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Aeroplan Quick Tips: Flying Economy, Booked Business

Aeroplan Quick Tips is a series that will explore tips and tricks that can be used with Aeroplan. This is the first part of the series.

Do you have any ideas for this series? E-mail info@dcta.ca and I’ll pick questions to answer in future posts.

The Problem

Airline award inventory is limited, with only a small fraction of available seats being released to frequent flyer programs like Aeroplan. Business and first class award inventory is rarer than economy inventory, and for some carriers, is only released close to departure. Aeroplan charges for the highest class of service on any itinerary, even if most of the flights are booked at a lower class. For example, if you booked Montreal – Ottawa (Business) / Ottawa – Frankfurt (Economy), even though the long-haul segment is in economy, Aeroplan would charge at the business class redemption level because one of the flights, Montreal – Ottawa, is in business. Aeroplan’s website is notorious for offering these types of mixed-cabin awards, and sometimes they’re a necessity.

However, there is a trick to increase your chances of flying in the cabin that you paid for….

a screenshot of a flight schedule

The Rule

Let me explain the technical aspects of an Aeroplan redemption. Aeroplan assigns an “award code” for a trip. If you used the above Montreal – Ottawa (Business) / Ottawa – Frankfurt (Economy) example, that would have an award code of a one-way business class ticket between North America and Europe Zone 1, requiring 55,000 Aeroplan miles. If both segments were in economy, then it would be a one-way economy class ticket, requiring 30,000 Aeroplan miles.

Once you’re booked, where available as award inventory, you’re entitled to fly in the class of service assigned to that award code. Once booked, there are two ways to upgrade your ticket:

  1. Monitor for award space on your flights and call Aeroplan to upgrade, or;
  2. If flying on Air Canada, get placed on the upgrade list at the airport.

The Solution

Monitor for award space on your flights and call Aeroplan to upgrade

If you’re booked into a business or first class award ticket, but are flying a lower class of service, you can monitor for higher class of service award availability and call Aeroplan to upgrade your ticket without a change fee. You can monitor for award space using a number of services like ExpertFlyer, AwardNexus, or through frequent manual searches on Aeroplan.

Using our example, if you find business award space on the Ottawa – Frankfurt segment, you could call Aeroplan and they would upgrade you. While there is no Aeroplan change fee, they would collect/refund any difference in taxes/fees. Since your booking may involve foreign currencies in the tax/fee calculation, it’s common to have a minor adjustment (~ $1-10) due to foreign exchange changes. You can only use this benefit if the higher class of service award space appears on the same flight that you booked. If you want to change flights, Aeroplan will collect the change fee and any additional taxes/fees.

a screenshot of a computer
Use services like Expertflyer for automated flight alerts

For example, say I was booked on AC838 Ottawa – Frankfurt in Economy (on a business class award ticket), Aeroplan would only waive their change fee if business space on AC838 appeared on the same date booked. If business space appears on a different flight, even if on the same date on the same route, Aeroplan would not waive their change fee.

If flying on Air Canada, get placed on the upgrade list at the airport

This benefit only applies if you’re booked on Air Canada. If you are unable to upgrade your ticket prior to departure using the previous method, once you’re at the airport, you can speak with an Air Canada check-in/gate agent and asked to be placed on the ‘business class onload list’ (thanks to canadiancow on Flyertalk for this verbiage). If the agent doesn’t understand, you can explain that you have a business class Aeroplan ticket, but are flying economy. You will be placed on the upgrade list with significant priority as a business passenger seated in economy. While you’re not guaranteed to be upgraded, you’ll have a good shot if there are available seats in business class.

Note that this method should also work for Air Canada Premium Economy if you paid for a Premium Economy ticket on Aeroplan and are flying in economy.

In Summary

While it’s always a good idea to book your flights in the class of service you want to fly, sometimes that just isn’t possible. Aeroplan is generous with letting you upgrade if award space later becomes available, or at upgrading you at the airport if you’re flying Air Canada. This trick can be essential for some destinations, such as New Zealand, where business space may only appear close to departure. Further, this lets you book more challenging longhaul flights in premium classes of service, and later work on getting business class for connecting segments.


  1. Would it work other way round also? As if booked in business which was available initially, although wanted economy- and economy becomes available later. Would they refund the miles also along with taxes/ fees?

  2. But this way there’s a risk that you end up flying in economy and waste your points.

    I understand that one might want to secure any routing at first – its better to do that with Krisflyer (low cancellation fees), and then monitor in Aeroplan, booking only if and when it becomes available?

    1. I wouldn’t book the exemplar booking in the first instance (or any booking where the long-haul was in economy), but that was for illustrative purposes. This can be really useful for connecting segments. So for example you secured YUL/ZRH in J on Lx, but only got YYC-YUL in economy, you’re able to secure the J sector knowing that there’s a good chance you’ll fly in J for the yyc sector.

  3. Hi ! Quick question. Can I redeem for an all-Premium-Economy award and then if Business seats are released call to upgrade, paying any difference due and giving the extra miles needed ? Or there HAS to be at least one leg in J in the original award ? If it’s possible, do they charge you a fee or something ? Thanks !

  4. With an aeroplan ticket you can pay 100 change fee to fly the same itinerary leaving either later or earlier that day. If business is available, can you pay the $100 to change onto a business class itinerary, and essentially jump the wait list? Regards, Matt

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