Air Canada makes big changes to eUpgrade scheme

It seems that Air Canada is making more changes to Altitude, the elite status side of their loyalty program. And, to likely no one’s surprise, these changes are probably not so good for most customers.

The first change comes on the elite earning front. Now even the cheapest domestic or trans-border flights will count towards elite status; previously they did not. And higher fares will in many cases earn more credit towards elite qualification. Good news so far, right??

For upgrades, however, things get ugly in a hurry. Currently all elites earn eUpgrades which can be redeemed for upgrades on flights, similar to AA’s 500-mile “stickers” or system-wide upgrades used by several carriers. The number of eUpgrade credits required varies by route, fare and elite status. Plus, elites could sponsor an upgrade for another passenger on their same PNR when their upgrade window opened. That all changes next March. For starters, sponsoring an upgrade can now only be done on the day of travel, though it can be any passenger, not just those on the same PNR. For 100K Super Elites, the top tier in the program, two companions can be sponsored. That’s a mixed bag, I suppose, though it seems mostly negative. For their part, Air Canada claims the change was made in line with customer demand:

Feedback from Altitude members indicated that while the ability to share upgrades to the Executive cabin with eUpgrade Nominees was valuable, the ability to upgrade any single travel companion on the day of departure – which was previously possible prior to the launch of eUpgrades – was preferred.

The other change is arguably even more significant. All long-haul flights will now require an “Add-on” payment in addition to the eUpgrade redemption unless the passenger is top-tier elite or on a flexible/full fare. Here’s the breakdown of who pays what when:

And, of course, there’s the price tag on the upgrades:

In other words, upgrades are now quite a bit more expensive for most customers on most fares. Ouch. For their part, Air Canada says that the co-pay is necessary “in order to preserve the sustainability of the eUpgrade benefit when upgrading on overseas international flights.”

Yes, there are co-pays required when upgrading using miles on cheaper fares with United, Delta, and American, too. But none of those airlines require a co-pay with their upgrade instruments (though United and Delta have minimum fare requirements in comparable markets). For the 100K customers these changes are arguably mostly good, other than limiting the companion upgrades in advance. For everyone else, however, these “enhancements” are anything but.

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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. ouch on the co-pay. It might be cheaper for me to do a couple of millage runs to make it to Elite 100K this year than to pay for the co-pays next year.

  2. No way. Canceled my AC October flight.
    Status not worth it.
    This is pathetic and another AC marketing mistake.

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