Air Canada Altitude program announced; replaces Top Tier


Air Canada is launching Altitude as a revamp of its frequent flyer program starting in 2013. This move marks the first significant changes since the Top Tier program was introduced a decade ago. The new program takes effect March 1, 2013 when the new program year begins. Qualification for the initial program year will be based on activity in the 2012 calendar year. That means the announced changes affect customers who have been flying with Air Canada the past 9.5 months. At least they have 2.5 months left to change their behavior if the new program isn’t to their liking. Not ideal, but better than nothing. And better than what most programs have offered recently.

As for what the changes are, there are many. For starters, the move adds new tiers to the program. There will now be five elite levels:

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Perhaps the most significant change is that the Elite 35K level will no longer receive Star Alliance Gold status. That means no more free lounge access on all trips, no more extra baggage allowance, no more priority baggage handling and other benefits being lost. Members at this level will retain access to "select Maple Leaf Lounges located in the domestic and transborder departure zones of Canadian airports, along with those in Los Angeles and New York, LaGuardia." In their FAQ the company states that the change brings the carrier in line with "most other global frequent flyer programs" at the 50K qualification level for full lounge access. They also indicate that they simply have too many elites at the 35K level to be able to provide the service to manageable standards.

The 50K level effectively replaces the 35K level from previous years. The 75K level is similar to 50K but with the option to receive more eUpgrade credits and higher bonus flight miles, among other things. The bundles of options available are nice, allowing members to pick and choose the benefits which matter most to them, though compared to other carriers the total number of options available is rather lower in many cases.

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As for upgrade credits, the earning rates appear to have dropped a bit for top-tier members. That’s not going to be a particularly welcome change (the chart is much taller but I can only capture so much on screen; click it to see more):

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That said, for customers who fly 200,000 status miles or more the number of upgrade certs appears to be increasing. Similar to the lounge issue at 35K, the company appears to be focused on rewarding the passengers who fly more with greater benefits.

In some ways this is a classic example of the "rich getting richer" in terms of loyalty program benefits. There are definitely drawbacks, particularly at the 35K level. Although they haven’t had a C-level executive come out and say it, the changes seem to mesh with those made by United in the 2012 program year where the CFO suggested some elites were "over entitled" in terms of benefits being delivered. Not what the person who flew 35K miles on AC wants to hear, but it is likely the answer the business has to the situation.

There are a couple small positive changes mixed in with mostly negative ones, particularly at the 35K level and, to a lesser extent, at the 100K level. It could have been worse. Could have been better, too, but definitely could have been worse.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .

11 Comments

  1. A 5 tier system shows the inability to properly market a system that works.
    I don’t see the benefits as being good for 50k or any loyalty from AC/AP. The wording of AC/AP for the new few months is “let’s make up the rest as time passes”.
    Very unprofessional. Saying good-bye to AP and going with A3 for Gold Alliance Status and using my AMEX points and other great values out there over this program this is not realistic.

  2. Sent this to Air Canada customer relations message form on their website….encourage others in the 35k boat to do the same…laughable that they send an automated reply saying to expect reply in 25 days…

    As an Air Canada Elite / Star Alliance Gold member for more than 10 years, I believe I have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars with your airline, so I hope this letter carries some weight if only for financial reasons. I am writing to express my serious disappointment with Air Canada’s decision to take away my ability to qualify for Star Alliance Gold status almost 9 months into the qualifying year.

    At the beginning of 2012, I was sent an email from Air Canada/Aeroplan specifically confirming that I would receive Star Alliance gold status in 2013 if I reached 35,000 status miles and 5 Air Canada segments before Dec 31 2012. I am sure you understand that, for frequent international travelers, this is by far the most relevant benefit of the Aeroplan program. As a result of this email, I based my flight booking and purchase decisions for the past 9 months on this assurance.

    This morning, I received an email informing me that, as a result of the new “Altitude” plan, I would no longer be entitled to Star Alliance Gold status for reaching these thresholds. After calling Air Canada and Aeroplan (and receiving 2 different answers), I finally called Air Canada a 3rd time and received confirmation this was true. In other words, Air Canada is telling me I now need to fly an additional 15,000 miles in the next 3 months just to receive the same status which I was informed would be available to me already. For Air Canada to institute such a significant change 9 months into the qualifying year is something that an absurdly inappropriate way to treat its most loyal customers.

    Living in Asia, I had planned to book my Christmas flights back to Canada from Hong Kong (for 2 passengers) and I have at least 1-2 other major trips to make prior to Dec 31 2012. My original plan was to book these flights on Air Canada, which would leave me comfortably more than the 35,000 miles I was told would originally have allowed me to renew my Star Alliance Gold status.

    However, in view of the program changes, if Air Canada does not reverse its policy, I can assure you that I will book these flights on another airline. In the future, particularly in Canada and the US, I will now no longer make any effort to travel on Air Canada as Star Alliance Gold status is all that differentiates Air Canada from less expensive alternatives such as WestJet and Porter Air.

    Frankly speaking, I am utterly shocked that Air Canada would even remotely consider making this type of announcement at any time other than prior to the beginning of a new qualifying year, so that its most loyal customers could base their flying decisions on accurate and relevant information, rather than telling them at the proverbial `last minute`that they will no longer qualify for something they had previously been promised. I am certain there are potentially thousands of other customers who are similarly outraged.

    Such a course of action indicates that Air Canada is truly out of touch with (or, worse, does not care about) the impact its business decisions have on its passengers.

    If this decision is reversed prior to the middle of October, I will reconsider booking my future flights on Air Canada. If not, however, I wanted to inform you that I have lost my last thread of patience with Air Canada and I see no value in continuing my relationship with the company.

    Regards,

  3. But your complaint is in error, because you say that you received something that you did not:

    “At the beginning of 2012, I was sent an email from Air Canada/Aeroplan specifically confirming that I would receive Star Alliance gold status in 2013 if I reached 35,000 status miles and 5 Air Canada segments before Dec 31 2012.”

  4. Lets be honest here, if you are only flying 35K miles, you are not one of their most loyal customers.
    That said, I think it is out of line to drop this with just a few months left in the year.

  5. I am pretty upset at these changes. I live overseas as well and have been a loyal Aeroplan member since around 1993. I have no problem with the changes to the program. I am upset about the timing. If Air Canada was going to make these changes, they should have announced them before the beginning of 2012, not 9 months plus. I have already accumulated 32,000 miles this year and will hit 40,000 before the end of the year. Had I known that AC was going to make this change I would have booked my miles to Miles and More. Does anyone know if I can transfer my miles from Air Canada to Miles and More for this year? Thanks for letting me know.

    Cheers

  6. @ dissatisfied – the changes to 2013 was actually announced back in December 2011. I read the anticipated changes carefully at the time and realized right away that Star Alliance Gold will be taken away at the 35,000 level. So I don’t think it’s true that AC promises *Gold at 35,000 by Dec. 31 2012. Don’t get me wrong – I am angry as well for AC’s deliberate effort to water down the benefits for the lower level Elite membership. I seriously doubt they would reverse their decision. For me, the deal-breaker is the reduced Status Miles for Asian flights from YYZ to PEK, HKG etc. Tango Plus fares will easily add $800+ to the cost of an economy return ticket. This is a deliberate attempt to milk those traveling to and from Asia. I have already switched to UA for my Asian trips this year. My only option is to vote with my feet – I for one will start accumulating miles for UA Mileage Plus instead of AE. This is sad as I’ve been a loyal AE member since 1987.

  7. Like Joseph pointed out above, in all fairness Air Canada, issued notification of the program requirements for the year beginning 2013 back in December of 2011. The only thing they didnt do is announce what each of the new tiers were to be called. They DID however announce previously that the 35k mark will no longer qualify for SA Gold. I made sure to change my loyalty at the beginning of the year to qualify on UA instead after reading the changes.

    Seth, fyi, they had info about the changed except for the new name listed on Air Canada’s website from the beginning of the year. So its a lil unfair to say that people were given notice 9 months into the qualification year when they were give a full 12 months notice regarding the new qualification requirements for the 2013 program year.

  8. Disappointed! Have copied my exchange with Air Canada. They did actually respond, but with a form letter that did not address my concerns.

    —— Original Message ——

    Sent: 26/11/2012 03:19 PM
    Subject: Should read Condemnation

    Re: You’re close to achieving Altitude Elite 50K status

    I am very disappointed in Air Canada’s recent decision to reduce Elite Status to little more than Prestige Status. In particular the “Gold” Status access to the international business class lounges that I count on during my very long fights is now gone. Stripped away your recent actions!!

    I have been flying with Air Canada to Africa since 1973. I have been a faithful customer, choosing to fly Air Canada instead of lower cost options from Victoria through San Francisco and Seattle. With this move you have broken the loyalty I have maintained with you and I will now look at all other options before booking future flights.

    How disappointing of you!! I thought more of my National Carrier, the airline that I have supported when so many other suggested that West Jet was a better option. I can no longer do so.

    Shame on you!!! … Doug

    On Dec 4, 2012, at 9:50 AM, support@help-aircanada.com wrote:

    ===============================================================
    Please do not change the Subject Line – Veuillez ne pas modifier le Sujet de ce courriel
    ===============================================================

    Dear Mr. Funk,

    Thank you for taking the time to contact us regarding the upcoming changes to the program of Air Canada Top Tier and are happy to answer you. We would like to thank you for your loyalty and remind you that the announced changes have no impact on the program of higher status in 2012 currently in force.

    The program structure of Air Canada Top Tier has virtually not changed since the introduction of the Super Elite status there are more than 10 years. To further reward our customers based on their frequency of travel, we introduce a program redesigned for 2013.

    Within the program structure of higher status, Elite members have always represented a wide range of customers, whether those who come to get the eligibility level of 35,000 Status Miles or those who are about to reach the Super Elite status. The program privileges to all travelers has been revised to provide members with increased recognition based on the frequency of their trips.

    Unlike other airlines, we maintained 35 000 000-level privileges eligibility status, which remains associated with many essential privileges such as free access to Maple Leaf Lounges and priority services Air Canada. This is particularly cognizant of members traveling primarily in Canada and who need a higher level of service given the frequency of their trips.

    In addition, we have improved the recognition and privileges granted to Elite members who earn at least 50,000 Status Miles or 50 flight segments privileges, to make the program more consistent with the frequency of their movements.

    We regret your disappointment, but rest assured that we will continue to monitor the program of Air Canada Top Tier closely and invest in our products and services in the months and years to come.

    Remember that other details of the program of Air Canada Top Tier 2013 will be provided in 2012. You can read the emails you send to Air Canada on this page or visit regularly aircanada.com/statutsuperieur2013.

    We appreciate your loyalty and thank you for choosing Air Canada.

    Sincerely,
    Gazala

    December 4, 2012 2:41:24 PM PST
    Dear Gazala – Wrong – you do not “further reward our customers based on their frequency of travel”.

    This is not a “further reward”, this is a “taking away”. You did not address my issue of the removal of “Gold” status which now takes away my access to all the International lounges I regularly use. Had you bothered to look at travel history you would see the sparse Maple Leaf Lounge access does not address my needs.

    Why did you not simply do away with Prestige and leave Elite as it was? You have angered many of your local customers and you will pay a price for this. I for one will push to make sure not one of my tax dollars in future goes to supporting an airlines that treats loyal customers like you have. And I will “vote with my feet” now actually looking for alternative airlines to support. … Doug

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