Air Canada Altitude Status: Introduction

Filed Under: Air Canada
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Canadians LOVE to hate Air Canada. But at the same time, for business travelers, they’ve also been the only game in town with a frequent flyer program for most of the period since the demise of Canadian Airlines in the nineties (don’t worry, WestJet lovers, I’ll be getting to you, I promise).

Air Canada’s status program is called Altitude, and over the course of a couple of posts, I’ll be taking you through its ups and downs. There are even some elements that may be interesting to US readers looking for an alternative elite program.

I get that for many of you, the basics of the Altitude program are old news, but part of my role with OMAAT is to provide resources on and insight into the Canadian travel landscape at a variety of levels, and I hope that you’ll bear with me even if not every post is aimed at your interests.

Air Canada Altitude Status Levels

Air Canada Altitude status is comprised of five levels:

  • Prestige 25K
  • Elite 35K
  • Elite 50K
  • Elite 75K
  • Super Elite 100K

I’ll go into more depth on the benefits later, but it’s worth noting up-front that Air Canada is part of Star Alliance, and that Prestige 25K and Elite 35K are Star Alliance Silver levels, while Elite 50K & 75K and Super Elite 100K are Star Alliance Gold.

How To Earn Altitude Status

Status is earned through a combination of spending, and segments or miles, which are referred to by Air Canada as Altitude Qualifying Dollars (“AQD”), Altitude Qualifying Segments (“AQS”) and Altitude Qualifying Miles (“AQM”), respectively. The required miles are, perhaps, not hard to guess based on the status names.

Air Canada Qualification Requirement to Reach Altitude Status in 2020

As you can see, in order to earn status, you need to meet two requirements: either the AQM or AQS, and the AQD.

The AQM/AQS Element Has Simple Rules

You earn AQM/AQS for “every eligible flight operated by Air Canada and the Star Alliance member airlines”.

The number of miles earned varies by fare class and airline, but if you earn miles for a flight segment, the miles count towards the AQM requirement and you get 1 AQS.

The AQD Portion Is Slightly More Complex

First, the amount of AQD earned on any flight purchase is based on the fare and carrier surcharges (Y, YQ, and YR, if you want to get technical). Some tickets don’t earn AQD at all, such as Economy Basic fares, and vacation package, consolidator and similar fares.

Second, the airline issuing your ticket can also dictate whether it qualifies for AQD.

You earn AQD on:

  • flights operated by Air Canada, Air Canada Express or Air Canada Rouge (regardless of ticket issuer)
  • flights operated by a Star Alliance carrier where the ticket was issued by Air Canada (014 ticket stock).

Unlike many US carriers, there are no AQD waivers or bonuses available for credit card holders at Air Canada.

So, what does the AQD mean in terms of per-mile spending?

To qualify on the minimum AQM, Prestige 25K through Elite 75K require 12 cents per mile to meet the AQD requirement, while Super Elite 100K requires 20 cents per mile.

Taxes and fees in Canada average around 20% of airline tickets, so you’re looking at 15 cents per mile and 25 cents per mile as the all-in minimum spending for the Elite 75K and under, and Super Elite 100K, respectively.

The Super Elite 100K requirement in particular can be very difficult to meet without significantly exceeding the miles requirement, as even someone flying only business class and full-Y fares can easily end up below 25 cents per mile for the year.

Keep in mind you can use the American Express Fixed Points program to purchase tickets on Air Canada. This can be a great way to use Membership Rewards Select points earned with the American Express Cobalt™ Card, and you’ll still collect AQM and AQD.

Altitude Status For Americans

Beyond that, there are a couple of items worth noting about AQD for our American friends:

  • The amounts listed are in Canadian dollars
  • The AQD requirements are reduced by 50% for non-residents of Canada (based on Aeroplan address)

Combined with decent overseas connections options, and myriad ways to earn Aeroplan miles through credit card spending, this can make Air Canada status very achievable for Americans looking for an alternative to the Big 3.

Earn Aeroplan Miles with US Cards

Altitude Status Benefits

Each Altitude status level includes a core set of benefits as well as “Select Privileges” that each member chooses from a list of options.

The core benefits include the types of things that you would traditionally associate with airline status, such as dedicated phone numbers, priority check-in and boarding, preferred seat selection, lounge access, and upgrades.

Select Privileges offer a much wider variety. 2019 Super Elite 100K members could choose two of the following options:

  • 100% redeemable mileage bonus
  • 50 upgrade credits
  • Lower requalification level (95K AQM or 90 AQS)
  • Elite 50K Status for a friend
  • 12 months of free onboard wifi

The options allow each member to choose things that make sense for them. If you only fly J, you could give a friend Star Alliance Gold instead of getting more upgrades you don’t need and won’t use.

Next Steps

I’ll be digging into the benefits of each level in the next posts, starting with the unparalleled benefits offered to Air Canada’s Super Elite 100K members, which is where the Altitude program really gets interesting.

Stay tuned!

Is there anything you particularly want to learn about the Altitude program?

  1. I’m Canadian. I switched from using an Aerogold Visa (earning Aeroplan points) to using an Amex Platinum card a year ago. I’ve been battling to earn miles and my status has suffered (!). As someone who flies mostly with AC how can I use my Amex card to increase my status?

  2. Used to be AC Super Elite until they slapped the $ requirements and continued to devalue mileage accrual. My employer only pays for economy Tango flights and travel within Canada is not only expensive but not rewarding. I fly over 100 segments a year (and almost 70% of them on AC and the rest is other *A) yet last year only accumulated short of 60,000 miles and I only qualified for 35K as my AQD fell $80 short of $6,000 CAD. So this year I switched to WestJet and it appears I will make Platinum on just 40-ish flights (including Delta/KLM flights marketed as WJ).

  3. I am a bit bummed that showcased the AC advantage. I wanted it to remain a secret. I have been SE100K for 11 years in a row and while AC has not always been the best option for me to fly to Europe or Asia (since I live in LA), for the most part they really take care of me. J has gotten much better and when I have to sit in Y, I still feel well taken care of.

  4. I’m Canadian and I don’t hate Air Canada. I fly to Europe a lot, 4, 5 times a year. I tried Westjet and Air Transat a couple of times. Nothing special there and too many negatives, like schedules and Euro destinations. AC and it partners in Star Alliance just do a better job getting to places the others don’t serve.

  5. Long time reader, first time poster.

    I used to earn status on AC easily and was Star Alliance Gold for many years. But then I started flying internally within Canada more and lost my status. Here is why. On most routes in Canada, at most fare levels, you only earn 25% of miles flown, unless you buy the more expensive fares (Who buys Latitude fares anyway?). So let’s say you mostly take AC’s flagship route between Vancouver and Toronto, which is one of the top 10 most profitable routes in the world according to Forbes, generating around a half a billion for AC every year. You would earn a total of 1040 miles round trip ( that’s for 5+hours of flying for each leg). You would need to take 25 round trips just to get to Prestige. I’ve never seem this fare drop below $550 and I typically pay over $600. So that would be a spend of $15,000. Here’s the thing Prestige is garbage. You don’t even get priority boarding at that level. What you really want is Elite 35K, as that will get you priority boarding as well as Canada and Transborder lounge access. So you would have to spend $21,000. Its shocking to me that you could spend that much with an airline and not get meaningful status.

    I’ve given up on getting status with AC and to be perfectly honest, I don’t really miss it.

    The one benefit I would say to collecting miles with Aeroplan is that the frequent flyer program is decent. Over the years I have managed to secure two business class tickets for me and my spouse to many destinations around the world.

  6. I’m on board with some of the other Canadians here. Air Canada sucks and their rewards program is not worth considering at all.

    I saw a guy with a 100k elite tag on his backpack and just giggled a bit on the inside. Yes, he was economy with me

  7. Air Canada is a horrible airline.

    Altitude only works for the poor souls who are stuck flying for work around Canada. The rest knows better.

    Aeroplan has been a decent credit card program, but when AC takes over, the devaluations will be hard to swallow.

  8. I have been a Super Elite for 4 years now. 100% of my work travel is on domestic route, on the lowest fares (Tango/Standard. I qualified based on AQS and AQD. It’s a joke how much miles I have earned this year on 71 segments…9K miles. I hope AC moves to a revenue miles system. I have no other complaint about AC altitude. There are a lot of great perks being a Super Elite.

  9. What I find amusing is how obviously AC milks their monopolies. If you want to fly from the US east coast to europe, prices are cheap and you get 100% miles. Try pricing just the hop to yyz and you will be down to 50% miles and will be paying through the nose. I especially enjoy the offers to upgrade your border hop to “business class” with “premium meal service.”

  10. I live in Vancouver. Most of my business travel is to the USA, with a couple of trips overseas each year. I used to be loyal to Air Canada, but the devaluation of the Altitude program made it harder and harder to earn status. So a few years ago I took all my business to United, moved to United’s MileagePlus program and never looked back. United has more competition, so they do a much better job at recognizing and rewarding loyalty than Air Canada. With Global Entry / Nexus, transiting the USA to / from Europe is no worse than transiting Toronto.

  11. Hi Kate,

    I’m flying WestJet next week, LAX-YYC-LGW BC on the Dreamliner and wondering what my options are in terms of crediting miles?? Please help!

  12. Hello

    I am going to be about 1800 miles short of the 50k threshold requirements? is there a way to top that up? The air Canada website is not helpful

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