American Will Begin Selling Upgrades To Non-Elites In Advance

Filed Under: American

Airlines are increasingly trying to monetize their first class cabins, rather than offering “free” upgrades to elite members. I can’t blame them for this in theory. At the same time, elite benefits keep being reduced, and at some point these elite programs will go from generating loyalty and incremental business, to just being cost centers.

As far as monetizing first class cabins by selling upgrades for cash to non-elites, I think American has been significantly less aggressive than Delta and United. Up until now American has only offered paid upgrades day of departure, and only if there’s upgrade space available, meaning that all elite upgrades have cleared.

Delta first class

Well, it looks like American will soon be expanding this program further. Per JonNYC at TravelingBetter, American will begin offering non-elite members cash upgrade offers up to a week in advance (though usually just a few days out), giving them an opportunity to be added to the priority upgrade waitlist.

Supposedly the upgrades will only clear after elite upgrades clear, and will be processed the day before departure.

I’m not exactly sure what that would look like in practice, since typically many elite upgrades only clear the day of departure. So if upgrades clear through this program, would they only be cleared if there’s no one on the list more than a day out? If so, that’s a very narrow set of circumstances, and it almost seems like a waste of time to offer to pay cash for one of these upgrades a few days out, since they’re unlikely to clear.

I’m very curious to see how this will be executed…

American first class

Bottom line

Across the board, the number of people receiving “free” upgrades on domestic flights is decreasing significantly. It’s clear that this move on American’s part is an attempt at increasing the number of people paying to upgrade to first class. However, I doubt this change in and of itself will be too drastic. I think eventually things are headed the direction of other carriers, where paid upgrades are clearing ahead of complimentary elite upgrades… but this is just the beginning, and only a small step in that direction.

If anyone gets one of these paid upgrade offers, please report back!

  1. Sad to see the demise of every single FF program on Earth.
    I have heard of the days when flying was rewarding.
    Nowadays we have useless programs like skywards, that are useless, because the people who have enough miles and elite status, don’t need to use them, since they always fly Paid F fares.
    What also happened to the days when AA and United used to serve caviar in F.
    The only remaining good things about AA, was their frequent flyer program, even now that’s going…….

  2. I was always surprised they didn’t market these upgrades more. My parents moved to Tampa last year and when my mom would fly back/forth to Chicago to visit she would sometimes get an offer to upgrade. It was usually $145 ($45 per 500 miles). If you didn’t know to look for it it was very easy to miss the offer. Since several times she was checking 2 or 3 bags due to the move, it was a no brainer to upgrade her. As long as this actually works as intended and only clear AFTER elites, then I think it is basically just making the offers known to people who might not have picked up on it.

  3. I would often get an option to upgrade my DC to Miami flights for $90 when I checked in online. Funny thing is, I’ve never once gotten it since I reached Gold.

  4. Anna; they won’t offer any load-factor-based upgrades that are available to non-elites to elites traveling on revenue tickets.

  5. I would be very surprised if they didn’t fully move to the DL/UA system within a year. As an AA loyalist, it’s always been convenient to simply pay for the upgrade when I’ve had to fly other metal. But I always feel a tinge of guilt for the DL and UA elites who I’m jumping over.

    If AA does decide to prioritize paid upgrades over waitlisted elites, that’s the nail in the coffin of AAdvantage, IMO.

  6. Anna; they won’t offer any load-factor-based upgrades that are available to non-elites to elites traveling on revenue tickets
    (sorry about the mistake post immediately above!)

  7. This was 5 years ago but I was once offered an upgrade at Checkin on United for $200 from BOS to LAX. 6 hour flight.

  8. Once got an up grade to FIRST on AA flying a late flight from Dallas to Tampa FL; Was checking in at the KC airport “auto machine” and it told me I could UP-Grade to 1st on the Dallas to Tampa for $20; Couldn’t wait to get my Credit Card out !! My older Brother was also flying from KC to Dallas and then to CA; he didn’t get offered an upgrade , (LOL) sure ticked him off when I told him and showed him my ticket; But then I’m and AA Advantage member and he isn’t.

  9. Oh lord people US was doing this before the merger, Elites would be upgraded first and if any seats were still open then the upgrades cleared. The only one who really gets screwed are the last minute business traveler who can’t purchase a F ticket.

  10. “Up until now American has only offered paid upgrades day of departure, and only if there’s upgrade space available, meaning that all elite upgrades have cleared.”

    I don’t think this is quite true. I’ve been PLT on AA for 2 years and have yet to have an upgrade clear before getting to the gate. Just last Friday flying BOS-PHX, my friend who was on a separate PNR was offered a paid ~$200 upgrade to F at check-in. He declined, and my other companion and I cleared into the last two F seats. I imagine if he had accepted, we wouldn’t have cleared, so AA has already been upselling upgrades at the expense of elites.

  11. Agree with Tony. Seems like this will be exactly the system US Airways had pre-merger, which, as a non-elite but frequent traveler, I loved. They cleared all their elites and if there was space (which there often was), would offer various upgrades at certain points. As long as these paid upgrades are behind Golds on the list, I think this is a great idea to fill the cabins. If they go above the Golds, then I, as a Gold, will be very upset.

  12. I have a quick question on this. I have paid upgrades in my account (6) which I paid for, none were comp’d. I wonder if AA considers these as complimentary upgrades? Because technically they aren’t. If my upgrade balance was 0, I wonder if I would get the offer at check-in?

  13. I was flying from San Antonio to Dallas with a connecting flight out of DFW and got offered an upgrade for the first segment for $50. I took it and it’s a fairly good deal if you’re checking baggages given that you can check 3 bags (it was back in last November)

  14. I was very surprised to get my first offer to upgrade last Friday PHX/BWI for $170. I am 6 foot 5 and was going to spend $70 for MCE anyway since coach was packed, so I took the upgrade for the extra $100. It was during on-line check-in 24 hours in advance.

  15. On July 16th my DH and I got an offer to upgrade to First to only $50 from LAS to LAX, needless to say we jumped on it, as it would be almost nothing given that we wouldn’t have to pay for baggage fees.

  16. As MVP on Alaska I have been lucky to be frequently upgraded to first class flying rt SEA-SNA. The rules state I am eligible for upgrade 48 hrs before the flight…effectively 24 hours before the upgrades are available for sale at checkin. Last month on a Tuesday morning flight, I wasn’t upgraded prior to check in even though there were three seats available as checking started. I called the Elite customer care line and asked for clarification. Apparently, a certain percentage of seats are designated eligible for elite upgrades. Once they run out of those eligible seats, you get to pay for the upgrade at check in if you’re quick enough. Also, they indicated that the percentage isn’t set in stone and fluctuates based on some other non-disclosure factors.

  17. I am not gold anymore but was offered an upgrade to first flying from Philadelphia to Orlando for $80 last week. You could not make seat selections, which were assigned afyer paying the fee. I looked at the open seats before I paid and saw that two sets of two seats were open. I upgraded the two of us and we got our seats together.

    I don’t understand why I couldn’t make the selection before paying the upgrade.

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