I just flew via Air Canada from USA to Toronto directly. Before boarding, I asked at the gate if any upgraded seats are available. In response, the representative simply gave me a business class seat without any further information. There were a couple more business seats available during the flight, and it seemed like the flight wasn't completely full.

It dawned on me later on that this upgrade may have not been free. The booking was done through an agency my company uses, using the company credit card. I'm worried that the upgrade was not free and was charged to the company credit card. I don't have a frequent flyer status with Air Canada nor its affiliates, nor any other usual reasons for free upgrades.

How can I find out whether this was a free upgrade or not, beside (hopefully needlessly) worrying HR?

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    @HankyPanky asking never hurts. I've gotten both upgrades and earlier flights for free myself by simply asking what options I had. – William Mariager Feb 17 '20 at 9:15
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    @HankyPanky , it's completely, totally normal to just ask if any better seats are available. – Fattie Feb 17 '20 at 12:27
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    What booking class does your boarding pass show? – jcaron Feb 17 '20 at 14:01
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    @HankyPanky I was willing to pay a reasonable price, but that's obviously subjective. I often ask and sometimes pay - depending on how much is asked. – smaslennikov Feb 17 '20 at 16:05
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    @smaslennikov Do you have any status with AC that would qualify you for an upgrade? It's possible you just weren't on the list. Especially if an agency booked it for you. – Johns-305 Feb 17 '20 at 16:14

It'd be fairly unlikely that they don't quote the price to you. Here's your ticket (whispers to themselves, that's $10,000). If no monetary value was quoted to you, it was free. If not, you've got a fight on your hands and a potential PR problem for the airline.

You could always call the airline before HR and ask them what class of ticket you received, and the cost of the ticket? If the cost has remained in economy levels, you'll have an idea. Quote the PNR (6 digit confirmation code) and your name/seat numbers, they should be able to find it.

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    YMMV, but I'd say it's exceedingly unlikely if not impossible to pay for an upgrade without knowing about it. If there are additional charges, you would be required to sign for them, and even if the charges go via your agency, they would do the same to you. – lambshaanxy Feb 16 '20 at 22:48
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    I see, that was basically my train of thought as well. I'm going to sit it out and see what happens - quite sure it was free in this case. Thank you for your answer! – smaslennikov Feb 17 '20 at 16:10

If you didn't sign for any payment, it was a free upgrade, period.

Anything else would be impossible to prove for them - how could they ever prove that you agreed to pay X for it, or that you even asked for an upgrade? If this were possible, they could just charge anybody they feel like an upgrade fee.
Also, they wouldn't have access to your credit card to directly charge it either.

All this shows is that - depending on availability and situation - you can still get an upgrade simply for nicely asking.

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    You need to ask really really really nicely with Air Canada though. – ZeroTheHero Feb 17 '20 at 23:32
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    I don't know if you are answering from an European mindset, but that's North America. Consumer protection laws are not the same. I would be very cautious. They have your credit card number, they have cameras and recorders everywhere, that is an AIRPORT. They pwn you. You don't necessarily need to sign for an upgrade like in EU. You asked for it, you should already know the prices in advance – usr-local-ΕΨΗΕΛΩΝ Feb 18 '20 at 9:28
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    I think that does not make sense, especially in Europe - it is absurd to assume that you agreed to buy something by asking for it. – Aganju Feb 18 '20 at 13:19
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    @Aganju usr-local's point is that it doesn't make sense in Europe, but that it does make sense in USA. – Martin Bonner supports Monica Feb 18 '20 at 15:48
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    Yes, I get that, and I disagree. In Europe, you are not buying a service for an unknown amount by simply asking for it. That is legally untenable; the seller needs to make an offer with a specified price to create the possibility of a contract, and concludent action (like silently accepting the seat) can only replace the formal acceptance if the price and the payment mode were clearly stated. – Aganju Feb 18 '20 at 15:59

I’ve flown a million miles in 10 years across 13 airlines. I’ve been upgraded hundreds of times at the gate and it’s free. You walk up, ask to be put on the upgrade list, they put you on it, and that’s the end of it. By the way, be VERY nice to the desk attendant. You can then get upgraded 1 of 2 ways. First, it can happen preboard. Just watch the screen, your name, and you either get upgraded preboard or not. The close outs for all boarding include all upgrades. Second, is post-board. Maybe 1-2 out of 10 times after I board, about 15 minutes later some attendant comes back to my seat, and let’s me know I’ve been upgraded and kindly walks me up to an open first or business class seat. Thats usually because someone didn’t make the flight at the very last minute. At that point the flight attendant with the boarding attendant will discuss eligibility and visual dress code they can see if the few who are in coach on the upgrade list, and if you look professional and were not a jerk back at the desk, and you don’t look like you’ll be a drinking problem up in First, you get the upgrade. I’ve chatted up dozens of attendants and pilots, and that’s the long and short of it. And no, there is no charge for the upgrade.

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    Shh, now everybody knows!! – Strawberry Feb 18 '20 at 13:51
  • If you’ve flown a million miles in 10 years you are likely a top-tier frequent flyer and possibly a million miler. Both categories significantly increase you chances of discretionary upgrades; indeed depending on the flight your status with one airline or alliance of airlines, this upgrade might be automatic, whether you ask nicely or not. But of course you knew that already... – ZeroTheHero Mar 4 '20 at 4:27

Airlines don't usually give someone a seat and send them a bill later. As you were not asked for payment, the upgrade was complementary. They do offer paid upgrades but in that case, they specify the cost up front. It will happen when a flight very full but not completely and more so for flights where the upgrade makes much more of a difference. When flying US to Canada, it is similar to a domestic flight and therefore the amenities of business class are often little more than a larger seat (or even just increased space between seats and an additional tray) but complementary snack and beverages.

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    "complementary sack", are you suggesting vomit bags are extra in economy class now? – gerrit Feb 18 '20 at 8:53
  • @gerrit only if you use them – Enthus3d Feb 19 '20 at 15:30

It is highly unlikely there would be a share that you did not sign for, it opens for to many misunderstandings and liability issues.

Depending on your frequent flyer status etc there are normally many free upgrades to be had but I have found and also confirmed with people who work in the business that most of the time the people who work the gate dont go though the hassle unless you ask.

  • Just edited, I don't have frequent flyer status with Air Canada or its affiliates, nor any other usual reason for free upgrades. – smaslennikov Feb 17 '20 at 16:13
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    @smaslennikov You could be on some corporate rate that qualifies you for that for some reason. – jcaron Feb 17 '20 at 16:17

In a nutshell, we could say that if nobody asked you to pay at that moment you can simply relax because you won’t have to pay anything.

Airlines have decent CRM systems which suggest who is suitable for a free upgrading in first place. Since you’re saying you had no Frequent Flyer card with that airline I’m quite sure you got lucky.

They had free seats and they applied you that upgrading.

I’m still not sure how “upgrading” was that (another cabin or just an “XL seat”?) since we boarding operators use to justify “Operative Upgradings” or waived ones. They might just told you to seat at that seat and didn’t update the seat you had on the system, who knows.

Boarding times are so tight and clock is continuously ticking. Hope you enjoyed the flight!


Nah, I dont think theres a way they can charge you without quoting a price. You are upgraded when the flight is full and you can not be accomodated in economy, When the flight is close to empty and they have the resources in business class, when a person who has booked a business class seat but does not show up.

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