Best Chance Of Upgrading American Flight To London?

Filed Under: Advice, American

Reader Coloradomom asked the following question in the “Ask Lucky” forum:

I recently made AA EXP status and now have systemwide upgrades to use. I’d like to book an economy ticket to London for the middle of November and wondered which gateway would offer the best chance of an upgrade clearing. The AA system shows that confirmed upgrades are not available on any of the flights I researched, but I could waitlist for my chosen flight. I know DFW is difficult for systemwide upgrades because of all the EXP’s flying out of there. How about CLT or PHL? AA flies the 333 to LHR from both of those airports and that would be a nice upgrade. I live close to ORD, but am not sure what kind of business product runs out of ORD to LHR. Any advice you, Ben, or your readers can give this new EXP would be greatly appreciated!

One of my favorite perks of being an Executive Platinum member are the eight systemwide upgrades you receive for achieving the status each year (and if you over-qualify, you may receive even more). They can be used to upgrade any revenue ticket by one class of service, pending upgrade space.

Up until now I’ve yet to ever miss an international upgrade, though it looks like my luck might soon change.

With that in mind, London is American’s largest international gateway, so which route are you best off booking if you’re looking to score an upgrade? Here are my thoughts along with “bigger picture” ways to maximize your upgrade odds:

Pick your day of the week carefully

As a general rule of thumb, mid-week upgrades are going to be easiest for transatlantic flights. Why?

  • If you’re a leisure traveler, you probably want to minimize the number of days you have to take off of work, so want to utilize weekends as much as possible (making travel on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays most popular)
  • If you’re a business traveler crossing the pond for the week, you’re not likely travel on Tuesdays or Wednesdays, since you likely need a few days to take care of whatever you crossed the ocean to do

Of course there are plenty of exceptions, but in general you’ll have the best odds at a transatlantic upgrade mid-week (the same is true for flights to/from Asia).

Analyze the seatmap

Ideally you’ll use ExpertFlyer to check the loads on a given flight, and see how many seats are still for sale. Of course you want as many seats for sale as possible. The issue is that there are limits to how much inventory will show. American shows at most seven seats per fare class, so if a flight is “J7D7I7,” that’s good news (it means there are at least seven business class seats available in all three business class fare buckets). That being said, it doesn’t tell you whether the cabin is 8% full or 80% full.

So that’s why the seatmap is a good backup indicator. It’s not a 100% accurate indicator of availability, but it’s the best shot we have.

In general you’ll want to pick a flight with:

  • The fewest number of business class seats taken on the seatmap (hopefully there’s some correlation between that and the number of available seats)
  • The fewest number of “premium” economy seats taken on the seatmap (the assumption is that elite members are most likely to be on the upgrade list, and they’re most likely to select seats in the exit row, Main Cabin Extra, etc.)

I don’t really care how full the rest of the economy cabin is, since as an Executive Platinum you’d be prioritized ahead of non-elites for the upgrade.

For example, I’d do everything I could to avoid a seatmap like this, where all the premium seats in economy are taken:


And would rather go with a seatmap like this, which still doesn’t look great, but certainly looks better:


Which London routes are the easiest upgrades?

To get to the actual question, which routes give you the best odds at an upgrade to London?

As a general rule of thumb, the toughest upgrades are going to be on Dallas to London and Los Angeles to London. Those are two of American’s most lucrative routes, and they frequently sell a lot of the premium seats on those flights.

So which routes are easiest?

  • Raleigh to London, which is typically operated by 767s with American’s new staggered business class
  • Chicago to London, though that’s operated mostly by 777s with the old business class product, so I’d try to avoid it
  • Charlotte/Philadelphia to London, which is operated by US Airways’ A330s, featuring reverse herringbone seats
  • New York to London, which is operated almost exclusively by 777-300ERs featuring American’s excellent reverse herringbone seats

American 777-300ER business class

US Airways A330 business class

Miami to London can be an easy upgrade, though it’s far from a guarantee, given the number of premium travelers connecting from Latin America flights.

So while it might sound counter-intuitive, I think New York to London is often one of the best routes routes to upgrade. If you get the upgrade, it’s a fantastic business class product. And upgrades are fairly easy, since British Airways has so many frequencies in the market and is part of American’s joint venture, and many people prefer flying with them (for whatever reason).

That being said, the issue is that there are limited domestic connections from JFK, as most flights from Chicago fly into EWR and LGA. With that in mind, flying on a US Airways flight through Philadelphia or Charlotte might be a better bet.

Bottom line

Avoid Dallas or Los Angeles to London. Chicago to London should be a fairly easy upgrade, but American primarily flies 777s featuring the old product on that route. Charlotte, Philadelphia, or New York to London is probably your best bet. Otherwise, American has one 767 between Chicago and London every day, which should feature the new product, and isn’t a bad option.

American’s old 777 business class

What has been your experience with upgrading American flights to London?

  1. I’ve been flying between LHR and PHL / CLT repeatedly for the last year or so and haven’t missed an upgrade yet, despite not really optimizing my days of travel. In my experience, AA tends to open up all J availability to C 24 hours out, so I just have to be ready to call the day before the flight.

  2. MIA-LHR and LAX-LHR are the hardest upgrades by far in my experience. Calling such a premium heavy route like Miami-London and easy upgrade isn’t good advice, IMO.

  3. Hey Ben

    Im booked AA ord-lhr for June 2016 on 777-200. Do you have any idea or opinion on if AA will have the new hard product on those aircraft by that time? Is the old hard product at least lie-flat?


  4. You guys are nuts to consider a flight with a connection in lieu of a direct flight in an angle flat seat. Go for ORD-LHR and use your extra 2-3 hours to take a nap when you arrive.

  5. You neglect to mention that the daytime PHL-LHR and the early return are in the old 757 business class which isn’t even angled flat, it’s a recliner. Avoid that one if possible.

    In 6 years of flying as an EXP to London 3 times a year from DFW, LAX, JFK, ORD, BOS (when it existed) and PHL, I’ve only missed the upgrade once, on LHR-LAX. So you’re probably safe regardless of which option you choose.

    There’s also a JFK-BHX flight which can be convenient depending on your destination in England

  6. To add to what Tom said, I would prefer to fly BA premium economy from the west coast rather than connect at JFK just so I can get a flat bed. Upgrades may be easiest out of JFK but connecting at JFK can easily add 5 hours to each leg of the trip. A nonstop 9.5 hour flight in premium economy is a lot easier on me than 5 hours in domestic F, followed by 3 hours connecting at the mess that is JFK, followed by 6 hours in a flat bed.

  7. Excellent advice here. Not feeling good about my situation. Booked DFW to LHR on 77W in mid November and return approx. 2 weeks later. AA hasn’t confirmed anything. Losing hope quite frankly.

  8. Thanks for all the great advice! We will actually be flying out of DEN, so will shoot for DEN/CLT/LHR, DEN/PHL/LHR (avoiding the AM flight) or DEN/ORD/LHR. Wish us luck. Worst case, we will be in MCE, which isn’t actually too bad, but I’m hoping for the upgrade. Coloradomom

  9. Lucky,

    Just used an EVIP today when Expert Flyer notified me at 4:51am that AA80 dfw to LHR opened 7 seats of the 25 they were holding for departure on 10/20/15. Love EF

  10. @Lucky:
    Sometime in December AA is replacing two of its three 777-300 flights between JFK and LHR with the new version of the 777-200. No first and the J product is not the same as the -300 version; it’s the forward backward mix of seats similar to that on the 787. You might want to make your readers aware of that

  11. I agree fly Tuesday/Wednesday and you probably won’t miss to many Ex Platinum system wide upgrades.

    I also tend to think pick routes where the upgrade is less important. For example shorter routes like JFK-LHR its often less time in the air then my JFK-SEA flight. Also daytime flights and flights that leave early in the morning where people are not wanting the added comfort of a flat (or even angled flat) surface.

  12. Yesterday I called to apply a SWU on my next April LAX-LHR flight in J that I purchased during this week’s promo. It cleared immediately to F.

    Last month my SWU request for economy LAX-LHR cleared one day before. My request was made three weeks in advance.

    Both were Tuesday flights. The seat maps looked great as mentioned by Benny.

  13. JFK LHR will soon be Boeing 777-200ER on 2 of the 3 daily flights, while AA100/101 will stay on the 77W. However, if I’m not wrong, the same day that happens, a new daily AA141/142 flight will be available, with a daytime departure from JFK to arrive in LHR at night (around 10pm) and it’s afaik the last flight before the redeye bank.

  14. Some data points from an EXP:

    Weds, Oct 2015 – missed LHRORD
    Sun, Oct 2015 – cleared JFKLHR
    Thurs, Sep 2015 – cleared LHRORD
    Sun, Sep 2015 – cleared DFWLHR
    Thurs, Sep 2015 – missed LHRORD
    Mon, Step 2015 – cleared ORDLHR

    My worst luck is on the ORD route. Of 5-6 DFWLHR and 3 JFKLHR in Aug/earlier Sep, they all cleared.

  15. AM flight from PHL has been cancelled, and won’t be an option soon. Which is good because of the crappy recliner seats.

    In my experience, MIA/LAX-LHR are the worst for upgrades. ORD is meh. If you can get the refurb 767 on ORD-LHR or go through CLT, which has two AA-operated flights to London.

  16. Hi Lucky – I am an EP trying to use a SWU on a LHRORD flight next week (booked on J, trying to move up to F) but when I called the EP desk, they mentioned that they needed my credit card for luxury tax fees. Now I am well aware of the horrendous taxes when flying out of Heathrow, but was NOT aware that there are taxes associated when using a SWU. What do you know about this, and more importantly do you know what the costs associated with it are? – the lady at the other end of the phone said she did not knpw them which I found kind of odd.

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