American’s Convoluted Companion Upgrade Policy

Filed Under: American, American AAdvantage

I’ll save my American flying experience today for a separate post (OMG), but in this post wanted to write about an interesting situation I found myself in today when it comes to American’s companion upgrade policy.

American’s companion upgrade policy

I’d like to think I’m fairly well versed in American’s upgrade policy, for better or worse, given how much I fly with them. Just over a year ago American changed their companion upgrade policy, which is good or bad depending on how you look at it.

With this updated policy, companions of elite members are prioritized based on the status of the highest tier member. This works pretty well for Ford and me:

  • I’m Executive Platinum, so I get complimentary upgrades and have pretty high priority
  • Ford is Platinum Pro, so he gets complimentary upgrades as well, but has lower priority

When you combine the two, I just book us on the same record locator, and then sometimes 100 hours out we both get our upgrades, based on my status. That’s a pretty good setup.

Companion upgrades get complicated at the airport

The catch is that when it comes to the airport upgrade waitlist, that’s not how it works anymore. While an elite companion automatically clears based on the higher status prior to check-in, on the day of travel everyone clears on their own… unless you specifically know to request that they be prioritized with you.

Let me share the situation I was in today. Ford and I were flying from Miami to Charlotte. There were two first class seats left for sale, and I was showing as number one on the waitlist (SCH/B), while Ford was showing as number three on the waitlist (BEC/J).

When I arrived at the Admirals Club in Miami I explained the situation to the agent, and asked if she could work whatever the magic is that would give him my status. Like I said, this is allegedly supposed to be possible, but isn’t automatic — you have to specifically request it.

This turned out to be quite a process. The lady had to call her support desk, and it must have taken her 15 minutes.

What’s even stranger is that she told me I had to redeem my own 500 mile upgrade certificates for Ford’s upgrade. I explained that he should be entitled to complimentary upgrades on account of his Platinum Pro status (he doesn’t need 500 mile upgrades to be upgraded), but she said the only way to get him to get my priority is if I was redeeming my 500 mile upgrades for him. In other words, his status was completely irrelevant at this point.

I’m not sure that’s actually accurate, but I wasn’t going to argue, given that it was 5AM and we were boarding soon. I had to buy one 500 mile upgrade certificate for $40, though that seemed well worth it if it meant we could both sit in first class.

After I paid for the upgrade and she checked Ford back in, the upgrade list was updated to show Ford as number two (sorry, KIN/C):

In this case it paid off, because we both ended up clearing our upgrades, and got the last two first class seats — yay!

Unfortunately that was literally the only “yay” in our entire travel day, as it was otherwise a complete disaster (I got up over 13 hours ago and have taken one flight so far).

Bottom line

This was my first time trying to adjust a companion’s place on the upgrade list. In every other situation since the rules changed I either had the upgrade cleared in advance, or we were so far down the upgrade list that there wasn’t a chance anyway.

This is one situation where it paid off. We both cleared our upgrades, and as luck would have it the last two remaining seats were next to one another.

I’m still not sure the process the agent followed was actually correct, though. I’m confused by the fact that I had to redeem my own 500 mile upgrade certificates (including buying one of them) for his upgrade. Like I said, it was worth it in this case, though.

I also don’t get why American makes this process so complicated. If companions are supposed to inherit the priority of the highest status member, why do the make the process so complicated, rather than making it automatic? Or I guess maybe I should be happy about it, since it means those of us “in the know” can benefit, while others can’t.

Anyone have experience with American companion upgrades on the day of departure?

Comments
  1. Correct re if it’s your status, your upgrade.

    My wife has several she will never use as she has no status, although used to.

    I always make sure I have enough in my account in case it clears and I don’t want more crap to deal with at the airport.

  2. Perhaps you ought to add the return of the upgrade certificate to your customer service complaint from your OMG flight day. That does not sound correct. I’m KIN, B not C so I’m not too upset.

  3. You need 500 mile upgrade certificates for your companion to get that status. I believe this was handle properly by the agent. It sucks that they make their best customers buy 500 mile upgrades for companions too as EXP doesn’t earn them anymore after hitting status.

  4. Had a similar experience last month. I was flying SEA-DFW-MCO on a MileSaver economy award and have no status though have a bunch of stickers earned on my way up to EXP years ago. My friend is an EXP and was flying DFW-MCO on a paid F ticket on the same flight. The EXP desk was unable to do anything in advance because we were booked in separate cabins. But when he checked in in Dallas, the agent was able to add me to the upgrade list as his companion with his priority. They required he purchase the requisite stickers on the spot as mine couldn’t be used. Fortunately there is no longer any premium for buying stickers at the airport vs. online. I sailed to the top of the list ahead of 20+ people and cleared into the last seat less than two minutes later. Lucky timing, and sorry to OTR, R, who probably thought it was in the bag…

  5. Also, I was impressed that AA immediately automatically refunded my MCE purchase for the upgraded flight.

  6. Yes, it is a very convoluted process. I am ExP and my partner is Gold. We recently traveled STL-ORD-PIT-ORD-YVR-ANC-DFW-STL. Everything was ticketed in first except ANC-DFW and DFW-STL which was ticketed in PE. When we checked in in PIT, I had the Admirals Club agent note that he was my companion and the upgrade for ANC-DFW should be prioritized as such. This process took her over 15 mins (as you noted). In order for her to do this, I guess she had to remove his AAadvantage number, so his trip was no longer showing up on the app. At 100 hours prior to departure, we were both upgraded DFW-STL and then at 72 hours from ANC-DFW. Great! When we went to check in, it would not allow us to do so on the app so I called and the agent informed me everything was fine, but we should check in at the airport. About 1 hour before we got to the airport, my phone rang and it was AA. I thought this cannot be good. Sure enough, they switched equipment from a 787 with 28 in First to one with 20. She asked if I would be willing to downgrade back to PE for a $300 voucher. We said no and took our chances with the airport. At the airport, the agent checked us in to PE and did not say anything about the upgrade. My companions Boarding pass for DFW-STL would not print for some reason, probably because his Aadvantage number had been removed. (or some other odd reason).

    We ended up getting a $500 voucher and 15,000 miles for all of this confusion (each) but the “combining” of the records definitely seemed to cause some issues for us, along with their upgrading us prior to verifying the equipment was correct.

    Get it together AA!

  7. So as just a Platinum (and must use the 500 m upgrades) is my companion (no status) automatically prioritized with me? Thanks

  8. @ Eric — Hah, not a pseudonym per se. His first name is John and middle name is Bradford, though his parents have called him Ford since a young age.

  9. Very few AA agents understand the guidelines and procedures for companion upgrades.

    Just two weeks ago at LAX, my son and I MISSED the 1:20 PM flight to MIA on the 777 simply because the check-in agent was incapable of checking in my son using my 500 mile upgrades. Actually she refuted to do so numerous times stating that it was not possible to upgrade my son given he had no more 500 mile upgrades and we did not want to pay $200. Mind you that we arrived 45 minutes prior to departure and only had 15 minutes to check in and print our boarding passes.

    By the time our dear friend JC came to help it was too late and the captain had already taken control of the aircraft and given away our seats…

  10. How in the world do you not have 500 mile upgrade certificates? Do you rarely pay for AA flights now because you have so many points? My wife and I are just lifetime gold on AA, but have more 500 mile certificates than we can use. I’m surprised you don’t have a ton.

  11. Yep, this happens every time I fly with my wife. I’m EP and she’s Gold. It’s such a pain in the ass, because it almost always means I can’t relax at the airport because I’m always “dealing” with these kinds of things.

    Why isn’t this process transparent and consistent?

  12. Regarding the rest of your travel day, “waiting on maintenance paperwork” has become the go-to line on every flight I’ve taken this summer with the exception of “S**t storms in Dallas, cancelled!”

  13. Lucky. As an Exec Platinum you actually had to buy a certificate? You have used them all up. I’ve never come remotely close to using mine up in over 20 years of EP flying.

  14. @ Tom l @ Jason Spoerlein — Executive Platinum members don’t earn 500 mile upgrades, so I had very few.

  15. Oh, crazy. I didn’t know that. Makes a lot more sense. But crazy that a top elite has to buy them in this case and a lowly elite has more than they can use. Thanks for the info.

  16. This happened to me yesterday too!

    I was flying from Dallas to Tokyo Narita and there were only 4 seats left in business. I had bought an economy ticket and was traveling in a family of 4. I am an Executive Platinum and had applied all 4 systemwide upgrades to my family.

    On the day of departure, I was in the Flagship lounge at DFW an hour before boarding with my family (based on the account of my status) and I saw the upgrade list on the AA app. I quickly looked into it only to see we were #1 and #2 but the rest of our party was #15 and #16. I was about to talk to the agent (literally in the line) when the upgrades cleared and 2 got it and 2 were stuck in coach.

    That was a 13 hour flight so we just shared the Business Class seats by each person getting half of the flight. This was a waste though since I was originating from JFK and I had flown the extra 3.5 hours to Dallas and an additional 4 hour layover because systemwide upgrade space was available. It still didn’t clear though. Not I have 2 systemwide upgrades left which I have to find good use for.

    But it was still fun though and AA International coach was truly awful for the economy soft product (we have dietary restrictions with no meat and every meal on the plane had meat. We tried to preorder online but the site didn’t allow it).
    The seat was decent though and Business was way better than I was expecting (and amazing FA’s). I also got to see the new Flagship lounge at DFW and the one at JFK.

  17. If it was UA, it would have been sold out from underneath you long before you had gotten to the gate, or even the airport. SOP.

    (Cue for HenryLAX to rush to the defense of UA – “DL sucks and can’t even fly to HKG! AA can’t compete in NYC! UA rulz!!!”)

  18. @FLRtoLAX – You showed up to a flight 45 minutes before departure and missed it arguing about upgrades? If you checked in at home you would have realized there was a problem and headed to the airport earlier. Sorry, but this was on you.

    @JB – you ‘shared’ business class seats? I didn’t know that was a thing. Maybe I could rent my business class seat for a few hours on my next international flight. I wonder how much I could get on per hour basis. $200?

  19. I have experienced all of the above. It’s a crapshoot to upgrade a companion. Funny thing this yearvl my wife failed to make gold status, and I was short to make EXP. Now, I’m Pro Plat, and she gets upgraded as my companion most of the time. Before her gold status seemed to take precedent and it was a constant problem trying to get her status ignored and listed as my EXP companion. I gave up most of the time because I didn’t have the time or patience to deal with counter and gate agents, who acted like they never heard of such a thing.

  20. @Tom Smith – To clarify, I meant we took turns on the seat. We asked the FA though if we could do this after explaining the situation and she gladly allowed it. Sorry if the word choice was confusing.

  21. This is where UA has a superior program. I am 1K and my partner gets my 1K status. We clear upgrades together.

  22. Typical AA mindset: let’s make it as Unpleasant As Possible for our customers.
    “Consistently awful but sometimes good” is their moto.

  23. Just a data point: the day after I qualified as Gold on Cathay me and my partner were returning to HK from Bangkok on the same PNR.

    They upgraded us both to the flat-bed Business for the three-hour flight. He has no status with Cathay beyond being a Green member of Marco Polo club.

    It therefore was clear that the upgrade was entirely based on my new status. A nice way to end the weekend.

  24. It’s understandable.
    If you want your companion to earn your status then you have to use your own 500-mile certificate to upgrade your companion to show the relationship that you are sponsoring your companion. If your companion wants to use his own 500-mile certificate, then he has to stay with his own elite status. In your case, cause you are EP, so you get complimentary upgrades but your companion is Pro, he has to pay for his upgrade. He can always use his own certificate when he flies with no sponsor with higher status.
    Like you said, it has been a while for AA. Maybe that agent did that for the first time so she had to call someone to help her to do it. If they know how to do it, it can be done in less than 1 mins!

  25. I feel like this policy is quite cut and dry as per their website (https://www.aa.com/i18n/aadvantage-program/miles/redeem/award-travel/500-mile-upgrades.jsp#Imanelite)
    Clearly stating that:

    Elite members traveling with a companion
    You can request an upgrade for 1 companion traveling on the same flight using 500-mile upgrades as payment
    If your companion is booked in a different reservation, call Reservations to link the reservations
    If seats are available, you will be upgraded at the same time ( I think this would be the bullet indicating that if your want your EXP status to apply to Ford, YOU need to chip in a few 500 mile certificates).

  26. Similar experience for me (exp) and wife (plat) who were on same pnr but separated for airport upgrade. Agent told me same thing as a previous commenter mentioned, that if we remove her ff# from the record she would stay as companion when transferred to airport list as opposed to being ranked by her status.

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