American Is Changing Their Upgrade Policies As Of May 20, 2017

Filed Under: American

Last June I wrote about several changes that American was making to the AAdvantage program, most of which have already been implemented. These included awarding redeemable miles based on spend rather than distance flown, introducing a fourth elite tier, adding a revenue requirement for status, etc.


However, there are two changes that American was promising “later in 2017,” which haven’t yet been implemented.

Specifically, American is introducing upgrades on award tickets for Executive Platinum and Concierge members, and will also prioritize upgrades based on your rolling EQD total, rather than when you booked your ticket. Both of these changes will be implemented as of May 20, 2017.

The full details will be added to the American AAdvantage program updates page shortly, but here’s what you need to know:

American is changing upgrade priority

Presently upgrades are prioritized first by your status, and then by the time you added yourself to the waitlist. In other words, those who book far in advance are at an advantage, while those who book last minute are at a disadvantage. This will finally change, as American will prioritize upgrades first by status, and then by your rolling 12 month Elite Qualifying Dollars total.

Here’s how this change in policy is described:

How will upgrades requests prioritized?

  • Upgrade requests will be prioritized within each elite status level, then by: upgrade product type, EQDs earned in the last 12 months, purchased booking code, request date/time
  • This prioritization applies to all upgrade types – 500 mile upgrades, mileage award upgrades and systemwide upgrades
  • AAdvantage upgrade products will be prioritized as follows:
    • Systemwide and Mileage award upgrades
    • 500-mile upgrades on purchased tickets
    • 500-mile upgrades on award tickets

How will rolling EQDs be calculated?

  • EQDs earned in the last 12 months will initially be based on EQDs that would have been earned for travel from 8/1/16-12/31/16  plus those actually earned from 1/1/17 forward (less than 12 months) but will build to 12 months over time
  • The Rolling EQD value is different from the YTD EQD value used to determine qualification for elite status.  This value will not be visible to customers or front-line employees
  • It will take a few days for all of the changes to roll-out to our various systems, so customers may notice variances in their experience as the updates take effect


Another big change to upgrade priority

This wasn’t initially announced, but based on the above I realized that something else is changing. American is now prioritizing upgrades using miles or systemwide upgrades ahead of complimentary upgrades. For so long American hasn’t differentiated between complimentary/500-mile upgrades and those who used miles or systemwide upgrades. That’s changing.

In other words, an Executive Platinum member upgrading with miles, a systemwide upgrade, etc., will always clear ahead of an Executive Platinum member requesting a complimentary upgrade, regardless of what their rolling EQD total is. That’s actually a logical enough change, even though it will have implications for many.


American is adding upgrades on award tickets

One of the few good changes we’ve seen to AAdvantage lately is that Executive Platinum and Concierge Key members will also be eligible for complimentary upgrades on award tickets when traveling in markets eligible for 500-mile upgrades. Here’s how this new benefit is described:

Concierge Key & Executive Platinum Award Ticket Upgrades:

  • ConciergeKey and Executive Platinum members can use their complimentary 500-mile upgrade benefit on AAdvantage award tickets for travel on American to upgrade from the Main Cabin to the next class
  • This benefit can be extended to one companion traveling on the same flight with the ConciergeKey or Executive Platinum member using the appropriate number of 500-mile upgrades as payment from the sponsoring member’s account
  • The ability to upgrade on award tickets does not extend to systemwide or mileage award upgrades

I’d think most would agree that this is objectively a positive change, though at the same time I suppose it’s not great for non-Executive Platinum members, since there will be even more people ahead of them for upgrades. Do note that Executive Platinum members on award tickets will get prioritized for upgrades after Executive Platinum members who aren’t on award tickets, regardless of their EQD total.


Bottom line

As of May 20, American AAdvantage will offer Executive Platinum and Concierge Key members upgrades on award tickets in markets eligible for 500 mile upgrades, which is objectively a pretty positive change.

We’re also seeing big changes in terms of upgrade priority, as upgrades will be prioritized for those who are using miles or systemwide upgrades, then those on revenue tickets trying to get complimentary upgrades, and then those on award tickets trying to get complimentary upgrades.

Lastly, within each of those groups, priority will be determined by your rolling 12 month Elite Qualifying Dollar total. That last point is a positive if you’re someone who books last minute and/or who spends more than average person in your elite group on American, while it’s probably bad for most leisure travelers who book in advance.

Ultimately these changes are a zero sum game. There are only so many upgrades to go around, so this simply reshuffles the order in which people get upgraded.

How do you feel about these changes to American’s upgrade process?

  1. Bravo American, you are finally giving recognition/priority to those of us who pay the highest fares. Thank you..

  2. It really sucks. I liked that AA was simple and easy to understand. Now they’ve moved to a convoluted system that makes no sense whatsoever.

  3. Two issues I’d complain about,

    1. I book tickets last minute and pay a lot (but only domestic economy). I prefer the upgrade Priority would be on a per ticket basis

    2. As EP, isn’t it the case that you’re no longer earning 500 mile upgrades? That means you can’t replenish that balance unless you buy them or drop to Platinum. Is this changing?

  4. This is a great change. It’s so frustrating booking < 7 days before the flight, knowing you're paying top dollar, but behind a whole bunch of other EXP's on the list.

    Where can we find our rolling EQD total? I don't see it on … which I hope would not be asking too much.

  5. This would appear to be a rather large loss for non-AA Oneworld elites or am I not understanding it properly?

  6. Rolling EQD, LOL. Well, AA is certainly making explicit that it values your money over anything else about you. Of course that’s true of any company, but making the transaction so explicit overlooks the psychology of loyalty: people feel they are making a commitment to a company when they choose to repeatedly spend money with that company *even if the amount of that spend is small by the company’s standards*.

    For example, to AA, my spending $2000/year on tickets might not be a lot, but to *me* it might not only be a significant amount of money, it might be spent entirely on AA and no other airline even though AA’s fares might be higher. That commitment is clearly not being rewarded here.

  7. I have an AA flight next week. I will be HIGHLY interested to see how the upgrade process works for the flight.

  8. Is it just rolling EQDs in general or what you actually spend on AA? For example the majority of my EQDs are coming from partners, where I will actually end the year with close to 20k EQDs but I’ve only actually spent $548 on AA so far with no plans on flying them the rest of the year.

  9. @snic – why should that be rewarded at all? Nobody cares about the % of spend, only the hard dollar amount.

    If I only buy 1 deeply discounted ticket on American a year but don’t fly any airlines, should I expect to be treated better than the business traveler that spends tens of thousands but also flies other airlines?

    Stop trying to justify to yourself that you deserve loyalty perks. You don’t.

  10. Everytime I’ve spoken to agents in the past, SWUs have always been prioritized above complimentary upgrades as long as requested >24 hours prior to the flight. I didn’t think that’s new?

  11. Will upgrades requested through Business ExtrAA (BXP1) be in the same category as SWUs and miles + copay upgrAAdes?
    Also, will EQD awarded through credit card spend count towards the “rolling” spend?

  12. I’m at 17000 eqd ytd but last year I flew maybe 3000 total. Wonder since rolling isn’t the same as YTD where I’ll stack up on flights in June. Love the transparency AA – your ranked on a value we don’t share. I guess I can crunch the numbers.

  13. Sucks for me personally, as I’m usually #1 or #2 cause I book so far ahead, and get cheap fairs. But I can’t complain about the change as it’s fair and a zero sum game (i.e., same number of upgrades). I think the rolling is the fairest way of doing it.

    Not displaying is lame.

  14. Will I be eligible for upgrade if I book my award ticket with avios (assuming I put my AAdvantage number on the ticket)?

    In the past, Delta upgraded my award tickets booked via Virgin Australia which also has a distance based award chart (7000 miles for short haul flights on Delta).

  15. I don’t understand any of this . I have for many many years purchased an economy ticket n then at the same time used my mileage – upgrade to first class . I carry my kitty with me so I res her her space with me on board at the same time but pay at the airport. Are you saying that I will no longer be able to do this? I fly like this once or twice a year

  16. Not thrilled by any of these, but they are all sensible and if I was running their airline I’d probably implement them too…

  17. As a lifetime Platinum earned (well over 2.5 million prior to program changes) plus a life time Admirals Club member (was offered in 2005, I immediately bought it), the Concierge Key annual fee makes no sense to me. I wonder where on the list of Platinums I end up now, since I fly American, British Airways, Qantas and Alaska. I do not fit in. I used to be able to upgrade international from economy to business with miles and money. Will that change also?

  18. @Tony: “Stop trying to justify to yourself that you deserve loyalty perks. You don’t.”

    I never said I deserve anything at all. But then, AA also doesn’t deserve my loyalty, as they clearly don’t value it.

    By the way, my spend example was completely hypothetical. The point is simply that by requiring more spend for the same loyalty perks, they will lose some loyal customers. They could decide the set the bar for consistently receiving upgrades and whatnot at $1,000,000 rather than $2,000 or $10,000 or $25,000. Then my guess is that you would join me in seeing no reason to be loyal to AA. Which, as I said originally, is just the psychology of loyalty.

  19. Well, I’ll never get to upgrade again on AA. An EXP 10 years ago, now a lowly Gold. I have 20 500 mile upgrades still in my account and I can’t ever use them. Can I get my $ back?

  20. Very fair system. It’s simple. Higher END gets more priority. I love that. I. Delta I’m at 16000EQD this year and some dip **** who is at 4000 WAD can beat me on an upgrade if he has the credit card and is ijn the same fare class. You want to see confusing?! Come check out delta.

  21. @Ryan

    Agree completely. When I look around an AA First Class cabin, it’s clearly people who travel a lot and spend money ON AIRLINE TIX (right down to the alarming number of those Black Luggage Tags for the Concierge Key folks).
    The vibe is the same on United, even with all the defections…

    On Delta? I’m always looking around trying to figure out how they got the upgrade when I usually get trump’d by somebody with the right color credit card who accumulated “miles” by aggressive shopping.

    Totally don’t get it and never have.

    But, then, there’s a lot of supposed “positives” on Delta that I personally have never seen.

  22. Question-
    Currently, if one buys a full fare Business ticket and wants to upgrade with a SWU to First- its not allowed. Will that change? My guess is no.
    (AND, I agree with @Ryan comments.)

  23. “….in markets eligible for 500 mile upgrades” = 50 United States, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, the Bahamas, Bermuda as well as between the United States and Central America (Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua or Panama)

    @Rob in Miami – I’ve never experienced that. Have always been able to upgrade Business to First with SWU unless your Business ticket is an “up-fare” because it’s technically already upgraded from economy to business.

  24. I’m EP; my wife is Platinum. As EP, I don’t earn 500 mile upgrades but if we fly together on the same PNR, request to be upgraded and our request clears, the 500 mile upgrades get taken out of MY account rather than hers…when she has more 500 mile upgrades than I do AND she continues to earn them. Can you (or someone) please explain the sense of this to me? Why shouldn’t her upgrades (when and if they clear) be drawn from her supply of 500 mile upgrades? This would seem to be more fair and make more sense!

  25. I’ve personally had it with both United and American. Though I was a very high frequent flyer on both, in retirement now….I have ZERO status. After searching for months and months to find FF business/first class tickets, I’ve given up. The flights offered are either red eye or have totally unrealistic, numerous connections. Granted, I’m traveling from one small airport to another, but still….service is far worse than when I worked for TWA back in the 1960’s!! When my credit card annual fee approaches, both cards will be cancelled. I’ll opt instead to get a cash back card so I can purchase a ticket, even though they cost an arm and a leg. Tx’s for the place to VENT!

  26. This is AA just confirming that unless you are CK or EXP your chance of getting upgraded is just slightly above never.

  27. I don’t know what all these appreciations mean . Would you please explain? I’m a frequent flier for many many years but I just buy coach n upgrade to first and have never had a problem . What are the appreciation letters mean ?

  28. @ Rob in Miami. You asked if buying a biz class ticket and request a SWU to first class. The answer is yes, I just did this on a JFK>SFO ticket.
    @ Executive Platinum Jim whose wife is Platinum. I believe the 500 mile upgrades are taken out of your account because she was upgraded using YOUR status, and likely would not have been using only Platinum status. That’s my guess. Same happens to me with lower elite status level travelers. But they never would have made the top 30 upgrade requests by being Gold 🙂

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