Air Canada’s frequent flyer program is called Aeroplan, and many an award traveler has used it to book premium cabin tickets on a variety of Star Alliance carriers with points.
While many have experience with booking tickets outright, using the Aeroplan program to upgrade Air Canada flights is less talked about.
So that’s exactly what we’re going to talk about today. And we’ve got a lot of ground to cover, so let’s dive right in!
Types of Upgrades
Before we discuss how to upgrade your flight, let’s go over the specific types of Aeroplan upgrades you need to be aware of:
- eUpgrades: You can upgrade using credits issued by Air Canada. These can be used for any Air Canada, Air Canada Express, or 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.
- AC 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. This program is 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.
Hot Tip: Learn more about how to use ExpertFlyer to search for award space and upgrades.
Using ExpertFlyer, follow these steps to find upgrade inventory on Air Canada:
- Visit ExpertFlyer.
- Log in to your account with your email and password.
- Click Flight Availability on the left side of the page.
- Type in your route and travel dates and select Air Canada as the airline.
- Under Only Show Class(es), type:
- R for Business – E-Upgrades to see eUpgrade-eligible flights.
- I for Partner Awards & Upgrades using Star Alliance partner currencies such as Singapore KrisFlyer (not for flights wholly within North America).
- Z for North American Business class upgrades from O/Y/B classes using Star Alliance partner currencies.
- Click Search.
- The number of upgrade seats is displayed on the right side.
In the screenshot above, you’ll see that this flight shows “R9,” which corresponds to the fare class “R.” These are the number of eUpgrades available, which means this flight has 9 eUpgrades available.
Similarly, if you look for upgrade availability using Star Alliance miles, like KrisFlyer miles from Toronto to Tokyo, you’ll want to look for the “I” fare class. If you’re looking for upgrade space for 2 travelers, you’ll want to see at least “I2” available — “I1” and “I0” wouldn’t work.
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.
Air Canada also labels its fare classes with names instead of referring to them with the 1-letter fare code we are all used to:
|Air Canada Accrual Chart for Air Canada Flights|
|Fare Name||Accrual Structure Based on Miles Flown|
|Standard (Domestic Canada)||25%|
|Basic (International)||25% (no Status Qualifying Miles accrued)|
|Basic (International between Canada and the U.S.)||25% (no SQMs accrued)|
|Basic (Domestic Canada)||10% (no SQMs accrued)|
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 heavily on your level of elite status with Aeroplan. Just like how United uses elite status to automatically establish your position on a waitlist, this is also the case with Air Canada Aeroplan.
The higher your Aeroplan elite status, the higher priority you will be in line to have your eUpgrades clear.
Aeroplan calls this your eUpgrade clearance window. Unlike frequent flyer programs like American Airlines AAdvantage where your upgrade can clear outside of the confirmation window if there is confirmed upgrade space available, your eUpgrades will not begin clearing until the clearance window.
Here is the chart of eUpgrade clearance windows:
|Air Canada Aeroplan eUpgrade Clearance Windows|
|Aeroplan Elite Status||Premium Economy (Flexible) and Latitude||Premium Economy (Lowest), Comfort, Flex, and Standard||Premium Economy (Lowest), Comfort, Flex, and Standard|
|All Flights||North America and Sun Destinations (Mexico and the Caribbean)||International|
|Aeroplan Super Elite||Anytime||14 days||7 days|
|Aeroplan 75K||Anytime||12 days||6 days|
|Aeroplan 50K||Anytime||10 days||5 days|
|Aeroplan 35K||Anytime||8 days||4 days|
|Aeroplan 25K||Anytime||4 days||3 days|
|Aeroplan Member||7 days||–||–|
For example, if you’re an Aeroplan 50K member and you’re looking to apply an eUpgrade to a flight between Vancouver (YVR) and Seoul-Incheon (ICN) booked in the Standard fare class, your eUpgrade will clear starting from 5 days before departure.
As you can see, Aeroplan 75K and Aeroplan Super Elite members can have eUpgrades clear within 6 and 7 days, respectively. Therefore, members with higher status will typically always have higher priority.
Hot Tip: The number of eUpgrades will vary significantly depending on your route, your booking class, your elite status, and much more (learn about eUpgrade requirements on Air Canada’s website).
The only way to have eUpgrades clear further out than the clearance window is to apply them on the most flexible tickets, which are Premium Economy (Flexible) and Latitude tickets. Typically, these are also the most expensive.
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 level of status before the end of the year, 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 December 31, 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 level, including the number available in advance with Early Recognition’s Select Privileges:
|Aeroplan Status Level||Number of eUpgrade Credits||Number of eUpgrade Credits From Early Recognition|
Say you were to qualify for 75K on October 15, 2022. When you meet the qualification requirements, you’ll receive 10 eUpgrade credits. Then, come 2023, you’ll receive your regular 55 eUpgrades.
Bottom Line: Elite status is very useful because you’ll get more eUpgrade credits depending on which tier you’re in. More eUpgrade credits mean you can upgrade more flights! Plus, higher elite status means a higher upgrade priority!
Details of Using eUpgrades
Your eUpgrade credits typically expire on January 15 of the year after your elite status period, giving you nearly 14 months to use them.
That said, there’s a different amount of eUpgrade credits required for each route. Luckily, Air Canada has a guide 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 Aeroplan status, you can use eUpgrade credits to request an upgrade for both yourself and a 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 member, you can also use the eUpgrade Nominees benefit. You can essentially give upgrades 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 member.
While eUpgrade Travel Companions must be on the same flight as the status holder, eUpgrade Nominees do not need to be traveling with the Super Elite member.
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 Status Qualifying Miles (SQMs) for purchasing Flight Passes.
Aeroplan Status Level Benefits
Let’s move away from eUpgrades for a moment. Different Aeroplan status levels also provide benefits when it comes to selecting preferred seats, which include exit row seats.
|Aeroplan Status Level||Seat Upgrade Benefit|
- 50% off preferred seats on Flex fares in all markets
- 50% off preferred seats on Flex fares in all markets
- 50% off preferred seats on Flex fares in international markets
- Choose a complimentary preferred seat (Flex fares within North America only)
- Choose a complimentary preferred seat on Flex fares in all markets
- Choose a 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 Aeroplan status, starting from the 25K level.
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 — these have the most award availability and are attainable by qualifying for certain tiers of Aeroplan elite status. Having Aeroplan 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 the Aeroplan Credit Card
The new Aeroplan® Credit Card, which is issued by Chase, allows you to enjoy higher upgrade chances/priority on Air Canada.
If you earn Aeroplan 75K status through flying and other activities, you can use your Aeroplan card and spend $50,000 to get bumped up 1 tier to the top-tier Super Elite status.
However, we’d only recommend this if you’re a frequent traveler on Air Canada. Otherwise, we recommend using a card with one of Air Canada’s transfer partners (like Amex) that earns better rewards, especially if you’re looking for flexibility offered through transfer partners.
Recommended American Express Cards (Personal)
Upgrading With Points or Miles
There are 2 main avenues for upgrading with points or miles:
- You can use Aeroplan points to bid for an upgraded Air Canada flight.
- 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 points. 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 points to upgrade your flights is very easy:
- Book an economy ticket.
- Go to the Aeroplan website and enter your booking reference and last name to see if your flight is eligible for an AC Bid Upgrade.
Sounds pretty easy, right? It is, but you’ll find that the cost to use points is very high because AC Bid Upgrades using Aeroplan points has a very low cent-per-point value.
Bottom Line: Overall, this process is very easy. Since you’re upgrading with points, you do not need any form of elite status, eUpgrade certificates, or anything else pertaining to Air Canada Aeroplan. You simply need to bid using Aeroplan points, and you’re good to go.
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 points 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 but 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:
- Visit the Star Alliance redemptions website.
- Click Book Your Upgrade.
- Choose the airline whose miles you want to use.
- Click Visit Website.
- Complete the process for Star Alliance upgrades on the website to which you’re redirected.
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 With Cash
Finally, let’s take a look at how you can upgrade your Air Canada ticket using cash! There’s just 1 way available, so let’s go through it in detail.
Last Minute Upgrade Purchase
If all else fails, and your elite status and frequent flyer points aren’t good enough to secure that upgrade for you, there is another way!
Air Canada offers a program known as the Last Minute Upgrade Purchase, which you can use to upgrade to either business class or premium economy. Note that basic fares aren’t eligible for these upgrades.
When successful, you get access to all of the best parts of business class travel, including priority security and boarding, as well as lounge access and all the inflight business class services available.
And if your reservation has more than 1 passenger, you must either upgrade all travelers or none at all — there’s no way to upgrade some of the passengers.
Your Last Minute Upgrade Purchase may be offered as soon as 24 hours prior to departure during the online check-in process, or as soon as 12 hours prior to departure at the self-service check-in kiosk.
Additionally, Last Minute Upgrade Purchases are offered at least:
- 45 minutes prior to departure for flights within Canada
- 1 hour prior to departure for flights between Canada and the U.S.
- 1 hour prior to departure for all other international routes to or from Canada
Hot Tip: While you can enjoy the benefits of a business class product with a Last Minute Upgrade Purchase, you will not earn points or elite status according to your upgraded ticket; your accrual is based on your original ticket.
How Much Do Air Canada Last Minute Upgrades Cost?
In many cases, Last Minute Upgrade Purchases can be fantastic deals. Here are some historical routes with their upgrade prices.
Keep in mind that these quoted prices (in USD)are for one-way flights:
- Honolulu (HNL) to Toronto (YYZ) from economy to business: $201
- Montréal (YUL) to Fort Lauderdale (FLL) from economy to premium economy: $106
- Montréal (YUL) to Newark (EWR) from economy to business: $139
- Montréal (YUL) to Paris (CDG) from economy to business: $310
- Montréal (YUL) to Vancouver (YVR) from economy to business: $349
- Toronto (YYZ) to Bogotá (BOG) from premium economy to business: $344
- Toronto (YYZ) to Las Vegas (LAS) from economy to business: $775
- Toronto (YYZ) to Madrid (MAD) from economy to business: $802
- Toronto (YYZ) to Punta Cana (PUJ) from economy to business: $214
- Toronto (YYZ) to Tel Aviv (TLV) from premium economy to business: $714
- Toronto (YYZ) to Tokyo (HND) from economy to business: $2,698
- Vancouver (YVR) to Maui (OGG) from economy to business: $202
- Vancouver (YVR) to Montréal (YUL) from economy to premium economy: $197
- Vancouver (YVR) to Toronto (YYZ) from economy to business: $750
How To Secure an Upgrade or Increase Your Chances of an Upgrade With Air Canada
With Air Canada Aeroplan Elite Status
- Earn eUpgrade credits by achieving Air Canada Aeroplan 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 Aeroplan status.
- Purchase a higher-fare ticket that will require fewer eUpgrade credits.
- Use Aeroplan points 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 Aeroplan status. This isn’t an upgrade per se, but it can make a short-haul flight more comfortable 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 Aeroplan Elite Status
- Purchase an upgrade-eligible ticket and bid for an upgrade with Aeroplan points on Air Canada, Air Canada Express, and Air Canada Rouge tickets.
- Purchase an upgrade-eligible ticket and upgrade with any Star Alliance carrier’s miles.
- Consider heavily discounted premium fares to save your miles.
- Use last-minute upgrades to purchase a low-cost upgraded ticket when you’re at the airport.
Air Canada’s various processes and systems for getting upgrades are convoluted, though they align with other airlines’ 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:
- eUpgrade credits
- Mileage upgrade bids using Aeroplan points
- Mileage upgrades using Star Alliance miles
- Paid upgrades via bids
- Last Minute Upgrade Purchases
Each of these methods has its own pros and cons, and there are ways to get upgraded without elite status. Elite status is useful in providing upgrades with Aeroplan, and the eUpgrades you acquire by achieving elite status levels or completing certain Flight Pass activities can be instrumental in confirming your upgrades.
The eUpgrade method will provide the best availability, but these are generally only accessible for Aeroplan elite members. If you don’t have eUpgrades, you can also be an eUpgrade Travel Companion or eUpgrade Nominee of someone who does.
Air Canada has many ways of upgrading to business class — be sure to refer to this guide whenever you’re booking an Air Canada flight and are hoping to score a coveted upgrade!
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