When flying with Air Canada to Vancouver and beyond, why settle for economy class – or even premium economy – when you can upgrade yourself to business class instead?
Air Canada allows travellers to upgrade using frequent flyer points, to bid for a better seat using money, to purchase an outright upgrade closer to departure and even offers complimentary upgrades to its frequent flyers: including on flights from Sydney and Brisbane to Vancouver, and from December 2017, from Melbourne to Vancouver also.
Here’s what you need to know to turn your Air Canada economy or premium economy ticket into a fully-flat bed in business class.
Air Canada business class upgrades: the basics
As with most airlines, upgrades to business class on Air Canada are all subject to availability – and just because a business class seat is still available for purchase on your flight doesn’t necessarily mean that you can upgrade into that seat.
Even if you do secure an upgrade, you’ll earn frequent flyer points and tier miles as applicable to your original booking: not at the higher business class rates.
The same is true whether you upgrade using frequent flyer points, Air Canada ‘eUpgrade credits’, bid using money for your better seat or purchase a Last Minute Upgrade – so even though you may be paying money to upgrade, the only way to earn points at the business class rates is to purchase a business class fare outright when you book.
Air Canada allows travellers to upgrade from both economy and premium economy to business class: a more traveller-friendly approach than taken by some other airlines which permit upgrades only from one class to the next (such as from economy to premium economy).
However, passengers upgrading using Star Alliance frequent flyer points can only secure upgrades from economy to business class – not from premium economy to business class or economy to premium economy.
Upgrading to Air Canada business class using frequent flyer points
One of our favourite aspects of Star Alliance frequent flyer programs is that you can use frequent flyer points from any Star Alliance airline to upgrade on any other Star Alliance airline.
That means you can use points or miles from schemes like Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, United MileagePlus, Air New Zealand Airpoints, Thai Airways Royal Orchid Plus and more to upgrade on Air Canada, in addition to Aeroplan: the airline’s own spin-off frequent flyer program.
The number of points needed for your upgrade varies from flight to flight and between programs, but here’s how many points you’d need for a one-way upgrade on Air Canada’s Sydney-Vancouver and Brisbane-Vancouver routes from several key schemes.
We’ve also highlighted the Air Canada fare types that each frequent flyer scheme allows upgrades from, as this also varies.
- Aeroplan: 30,000 Aeroplan miles from economy Y & B fares only
- Air New Zealand Airpoints: $1,390 Australian Airpoints Dollars from Y & B fares only
- Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer: 77,500 KrisFlyer miles from Y, B and O fares
- Thai Airways Royal Orchid Plus: 70,000 ROP miles from Y & B fares only
- United MileagePlus: 35,000 United miles from Y, B and O fares
As you can see, Singapore Airlines requires the highest number of points for the same upgrade but also allows you to upgrade from a broader number of fares (as does United).
However, Y, B and O tickets represent the most expensive flexible economy fares, with upgrades using points not possible from any other economy tickets, or indeed from any premium economy fares.
Savvy travellers can also use this information to help decide which airline they should convert their credit card frequent flyer points over to.
For instance, the American Express Explorer Card allows Membership Rewards points to be converted into AirNZ Airpoints Dollars, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles and Thai Airways ROP miles (among others), so if hoping to upgrade on Air Canada, could choose the program that would ultimately require the fewest points for the same upgrade – or KrisFlyer, if booked on an O fare.
Using Air Canada’s AC Bid Upgrade system for a business class upgrade
If your ticket isn’t upgradeable using miles – or you don’t have any miles in the first place – another option to consider is the AC Bid Upgrade tool: where you can offer a monetary amount for an upgrade to a higher cabin, charged to your credit card.
From the moment you book until 96 hours before your flight, you can head to the Air Canada website, retrieve your booking and consider entering a bid of your own within pre-defined minimum and maximum thresholds.
Those thresholds can vary from flight to flight and may also be influenced by the type (and price) of the fare you originally purchased. There’s no charge to make an offer or to check what’s possible on your flight – you’ll only be charged the amount you offered if your bid proves successful.
Bids must cover all passengers on your booking (you can’t upgrade individual travellers on reservations with more than one person), and Air Canada doesn’t guarantee that adjoining seats will be available in the upgraded cabin.
That’s why you should keep an eye on your email inbox, because if your bid is successful, you’ll receive an email around 48 hours before the flight’s scheduled departure time: at which point you can access your booking and select your preferred seat (or seats) in the upgraded cabin.
These upgrades are generally valid from one class of service to the next-highest – so from premium economy to business class or economy to premium economy – but from time to time you may also be able to upgrade straight from economy to business class.
You’ll need to submit a bid for each individual flight as well: so on journeys such as Brisbane-Vancouver-New York, one bid would cover Brisbane-Vancouver and a second bid would need to be filed for Vancouver-New York.
Bids can be entered on all bookings paid for with money and on tickets originally booked using frequent flyer points, except for ‘unticketed’ bookings, group bookings (10+ passengers), codeshare flights, booking with infants (under two years of age) and on Air Canada Vacations flights.
Air Canada’s ‘Last Minute Upgrade’ system
If there’s less than 24 hours to go until your flight departs and you haven’t managed to upgrade using miles, you weren’t able to upgrade via AC Bid Upgrade or you simply forgot all about it, you may also be able to purchase a Last Minute Upgrade to business class – often abbreviated to ‘LMUs’ in frequent flyer circles.
These can sometimes be offered during the online check-in process, via the Air Canada mobile app, when using self-serve check-in kiosks at airport terminals or when visiting traditional staffed check-in desks.
Prices can vary from flight to flight, but unlike AC Bid Upgrade, the cost of the Last Minute Upgrade is fixed on a ‘take it or leave it’ basis – you can’t make your own offer or negotiate the price.
These may be available until one hour before departure, but as with AC Upgrade Bid, all passengers on the same booking need to be upgraded together: so if you’re travelling with colleagues on the same booking, either everybody will need to fork out for an upgrade, or everyone will remain in their original seat.
(Smart travellers hoping to upgrade might consider booking their Air Canada flights under their own reservation, or asking their corporate travel agent to do the same.)
Using Air Canada eUpgrades to upgrade to business class
Last but certainly not least, Air Canada’s most frequent flyers can earn complimentary eUpgrade Credits which can be used to upgrade to business class on Air Canada flights.
These credits are earned in two ways: firstly, by a member choosing them as one of their ‘Select Privileges’, and secondly, as a reward for jetsetters who fly a certain number of miles or take a specific number of flights.
As an example, Aussie travellers can earn the following number of eUpgrade Credits when opting for this as a Select Privileges reward at the various Altitude membership levels:
- Prestige 25K: 20 eUpgrade Credits
- Elite 35K: 30 eUpgrade Credits
- Elite 50K: 40 eUpgrade Credits
- Elite 75K: 50 eUpgrade Credits
- Super Elite 100K: 70 eUpgrade Credits
(Members can also earn more eUpgrade Credits via Select Privileges on ‘Flight Pass’ purchases, but these passes are designed for Canadian residents, don’t cover flights to Australia and are unlikely to be purchased by Australian travellers, making the above figures more realistic.)
Further, Elite 50K, 75K and Super Elite 100K cardholders receive a further 10 eUpgrade Credits after earning 60,000 qualifying miles in a membership year or taking 60 qualifying segments (flights), while a second serving of 10 eUpgrade Credits are delivered at the 80,000-mile/80 sector mark.
Super Elite 100K members are rewarded with an additional 20 eUpgrade Credits after achieving 100,000 qualifying miles or 100 qualifying segments each year, plus 20 extra credits for every 40,000 qualifying miles or 40 qualifying sectors thereafter, up to a total of 420,000 miles or 420 sectors each year.
For the highest of high flyers, that represents a total of 200 eUpgrade Credits that can be earned by flying, plus the original 70 eUpgrade Credits earned through Select Privileges, for a grand total of 270 eUpgrade Credits.
Putting that into real-world terms, here’s how many eUpgrade Credits are needed for a one-way upgrade to business class on Air Canada’s Sydney-Vancouver and Brisbane-Vancouver flights, based on the original fare type purchased and the member’s Altitude status level:
- From Flexible Premium Economy (all members): 13 eUpgrade Credits
- From Lowest Premium Economy (Super Elite 100K): 26 eUpgrade Credits
- From Lowest Premium Economy (Prestige 25K and above): 26 eUpgrade Credits plus CAD$750
- From Economy Latitude (all members): 13 eUpgrade Credits
- From Economy Flex (M, U – Super Elite 100K): 20 eUpgrade Credits
- From Economy Flex (M, U – Prestige 25K and above): 20 eUpgrade Credits plus CAD$750
- From Economy Flex (H, Q, V – Super Elite 100K): 26 eUpgrade Credits
- From Economy Flex (H, Q, V – Prestige 25K and above): 26 eUpgrade Credits plus CAD$750
As you can see, Super Elite 100K members are exempted from additional charges when spending eUpgrade Credits, and the number of credits required can be less on some flexible economy fares than required on low-end premium economy tickets for the same upgrade.
Under a special promotion until July 31 2017, travellers can also use eUpgrade Certificates to upgrade from lower-cost Economy Tango tickets and on tickets booked using points at similar rates to Economy Flex (H, Q, V) – but after this date, these extra upgrades won’t be possible.
In any case, Super Elite 100K members gain the added bonus of using eUpgrade Certificates to upgrade other people – either when travelling together or separately – but note that flights upgraded to business class using eUpgrade Certificates do not include airport lounge access.
For Elite 50K members and above, that’s not really an issue as these travellers already have Star Alliance Gold status which provides for lounge access anyway, but it’s something for Prestige 25K and Elite 35K members to keep in mind, along with Super Elite 100K flyers using upgrades for non-elite flyers.
Once requested, these upgrades can be confirmed immediately from the time of booking if availability permits, or can be ‘waitlisted’ for clearing closer to departure or even at the boarding gate, if upgrades become available.