American Is Updating Their Companion Upgrade Policy In 2017

Filed Under: American

It looks like American is making several minor tweaks to the AAdvantage program next year, not just limited to formalizing Concierge Key status and introducing an elite qualifying dollar fast track opportunity with their co-branded credit card.

American is also updating their policy on companion upgrades, at least according to JonNYC, who always gets this stuff right.

According to Jon, as of next year companions of American AAdvantage elite members will receive the same priority as the elite members on airport upgrade and standby lists.

Up until now American has been inconsistent about their policies for companions of elite members. My experience has been:

  • If you clear your upgrade in advance (more than a few hours before departure) the companion clears based on the elite member’s status
  • If you clear your upgrade at the airport (within a few hours of departure) the companion clears based on their own status, or lack thereof
  • In practice some gate agents don’t follow the upgrade list order, and will upgrade an elite member’s companion out of sequence, though that’s the exception rather than the norm

I actually had this happen to a friend last week, and it left him very confused. He’s an Executive Platinum member and was flying roundtrip between New York and San Francisco with a non-elite companion.

On the flight out they both cleared at the gate, despite a very long upgrade waitlist (meaning the gate agent clearly prioritized his companion out of order). Meanwhile on the return, he cleared, while his companion was number 14 on the list. Understandably he was confused by the discrepancy in policies.

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So starting next year companions should maintain the elite member’s priority even on the airport upgrade list. This can be either good or bad news depending on how you look at it:

  • You could get beaten on the airport upgrade list by the companion of someone who has the same status as you, when previously you should have cleared before them; given how much tougher upgrades are getting nowadays, this could make it even more difficult
  • On the other hand, this actually makes an upgrade worthwhile if you’re traveling with someone; if you’re like me, you’d rather sit in economy with your companion than in a separate cabin from them, so this helps prevent those “split” upgrades


All of this also matches a policy change that Delta recently announced, where companions now clear based on the status of the elite member, which wasn’t previously the case.

As I said above, this hasn’t yet been officially confirmed, but when JonNYC says something it’s typically good as fact, so I’ll assume this is no different.

Are you happy to see American update their companion upgrade policy?

  1. If there is only one upgrade available, does the elite still get the upgrade or if you are on a PNR with someone else does the next single elite on the list get the upgrade?

  2. I wish all airlines would get rid of these free upgrades. I have had a few last–minute flights where I could not get a seat in first due to upgrades. I have also been on flights where half the first class cabin is upgrades and I was unable to get my meal choice. I am a firm believer that if you want to fly first, pay for it! Or at the very least, train the attendants to serve paying first class customers first!

  3. “if you’re like me, you’d rather sit in economy with your companion than in a separate cabin from them”

    but whenever you fly all aisle access premium (1-2-1) with a companion you both take single window seats so what difference does it make

  4. The discussion I have seen on this change centers around domestic first class upgrades. Any word on if this will apply to international use of system-wide upgrades? On a recent trip to HKG I cleared both ways as an EXP but my Platnium wife did not. Of course, I gave her the upgraded seat for the longest flight.

  5. I guess if you’re a big spending (EQD) EXP you will be thrilled with it. As a newly minted EXP who only spends around $14K I will rarely see an upgrade after all the new filters are applied.

    AA is making status nearly useless for all but the top 1%.

  6. I was told more than once that I couldn’t get on the standby list if I was with a non-elite at the airport. I was EP. This was on trips cross country. Other times they gave me the choice to clear but they split our itinerary. Who knows? Hopefully this will clarify it and maybe make it consistent.

  7. I agree with Donna. This is bad news for the standard EXP members (and Platinum / Gold is worthless).
    As an EXP who purchased a ticket 2 months in advanced from LAX to MIA….. I was #14 on the upgrade list for a 773.
    More bad news as that upgrade list will put me further down the list.
    After 23 loyal years with American, I guess I need to widen my new options with Delta, JetBlue, United, etc. Going to see how 2017 unfolds, first. Time to cash in all those built-up miles.

  8. On my last flight I was third on the list and was cleared ahead of a two people with the same last name who were above me on the list, as there was only one seat. They waited until the absolute last minute to clear me, obviously waiting to see if there would be a no-show. So, I think we’ll win some and lose some. Remember most elites travel alone most of the time.

  9. Bought 4 tickets on same pnr for myself (plat pro), my wife (gold), and her parents (no status). I wasn’t even given any option to be on the upgrade list for a dca to dfw flight. Also, my boarding pass has zone 3, and everyone else was zone 4.

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