The single best feature of the new Aeroplan rules: The Latitude Trick!
Updated: Jan 9
Today we'll look at what I consider to be the single most valuable 'sweet spot' in the new Aeroplan program: The Latitude Trick. We'll use it to fly Business Class, on points, for a fraction of list price.
Before you read any further, this trick relies on two different benefits that you can only get by having Air Canada / Aeroplan Elite Status: eUpgrade credits and Priority Rewards. You can get half of the value of the trick if you've only got eUpgrade credits, but for the full value you'll need both.
The Short Version
When the new Aeroplan program came out, a lot of people were understandably bummed at some of the price increases, as well as the new "dynamic pricing" model that will sometimes triple the cost of a flight.
The good news is, hidden within the new pricing model are two new features that really haven't been very well publicized. The first is the introduction of different levels of Economy points fare, including today's focus, the Latitude award fare, and the second is the new format for Priority Rewards.
Basically, if you book a Latitude award ticket, you can usually use it and your eUpgrade credits to instantly confirm an upgrade to Premium Economy or Business Class, even months before the normal eUpgrade time window opens up.
If you combine this with a Priority Reward, which gives you 50% off the price of various levels of award ticket depending on your Elite status, you can fly Business Class for less than the normal points cost of Economy.
It's important to note that eUpgrade credits only work on flights operated by Air Canada or its subsidiaries; in short, if the words "Air Canada" aren't written on the outside of the plane, eUpgrade credits don't work. So, if you use this trick on something like Toronto-Seoul-Bangkok, you'll be able to upgrade Toronto-Seoul, but you will 100% sit in the back for Seoul-Bangkok.
Let's Get Started!
We're going to start with an example of a big fat win on a long-haul international trip, but this trick works on North American routes too. We'll look at those once we've gone through this first big example.
So, let's say I'm planning a trip from my home in Ottawa through Toronto to Hong Kong. Looking that route up in the award charts, I see that the 8,036-mile trip is listed at 50,000-90,000 points each way in Air Canada economy, or 85,000-200,000 points in Air Canada business class. If I want to fly a partner airline, the same distance is fixed at 60,000 and 85,000 points, respectively.
Part One - Booking Without Priority Rewards
I head to the Air Canada website, enter my dates and destination, but don't use my Priority Reward credit, and I get this result: still a solid 30% discount from standard list rates, based on dynamic pricing as well as my Elite 75K status.
Note that the 77.5K "mixed cabin" Business rate shown in that first result means there's no Business award space on the 1-hour Ottawa-Toronto flight, which is often pretty hard to get on the morning-rush-hour flights when Air Canada knows it can sell those seats to business travellers. I can live with that.
If I'm willing to buy this flight as listed, and an identical Hong Kong - Toronto - Ottawa flight on the way home, round-trip Economy will run me 70,300 points + $122, while round-trip Business clocks in at 155,600 points + $126. That's actually pretty good, considering the old program would have cost 150,000 points and a couple hundred bucks in taxes and fees.
But we can do better.
Part Two - Booking With Priority Rewards
At the top of the search results, click "Choose Priority Rewards", and it'll open this menu.
Each Priority Award credit gives one passenger 50% off the total miles required for one whole reservation, which can be a one-way, a round-trip or a Multi-City award.
Each tier of Aeroplan Elite Status gets a different set of Priority Rewards:
25K - 1 credit, Canada + US only, Economy only (starts in 2021)
35K - 1 credit, North America only, Economy only
50K - 2 credits, North America only, Economy or Premium Economy
75K - 3 credits, Worldwide, up to Premium Economy
100K - 4 credits, Worldwide, up to Signature / Business Class
Due to the disruption of COVID, (and to get people hooked, let's be honest) every Elite member was given a starting set of Priority Rewards. From 2021 onwards, you'll earn Priority Rewards each time you reach another tier in qualifying spend with Air Canada: $4K, $7K, $10K and $15K, respectively, and whether your awards are North American or Worldwide will depend on your status level.
When we go back and look at those prices again, with the Priority Reward applied, we see that my 75K status gets me a 50% discount on Economy or Premium Economy, but not on business. You could just stop here and take a pretty solid win at 63K round-trip in Premium Economy, or even 35K round-trip in Economy. But we want to push the rules as far as we can, and in this case we can definitely do better!
This brings us to the next part of the trick - booking Latitude fares.
Part Three - Latitude Fares
For many years, Air Canada has made "cheaper" and "more flexible" versions of its cash fares for Economy, Premium Economy and Business Class. In PE and Business, this is just a "cheaper" and "more flexible" fare for each type, but in Economy, this splits up between Basic, Standard, Flex, Comfort and Latitude.
In short, an ultra-cheap Basic fare is completely inflexible, non-refundable and includes no perks like luggage, seat selection, or upgrades, while at the other end of the spectrum a Latitude fare is completely flexible, refundable and upgradeable, but it's also generally almost as expensive as just buying Business Class in the first place.
The reason we care about this right now is that while award flights used to just come in one-size-fits-all "economy" or "business", etc., in the new program, you can use different amounts of points to buy Award Standard, Award Flex or Award Latitude. To the surprise of many award nerds like me, the Latitude award fares don't cost nearly the same price premium with points that they do with cash.
...but they're still completely upgradeable, just like the cash version.
Now, when we use the Priority Rewards search results above, and click on "Economy", we see three different price options, and Latitude comes in at 25,300 points one-way.
I've also gone to the "Sort and filter" link just above the first search result, checked the "eUpgrades" box at top right of the filters window, then hit "View results", to produce the search result below that also shows me that eUpgrade space is available for both the Ottawa-Toronto and Toronto-Hong Kong legs of my flight, as well as the different numbers of eUpgrades required coming from a Standard, Flex or Latitude fare. Suddenly the extra 7,800 Aeroplan points between Standard and Latitude seem like a bargain, when they cut the number of required eUpgrades in half *and* delete that $750 upgrade fee.
...but wait! There's more!
When you book a Standard or Flex fare, not only does it cost more eUpgrade points and a hefty upgrade fee, but you also won't be able to confirm the upgrade until 14 days (or less) before departure, depending on your status level and destination. With a Latitude fare, you can confirm the eUpgrade immediately, even if your flight is 8 months away!
It's worth noting that the same thing applies to a Premium Economy (Flexible) award, but I have yet to see one example where that doesn't cost more than Latitude for exactly the same outcome.
If you subscribe to a paid flight-information service like ExpertFlyer, then in the search results you can also view available eUpgrade space by looking to the "R" column - if the flight is R0, there are no more eUpgrade slots permitted, but if R is greater than zero, you should be able to confirm the upgrade instantly.
In the same results, the "J" number represents the total number of unsold business-class seats on that flight, and while Air Canada does oversell Economy, they don't oversell Business, so if J is greater than 0, and your eUpgrade hasn't cleared yet, there's still *some* hope of an upgrade at the gate. So, in the example below, there are at least 9 business seats available on both flights, but on the YOW-YYZ leg only 8 are available to eUpgrade.
Fine, but what if I don't have "Worldwide" credits, or I've used all my Priority Rewards?
As I mentioned way back at the top, if you don't have Priority Rewards available, or if you're a 25K / 35K / 50K with eUpgrades but no Worldwide Priority Rewards, you can still use the Latitude part of the trick and eUpgrade. In the example above, that Hong Kong trip would come out to 101,300 points plus $122 and 26 eUp credits, instead of the 155,600 points + $122 it would cost to book a regular Business award.
On North American flights, Air Canada has now caught on to this trick, and raised the cost of Latitude fares on routes like Toronto-Vancouver to be almost as high as regular Business Lowest. However, the first advantage to Latitude bookings is that they're fully flexible and refundable, which is a huge advantage in the uncertainty of COVID-world.
The second advantage is that while they don't cost much less than a *regular* Business Lowest award, Latitude award fares within North America are pretty consistent, and don't go way up and down like Business Lowest fares do. So, you might find that the flight you want costs upwards of 100,000 miles in Business, but you can get into the exact same seat by booking a 25,000-point Latitude award and eUpgrading, as shown in the example below:
So, if I apply a Priority Reward to this flight, I'll be able to book eUpgrade-able Latitude for 12,400 points, which is a huge win considering that that same flight costs 86,400 points in Business class, and the cheapest Business option all day costs 21,600. If I book the return flight as part of the same award, the Priority Reward will work on the whole reservation, and my return trip, confirmed in Business Class months in advance, will only cost 22,950 miles - only slightly more than just the one-way flight in Business!
If you're a 25K or 35K flyer who's been consistently frustrated that you never seem to be able to use your eUpgrades, this one is a huge increase in the value of that benefit. 4 eUpgrade credits each way, and you don't have to wait until all the Super Elites have snapped up every upgradeable seat on the flight.
It's important to note that eUpgrades are never an iron-clad guarantee; for example, if that Vancouver flight got swapped to a different aircraft with fewer business-class seats, the eUpgraded passengers would be the first ones bumped down to Economy to make room. This is relatively rare, but I'd be giving bad advice if I didn't at least mention it.
That said, though, to me this trick is a complete game-changer, especially when you add in the fact that Latitude awards are fully refundable with no change fees. In the COVID and post-COVID world, this kind of flexibility means we can book travel with confidence, knowing we're able to work around the risk of changing border closures and regional health restrictions.
I was honestly pretty bummed about the new Aeroplan until we got our heads around this trick, and for me it's a big part of my decision to stay with the program instead of moving to another airline.
I'll be rearranging my travel plans and my eUpgrade strategy around this kind of award, and focusing my long-haul travel to maximize Air Canada flights - which is exactly what the people who designed the new program wanted me to do, so at least in its current form this one appears to be win-freakin'-win.
Thoughts? Questions? Hit me up at graham AT flyermiles dot CA, or on Twitter @Flyermiles_ca.