Well the "free ride" is just about over...or at least the free upgrade ride. In a warm and fuzzy email earlier this week - Air Canada announced that starting on March 1, 2014, it will charge "e-upgrade add-ons" for passengers looking to upgrade into the executive cabin from economy class on all flights other than those within North America. For this year, at least, Super Elite members (now called "Altitude 100k") will be exempt from these charges. But for all other travellers, it will cost $500 plus a pile of e-upgrade points to move up into the executive cabin.
The deterioration of benefits for non-super elite passengers over the past couple of years has been significant. Last year, Air Canada introduced its "Altitude" program and effectively reduced the status of benefits for most Aeroplan members, other than previously named "Super Elite." These changes made it much more difficult, if not impossible, for non-super elite passengers to be upgraded into executive first.
Now with the latest change, passengers hoping to upgrade from a cheap fare into executive first will have to pay $500 unless they are Superelite 100K. That's $500 in addition to the exorbitant number of e-upgrade points that they will need- which have become harder and harder to collect.
There is now a greater and greater discrepancy between the value of Air Canada's highest level status, Altitude 100K and all other levels.
For those travelling back and forth between Israel and Canada, this will reduce the benefit of flying Air Canada for anyone travelling less than 8 1/2 times a year. Air Canada still offers a direct flight, with AC power outlets, personal entertainment screens and complementary alcohol (to name a few of the benefits). But the loss of the ability to get a free upgrade, even once in a while, is a major change and it is certainly not a positive one.
The flip side is that anyone who is close to Altitude 100K status by the end of December will need to consider the value of taking an extra flight just to meet the required threshold. The value of having 100K status will now include free upgrades (with e-upgrade points), double Aeroplan miles on Air Canada and United flights, and the ability to use Aeroplan points for priority bookings, even when most reward seats are no longer available.
For passengers on the Tel-Aviv-Toronto route, this will affect, most significantly, those passengers who might be flying 4 to 7 times a year. Only two or three years ago, passengers in that category would have enjoyed regular upgrades to executive first at no additional charge. Now they will be lucky to be eligible and when they are, it may cost more than half of the price of the ticket (during low season).
So if you are an Altitude member, but not 100K, the time to enjoy the free upgrades is now - or between now and March 1, 2014. After that, well, luxury will have its price...
Here is the link to the Air Canada announcement: Air Canada Add Ons