American Systemwide Upgrade Elite Companion Policy Changes

Filed Under: American

Update: American has reached out to clarify that apparently the policy on companion upgrade priority doesn’t apply to systemwide upgrades. Here’s what they had to say:

“We have not implemented companion benefits when traveling on a mileage-award upgrade or on a systemwide upgrade. The only new thing introduced on Jan. 1 is with the RV and RI priority codes.  Companions will now inherit the priority of the elite member they’re traveling with (if they’re in the same PNR) when listed as an RI or RV on the airport priority list.

Additionally, companions traveling on a 500-mile upgrade continue to inherit their elite sponsor’s priority – this functionality previously existed and still does.”

American has made some major changes to the AAdvantage program in 2017, like adding a revenue requirement for elite status, introducing a fourth elite tier, etc. However, they’re also making some minor changes, which are either good or bad depending on how you look at them.


In mid-November I wrote about how American is updating their companion upgrade policy as of 2017. Before 2017, an elite member’s companion would clear with their priority prior to the airport list, while at the airport everyone would clear based on their own status.

I always thought that was a silly policy, or at least there should be consistency between the policy for the airport list and the policy prior to that.

However, one thing I wasn’t aware of is that apparently this policy applies to systemwide upgrades as well. Per the always knowledgable JonNYC, companions of an elite member on a systemwide upgrade inherit the elite member’s status even on the airport list. Per an internal memo:

Also effective January 1, companions of an elite member will receive the same priority on the PALL list as the elite member.


American keeps holding upgrade space back closer and closer to departure. It’s always rough when you’re waitlisting a systemwide upgrade for you and a companion that looks like a sure bet, only to have them clear upgrades day of departure, and then your companion falls way down on the list.

This new policy should apply even to previously booked tickets. However, best I can tell it doesn’t apply if you’re not traveling with the person you’re gifting the systemwide upgrade to (though I could be mistaken).

So going forward, it looks like elite member companions get the elite priority for all kinds of upgrades, including complimentary upgrades, sticker upgrades, systemwide upgrades, etc.

Like I said last time, that’s 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

This will certainly make me feel more comfortable requesting a systemwide upgrade when I’m traveling with a non-elite companion, so I view this as a positive change.

  1. @lucky, what exactly does companions mean? Is it one companion and does it have to be on the same PNR? I’m EXP and sometimes will have wife and daughter traveling with me. Thanks

  2. In late December 2016 (last week), I cleared both me and my son at the airport using AA 500-mile upgrades on LAX-NYC and he had my elite priority (Platinum) even though he had no status. He would not have cleared without my priority.

  3. Alex – I encountered same issue last week and was told it is limited to one companion. I had to split my other two family members off my PNR even to be put on the waitlist. I didn’t do it in advance and waited until the airport after checkin because the AA agent on the phone said that if I split them off in advance onto a separate PNR, they would have to pay for their checked baggage (we all had our own bags – more than my allowance if it was just two of us).

  4. @Lucky “if you’re like me, you’d rather sit in economy with your companion” – I agree, but, I am thinking that there have been very few of those economy+companion occurrences for you on international long-haul. 🙂 Not that I blame you, I personally loathe economy class for long-haul travel.

  5. They’re not following this policy yet. Flew home from AKL this morning. My SWU cleared and my wife was #5 on the list and did not clear. There were 3 upgrades given and they did them by status per the gate agent. I am highly displeased as the EXP desk told me beforehand that we were #1 and #2 on the upgrade list.

  6. So I have 4 Systemwide Upgrades that expire end of Feb. Have a friend traveling with his wife in late January DFW LHR. Called EXP Desk to request waitlist on system wide upgrade for their flight as a gift. Not sure if they will clear, but crossing my fingers….

  7. I think this is great and should be adopted by other carriers and even with award tickets. I hate the fact that I get upgraded all the time when I’m traveling alone, but have to turn down upgrades when I travel with my wife because she doesn’t get upgraded as well. I, and I presume many others would be more than willing to give up a few upgrades when traveling for business in order that some other frequent flier and his family get to have a nicer vacation so long as we get the chance to ride up front with our significant other when we are doing the same.

  8. I just received an email from AA offering platinum plus for 899$. I an currently platinum as I missed EP by 10k miles last year. What’s your opinion on the upgrade of status for the cost. I fly a lot for work but I am now based in London and I bet I will be flying more BA this year on long haul routes.

  9. Can anyone find this info on AA’s site? I’m an EXP trying to upgrade an employee on same flight with me but different PNR. (My upgrade cleared moments before I requested his upgrade. (just booked flights today))

    Agent told me this isn’t true and if it doesnt clear before I arrive at the airport, he will be upgraded based on his status, which is nothing. any suggestions?

  10. I cannot figure out how to best manage my companions upgrades. I am EXP and he is GLD. We book in the same PNR and then split them so that if one seat clears I will get upgraded.

    Regarding this comment in the post: Additionally, companions traveling on a 500-mile upgrade continue to inherit their elite sponsor’s priority – this functionality previously existed and still does.

    That doesn’t seem to always be true. On our flight thisvweek he was much lower on the upgrade list. When I asked at the Admirals Club, they showed him as GLD in the queue. When ai shwed that we booked together and he was my companion they fixed it and he moved up the list.

    What do I need to o to make sure that he always inherits my EXP status when flying with me?

  11. Another data point that this isn’t in effect yet. I’m an EXP and was 2 on the upgrade list, while my wife was #6 as a platinum this past weekend (same PNR). Good to know they are willing to manually fix this as the airport.

  12. Data point as of 22 Apr. I was #2 on DFW-CDG and had requested upgrades for both me and my wife with SWUs. Wife was down around #13 or so. They upgraded #1 and #3, called me to the desk, told us there was one spot left; we gave the seat to #4. FWIW I didn’t try to make any sort of plea one way or another before of after upgrades started clearing at airport. If I’m not doing work on my laptop I don’t mind economy on a 787 anyway. It’s a smooth ride.

  13. Traveling with wife from JFK to LHR and I was #3 and wife was #8 on upgrade list. I cleared during boarding but wife did not. Spoke with gate agent and she claimed that companions travel on their own status level for international systemwide upgrades. Luckily my wife ended up clearing anyways but appears this policy still not in effect

  14. I will likely hit EXP this year and that status will be good until January 31 19. but want to use the SWU for travel in spring of ’19.

    Does the SWU have to be used on flight flown by the Jan 31 or just booked by then?


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