Lounge access, upgrades and more: Why I matched my elite status to Air Canada
The coronavirus pandemic has dramatically altered the landscape of airline frequent flyer programs.
For travelers, we've seen changes aplenty, from how you earn status on American Airlines to more restrictions on elite upgrade certificates on Delta.
And for some opportunistic airlines, this year has been a prime moment to welcome new passengers to the world of status and give them a taste of the elite life. That's especially important as business travel remains a shell of what it once was and airlines compete for more leisure travelers.
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Take Air Canada, for instance. Earlier this fall, Canada's flag carrier — in conjunction with Destination Canada — unveiled a unique status match offer for U.S. residents with status on eligible U.S.-based airlines.
I took advantage of the status opportunity, matching my American AAdvantage status to Air Canada Aeroplan. That's why, earlier this fall, I found myself on my first-ever Air Canada flight, traveling between New York (LGA) and Toronto (YYZ).
As a longtime Oneworld loyalist with American, I was excited to test out Star Alliance status and see what the corresponding benefits would be like. Here's why I undertook the status match and how my benefits have been so far.
The status match opportunity
Air Canada's status match opportunity is straightforward, and it's still open to eligible travelers.
First, you need an Aeroplan account and proof of your current elite status with a qualifying airline. Most major U.S. carriers are eligible for the match, except for Air Canada's close partner, United, and ultra low-cost carriers like Spirit and Frontier.
As an American Executive Platinum, I was matched to Air Canada's 75K elite level, which also corresponds to Star Alliance Gold. After just a day, I was approved for the match, which is good through Dec. 31.
Here's a look at what you'll be matched to with Air Canada.
|Aeroplan Elite||American AAdvantage||Delta SkyMiles||Alaska Mileage Plan||JetBlue TrueBlue||Southwest Rapid Rewards||Hawaiian Pualani|
|35K||Platinum||Gold||MVP Gold||–||A-List Preferred||–|
|50K||Platinum Pro||Platinum||MVP Gold 75K||–||Companion Pass||–|
|Super Elite||ConciergeKey||Delta 360||–||–||–||–|
To retain Air Canada status through the end of 2022, you have to book and fly one paid round-trip (or two one-ways) with Air Canada, Air Canada Rouge or Air Canada Express by Jan. 15.
It's as simple as that — and for me, that meant a quick trip up north to Toronto to secure my status for over a year.
Related: Everything you should know about Chase and Air Canada’s new US credit card
Why I considered it worthwhile
What Aeroplan 75K gets you
To achieve Aeroplan 75K status, you typically need to earn 75,000 status-qualifying miles or 75 status-qualifying segments, in addition to $9,000 in status-qualifying dollars, in a calendar year. That's quite a bit of flying and spending.
With 75K, you get Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge access, Star Alliance Gold lounge access, up to three free checked bags, priority check-in and boarding, and a choice of "Select Benefits" such as eUpgrade credits when flying Air Canada.
Yes, I had to plan a trip on Air Canada to get there, but I found the juice to be worth the squeeze when it comes to elite status on the occasions when I do fly Air Canada, United or one of the 25-plus Star Alliance carriers worldwide.
My airline loyalty
For almost five years, I've been loyal to American and its Oneworld partners. By and large, the alliance has served me well considering the upgrades and service I've received, and long-haul connectivity to Asia and beyond.
But I’m fortunate enough to live in a city that’s a hub for several airlines. With a smorgasbord of travel choices, I figure now is time to branch out to other airlines and not just remain loyal to American just for loyalty's sake.
Therefore, this status match was a prime opportunity to get a preview of what it's like to be a high-level elite member with another global alliance.
Most importantly, as a Star Alliance Gold member with a non-U.S. carrier, I unlocked the door to United Club lounge access, which United flyers who qualify for Star Alliance Gold by hitting Premier Gold or above do not receive when flying United (unless in Polaris or business class transcontinentally). And that even includes when I'm flying United domestically. Note that you'll still need a same-day boarding pass on United or a Star Alliance partner airline to gain entry to the United Club (or any Star Alliance lounge).
While there are many ways to get United Club access, the most affordable membership is typically by carrying the United Club Infinite Card, which charges a $525 annual fee.
However, this status match, and my subsequent round-trip flight, provided an even more affordable alternative for a United Club "membership" through the end of 2022.
Not only were my Air Canada flights between New York and Toronto less than the cost of lounge membership (or the annual fee of the card) at about $300, but I also got to spend a long weekend in Toronto, a multicultural city that I've only visited once in my life previously.
Ways I plan to use Star Alliance Gold status
With newfound Gold status, I plan to utilize United Club access throughout 2022, on the occasions I find myself flying with the airline. That alone is at least $525 in value if you consider the annual fee of the United Club Infinite Card.
Generally, I try to stay loyal to an alliance but there are instances where that just doesn't make sense. United's huge footprint from its Newark (EWR) hub means an expanded set of options when I have to choose a flight based entirely on schedule or price. The convenience of priority check-in and boarding at the airport and even the ability to select "preferred" seats onboard for free are other noteworthy perks for me.
In addition, Air Canada 75K status means an array of eUpgrade credits (as I'll explain below). I can't wait to put those to use on my Canada-bound flights and upgrade from an economy- to a business-class ticket. In 2022, Banff National Park (near Calgary) as well as Vancouver are on my travel list. Those upgrades, should they be available, will come in handy for these specific flights.
Putting benefits to the test with Air Canada
As an elite with American Airlines, I had high expectations for my Aeroplan status. Some were met. Some were not. But I would definitely undertake this status match again.
My first surprise was discovering that, per Air Canada's policy, elite-status holders — including Aeroplan 75Ks — cannot select a seat for free until the check-in window 24 hours before departure when purchasing a restricted economy-fare ticket.
Instead of paying, I waited to see what I would be assigned. (I ended up with an aisle seat near the back of the plane.)
But besides this limitation, overall I was pleased with what my elite benefits provided to me.
At LaGuardia, the elite line at check-in whisked me through in no time at all. COVID-19 PCR test results needed to be manually inspected before boarding the flight to Toronto, and the standard line crawled along.
Unlike the legacy U.S. carriers, Air Canada does not offer complimentary elite upgrades to first class, even on short-haul and domestic (within Canada) flights. However, Air Canada does have an eUpgrade credit system that is offered to elites.
As an Aeroplan 75K, I received 20 upgrade "credits" (with the option for more based on my selected benefits) that could be used on eligible flights operated by Air Canada, Air Canada Express and Air Canada Rouge. The number of credits required to upgrade varies depending on the length of the flight as well as the cabin and fare class booked. Unfortunately, a co-pay is also required.
For the short hop to Toronto, an upgrade to business class would have cost $200. Instead, I was able to redeem five eUpgrades along with a $61 copay. At that rate, the 20 eUpgrades I received automatically are conservatively worth $556, but I suspect that I'll be able to get even more value out of them with some judicious redemptions over the coming year.
Air Canada makes the upgrade process fairly intuitive. The upgrade redemption process itself was easy to do in the app or online prior to my flight. Of course, this is based on availability, but Air Canada does allow you to waitlist for an upgrade.
My flight had readily available upgrade space, so I redeemed five credits (and paid $61) to go from economy to business class.
As mentioned, Aeroplan 75Ks get access to participating Star Alliance lounges when flying on a same-day Star Alliance flight. At LaGuardia, that meant I had the choice of the United Club or Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge.
The Maple Leaf Lounge was closed, so I visited the spacious United Club overlooking the gates of Terminal B. While the food and drink selection was meager, I had the opportunity to visit the Amex Centurion Lounge and fill up on lunch there, courtesy of The Platinum Card® from American Express.
At Toronto Pearson for the return flight, I had access to the Maple Leaf Lounge. However, the lounge located in the "transborder" section of Terminal 1 was closed. (As of Nov. 23, this lounge is reopened for flights to the U.S.)
Quick thoughts on the onboard experience
Both my outbound and inbound flights were operated by new Airbus A220 jets, featuring large windows, seatback screens, high-speed Wi-Fi and a comfortable 2-3 configuration in economy, or 2-2 in business.
This was certainly a step up from the regional jets that American Airlines flies to Toronto. My business-class seat even had a footrest and embedded coat hook. It had 37 inches of pitch, and was a roomy 21 inches wide.
In addition, for such a short afternoon flight to Toronto (blocked at around 90 minutes), I was very impressed to see any form of catering in business class — let alone a mezze plate, drink service and full glassware, ceramic dishware and metal cutlery.
Though I didn't have much time to use it, the in-flight entertainment system featured a 13-inch touch screen and a USB port for charging devices.
Back in economy on the return, I had plenty of space to spread out in 27A, a window seat on the side of the plane where rows have just two seats. The seats back here have 30-32 inches of pitch and are 19 inches wide — still large by economy standards. The entertainment systems were 10 inches wide and were just as crisp as those upfront.
My status match to Air Canada was simple, straightforward and, dare I say it, made me want to fly Air Canada again.
That's the point of a status match — to poach prospective travelers and get them interested in another program. Over the course of the next year, I'm sure I'll be able to make use of the benefits but only time will tell whether I'll requalify for another year beyond 2022.