the same mileage price for all airlines — so using Aeroplan miles to upgrade on Air Canada is the same price as using Aeroplan miles to upgrade on another carrier, such as All Nippon Airways.

You can request mileage upgrades for up to 4 passengers and up to 331 days prior to departure.

Hot Tip: Visit the Aeropan upgrade site for more information about upgrading on Star Alliance using Aeroplan miles.

How to Secure an Upgrade or Increase Your Chances of an Upgrade With Air Canada

With Air Canada Altitude Elite Status

  • Earn eUpgrade credits by achieving Air Canada Altitude elite status and purchasing a ticket with eligible fare classes. The eUpgrade cost will vary depending on the fare class, route, status, desired cabin upgrade, and your Altitude status.
  • Purchase a higher fare ticket that will require fewer eUpgrade credits.
  • Use Aeroplan miles to book an award flight outright, without worrying about upgrade availability.
  • Search for upgrade availability as soon as you have an idea of what dates and flights you’re taking.
  • Choose priority and preferred seating by leveraging Altitude status. This isn’t an upgrade per se, but it can make a short-haul flight more spacious by giving you better economy or economy plus seats.
  • Take advantage of eUpgrade Travel Companions to upgrade your companions on a flight you’re taking.
  • Take advantage of eUpgrade Nominees to upgrade someone else on any flight they’re taking.

Without Air Canada Altitude Elite Status

  • Purchase an upgrade-eligible ticket and upgrade with Aeroplan miles.
  • Purchase an upgrade-eligible ticket and upgrade with any Star Alliance carrier’s miles.
  • Consider heavily discounted premium fares to save your miles.
  • Bid for an upgrade on Air Canada, Air Canada Express, and Air Canada Rouge tickets.
  • Use last-minute upgrades to purchase a low-cost upgraded ticket when you’re at the airport.

Final Thoughts

Air Canada’s various processes and systems for getting upgrades are convoluted, though they align with other airline’s upgrade procedures for the most part. Getting that treasured upgrade is a complicated process — but it can be rewarding for those who take the time to understand it.

There are several main ways to get upgrades:

  1. eUpgrade credits
  2. Mileage upgrades using Aeroplan miles
  3. Mileage upgrades using Star Alliance miles
  4. Paid upgrades via bids
  5. Paid last-minute upgrades at the airport

Each of these methods has its own pros and cons, and there are ways to get upgraded without elite status. Elite status by itself is useless in providing upgrades with Aeroplan, but the eUpgrades you acquire by achieving elite status levels or completing certain Flight Pass activities can be instrumental in confirming your upgrades.

eUpgrades have the best availability, but they’re generally only accessible for Air Canada Altitude elites. If you don’t have eUpgrades, you can also be an eUpgrade Travel Companion or eUpgrade Nominee of someone who does.

The bottom line is that Air Canada has many ways of upgrading to business or first class, and this guide focused on using miles and eUpgrade credits. However, we touched on pretty much every method, so now you have the information you need to upgrade to business or first class with Air Canada.


Featured Image Credit: 

FAQ

How do I know if my upgraded ticket allows a free checked bag?

When you upgrade a flight on Air Canada, you are entitled to the same luggage allowance as if you had purchased the ticket with cash.

Check the information here regarding checked baggage.

How can I get upgraded on an international ticket if I don't have status with Aeroplan?

You don’t need to hold elite status to upgrade with Air Canada.

You can upgrade solely with a certain fare ticket and enough miles. You can use Aeroplan miles or any other Star Alliance carrier’s miles to upgrade your ticket.

Keep in mind, however, that eUpgrade credits (which are attainable with Air Canada Altitude elite status) have better award availability than mileage upgrades.

Can I upgrade an award ticket I purchased with miles?

No, you can’t upgrade an award ticket.

When will the miles be deducted and any extra fees charged for an upgrade request?

As soon as your upgrade is requested and processed, the miles/fees will be deducted from your Aeroplan frequent flyer account. Also, your credit card on file will be charged if you’re upgrading from a deeply discounted ticket using eUpgrade credits.

Which fare class should I buy to make sure I get an upgrade?

To upgrade with miles, you’ll need either Y or B fare tickets if upgrading using Aeroplan miles. If you’re upgrading with other Star Alliance airline miles, you’ll need to follow their rules and have specific fare classes to upgrade.

If you’re using eUpgrade credits, you can pretty much upgrade on any fare class. However, a cheaper fare class will cost more eUpgrades than a more flexible/expensive fare class.

Lastly, you can bid for an upgrade or pay for a last-minute upgrade with cash.

What is the difference between economy and economy plus seats?

Economy plus seats have more legroom compared to economy seats. Furthermore, they will be located in either an exit row or at the front of the aircraft.

If you have the right Air Canada Altitude status, you will have complimentary selection of priority and preferred seats. Priority seats are at the front of the aircraft and will allow you to deplane faster when you land. Preferred seats have more legroom.

Lower level elites with Air Canada Altitude may not get complimentary seat selection, but they may get discounted seat selection.

Stephen Au

About Stephen Au

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Stephen has been privileged to enjoy many premium cabin products and 5-star hotels. A petroleum engineer by trade, Stephen caught the travel bug in college when he traveled to Asia several times. After 2 years of continual promotions in a six-figure job, Stephen quit his safe and secure career path in favor of entrepreneurship.

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2 comments

  1. Kingston mom · August 8, 2019 · Reply

    Hi, I have Altitude 25K status and 20 E upgrade credits. I’m wondering how many credits it would be to upgrade from premium economy to business one way on an international flight (LHR to YYZ). Can you kindly advise? The chart doesn’t make a lot of sense to me 🙂 Thanks!

    • Andrew Kunesh · August 9, 2019 · Reply

      Good question! LHR to YYZ clocks in at 3540 miles one-way. According to the eUpgrade chart, an upgrade from the lowest premium economy fare to business costs 21 certificates + $500 for this flight. Flexible premium economy tickets can be upgraded for 11 certificates and no fee on this route. Thanks!

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