How to Make the Most of Air Canada’s Economy Class

Basic economy and standard economy on Air Canada are almost the same, so you could save with the cheaper fare.

Andy ShumanMay 20, 2021
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Air Canada completely revamped Aeroplan, its frequent flyer program, in 2020. The resulting changes are a mixed bag: For one thing, the new award charts (which are hybrid distance-zone based) have replaced Air Canada's fixed redemption values. Basically, you should expect to pay more if you’re flying in peak seasons or on popular dates. On the brighter side, the changes did away with cash airline surcharges, which means customers are only on the hook for paying taxes and third-party fees (like airport fees).

If you’re looking to book economy flights on Air Canada, here’s what you need to know to make the most of your booking.

What to expect flying Air Canada economy class

Fare types

Air Canada introduced basic economy back in 2018, but unlike other airlines, the difference between basic and standard economy amenities isn’t very drastic. Air Canada charges for checked bags and advanced seat selection in both bundles.

Other, more expensive options include Flex, Comfort and Latitude, which offer free bags, better amenities and discounts.

Award bookings

Booking an Air Canada economy class award ticket puts you into standard economy, although you have an option to pay more points for booking into Flex, Comfort or Latitude.

Seats

Air Canada seats in economy are inconsistent across the fleet. Seat sizes and pitch (distance between the seats) vary, not only between narrow-body aircraft (A320 and B337) and wide-body (A330 and B787), but also within the same group of aircraft.

While you’re more likely to enjoy more comfortable seats on wide-body jets, a few Air Canada Rouge narrow-body A320 aircraft have spectacular 34-inch pitch, versus the 31-inch on A330. On the other end of the spectrum, there are seats with a dreadful 29-inch pitch.

Service

As to the onboard service, Air Canada has received a number of accolades from airline rating company Skytrax, including Best Airline in North America (eight times in 10 years), Best Airline Staff in Canada and Best Airline Cabin Cleanliness in North America.

Other features of Air Canada’s economy class

Other features for both basic and standard economy include:

  • Bag allowance: Carry-on only.

  • Boarding: No priority boarding.

  • Food: Available for purchase (free with a Latitude ticket).

Ways to get good value on Air Canada

Book with points on short hauls, especially when cash fares are high

Use Air Canada points on short but often expensive routes up to 500 miles. Unlike some airlines using fully dynamic pricing, Air Canada still has caps on maximum pricing, so paying 6,000 to 10,000 points for a flight that could otherwise cost hundreds of dollars is a good deal.

Here are some example flight routes in the 500-mile band:

  • Seattle or Portland, Oregon, to Vancouver.

  • New York to Toronto, Ottawa or Montreal.

Also keep in mind that some short, domestic Air Canada flights can be expensive;  consider using your Aeroplan points when you’re traveling within Canada, too.

Book your Air Canada flight with United miles

If you have United MileagePlus miles, booking an Air Canada economy flight with United miles (United and Air Canada are Star Alliance partners), may cost you less than booking directly on Air Canada.

For a November flight between Miami and Vancouver, it would cost only 14,000 United miles as compared to the 17,500-25,000 required for the 2,800+ mile flight using Air Canada’s Aeroplan points.

It’s not always this way, so make sure you check the rates for your desired flight on both the Air Canada and United website.

Pack only a carry-on, and bring your own snacks

Checking a bag will cost you around $24 ($30 CAD) unless you book a more expensive Flex, Comfort or Latitude ticket. If you can do with just a carry-on, that’ll save you nearly $50 ($60 CAD) per round trip.

The Air Canada Bistro meal box costs over $8 ($10.49 CAD). Taking your snack on board can not only save you more than $16 ($21 CAD) per round trip, but can also give you control of what you want to eat.

If you fly Air Canada economy this year

Air Canada economy seats may not be consistent across the fleet, but that also means you can be in for a nice surprise, since some aircraft offer very generous legroom. Plus, you can expect solid service from Air Canada, which Skytrax named Best Airline in North America.

Unfortunately, the new award chart has made the cost of your award ticket generally more expensive; however, you can still get good value by redeeming your points on short flights or booking Air Canada flights with United miles. You can also save some money by not checking a bag and by packing your own food.


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