Fascinating Statistics About American Airlines Upgrades

Filed Under: American, American AAdvantage

I’m not sure how exactly he got this info, but @xJonNYC shares some very interesting statistics about upgrades on American Airlines.

According to him, when it comes to American Airlines upgrades:

  • 75% of upgrades are 500 mile upgrades (this includes complimentary upgrades for Executive Platinum and Concierge Key members, and upgrades with 500 mile “stickers” for other members)
  • 13% of upgrades are mileage upgrades (meaning members used miles for upgrades)
  • 6.1% of upgrades are systemwide upgrades (this is pretty self explanatory)
  • 5.6% of upgrades are day of departure upgrades (this refers to paid upgrades on the day of departure)

Now, there are some details missing here, like what period this data is from and whether this only includes domestic upgrades, or also includes international upgrades. One thing is for sure — Jon is usually spot on, so I assume this is accurate and generally representative of the reality of upgrades at American.

So, are these statistics surprising? No, mostly not, though I do have a few observations based on this:

  • I’m surprised that there are nearly as many upgrades day of departure as there are upgrades with systemwide upgrades; American isn’t as aggressive as Delta or United when it comes to selling upgrades
  • It seems that BXP1 upgrades (through the Business Extra program) aren’t accounted for, but I’d guess that this is only a very small fraction of a percentage
  • I imagine the percentage of mileage upgrades has decreased over the years; back in the day American’s domestic upgrade inventory with miles was readily available (like, almost always), but that’s no longer the case

The statistic that I wish we had is what percent of premium cabin seats are paid for (with miles or cash) at American, rather than upgraded into. Last I heard, that number at American was about half. Obviously there’s huge variance by route, date, and time, with some flights having almost all seats purchased directly (either with miles or cash), and other flights having mostly upgraders in first class.

Delta is pretty transparent about revealing the percentage of upgrades in presentations, and year after year we see the percentage of paid first class passengers increase.

This is a combination of many factors — first class seats being sold at a more reasonable price, more aggressive upgrade buy-up offers, more opportunities to redeem miles towards first class tickets, and more.

What do you make of these American upgrade statistics? Is there anything that surprises you here?

  1. Interesting statistics and seems to mostly line up with my experience on American. Most of my upgrades have been through miles however, which have either cleared immediately over the phone, at the gate, or never at all. As the article mentions, mileage upgrades are rarer these days and can confirm that, however I would say 75% of my attempts to upgrade with miles have been successful- my gold status further helping to improve the odds. I’m curious about the 500-mile upgrades and day of departure upgrades. I have tried using my 500 mile certificates on two separate occasions this year where I thought I had a favorable chance leading up to check-in only to miss it by one or two spots as last minute higher tiered elites jumped me on the list. Also, I still have not seen a day-of-departure upgrade offered (cash or miles) in a very long time (last I can recall was 2015). I’ll be traveling on AA internationally in two weeks and hoping for some kind of “day-of” offer on my return segment that I did not upgrade with miles. Stay tuned as I’ll come back and post the verdict here on what happens!

  2. Yikes only 5.6% of upgrades are paid day-of-departure. Is AA trying to lose money on its first class cabin? They really need to push up-sells to first class during check-in or through app notifications. Otherwise they should make the first class cabin smaller if they are not going to get serious about selling seats. 500 mile stickers are fun for AA elites, but they don’t make the airline as much as a paid body in a first class seat would.

  3. @Sam – You can’t calculate anything based on the stats provided. If 99% of all F seats were actually sold as F, then the entirety of all “upgrades” would be 1%.

  4. I’ve noticed more young women business travelers in first class than say 5-10 years ago

    Part is more advancement into bigger roles at work than the past, but i wonder if part is more discounted first class fares (not necessarily upgrades) at purchase

    As a woman, there are parts of first class – separation from other pax (men) – a spa like treat, etc, that appeal in different ways than it does to men – and wonder if the more reasonable pricing is helping shift the gender mix up front

  5. @Sam – Unlike DL/UA, AA actually makes money on the sale of 500mi stickers (and last I heard, which granted was a few years ago, it was a surprisingly nontrivial amount) so that logic doesn’t necessary apply here.

  6. 500 mile stickers are fun for AA elites, but they don’t make the airline as much as a paid body in a first class seat would.

    Doug Parker, is that you?

    All my co-workers swear by Delta and pay a premium to fly Delta. I put up with AA because my upgrades clear fairly often. If AA wants to deliver a shitty product and not offer upgrades, then I’ll take my EP revenue to Delta and not look back.

  7. Tried using a BXP1 to upgrade from paid J to F LAX-JFK on a Sat afternoon. Cabin was 0/10 five minutes before boarding. I was #5 of 5 on the upgrade list. Then the gate agent called 10 standby pax and gave them all F seats. I noticed during the flight that several were clearly non-revs.

    Whatever, gave up on this lousy airline a long time ago. Was just trying to burn what leftover biz extra pts I had.

  8. @John No I am not Doug Parker but I am a DL elite. @Miles if the 500 stickers actually do earn good revenue than I can see the purpose of keeping paid day-of-departure upgrades at such a low percentage point. Otherwise though AA ought to make an effort to get more paid upgrades to first class using their app or kiosk or other tech platforms.

  9. I don’t get this whole upgrades program. Most American flights has 1 or 2 First class seats available and the upgrade request list is usually 20 or 30 passengers!

  10. What is missing is % of seats that are upgraded. The breakdown is about what I would expect. But say only 20% of seats are upgrades, then 75% of that is 15%.

  11. A little off topic, but to @santos’ point, the transcon F cabin is complete joke. It’s an AA employee perk, not a competitive differentiator. I don’t understand why they don’t operationally roll up J pax when J is oversold rather than clearing standby non-revs directly into F. I’m EP and have been 4 or 5 on the upgrade list into J with CKs in front of me also in the back, because J is completely sold out and F has 2 seats occupied before boarding…

  12. Does AA actually sell day of departure upgrades? I have never been offered any buy up offer unlike what I get on DL and UA. I’m willing to buy them

  13. Upgrade? What’s an upgrade? I will make platinum pro tomorrow and seldom (less than 10%) of the time receive an upgrade. Who would buy the worthless stickers? I will have more than 50 after next week and have not had less than 30 in the last several years.

  14. Would love to see what % of systemwides clear at time of booking vs at the gate considering the availability is completely abysmal now vs a year ago. Part of the reason why EXP status is mostly useless.

  15. I might have a bit of a different take on this. My husband has a small business and I manage the AAdvantage accounts for several of the employees to make sure we get the Business Extra credits. One of the employees is developmentally disabled so I check him in online and generally make sure he gets where he needs to be, has his baggage paid, etc. I’ve noticed when I’m checking him in (no status) he is often offered first class upgrades at rather shockingly low prices. My husband and I both have low level status (he is Platinum, I’m gold) and have never seen such an offer. So, I think AA is playing a shell game with its loyal customers by offering those first class seats at a really low price at check in to non-status AAdvantage members. Keep in mind if you’re an AAdvantage Gold member then your upgrade won’t clear until at the earliest 24 hours before boarding. I’ve noticed if there are quite a few empty seats in F, that my Gold level upgrade clears right at the 24 hour mark. And if there are just a couple of seats left at that point, I will never get upgraded (nor will anyone else until the gate). I suspect those seats are being sold to non-status passengers unbeknownst to those with status–who probably would be willing to pay a reasonable fee for the upgrade if given the chance. Given the impossibility of actually getting anywhere on American last year, I’ve let my status lapse. As of January 1 I will be without AA status for the first time in decades. I will book a few flights on them when I don’t care about being 4 or 14 hours late and see if I get those same upgrade offers at check in. I’ll bet I do. I remember this same scheme years ago on US Airways when I flew them without status. I was always getting the F upgrade offer during check in. I only did it once because there was no reason to upgrade on US Airways. F was just as bad as Y with a much less interesting clientele. And FWIW lower status members don’t always buy the stickers. They are given free with every so many miles flown. I can’t remember the exact number, but it happened at least twice a year when I was achieving Gold status solely through flying with them. I have a lifetime supply of them.

  16. I have 17 worthless old stickers in my AA account. Luckily AA and Amex paid for them years ago.

    I’m a million miler (big deal) on AA and fly them only if I absolutely have to. Living in Dallas, it occasionally happens. When I do, I buy first because I know I will never be upgraded. I also buy First on UA where I am a Lifetime 1K for the same reason. Upgrades were great in the 90’s.

  17. @PHXFlyer:

    Yes! Thank you. I thought I was the only one seeing this. I noticed this a couple of years ago when I started a new job that required lots of flying I’d not done in my previous gig. I went from no status to Platinum in one year. In the year it took to build status, I was offered upgrades to F fairly regularly…and I took them. Then once I hit Platinum, I was high-ish on the upgrade list but the offers vanished completely. So I presumed it was the same thing; they’d rather get $120 in cash for a butt in the seat than give it to someone with status. I mean, from a business perspective this makes total sense but it kills loyalty. I’m now a Delta Fanboy and much happier.

  18. @PHX Flyer

    AA does not offer more cash upgrades than there are seats available after accounting for the number of people on the upgrade list. For example, if at T-24 there are 8 seats open in F and 5 people on the upgrade list, they won’t sell more than 3 cash upgrades. However if people change flights, buy tickets last minute, there are irrops etc., then it is possible to miss an upgrade due to a non status flyer’s cash upgrade.

  19. @Sam – Take a seat.

    @Santos – and all you other FREELOADERS! AA wants people to pay for F on the transcons. A certain percentage that I will not reveal here are already paid in bulk by corporations whether the employee flies or not. IF AA gives them to the likes of YOU, then it just encourages people to not buy/use upgrade tools available to them. This is why whatever is left at departures goes to employees.

    YOU WANT IT, PAY FOR IT. Belittling AA employees is tacky, and seems to be a theme on here, whether overtly or not. Thinly veiled indeed!. EVERY airline manages upgrade inventory, and when it has been reached its done no matter what.

    How can you TELL they are employees??? I chat with the FA’s when in AA A321T’s F cabin (sometimes) for a bit, and I am not an employee!!!

    People like you need to grow up and stop complaining.

  20. Worst case is when you’re upgraded w confirmed seat and then CK (Or UA, GS) needs to change to yr flight and they come taketh yr F seat away. Happens. (Un-upgraded)

  21. Inventory control over use of miles for upgrades seems to have gotten worse. Have tried using miles to upgrade on 5 different long haul trips this year with very limited success (maybe 1 – 2 segments per trip clear) despite booking and requesting 45 – 60 days in advance.
    And trying to use 500-mile stickers is a challenge too.

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