There are a few ways to get an upgrade on Air Canada flights, but it usually means being a frequent flyer or simply paying out-of-pocket for a Business Class ticket. But, as a fellow commoner, I’m here to tell you that you can also pay a relatively small sum out-of-pocket or, better still, use your Aeroplan points on a little something called the AC Bid Upgrade (which I’ll also refer to here as the Air Canada bid upgrade process.)
If you follow me on Instagram and typically watch my travel stories, you’ll know that I tried bidding on an Air Canada seat upgrade three times last year – and was successful twice. Both times I bid at or close to the bare minimum, and in one case I didn’t spend a penny.
At the time, a lot of my followers asked how the Air Canada bid upgrade process works, and I’m thrilled I finally have time to write about it in detail so you, too, can potentially fly in style to your next destination.
Get an upgrade on Air Canada
Air Canada isn’t the only airline that offers biddable upgrades, of course, so it’s important to note that the process may be quite different for flights with other carriers. Since Air Canada is often my airline of choice, though, and I collect Aeroplan points, that’s what I’m going to walk you through in this post.
I’m also going to cover:
- AC bid upgrade eligibility & timing
- How to use Aeroplan points instead of cash for an upgrade on Air Canada flights
- The perks of upgrading to Signature Class
- Bid upgrade restrictions for Air Canada Signature Class
The first time I’d even heard of the Air Canada bid upgrade option, it was January 2022 and Big B and I were checking in for a flight to Vancouver ahead of our wedding anniversary trip to go skiing in Whistler. Since it was within 24 hours of our flight, and not more than 48 hours, it was too late to put in a bid for the YYZ to YVR leg, but I spent every minute of spare time we had at the gate the next day trying to work out what this whole bidding thing was about so I could try it for our trip back home.
Air Canada bid upgrade eligibility & timing
First thing’s first – this may not be an option on YOUR next flight at all. If you’ve booked a Economy Basic fare, you won’t be offered a bid upgrade option even if it’s available for your flight. Codeshare flights will work, but they have to be part of Air Canada ticket stock, and an Air Canada-operated flight.
Flights eligible for a bid upgrade are determined solely by Air Canada and depend on a variety of flight-by-flight factors, like seat availability. So, all of that behind-the-scenes stuff is weighed first, and if your flight is determined to be one where all of those factors align, you’ll know several days or more before your flight.
There are four important things to know at this stage:
- You must look for the AC Bid Upgrade option more than 48 hours before your scheduled flight time – that’s the cutoff. I’ve personally gotten into the habit of checking 72 hours before my flights.
- You’re bidding for everyone in your travel party; so, if you booked four tickets for you and your family under one booking reference, it’s all or nothing…you either bid to win upgrades for all four seats and commit to the total payment for them if your bid is successful, or don’t bid at all. Similarly, if you and a friend booked your flights separately, your bid will only be for your ticket and your friend will have to do their own bidding with no guarantees that his or her offer will be successful.
- Bids don’t guarantee Air Canada upgrades – even if you bid the maximum allowable amount. However, higher bids can have a better success rate.
- Your bid is for one flight leg only, not your round-trip flight. (You’d need to bid a second time for your return flight, for example.)
With that bit of housekeeping out of the way, let’s dive in and try to get you that Air Canada upgrade!
Offers can be placed as soon as you confirm your booking. Just open the Air Canada mobile app on your smartphone or tablet, as you would to complete your online check-in (or visit the AC Bid Upgrade webpage), and you’ll see that although check-in hasn’t yet opened, there will be a little box asking if you’d like to bid on an upgrade for your flight. That’s what you want, so keep your eyes peeled!
At this point, you can see what the bidding range is whether you’re going to bid with cash or Aeroplan points. For our return flight home from YVR to YYZ, for example, the minimum bid was around $200 per person to go from Economy Class to Premium Economy Class and $400 per person to get bumped up to those delicious Signature Class lie-flat seats. (And, since my husband and I had the same booking reference, that meant we automatically committed to an $800 upgrade cost when we bid $400 for our upgrade.)
Those minimums change depending on more variables, so this is merely one example. And only you can decide in the moment if the minimum bid is a comfortable one or if you want to place a higher bid.
Assuming you do place a bid, you can revise or even cancel it up to 48 hours before your scheduled flight departure time. After that, there’s no turning back. If your bid is accepted, your credit card on file will be charged if you selected to pay using real money and your Aeroplan points will be deducted if you selected to pay with points.
How to use Aeroplan points for an upgrade on Air Canada flights
Allow me to set the scene: it was August and I’d just returned from a whirlwind family vacation on Canada’s west coast (which you can read more about here and here); we’d flown home very late at night – in Economy Class thanks to an unsuccessful bid upgrade, I might add – and mere days later I was jetting off to yet another time zone on an exciting 7-day Ireland itinerary.
To say I was exhausted and out of money is an understatement, but with a redeye flight from Toronto to Dublin staring me in the face, those lie-flat seats at the front of the plane were a-callin’. So, when I tell you I jumped for joy when I opened my Air Canada app and saw I had just enough Aeroplan points to cover the minimum bid upgrade, that’s not an exaggeration.
If you see a dollar sign in the bidding range on your screen, but you want to use Aeroplan points instead, be sure you toggle to the points option. And why wouldn’t you? It means your upgrade on Air Canada is F-R-E-E.
Sure, you can score mega-points by flying a lot, but that’s certainly not the only way to earn Aeroplan points. Maybe you have an Aeroplan-based credit card; maybe you do your online shopping through the Aeroplan eStore; maybe you’ve linked your Starbucks app to your Aeroplan member number; or maybe you scan your Aeroplan card at the LCBO. However you’re earning, it basically translates into free stuff just for doing the things you were already doing like shopping and sipping lattés.
OK, back to my Air Canada bid upgrade success story…
The minimum bid to go from my Economy Class seat to Signature Class on that YYZ to DUB flight was something like 65,500 points and since I had slightly more sitting in my account, I decided to add a few extra points to my bid offer – just to put me a tad ahead if someone else bid the absolute minimum. In the end, I offered 65,845 Aeroplan points, crossed my fingers and toes, and waited.
Yes, more than 65k points is a LOT of points, but this was an international, overnight flight across an ocean – and I was solo; for me, it was worth it. You definitely need to consider if upgrading (after you’ve already paid for the Economy Class flight, remember) is worth the equivalent of what else all those points could buy.
Keep in mind, however, that there are no extra taxes or fees added to your bid upgrade cost, like there are when you use your Aeroplan points to buy flights. And there is no way you’d be able to get a Signature Class ticket from Toronto to Dublin for anywhere near 65k points. (I know; I checked. To book a Business Class ticket to Dublin, on a non-stop flight from Toronto in my date range, it was a minimum of 313k points one way.)
So you won an upgrade on Air Canada: what are the perks?
I’m betting most of you are here to figure out how to turn your Economy Class ticket into a Signature Class cabin experience, so I’m going to skip over the perks of Premium Economy. (You can find more out about that and find more FAQs here.)
When you see that sweet, sweet email from Air Canada with the subject line “You’ve been upgraded!” and your boarding pass now reads Signature Class* – formerly known as International Business Class – you’ve hit the jackpot.
There are loads of benefits:
- Two checked bags are included with your ticket
- A priority baggage tag is added to your checked bag(s), which means your bags come out first
- Access to a dedicated check-in/baggage area at the airport
- A priority security line at the airport, even if you don’t have NEXUS
- Maple Leaf Lounge entry — with unlimited food, self-serve booze and non-alcoholic drinks, plus free access to pressreader, high-speed Wi-Fi, showers and even a business centre. This means you don’t need to pay airport prices for food and drinks near your gate, and you can wait for your flight in comfort thanks to comfortable seating, TVs, private washrooms and more. Some lounges are better than others, but all of them offer an elevated experience that will probably ruin you for future airport visits when you don’t upgrade (let’s just call a spade a spade, shall we?!)
- You’ll be among the first guests to board the plane. You may also have a separate entrance/corridor to get on your flight; I don’t recall having this from YVR to YYZ, but I did out of YYZ to DUB on the Dreamliner
- In Signature Class, you get your own “pod.” Honestly, you can’t even see another guest unless you’re in the centre pods and your neighbour rolls down the partition (which, I assure you, they won’t if they’re not travelling with you). You’ll find bottled water; a pillow, seat-liner and blanket; big, comfortable headphones; and a complimentary amenity kit filled with travel essentials and skin-care products all waiting for you at your seat
- Each pod is equipped with its own supersized overhead cabinet
- You also get an actual menu and all of your in-flight meals and beverages are included. Your meal order will probably be taken within 10 minutes of boarding and drink orders should follow shortly thereafter, though on some flights you may find that flight attendants wait until your meals are served to offer beverages
- In-flight entertainment is slightly more robust and the screen is certainly a more favourable size
- Lie-flat seats are the hero of the Dreamliner Signature Class pods, and the thoughtful padding on the seat belt ensures you can stay buckled while sleeping. I’m a firm believer that you don’t recline your seat in Economy Class unless it’s a long-haul, overnight flight. But up here? You can definitely put your seat back without annoying fellow passengers because there’s no one behind you who will suffer for it!
- There is SO. MUCH. LEGROOM! OMG. Even my 6’6” hubby can fully stretch out in the Air Canada pods, and that means you have a great shot at really, truly falling asleep
- The service up in Signature Class is exactly what a premium ticket should buy you – it’s better and more personal thanks to dedicated flight attendants; for example, I woke up (from a legitimately restful 4.5-hour sleep) after most guests had already been served breakfast, so I simply called an attendant and he ushered breakfast and (actually good) coffee to me immediately
- You also get your own set of washrooms in Signature Class; I didn’t wait once to use them
- You’re the first guests to deplane, so you can start your vacation sooner (especially if you’re like me and don’t check bags!)
Air Canada Signature Class bid upgrade – here’s what’s not included…
Congrats! You’ve got your new Signature Class boarding pass in-hand and you’re pretty sure you’re about to feel what it’s like to live like a one-percenter.
Hold your horses – because there are a few perks you won’t be getting with your AC Bid Upgrade:
- The fare conditions of your original ticket stay the same, including any cancellation terms and rebooking fees
- Private airport transfers are not included
- Access to the Signature Class Lounge is not included (don’t worry – that’s different than the Maple Leaf Lounge, and you still get to experience that awesomeness)
But that’s it. Those restrictions aside, your upgrade on Air Canada is otherwise exactly the same as someone who spent thousands of dollars for the same seat. So lie back, relax and enjoy your flight.
*Air Canada Signature Class is offered exclusively on flights operated by mainline Boeing 787, 777 and Airbus A330 aircraft:
- To/from Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and South America; see full list of benefits with Air Canada Signature Class – International
- On select non-stop North American routes; see full list of benefits with Air Canada Signature Class – North America
DISCLAIMER: Aeroplan compensated me for this post. As always, however, opinions and suggestions are my own.
Every comment counts -- what's yours?