Plan: Choosing a Fare – Tips to Save Money and Earn Miles

Economy class flight

As airlines change fare structures to drive profits, travelers are faced with many more decisions about which fare to book based on their priorities. Not all fare classes will include 100% earnings for miles flown, some include access to seat selection while some don’t, some fares can be upgraded and some can’t, and different fares often include different change fees and policies. In this post, we talk about different types of fares, factors to consider when booking, and how to upgrade your fare after booking Air Canada tickets.

Based on the flying we have planned for this year, we signed up for the Air Canada Status Challenge, which means that we will need to fly 18,000 Altitude Qualifying Miles or 18 segments in a 90 day period to receive 50K status with the airline. In Economy, Air Canada has 4 Fare Classes: Standard, Flex, Comfort, and Latitude. Standard fare tend to be the cheapest and also have the highest change fees. For example, Air Canada’s “Standard Fare” only earns up to 50% of the miles flown, no advanced seat selection, and you pay to check a bag compared to a “Flex Fare” where you earn 100% of the miles flown, can choose a standard seat, and can check a bag.

Air Canada Economy Fare Chart 2019
Air Canada Economy Fare Chart 2019

Situation 1:

When we flew on Air Canada from CUN – Cancun to YVR – Vancouver, we booked a “Standard Fare” and ended up earning 1,391 miles, 50% of the miles flown. Had we booked a Flex Fare, we’d have earned 2,782 miles, about 15% of the miles we need to complete our status challenge. At the time we booked the tickets, the difference between a Standard fare and a Flex Fare was significant and we had no idea we’d be trying to obtain Air Canada status though. We considered paying to upgrade the ticket but decided against it as the cost was not worth an additional 1,391 points.

Standard Fare miles earned for CUN-YVR
Standard Fare miles earned for CUN-YVR

Situation 2:

For our flights to BGI – Bridgetown Barbados from YVR – Vancouver International Airport with a stop in YYZ – Toronto Pearson International airport, the total miles flown are estimated at around 5,000 miles. We booked a Standard Fare, but last week we noticed the difference between Standard Fare and a Flex Fare was only $50. Based on the amount of miles and how long the flights are, we decided to call Air Canada to see how much it would cost to upgrade so that we would earn 100% of the miles flown. We knew they wouldn’t just let us pay the fare difference to upgrade and as the change fees for a Standard Fare is $100, it would cost each of us $140 to complete the change. Thankfully, the Air Canada agent offered us a reduced change fee and we were able to upgrade the ticket for under $100. We cannot guarantee the agent will always be able to offer you that but it’s worth trying sometimes.

Airport view
Airport view

Factors to Consider:

When looking at which fare to book to or paying the change fee to upgrade, you should evaluate each situation individually. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find trends in the difference of price between the fare classes from research on Air Canada’s site. Right now though, it does look like the going rate for the YVR-BGI trip is about $50. Here are some tips to consider in assessing each situation:

1)    Number of tickets you are buying: A fare difference of $50 is not that much but if you are buying 4 tickets that is $200. One option is to buy some of the tickets at the cheaper fare and the others at the higher fare. The only downside to this is that the cheaper tickets will be on a separate reservation and so you will need to call the airline and ask them to link it.

2)    Potential miles earned: For flights below the threshold of miles, you will automatically receive 1,000 miles for the return trip. In this case, it is not worth upgrading or paying for the higher fare unless you are planning to check a bag and may change your flights.

3)    Seat Selection: If choosing your seat is a high priority, you may want to book a Flex Fare; one of the perks of booking a Flex Fare is that you can select a seat for free. On a Standard Fare, seat selection costs $20+ per segment. Last time we booked a Standard Fare, we had to wait until 24 hours before the departure to complete the online check-in and choose a seat. In this instance, Maxine was assigned a middle seat in the 2nd from the last row and I was assigned a window seat in front of the exit row of the aircraft even if we were on the same reservation.  Some people were not able to complete online check-in or just didn’t and were very angry they had been separated which led to a departure delay as people were asked to switch.

4)    Checked Bags: How many bags are you planning to check? If you are planning on checking a bag, you will need to pay $30 toward + tax when booking a Standard Fare. A Flex Fare comes with one free checked bag.

5)    Upgrades: If you already have status with the airline, it will cost you less eUpgrade Credits and improve your chances of securing an upgrade.


Hopefully these tips provide you with a better understanding of various fare types and why sometimes it’s worth paying slightly more and when sometimes the best deal is not always the best deal. Once we are done the challenge, I will continue to buy Flex Fares to hopefully achieve 75K and Maxine may book Standard Fare depending on the cost as it is unlikely she will be able to keep and attain 50K for the next year.

Bar area
Bar area at the YVR SkyTeam Lounge

In the end, it is disappointing that airlines keep making people pay more money for things that used to be the norm, i.e being able to select your seat for free at the time of booking. While we focused on Air Canada in this post, we do caution people to exercise caution when booking Basic Economy fares as those go as far as restricting your access to overhead space and seats are not assigned until boarding.

Do you always book the cheapest fare? How important is seat selection to you? Have you ever booked a Basic Economy Fare?

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