Air Canada Altitude: The Complete Guide

March 2, 2020
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Air Canada rewards their frequent flyers with the Altitude program. There are no membership fees to be part of the Altitude program. However, you will need to qualify with two types of criteria which you will learn more about in this guide. Priority boarding/seat selection, complimentary airport lounge access are a few benefits that comes with being a Altitude status holder. Read on in our guide below to understand what Air Canada Altitude is all about.

Frequent flyers would always strive for the elite status of their regularly used airlines. Why wouldn’t that be an amazing option? When you spend considerable amounts of time at airports and traveling, comfort and ease of travel are always expected, and that’s exactly what Air Canada Altitude offers.

Maple Leaf Lounge access thanks to Air Canada Altitude status

If such comfort and service can be made available by your preferred airline, it’s worth exploring how you can acquire that option. Let’s explore what Air Canada’s elite status program, Altitude, has to offer and if it’s worth the effort to achieve it. 

What is Air Canada Altitude?

Air Canada, in partnership with Aeroplan, has an elite status program called Altitude. This program benefits frequent flyers with varied perks as they fly with Air Canada or any other Star Alliance member.

The program runs on a 5-level tier system:

  • Prestige 25K
  • Elite 35K
  • Elite 50K
  • Elite 75K
  • Super Elite 100K
The five Elite Status levels of the Air Canada Altitude program

The perks a frequent flyer is entitled to depend on their tier.

How do you get to these different tiers?

In a nutshell, you need to earn Aeroplan Miles in accordance with the requirements set by the title of each status, i.e. 25,000+ Aeroplan miles to reach the Prestige 25K status, 35,000+ miles for the Elite 35K status, and so on. Progressively, you will continue to earn towards the next tier until you reach the highest tier, which is Super Elite 100K.

Perks of Air Canada Altitude 

The Altitude program comes with a set of Core Privileges and Select Privileges.

Core Privileges are the basis of your enhanced services as a frequent flyer. 

Select Privileges are add-on benefits to personalize your travel experience.

Here is a high-level summary of the basic benefits from the Core Privileges you would receive as an Altitude tier holder:


Prestige 25K Elite 35K Elite 50K Elite 75K Super Elite 100K
Priority Boarding, Priority Seat Selection Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Star Alliance Status Silver Silver Gold Gold Gold
Exclusive Concierge No No No No Yes
Complimentary Maple Leaf Lounges access Only 2 free passes Yes
(to select Maple Leaf Lounges)
Yes
(to all Maple Leaf Lounges)
Yes
(to all Maple Leaf Lounges)
Yes
(to all Maple Leaf Lounges)

For detailed info of the Core Privilege and Select Privilege bundles available at every level, you can visit the Air Canada Altitude site.

How to Join the Air Canada Altitude Program

To become a member of the Altitude elite, all you have to do is join the Aeroplan loyalty program, get started and work your way up the tiers in the Altitude program.  The great thing is that it’s completely free to join Aeroplan, and all you have to do henceforth is earn sufficient miles.

  1. Start by joining Aeroplan – provide your Aeroplan membership number
  2. Fly eligible flights operated by Air Canada, regional carriers by Air Canada and the Star Alliance member airlines
  3. This allows you to earn AQM, AQS and AQD depending on the flight type, fare paid, etc. 

Your Altitude status/level is determined by the number of AQM or AQS and AQD earned (read below).

How Do I Qualify for Altitude Levels?

To qualify, you will need to take note of three different ‘currencies’:

  • Altitude Qualifying Miles (AQM) (previously known as Air Canada Status Miles)
  • Altitude Qualifying Segment (AQS) (previously known as Air Canada Status Segments)
  • Altitude Qualifying Dollars (AQD)

The following table shows the different amounts of point in the different currencies you need to gain to achieve each level:


Prestige 25KElite 35KElite 50KElite 75KSuper Elite 100K
Altitude Qualitfying Miles (AQM)
OR 
Altitude Qualifying Segments (AQS)
25,000 AQM
OR
25 AQS
35,000 AQM
OR
35 AQS
50,000 AQM
OR
50 AQS
75,000 AQM
OR 
75 AQS
100,000 AQM
OR 
100 AQS
In addition to,




Altitude Qualifying Dollars (AQD)$3,000$4,000$6,000$9,000$20,000

To qualify for your preferred status, you would need to meet either one of the criteria below:

  1. AQM and AQD, or
  2. AQS and AQD

All 3 of the above-mentioned currencies will be awarded to the person who travels on the flight, not to the member who purchases the ticket. This means that you can’t expect to earn qualifying points for the tickets you have purchased for you AND your family members, despite using your account. You will only be awarded the miles under your name on the flight ticket.

Please take note that AQMs can be used as Aeroplan Miles, i.e. they can be used to redeem Aeroplan Rewards. However, this doesn’t work the other way around: the Aeroplan miles you earn as an Aeroplan member don’t count towards achieving Altitude status.

How Do AQM, AQS, and AQD Work?

Figuring out how many points you will earn when you fly Air Canada or its partners is very easy. All you need is the information in your flight plan.

AQM are calculated as the distance flown (in miles) multiplied by a percentage that depends on the flight fare option/type purchased. The higher the class, the higher the percentage. Economy-class tickets DO NOT earn AQMs, and therefore will not help you reach Altitude status.

AQS are even easier. They represent the total flight stops/layovers within one flight plan. (e.g. a direct flight will have 1 AQS and a flight with one layover will have 2 AQS.) 

AQD is the dollars earned based on the basic fare and carrier-imposed surcharges.

Still not clear on how to do the math? Don’t worry, that’s what we’re here for. Take a look at a couple of case studies described below, and I’m sure you’ll get the idea.

Case Study #1: A 250 Miles Domestic Flight

Suppose you want to purchase a direct flight to a city 250 miles away, within Canada. Here is a summary of the AQM and AQS you stand to earn, depending on the flight fare type you choose:

Flight Type AQM % Awarded for Miles Travelled AQM Awarded for 250 miles travelled AQS Awarded
Business 150% 150% x 250 = 375 miles 1
Premium Economy 125% 125% x 250 = 313 miles 1
Latitude 125% 125% x 250 = 313 miles 1
Comfort 115% 115% x 250 = 287.5 miles 1
Flex 100% 100% x 250 = 250 miles 1
Standard 25% 25% x 250 = 63 miles 1
Economy Basic 0% 0% x 250 = 0 miles 0

As you can see, you will only earn your way towards an elite status if you fly anything but Economy. For more details on the AQM % and AQS you stand to earn in different travel types, click here.

What about Altitude Qualifying Dollars?

As for AQD, you can earn them at 1 AQD per $1 spent on any of the following purchases:

  1. Air Canada, Air Canada Rouge or Star Alliance member airlines flights (base fare and carrier-imposed surcharges only)
  2. Eligible Flight Pass purchases
  3. eUpgrade Add-ons

Government-imposed taxes, fees and surcharges & the amount you successfully bid to obtain an upgrade as part of the AC Bid Upgrade program are not counted towards AQD.

At the same time, there are some particular purchases that will not earn you AQD. These exclusions are:

  1. Flights booked in fares that are ineligible for the accumulation of Altitude Qualifying Miles (AQM).
  2. Certain specialty tickets such as:
    • Promotional tickets 
    • Ineligible Flight Passes
    • Aeroplan Flight Reward tickets (flights paid completely or partially with Aeroplan miles)
    • Opaque fares, group, consolidated or bulk fares
    • All-inclusive vacation packages (flights and hotel) purchased through Air Canada Vacations or other websites offering vacation packages
  3. Flights marketed by Air Canada but operated by airlines that are not Star Alliance partners

Case Study: Flight From Canada To USA

A simple case study of a hypothetical round trip flight in Flex class will show you exactly what we mean:

Air Transportation ChargesPurchase Price/Taxes & Fees
Departing Flight – Flex $261.00
Return Flight – Flex $261.00
Taxes, Fees and Charges
Canada Airport Improvement Fee $25.00
U.S.A Transportation Tax $48.12
U.S Agriculture Fee $5.35
Canada Goods and Services Tax $26.71
U.S Passenger Facility Charge $6.08
Canada Harmonized Sales Tax $3.25
U.S.A Immigration User Fee $9.46
Air Travellers Security Charge (ATSC) $12.10
September 11 Security Fee $7.57
U.S. Federal Customs Fee $7.44
Total before options (per passenger) $673.08
The AQD earned would be $261 + $261 = $522

Notice that, even though you’re really paying close to $700 for the round trip, only the $522 of the airfare actually go to Air Canada. The rest goes to the Canadian or US governments. As a consequence, you will only be rewarded with AQDs for the said $522.

Quick Route To Earn Air Canada Altitude Status Levels

Frequent flyer programs are common across most airlines and are usually free to enroll in. The traditional way to attain membership in a frequent flyer program of a particular airline is to accumulate a certain number of traveled miles. This could take time and you might wonder if there is a shortcut.

Air Canada flight

Well… THERE IS!

There are usually two options given, depending on the frequent flyer program, which are ‘Status Match‘ and ‘Status Challenge‘.

Status Match

Status match is when a particular airline awards its frequent flyer program status to someone who has an existing equivalent status with another airline.

As an example case study, an Air Berlin Top Bonus Gold status holder emailed a copy of his status card along with his Aeroplan number and upcoming booking to Air Canada. Air Canada responded in just a few hours stating the new status (Air Canada Altitude Elite 50K) would take effect in 72 hours.

In other words, Air Canada matched the Air Berlin Top Bonus Gold status with its own Altitude Elite 50K status for that particular customer.

Status Challenge

A Status challenge is a period of time (e.g. 90 days) given by the airline to complete a challenge that implies earning a certain number of AQM/AQS and AQD, in order to award a membership at a mid-level, if not higher-level tier.

You can view an actual Status Challenge scenario where an IHG Platinum Elite status holder requested a status match with Air Canada Altitude but was given a status challenge instead, to complete within 90 days, to receive a comparable status with Air Canada Altitude.

Bear in mind that the status match and status challenge options are never publicized – you would need to contact the respective airline to check if there is a status match/challenge available.

If you want more information on status matching and status challenges in the Altitude program, you can email Air Canada and ask them directly. If you have been a frequent traveler with Air Canada, you might just be eligible for a doable challenge within a reasonable period of time to gain the Elite 50k status as a minimum.

Do Aeroplan Credit Cards Help With Earning AQM?

The simple answer for this question is NO. Aeroplan has partnered with many Canadian banks and financial institutions to bring forth a wide range of co-branded credit cards that help you boost your Aeroplan miles balance.

A great example in the past was Aeroplan’s partnership with American Express, through which they created the credit card range called the AeroplanPlus family. It included the AeroplanPlus Gold American Express Card, AeroplanPlus Platinum American Express Card, and AeroplanPlus Reserve American Express Card. The 3 mentioned AeroplanPlus cards came with welcome bonus miles of 15,000 miles, 40,000 miles, and 50,000 miles respectively.

You may be tempted to think that, with the 50,000 miles welcome bonus that comes with the Reserve, you’d be almost set for the Elite 50K status, but no. Remember that Aeroplan miles do not count as AQMs, even though AQMs do count as Aeroplan miles.

Conclusion

It is always wonderful to have elite status with your frequently used airline, and the Altitude program does give you some pretty neat perks that will make your trip a lot nicer. However, in the case of achieving the different status levels with Air Canada’s Altitude, it seems rather tough in terms of the valuation stipulated by Air Canada, despite the partnership with Aeroplan.

Sure the perks are great in terms of the travel experience, but it doesn’t seem all that difficult to obtain the same perks, or even better ones, with credit cards that you can apply for, like the American Express Platinum Card. Additionally, by applying for the Amex Platinum card, you might earn your way to qualifying for the Amex Centurion card, which is an invitation-only credit card that’ll make you feel like a true VIP.

Of course, there is the matter of the annual fee with these credit cards, but they would allow you to earn extra Aeroplan Miles anyhow. These can be redeemed for Aeroplan Rewards which can give you travel concessions that are equally lucrative and return value for money spent on your travel fare.

On the other hand, if you already have elite status with another airline, a status match or status challenge might be much more worth the effort in pursuit of an Altitude status than the traditional method of earning the miles/segments and dollars required to qualify.

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