Air Canada Thinks Their Elites Are Over-entitled. And They’ve Actually Done Something About It..

Air Canada announced changes to elite benefits for 2015.

Put another way, Air Canada has shown us what you do when you think that your customers are the problem.

I’m not an Air Canada elite member. Air Canada, the airline, runs their elite program while Aeroplan — a separate public company — is the mileage program. I have more than my share of Aeroplan points, and I figure those have already been devalued enough with award chart changes and the imposition of fuel surcharges that those are hopefully safe.

But I’m glad today that I’m not an elite member with the airline. Here’s what they’ve done:

  • Half of miles or segments for qualification will have to actually be on Air Canada. So much for partners and alliances. It’s become more common to require some flight activity with an airline to become an elite with that airline, such as a four segment requirement. But roughly half of all miles will have to be on Air Canada to qualify for status with them going forward.

  • No more 500 mile minimums effective March 1. US Airways tried to get rid of these and then brought them back for elites, even awarding the miles retroactively. Awarding fewer miles saves the airline money, but it’s interesting because it’s almost the opposite of a revenue-based program. They’re reducing mileage-earning on flights where the cost per mile of tickets tend to be the highest.

  • Upgrades are getting more expensive. Air Canada is increasing the number of eUpgrade certificates they’re going to require for many flights, by as much as 50%. That means upgrades don’t go as far, and members can’t upgrade as often. Super Elite 100,000 mile flyers, though, will be able to use these eUpgrades that no longer go as far to upgrade more people more flexibly.

  • 35,000 mile flyers no longer get Star Alliance and Air Canada international lounge access. This status level used to just be Star Alliance Gold and get lounge access as a result. This became a benefit choice members could make. Now that’s being taken away, with lounge access provided to them only for Canadian domestic and transborder lounges, and Air Canada’s lounges at New York LaGuardia and Los Angeles. In the more black coal department, these members will get to select a benefit choice of a 50% discount on purchasing this lounge access.

  • Top tier elites will pay award change fees. Seriously, new fees for their best customers.

  • Limitations on extra award space for elites. Top tier elites used to not even face capacity controls, if there was an open seat even in business class on an Air Canada flight they could have it on miles at the saver level. Of course that’s long gone..

Rarely are sort of announcements like these all bad. Usually a program will throw members a bone so they can point to the positive. When United devalued its award chart in 2006 they promised that there would be awards on every single flight, the implication was that price changes would make awards more available (even though this wasn’t really true).

Unsurprisingly, Air Canada has a few things to offer.

  • Priority boarding will be better in some unspecified way Yeah, seriously.

    In early 2015, a new streamlined boarding process will be introduced to ensure that Altitude members get even more out of their Priority Boarding privilege.

  • Premium economy award redemptions. This isn’t a new elite benefit, but a new feature of Aeroplan. This will be for Air Canada flights only, not premium economy cabins on partners.
  • Reduced and eliminated fuel surcharges on Air Canada flights. All elites will skip the fuel surcharges on Air Canada domestic and US itineraries, and Super Elite 100,000 mile members won’t pay fuel surcharges on international flights. They will continue to apply to those partner flights where they currently get charged. (Here’s how to book Aeroplan award tickets without fuel surcharges.)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. This is all designed to get rid of US-based elites who are perceived as costing the program more than they bring in. I suspect many Canadian elites won’t have much trouble meeting the new 50% AC requirements.

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