Bid upgrades are a great way to travel more comfortably at a fraction of the cost. Indeed, many carriers allow passengers to move to a premium cabin through bid upgrades with Air Canada using cash or points.
Airlines will prefer the option of selling those seats to consumers ready to pay full fare, but they would also rather let them go at a discounted price with bid upgrades instead of flying them empty.
This article will focus on bid upgrades with Air Canada.
Bid upgrades with Air Canada - Eligible flights and fare
To find out if you have an eligible flight and fare for a bid upgrade with Air Canada, you can check the AC Bid Upgrade Webpage.
Eligible flights and tickets are determined by Air Canada at its sole discretion and depend on a variety of factors including cabin class and seat class availability.
Not all flights are eligible for a bid upgrade with Air Canada, such as:
- Group bookings
- Code share flights
- Bookings that include an infant (under 2 years old)
You will have to turn to the partner airline’s upgrade page for partner segments. When I travelled to New Zealand, I placed a bid upgrade for the AKL-LAX leg with Air New Zealand and separately on Air Canada for LAX-YUL.
Bid upgrades with Air Canada - How does it work?
As soon as you book your trip, you can find the ”bid upgrade” option after logging in to your Air Canada booking with your reference code and last name.
You can place bid upgrades with Air Canada at any time and up to 48 hours before departure.
You can also modify and cancel them up to that window unless they’ve already been accepted.
Bid upgrade prices depend on the original fare class, with higher fare classes generally having a lower bid range.
As you can see here, there is an indicator of your offer’s “strength’’. Obviously, the more you slide towards the right, the best chance you will have to win it. Your offer amount is per person and includes all taxes and fees.
And on this screen, you can click on the toggle to make your offer with Aeroplan points.
If you are hesitating between placing a bid in points or cash, check the valuation you are getting compared to what you deem them worth; the system will usually give you 1 ¢ per point while Milesopedia evaluates them at 2 ¢ per point.
You may also receive an email inviting you to make a bid upgrade with Air Canada closer to departure. Additionally, you may see the option to purchase a last-minute upgrade when you check-in.
Regarding the latter, if a bid upgrade was already confirmed and you decide to go through an upgrade at check-in, you will not be refunded. For example, you bided to upgrade from economy to premium economy, which was approved 48 hours before your flight, and you see an offer for business class while checking in 24 hours before departure.
Around 48 hours before the flight, you will be notified by email whether your bid was accepted on not, and your credit card will be charged if you got it (you keep your seat as is if your offer is declined). Once they are confirmed, you cannot cancel it, and if you are rejected, it will be too late to adjust your offer.
If you have to be rebooked on another flight due to no fault of your own, Air Canada will try to maintain your upgrade if you are confirmed. However, if there are not enough seats or the alternative flights do not accommodate you, you will be reimbursed if you return to your original class.
If your flight has more than one segment, you must make an offer for each one individually. Carefully double-check what you are bidding on so you’re not deceived. For example, if you travel from Québec City to Montreal and then onwards to Tokyo, the YQB-YUL bid will probably be much lower than the YUL-NRT leg you must place separately.
The Instant Upgrade option is also available on some flights and allows immediate securing of the upgrade, with confirmation sent within two hours of the request. If both upgrade options are shown, you can only pick one.
Check the cost! The confirmed Instant Upgrade option might be close to the minimum asked to bid. For example, on this itinerary to Tokyo from economy to premium economy, the minimum bid for the YUL-NRT is $450 while the instant upgrade option is priced at $492 (while the return leg is at a $480 bid vs. $1,179).
The original ticket’s fare conditions, including cancellation policies, rebooking fees and frequent flyer miles earning, will still be in effect even if you’ve won the upgrade. Also, the bid upgrade with Air Canada amount does not count toward qualifying spend for elite status. But you will benefit from the increased baggage allowance, lounge access, etc.
Bid upgrades with Air Canada - The strategy
Since the company wants to fill as many seats as they can and add as much revenue as possible, you can get a general idea of your offer’s success with the standard demand and supply knowledge; if the cabin is nearly empty, you can get away with a low bid, and if it’s almost full, you might be rejected even if you try the maximum.
To get information about flight loads, Expertflyer is your friend. When you use the “Flight Availability’’ tool, you can check the available seats for sale. On Air Canada, the following letters represent the unsold seats in each cabin:
- Premium economy: O, E, N
- Business class: J, C, D, Z, P
For example, on flights AC303 and AC305 shown here, the maximum bid might not even do it, while the minimum bid should be more than enough for flight AC301; not only the business class cabin is pretty empty, but economy also seems wide open which means there are more seats to grab in the front and fewer people who will compete against you for it with a bid upgrade!
While the biggest number you can see is 9, it does not accurately represent the actual passenger load but is still a good indicator since it still has at least 9 unsold seats; some planes have 12 seats in business class such as the A-220 while a wide body can have 32.
On that note, make sure you know what kind of aircraft and which hard product you are bidding on before placing it; you may be disappointed if you win a bid upgrade on an A-220 to Los Angeles when you had in mind the lie-flat pods of an A-330.
Bid upgrades with Air Canada - Is it worth it?
For sure, bid upgrades with Air Canada are a way to fly premium without paying full price.
The bid range will vary according to the fare you purchased; the fare you paid will impact the minimum and maximum amounts. Indeed, if you bought a premium economy ticket, you will be able to bid less to get into business class than someone sitting in economy.
Here is a breakdown of the costs depending on four bookings of the same YUL-NRT round-trip itinerary but booked at different fares. Yes, Japan is super trendy and I was able to compare many of my friends’ bookings.
|Friend||Fare||Total Cost||Bid range to J|
|A||Economy Standard||$1,400||$1,300 to $2,500|
|B||Economy Flex||$1,200||$1,200 to $2,400|
|C||Premium Economy Standard||$2,500||$850 to $1,900|
|D||Economy Standard||85,000 Aeroplan points||$1,300 to $2,500|
There are no errors in the table; friend B did manage to snag an economy flex fare at a lower price than friend A’s economy standard; the itinerary is the same, but the dates are different. However, we can see that even if friend A paid more initially, their bid range is higher than friend B. That is because the tickets are on the different fares (letters).
Friend D, who redeemed Aeroplan points for their flight in standard economy, has the same bid upgrade range as Friend A, who bought the same fare but who paid in cash.
Friend C made sure to have a minimum of comfort by buying premium economy, and their bid range is lower than my friends who booked economy class.
Since the bid upgrades cost gets added to the price of the initial ticket and they are for each leg separately, this is what our friends may pay to be moved to business class if their bid is successful:
|Friend||Initial Cost||Bid Cost||Total Cost|
|A||$1,400||+ ($1,300 to $2,500) x 2||$4,000 to $6,400|
|B||$1,200||+ ($1,200 to $2,400) x 2||$3,600 to $6,000|
|C||$2,500||+ ($850 to $1,900) x 2||$4,200 to $6,300|
|D||85,000 points||+ ($1,300 to $2,500) x 2||85,000 points + 2,600$ to 5,000$|
A full-price round-trip business class ticket to Tokyo ranges from $7,000 to $8,000. Therefore, if you can win a bid upgrade with Air Canada with a low offer, that’s like getting about a 50% discount on your fare.
On the other side, if you really want business class and are ready to bid the maximum anyways, it might be worth it to check what the upright cost for a confirmed business class seat is and assess the difference.
It would be a good deal if you were to pay cash, but see the following options for cheaper and more predictable alternatives.
Bid upgrades with Air Canada - Comparing with eUpgrades and award fares
When you aim to fly in a premium cabin, which is the better option between using eUpgrade credits and placing a bid upgrade with Air Canada?
With eUpgrades, it is possible to know the cost upfront (number of eUpgrade credits with or without a cash supplement). Also, you can get an instant upgrade if there is R Space available; you can find this information on Expertflyer and directly on Air Canada’s search results page, where you can see ’’Eligible for upgrade “or ’’You will be waitlisted”.
I consider the latter the same as winging it on a bid upgrade since you will only know shortly before departure. If getting an upgrade is a bonus and not important, you can do either.
This kind of control, with immediate confirmation, can be worth chasing if business class is very important to you.
EUpgrades can also clear earlier, depending on your status and ticket fare. This means Air Canada will access bid upgrades after all eUpgrades are confirmed, which is at the latest 3 days before the flight compared to 48 hours prior.
Furthermore, unused eUpgrade credits can roll over the following year when you hold a premium Aeroplan card such as the American Express® Aeroplan®* Reserve Card, although for only 50 of them.
Therefore, it makes sense to redeem them if you do not have such a credit card in your portfolio or have too many eUpgrade credits before considering bid upgrades.
Also, bid upgrades can be handy for shorter or daytime flights when you prefer to be in the front but wouldn’t mind staying in a seat that doesn’t lie flat.
On the other side, if you do not have access to eUpgrade credits, you will have to make an offer with cash or points with the bid upgrade option. Although it depends on your bid amount and your paid fare, it remains a way to turn left at a lower cost.
The basis of travel hacking is to avoid paying with your hard-earned money, and when you consider all the ways we can rack up points in Canada with credit cards, a strategy with points also makes more sense.
If you are starting out, many credit cards offer great welcome bonuses to get you up and running in this hobby. For example, the TD® Aeroplan® Visa Infinite Privilege* Card can get you a one-way to many places in business class if you’d like to taste the experience of flying premium without breaking the bank.
You can also turn to cards such as the American Express Cobalt® Card to accumulate a steady flow of points for your future travels, whether in economy or business class. Its 5X accelerator on organic spending is the best you’ll ever find, and those points are transferable to Aeroplan, among various other programs.
You should always do the math; calculate the valuation of your points and evaluate your options; the bid upgrade system may ask you for 40,000 points minimum to move from economy to business from Montreal to Vancouver, while you can book a confirmed ticket for about 25,000 Aeroplan points.
As for our Tokyo example, I admit it’s difficult to get reasonable prices with AC’s dynamic chart sometimes, but there’s often a little nugget here and there waiting to be found. For example, I caught this 73,600 Aeroplan points fare; that’s all you’d pay as compared to purchasing an economy ticket and bidding $1,200 or 120,000 points to hope to score an upgrade.
Bid upgrades with Air Canada are a great alternative to fly comfortably at a lower cost, and it is offered by most airlines worldwide. Since Air Canada has a very good system with eUpgrades and it’s very easy to earn points, I would prefer the more predictable options.
However, if your only way to travel in business class is to either pay full price in cash or outrageous dynamic points fare as compared to winging it on a bid, I’d consider it again and again.
I placed both successful and unsuccessful bids in the past; you just need to have the right mindset that you win and lose some. Bid upgrades should be used when flying premium is not that important but still greatly appreciated.
Have you ever placed a successful bid upgrade with Air Canada or other airlines? Join our community and share your wins!
The full terms and conditions regarding bid upgrades with Air Canada can be found here.