A wise man once said...Like most airlines it is possible to buy an economy class ticket with Air Canada, but end up being seated in business class.
On March 1, 2011, Air Canada introduced eUpgrades to replace the old paper upgrade certificates, which this FAQ thread was originally written for. For posterity, those details have been preserved in small grey letters.
Some other ways of upgrading still exist and I'll leave them untouched.
At the time of the changeover to eUpgrades I did not have any AC status. As of this last and final edit of this post, no other Flyertalk has chosen to rewrite a definitive guide to upgrading on Air Canada. You can still find many threads about eUpgrades, and perhaps after people get used to them a new Upgrade info master thread will be born.
The content of this post was accurate as of March 2, 2011, but is not guaranteed to be accurate at any time after that date.
Top tier upgrade certificates
Other upgrade certificates
Complimentary Latitude flight pass upgrades
Aeroplan award flights booked in I with segments confirmed in X
Upgrades using miles or cash
Top Tier Upgrade Certificates
Passengers with status (Prestige (P), Elite (E), or Super Elite (SE)) on Air Canada can receive three different types of upgrade certificates as follows:
North American Upgrade (NAU) certificates: These can be used on flights with business class service within Canada and the continental US. They can be used on Latitude fares, which have booking codes Y and B, and on the M and U Tango Plus fares.
Systemwide Upgrade (SWU) certificates: These can be used on any flight with business class service to any destination. They can be used on Latitude fares, which have booking codes Y and B, and on the M and U Tango Plus fares.
Special Systemwide Upgrade (SSWU) certificates: Only SE and E can use these certificates. These can be used on any flight with Executive or Executive First class service to any destination. They can be used on Latitude and Tango Plus fares, which encompass a whole lot of booking classes.
Up-to-date information about fare class eligibility and other details is also on aeroplan.com. Select YOUR AEROPLAN->Air Canada Top Tier->Select Privileges and click on the relevant certificate.
Who can use Top Tier Upgrade Certificates?
The name and Aeroplan number of the top tier member appear on the certificate. They can only be used by the member or a companion travelling on the same flight.
They are not transferable and cannot be sold. (Well, that can be sold, but the purchaser won't be able to use them!)
The only requirement to use a certificate for a companion is that the companion be on the same flight as the top tier member, and that the companion's booking class be eligible for the certificate that is to be used. It doesn't matter what fare the top tier member traveling on. It could be an award flight, or on a fare not eligible for upgrade.
How do you confirm an upgrade using a top tier certificate?
If you want to use a certificate you must request the upgrade from Air Canada. You can phone Air Canada reservations to request the upgrade.
If your booking class is Y or B you will be able to request your upgrade as soon as you make your booking. If you booked online you can request an upgrade online via Manage My Bookings. You will also need to be logged in so that the website knows you are a top tier member. You will also need to enter the certificate number if you make this request online. The numbers are all the same of all certificates. These are:
For flights between March 1, 2010 and February 28, 2011
0060001 - NAU
0070000 - SWU
0080006 - SSWU
If you are wanting to use a certificate from a lower fare class than Y or B, you will have to wait until your upgrade window opens. SE can request the upgrade 7 days before the flight. E can make the request 4 days before. P can make the request 2 days before.
How do you make the calculation? Suppose your flight leaves on August 11. Two days before is August 9. Four days before is August 7. Seven days before is August 4. You can call at 12:00am. The relevant time zone is the one corresponding to the flight departure. So, if the flight leaves from YYZ, you can call at midnight YYZ-time.
Two things could happen when you request the upgrade. If could be confirmed right away, or you could be placed on the upgrade waitlist. Air Canada may (or may not!) confirm upgrades according to the time placed on the waitlist as the flight date approaches.
If your upgrade is not confirmed by the time the flight is open for check-in, the old waitlist is discarded. You will need to re-request your upgrade when you check-in. This can be done theoretically during on-line check-in, but available of this feature is spotty. You can also re-request your upgrade when you check-in at the airport. Upgrade priority on the day of the flight is not made public by Air Canada. The best guess is that it is based on:
1. Status of person to be upgraded.
2. Fare Category.
3. Time of check-in.
Note that a companion upgrade is waitlisted based on that person's status, not the status of the sponsor. At least in theory.
You could be upgraded at check-in, in the lounge, or at the gate. Your upgrade could clear the minute before they close the door to the plane, if a seat becomes available. You should be near the gate area in plenty of time if you are waitlisted for an upgrade. You will want to be there if they call your name.
The manner in which the day-of-airport upgrade waitlist is cleared is a matter of periodic debate on the AC forum on FlyerTalk.
How can I determine available upgrade inventory?
What does "R space" mean?
In September, 2009, "R space" became the new "I space".
Air Canada will not simply allow upgrades into every available business class seats at any time. Obviously they would prefer to sell those seats. So the number of upgrades is limited. It is possible to determine if there is upgrade space available on a particular flight.
The first method is to use aircanada.com. When you are selecting flights you can check the box beside Display only fares eligible for upgrade. Enter the number for the certificate you want to use (number are listed above). A blue arrow will appear beside any flight with upgrade space currently available.
Another method is to use a third party fare class availabilty tool. The upgrade fare bucket for upgrade space is R. (Hence you will often see the phrases "R space", formerly "I space")
Other Upgrade Certificates
Passengers without top tier status on Air Canada can purchase upgrade certificates at some airports for a limited number of routes within North America. See: http://www.aircanada.com/en/travelin.../upgrades.html for details on which routes apply and how to use these certificates.
There are also upgrade certificates of various types made available from time to time to corporate clients, travel agents, and others. The certificate will contain instructions on how to use them.
Complimentary Latitude Flight Pass Upgrades
If your flight is booked using a Latitude flight pass you will be able to upgrade the 48 hours before your flight. This upgrade is not based on R space. It is based on available business class seats.
Latitude pass upgrades are done online.
Latitude pass flights can also be upgraded using certificates as above, R space permitting. If you have been upgraded into R space and want to use a complimentary upgrade instead (to save the certificate) you will need to phone AC to downgrade yourself first before accessing the complimentary upgrade.
Aeroplan award flights booked in I with segments confirmed in X
It is possible to book Aeroplan award itineraries in business class (I class) in which one or more of the segments is confirmed in economy class (X class) because of award flight availability.
In such cases you may request to standby for a business class seat at the airport on the day of the economy class flights.
This is not available for Star Alliance awards (even if the flight in question is operated by Air Canada).
If economy class is oversold, and there is space in business class, some passengers will might be upgraded without the need for a certificate. This is called an operational upgrade, or "op-up". Operational upgrades should be done by status, and generally are, but sometimes convenience, time constraints, laziness, etc., cause agents to upgrade people without regard to status.
Theories abound about increasing one's chance of an op-up, which include dressing nicely, being polite, showing cleavage, etc. These are theories. There is no published, peer-reviewed research that gives evidence that the theories are true.
An Air Canada employee may simply decide to upgrade you for some reason. They might feel sorry for you; they might be hitting on you; they might be compensating you for some inconvenience. This is called a courtesy upgrade. Be happy if it happens, but don't expect it.
Upgrade with cash or miles
Air Canada participates in the Star Alliance milage upgrade scheme. See:
In June, 2009, Air Canada began the Last Minute Upgrade Purchase (LMUP) scheme. Last minute upgrades may be offered at OLCI or kiosk check-in. They may be offered from any economy class revenue or award booking.
Programs: Non-status paid F/J (best value for $$$)
Originally Posted by zorn
[i][*]Upgrade with cash or miles
It is not possible to upgrade using frequent flyer miles. Air Canada does not participate in the Star Alliance milage upgrade scheme. It is not possible to upgrade using cash at check-in. If you want to upgrade using cash, you should visit the ticket desk to pay the fare difference to business class.
If you have a fare which has the /CORP ticket designator at the end of the farebasis, this means that a corporate discount of (eg. 10% off in the following example) has been applied to the published fare.
When upgrading these type of fare with cash, the corporate discount cannot be applied to the new fare (which is the executive class fare) if you call AC directly. In order to keep the corporate discount, the rebooking and exchanging of the ticket must be done through your corporate travel agent (who may be reluctant in doing so).
Let's say you have an economy class ticket for which the published fare is $600 (and your company paid $540 after corporate discount), and the business class fare is $3200 ($2880 if issued by corporate travel agent).
If you call AC and ask for an upgrade with cash, you will be charged ($3200-540) plus the change fee on the original ticket.
If you call your corporate travel agent to upgrade with cash (which they may not want to do), you will be charged ($2880-$540) plus change fee on the original ticket.
(Note: In both cases, you will be using your original e-ticket receipt to claim your expenses on your expense report. Alternatively, you could just give up with the upgrading and buy your own Executive class tickets and try claiming them as non-reimbursed employment expenses on your tax return [I think you'll need to fill out a T2200 and get your employer to sign]).
I recently had a round trip flight from YYZ to MCO. I was booked on my Latitude Flight Pass and my fiancee was booked using Aeroplan points. When I got to the gate I asked if I would use my upgrade certs (I am prestige). She said I couldnt because they cannot upgrade AP flights. I said OK and walked away. She came running after me saying they could do complimentary upgrades. Ended up flying Executive class there and same thing happened on the way home.
I dont expect it every flight but it was nice. I will be asking at the desk for every leg of my RT YYZ-YVR-HNL in Sept. Maybe we'll get lucky again!
One question about upgrading at the airport (this is my first year with SSWU and when using SWU I've always chosen flights that I can upgrade when booking).
What happens when you are on a connecting flight? In my case it is YYZ-YUL-CDG (I know my chances are slim, but...)
Okay, so let's say that I couldn't confirm at the 4 day window. I go to check in on line (which is 24 hours from the 2nd flight, right? This is what happened when I had YYZ-YVR-HNL return). If I can upgrade both legs at this point, well and good. If I cannot upgrade both legs at this time, and but I can go on the waitlist, this is also okay.
What happens, however, if I cannot get on the list. Can I get on the list for YUL-CDG when I check in at YYZ? Do I ask the check-in agent to do so? The MLL agent? The gate agent? If I have to wait until YUL, I'll be way down on the list of check-in times.
Obviously, if I've not cleared while still in YYZ I won't take the YYZ-YUL upgrate - I'm not wasting a SSWU on that (and I don't have the fare for a NAU).
After reading everything posted above about upgrades, I thought I would add one more thing that will help you be taken seriously when inquiring about upgrades at check-in.
As an AC agent, I find that the one thing that annoys me the most (and this happens numerous times on a daily basis, so please excuse me if I sound bitter or without a sense of humor here) is when while I'm checking in passengers, someone in the party will say jokingly (but in all seriousness), "Oh, and go ahead and feel free to just move us up into first class". And then winks at me conspiratorially.
I don't know if I can explain just how irritating this is, but it puts the agent in a bind. If I force a laugh, it is perceived as sarcastic, but if I ask how the customer would like to pay for it, he feels insulted. (A passenger actually complained to my supervisor about this, which made no sense whatsoever. It's a perfectly legitimate question.)
We're not allowed to give out complimentary upgrades unless there is a request from AC Management or if we're dealing with a over-sold aircraft. And even then, passengers who we'll move up to Executive Class first are those SE/E who are wait listed with U/G certs. If there are no U/G certs wait listed, then we'll start complimentary upgrading SE & E passengers based on their priority.
I hope this helps all of you. Best thing I can say is that when inquiring about an upgrade, be serious (don't wink! haha!) and don't make it appear as though you're looking for a freebie (even though you are!).