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Air Canada's Aeroplan, its frequent flyer program, updated its award charts in September 2022. The resulting changes are a mixed bag. Some North American routes might increase in cost up to 10%, but economy awards aren't going up. Plus, short-haul award flights between North America and South America are decreasing by up to 33% because of a new distance band.
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
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.
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.
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.
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).
Paying to upgrade from economy class to Air Canada premium economy might be an interesting proposition for longer flights. So, what is the difference between Air Canada economy versus premium economy?
In short, premium economy passengers receive perks in the airport and on the plane. They receive expedited check-in and priority baggage services, early boarding and larger, more comfortable seats — which also have more legroom. Premium economy passengers board in Zone 2 of 6, whereas economy flyers typically board in Zones 4, 5 or 6.
The general Air Canada economy class experience varies by destination.
International economy flyers get complimentary wines, spirits and meals and a personal touch screen entertainment center. A pillow and blanket are also offered for free.
North America and Caribbean economy flyers, meanwhile, only get a personal touch screen entertainment center. No snacks or sleeping comforts are provided for free.
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.
» Learn more: Sweet spots of the new Aeroplan program
Book your Air Canada flight with United miles
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.
» Learn more: Great ways to earn United MileagePlus Miles
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.
» Learn more: Checked baggage vs. carry-on: What you need to know
Air Canada's economy class, recapped
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.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2023, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card