Air Canada limits long-haul earning rates and upgrade options

For Air Canada customers the split between Tango and Tango Plus fares has often made navigating their frequent flyer program a bit of a challenge. The most discounted fares – called Tango by the Air Canada marketing folks – earn fewer miles on most routes and generally cannot be upgraded while the more expensive fare classes – Tango Plus – earn full miles and are eligible for upgrades. For the company’s long-haul customers this was generally less of an issue as flights to Europe, Israel & South America did not offer any fares in the Tango classes; everything long-haul was Tango Plus or higher. That changed last week, with little notice nor fanfare.

The new policy moves three fare classes – T, L & K – from the Tango Plus designation to Tango. And the selling of Tango fares expanded in long-haul markets from only Asia & Australia to include Europe, Israel & South America, too. This means customers buying the cheapest coach seats on overseas flights will not be able to upgrade their seats using their elite status benefits. And that is on top of cuts in the earning rates of these elite credits as part of the 2013 changes to the Aeroplan Top Tier Altitude program. Further, passengers flying on these fares will also now earn only 50% credit for the flights, making it harder to earn elite status and award travel. It is not yet clear what impact this will have on the earning rates of partner airlines; as of yet none appear to have altered their published earning charts.

It should also be noted that the company has also upgraded the earning rates on Tango fares between the USA and Canada. These flights will earn at 50% and will also count towards elite status. A minor upgrade relative to the hit on the long-haul changes.

This move puts Air Canada and Aeroplan into a long list of programs which are adjusting their program rules to focus not only on how much time you spend with the airline in the air but also on how much money you spend with them. That this change isn’t cutting the lowest fares, just renaming them to make them less valuable to the loyalty scheme is particularly unfortunate for customers. Not surprising, but unfortunate.

Air Canada was, for a while, considered one of the easier programs in which Star Alliance Gold status could be earnt. That is now, by far, no longer the case. For customers buying mid or high level fares and who are focused or forced into flying on Air Canada flights the program can still be reasonably valuable. For low-fare customers who have a choice Aeroplan and Top Tier Altitude are looking worse and worse every day.

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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, and LinkedIn.


  1. It’s not really an upgrade on transborder flights. All US-fares were Tango Plus, so it’s still a downgrade…

    Domestic Canadian Tango fares do 25% non-status miles.

  2. Serious downgrades here. AC execs think their customers are too good to fly with them now

    As a further clarification…. until now all flights outside of Canada were considered Tango plus flights and you received 100% of the miles allocated. Tango fares were not available.

    As a former loyal AC flyer…now I am just burning through my 1000000 mile I have accumulated. At all costs I do try not to fly AC metal on my award tickets.

    Can’t wait until West Jet finally joins oneworld and Virgin pacific launches. I suspect AC will backdown on these changes sooner rather than later.

  3. Must agree…with all the fuel surcharges, I avoid AC metal at all costs now except to connect (no choice since there is no competition on many routes)! Use US or UA miles to fly AC routes and save the surcharges on the same flights that AC collects their YQ. Also note that their Aeroplan search engine will preferentially give you only itineraries that have AC and fuel surcharge airlines and bluntly ignore other options. Use ANA or UA searches instead!

  4. Will be interesting how these changes effect partner earning, I have 3 flights in April/May on AC that were TangoPlus when I bought them.. My honest guess is a DOT complaint may be in order as they sold you a fare under a certain “set of rules” and then changed them. Programmes are allowed to change rules, but I’m getting ready to test this as fraud/bait and switch. DOT seems to be cracking down on these changes after ticketing, so I’m all for a good test.

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