Upgrades (AA)

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Upgrades

Besides paying for a premium class ticket or exchanging miles for Business/First Award Ticket, there are several upgrade instruments that can be used in combination with a paid ticket. For an introduction to some of these, see the AA.com "The Who, What, When, And How Of Upgrading" page. Key points:

  • Generally, Award Tickets cannot be upgraded. However, when checking-in at a kiosk, the kiosk may offer an upgrade for a fee.
  • Under normal circumstances, you cannot be upgraded two classes-of-service. This is relevant for travel in 3-class cabins.
  • The EQM/EQP/RDM that you accrue are based on the fare that you purchase and not the class in which you end up traveling.
  • Upgrades only work when you are flying on American Airlines aircraft - even though you might have an AA flight number, you cannot upgrade if the flight is operated by another carrier. Conversely, if you purchase a code-share ticket through another carrier for a flight operated by AA, you can use AA upgrades. If you have a multi-carrier itinerary, you can still upgrade the AA segments.
  • All published fare classes are upgradeable as of Oct 6, 2009.

Your options for upgrading a purchased ticket are listed below.

Upgrade Awards/Mileage Upgrades

Any AAdvantage member can redeem miles for an Upgrade Award into the next class-of-service. Upgrades from Discount Economy and discount Business (I) require a combination of mileage and a co-pay, while upgrades from Full Fare Economy (Y or B) and Full Fare Business Class (J or D) do not require a co-pay. An AAdvantage member can redeem an upgrade award for another passenger, even if not traveling with them. Upgrade requests made within 21 days of the departure date incur additional non-refundable expedite fees of $50 for the first passenger and $25 for each additional passenger.

Upgrade Awards to First and Business come out of the A and C inventory classes, respectively. As of Oct 6, 2009, all published fares (including previously excluded I, O, and Q overseas fares) are now eligible for Upgrade Award redemption.

Note that when upgrades from economy to a premium cabin departing from France or the U.K. are confirmed, additional taxes will also be collected.

AAdvantage Participating Airline Upgrade Awards

As of Oct 1, 2010, AAdvantage members may use AAdvantage miles to upgrade on AA, BA and IB-operated flights. Codeshare flights marketed by AA, BA and IB and operated by AA, BA or IB are also eligible to upgrade. Your original ticket must be booked directly with American Airlines (via Reservations or AA.com).

Each one-way upgrade is valid up to three segments from an individual published full fare ticket booked directly with American Airlines.

Full Fare Economy are published fares booked in Y or B (excluding Military or Government fares) Full Fare Premium Economy are published fares booked in W on British Airways Full Fare Business are published fares booked in J, D or R on American and C, J, D or R on British Airways (I fares are upgradable on AA, but not on BA and IB)

AAdvantage Participating Airline Upgrade Awards chart and information

Systemwide Upgrades (SWU)

SWUs (sometimes called eVIPs, VIPs or VIPOWs - now obsolete nomenclature) are systemwide electronic upgrade certificates awarded to Executive Platinum members annually and to qualifying members who reach a multiple of one million lifetime miles - see Elite Levels for details. Each SWU can upgrade up to three segments of a one-way trip anywhere AA flies. There is no co-pay for SWU upgrades and the SWU can be used to upgrade any passenger - including non-AAdvantage members. SWU upgrade requests cannot be made online, only over the Phone with an agent.

SWU upgrades to First and Business come out of the A and C inventory classes, respectively. As of Oct 6, 2009, all published fares (including previously excluded I, O, and Q overseas fares) are now eligible for Systemwide Upgrade redemption.

Note that when upgrades from economy to a premium cabin departing from France or the U.K. are confirmed, additional taxes will also be collected.

If you are looking to get the most out of your SWU, be sure to read the SWU International Destinations article. Note that SWU upgrades of itineraries with both international and domestic segments are often set up so that the domestic segment will only clear if the (usually longer, often waitlisted) international segment clears. This avoids situations in which the domestic segment clears but the international segment does not, thereby wasting a SWU on a domestic segment that could be upgraded with stickers (or for nothing, if the traveler is EXP).

It has been reported that some agents, particularly at international stations, will process all mileage + copay upgrade awards before SWUs, regardless of status. This is contrary to reported AA policy.

Systemwide Upgrades can clear at anytime from the time of booking until the door closes. Waitlisted SWUs are prioritized in the order of Elite Status and then by time of booking. For bookings with multiple passengers, and specifically when using SWUs, the priority is set by the highest tiered member. NB: This does not hold when using miles for upgrades. Instead, when using miles, the person whose miles are being used will set the upgrade priority, assuming that person is traveling. If the person is not traveling, then the status of the traveler will be used.

It has also been reported that when splitting a PNR where the members have different elite status levels, this will cause the others on the linked PNR(s) to fall to the priority level of the highest tiered member(s) in their new PNR(s). This is true for both SWUs and Mileage Upgrades.

However, things change once you go on the airport priority list (PALL). Executive Platinum members using SWUs are prioritized in one group among other EXPs, ordered by time of Check In. Everyone else using a SWU will be listed *behind* PLT and GLD members using miles to upgrade, and by time of Check-In within that grouping. This is because the PALL list only has two codes for SWUs: VIP1 and VIP. VIP1 is prioritized at the same level as UPG1, ordered by Check-In time. VIP, however, is prioritized at the same level as UPG, which is behind UPG2 and UPG3. In this case, it may be beneficial for a member to decide to use miles instead of a SWU if the airport waitlist is particularly long.

Complimentary Executive Platinum "Domestic" Upgrade ("UDU")s

Executive Platinum members get complimentary "domestic" upgrades for flights within USA, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, The Bahamas, Bermuda and Central America. However, complimentary upgrades are not provided from Business to First on 3-class domestic flights.

Executive Platinum Upgrades to First and Business come out of the X and R inventory classes, respectively.

If you purchase your ticket on AA.com, you may request an upgrade at the time of the booking. If you purchase your ticket through another agency, you should be able to locate your reservation on AA.com to make the upgrade request online. EXP upgrades may be allocated as early as 100 hours prior to flight time, but may clear as late as just before boarding.

Executive Platinum members do not earn stickers through flying, though they may purchase them and use them for one traveling companion. Stickers do not expire, as long as one's AAdvantage account remains current.

Note that if one of your flight number changes due to a schedule change, your upgrade request will be dropped from the system and you will need to call AA Reservations to restore the request to its original request date and time.

See upgrades section of AA.com for additional details.

Gold/Platinum 500-Mile/Sticker "Domestic" Upgrades

For flights within USA, Canada, Mexico, Caribbean, Bahamas, Bermuda and Central America, there are "domestic" electronic upgrades that can be used:

  • For Gold and Platinum members, a 500-Mile Upgrade (a.k.a. "sticker") must be used:
    • For each 500 miles of a segment, one sticker must be used.
    • For the entire segment, there is a 51 mile grace; a segment of 1043 miles would only require 2 stickers instead of 3.
    • Stickers cannot be used to upgrade from Business to First on 3-class domestic flights.
    • American gives stickers to Gold and Platinum members at the rate of four per 10,000 miles flown, after initial qualification. The sticker-earning counter resets each year on March 1; if you call after that date and ask, agents may offer partial credit for balances below the 10K threshhold. Stickers can also be purchased online, at an airport kiosk, or through an agent (for a higher price)
    • Stickers do not expire.

Non-elite AAdvantage members may also use stickers to upgrade, but they may only upgrade B or Y class fares.

If you purchase your ticket on AA.com, you may request an upgrade at the time of the booking. If you purchase your ticket through another agency, you should be able to locate your reservation on AA.com in order to make the upgrade request online. Platinum upgrades may be allocated as early as 72 hours prior to flight time, but may clear as late as just before boarding. Gold and non-elite upgrades may be allocated as early as 24 hours out, but may clear as late as just before boarding. (Refer to Upgrade Waitlists Below).

You do not need to have sufficient stickers in your account to request an upgrade. However, if your upgrade clears prior to check-in, you will be required to purchase stickers in order to complete check-in. If your upgrade does not clear prior to check-in, you will be required to purchase stickers at check-in in order to remain on the upgrade waitlist at the airport.

Note that if your upgrade clears but you later decide not to take it, you will likely have lost your Y seat assignment and also may be unable to downgrade if the Y cabin is sold out. In the latter case, it has been reported that, if you do not have sufficient stickers in your account for the upgrade, you will then be required to either purchase stickers or forfeit your tickets.

Note that if one of your flight numbers changes due to a schedule change, your upgrade request will be dropped from the system and you will need to call AA Reservations to restore the request to its original request date and time.

Sticker Upgrades to First and Business come out of the X and R inventory classes, respectively.

See upgrades section of AA.com for additional details.

Elite Full Fare Complimentary "Domestic" Upgrades

All elites get complimentary upgrades to the next class-of-service for themselves and one companion when both are traveling in full-fare economy (Y and B booking class, excluding government/military fares).

Applicable on American Airlines flights within and between the U.S., Canada, Mexico, The Bahamas, Bermuda, the Caribbean and between the U.S. and Central America.

Companion Upgrades

Elite members are allowed to upgrade a single companion using stickers. When upgrading companions, the companion "inherits" the member's status for the purpose of waitlisting. However, by default, the upgrade will only clear if two upgrade inventory slots become available simultaneously; otherwise, the upgrade will go to the next individual upgrade requestor on the waitlist. If tickets are purchased separately, then both PNRs will need to be linked. If there are more than two people on an itinerary, then it will need to be split. See Passenger Name Record (AA) for details on this procedure. Companion upgrade requests on a single PNR may be split so that upgrades may clear separately, but the companion then loses the linking to the requestor's elite status.

As of late 2009, stickers are debited separately for elites traveling together, and it is no longer necessary to remove the "ADC code" from the Passenger Item List after the upgrades have cleared together to have stickers pulled separately. For an elite traveling with a non-status companion, reports conflict regarding from which account the stickers are debited.

IMPORTANT - The following information may no longer be true since AA.com apparently fixed the bug: For Companion Upgrades using stickers while on separate PNRs, there is a bit of a glitch in AA.com. In order to do an On-Line Check-In (and hence be in a better position on the waiting list) you must make sure that your companion has enough stickers in his/her account - if you don't, your companion will see an error when he/she tries to check-in online. When it comes time to actually taking the stickers out of the account, you can let the Gate Agent or AC Angel know from which account you want the stickers taken.

For Upgrade Awards and SWUs, FlyerTalk experience is unclear whether status is properly inherited on linked PNRs for last minute upgrades.

Upgrade Waitlists

If the appropriate inventory class for the upgrade is not available when you make the booking, then you can be put on a waiting list. When an elite member requests an upgrade for both him/herself and a traveling companion (on the same PNR or via linked PNRs), both individuals carry the same priority on the upgrade waitlist and will only be upgraded automatically if two upgrade inventory slots become available simultaneously (does not necessarily apply to battlefield upgrades below). Upgrades can happen at any moment, from the time that you purchase your ticket and until the plane has departed. While some contend that hanging around the gate until the very last moment helps your chances of squeaking in a last minute "battlefield" upgrade, others report that Gate Agents and Flight Attendants do come onto the plane to escort you to the front if your upgrade clears.

An interesting question is whether there is any relative priority amongst the upgrade instruments. There is no factual evidence to support the contention that an SWU or Upgrade Award will clear before a sticker upgrade, or vice versa. All that is known is that if a seat is released into a certain upgrade inventory class, then upgrades will be processed for that particular class. What happens at the gate is even more unclear - some FlyerTalk members suggest that a harried gate agent will choose the most expedient path and clear the upgrades which require less work - more typing is required to clear an Upgrade Award or an SWU than a sticker upgrade.

AA has specific windows for when "domestic" upgrades may clear (EXP: 100 hrs; Plat: 72 hrs; Gold: 24 hrs). These are general guidelines.

Upgrade waiting list priority is determined as follows, in order of importance:

  • Elite status level (EXP > PLT > GLD > non-status)
  • Whether the passenger is connecting (thru passengers have priority over originating passengers if request is set up properly)
  • Fare class (full Y/B fare passengers have priority over all passengers in all other fare classes)
  • Date/time of upgrade request (check-in time for SWUs)

Upgrade priority is tied to elite status held at the time of upgrade request. Status increases are not automatically reflected by the system. Contact Reservations to update account status for existing upgrade requests on specific itineraries. This can change the Date/time of the request to that of the call, but the agents have the ability to retain the timestamp of the original request.

As of Feb 28, 2008, AA changed the priority for Domestic electronic upgrades when in Airport control (T-3 hours). It is now based on the request date/time of the original upgrade request and is no longer based on check-in time. See the AA.com Upgrades page

There is an interesting thread of what the upgrade waitlist looks like from a Gate Agent perspective.

Load Factor Based Upgrades (LFBU)

Domestic upgrades may sometimes be offered for purchase at check-in kiosks when enough premium seats are available to accommodate expected revenue passengers and elite upgrades. AA markets these as Confirmed Upgrades at a rate of $45 per 500-mile unit. These upgrades may be purchased by non-elites and by elites traveling on award tickets. International counter-purchased upgrades may also occasionally be available at some airports for limited flights. Several FlyerTalkers have reported upgrades being offered at kiosks for transatlantic flights at $500 and for transpacific flights at $650-750 ($1000 for an upgrade from J to F).

Operational Upgrades

An operational upgrade (also known as an OpUp) is any upgrade given by AA for operational reasons. The most common situation is that a flight is overbooked in the main cabin but has open seats in front. In that case AA will choose economy passengers to move forward (a process sometimes referred to as a "cabin roll").

In theory passengers are chosen for operational upgrades by status first, then fare code. In practice, since the need for operational upgrades is often not known until just before flight time when all passengers have checked in, and getting flights off on time is a priority, this order is not always strictly followed.

Checking Upgrade Availability Online

Unfortunately, one cannot check for upgrade availability on the aa.com website. However, there is an excellent fee-based online site that gives the ability to check for upgrades, fare code inventory, open seats, and other services. The ExpertFlyer.com website allows for free trials and short term subscriptions. Of course, one can always telephone AA Reservations who can check upgrade availability for free.

Non-Revenue Travel in Premium Cabins

AA employees (and their friends and family) are sometimes eligible for "non-revenue" travel, in premium cabins if desired and available. However, there is a small fee that the employee has to pay, determined by the employee's status with AA (e.g., Executive, 25+ year, retired, current, etc.), destination/distance and class of service. Despite some sinister conspiracy concerns, non-revs clear the standby list last if there are still seats available and do not take up revenue passenger's seats. While non-reving sounds great and can be fun, getting stuck for a couple days at a remote airport where AA only has one daily flight (with weight restrictions), when there are weather disruptions in the system, or not being able to make a popular route (ORD-DFW) are very real concerns and diminish the non-reving experience greatly.

Taxes on Upgrades

When departing from certain countries, a tax differential may be due as a result of a confirmed upgrade. Please see Taxes on Upgrades.

Related FlyerTalk Threads