The American Transcon Route On Which I Can’t Score An Upgrade, But Really Don’t Care

Filed Under: American, Travel

Upgrades are never a sure thing, though I do everything I can to maximize my upgrade odds. I’m happy to fly economy if I have to, though if I can reasonably avoid it, why not? On routes where an upgrade is generally easy, I’ll usually chance it.

On routes where upgrades are tougher I’ll sometimes just pay for first class (if the premium is reasonable), or use a Business Extra upgrade certificate to secure the upgrade.

There are some routes where upgrades can be tough, and I clear sometimes, while other times I don’t. For example, New York to Los Angeles is a route that can be a really tough upgrade, but if you travel on the right days and at the right times, it’s not actually that tough of an upgrade.

Then there’s Los Angeles to Toronto, which American flies once daily. You’d think this would be a reasonably easy upgrade, given that Air Canada dominates that market, so anyone often flying between the two cities won’t be flying American. However, the route is operated by an A319, which has just eight first class seats.

In the past couple of years I’ve flown this route five time. I’ve sat in first class zero times. There’s not another route where I’ve missed upgrades so consistently. And it’s not that I’m number one or two on the upgrade list, but often I’m further down that that — today I was number four.

So why do I keep taking this flight, rather than making an effort to avoid being in economy on a transcon? Because I’ve had an exit row seat with an empty middle seat every single time I’ve taken this flight. Nowadays getting an empty middle seat is incredibly rare given how full flights typically are. Getting an empty middle seat on a plane with a single exit row is even rarer.

As far as I’m concerned, an exit row seat with an empty middle is basically the same as first class, since I can work comfortably. Add in the fact that Executive Platinum members get free snacks and drinks in economy, and I’d say the experience is just about the same.

I still find it weird that the one route where I can’t seem to score an upgrade is also the route where I consistently get an empty middle seat next to me (you’d think a flight where upgrades are consistently difficult would also be one with full exit rows, since that seating is reserved for elite members).

So in the meantime I’ll continue gladly flying “ghetto first class” between Los Angeles and Toronto, as strange as I find my good and bad luck streak on this route to be…

  1. Per what Keitherson said…Whilst a lot of hollywood traffic does go to YVR to those studios, there is also a significant studio area beyond YYZ.

    I often see this flight on Air Canada price out around $5000 last minute for roundtrip’s and its absolutely insane.

  2. that route exists almost solely to feed Qantas flights at LAX. Everybody up front is paid connecting from Qantas flights down under. You’ll notice that it connects perfectly to/ from Qantas flights at LAX.

  3. I was recently able to score biz on Air Canada’s 787-9 for only 25K United miles, transferred from UR. The 787 looks incredibly comfortable, and 25K seemed like a steal to me. Maybe something for you to look at in the future.

  4. I’m also in Toronto today, and in fact I was going to join you guys on your Delta trip – if I recall correctly, you guys are in row 2 on the YYZ-DTW leg and I was behind you. I’ve switched to next Monday’s flight, so will be looking forward to your review to see what Delta has waiting for me.

  5. @tony. you can book that same flight (YYZ-LAX) with 20k krisflyer miles, probably low taxes. that’s an even better deal that 25k united miles.

  6. Lucky- could you do an article at some point on how you try to optimize chances of getting upgraded on American? I’m platinum pro, and while not EXP, I’m finding upgrades on most of my east coast flights (home is PHL), to be less than 20%. Would love to know how you try to manage the process and your expectations. Sorry if this is a stupid ask, I just can’t seem to fully figure out AA. Thanks!

  7. @ Brad

    Lucky’s right. On Europe flights I tend to buy exit row seats in Economy, which have more legroom than J class.

    Intra-Europe flying is generally a miserable experience; best done with as much space as possible. FF status is then important for the lounge access / priority boarding.

  8. @Tim – “home is PHL”

    It should read, “home is PHL, home of the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles”

  9. A319 is always the hardest upgrade with AA to get. I’ve had it out of Omaha to Phoenix once and maybe out of BNA but I proactively search for routes without that bird so I have an upgrade opportunity.

  10. On the JFK LAX route if you don’t mind getting into JFK or LAX at midnight those flights are easier for upgrades. A 4pm departure from LAX or 9pm departure from JFK. Saturday redeyes are good for upgrades too. So is Easter Sunday and the 2nd night of Passover.
    Just don’t expect having the entire first class cabin all to yourself. 9 non revs are sure to fill the cabin 10 min before departure. :))))

  11. What Tim said! Lucky, would love to see an article on how to strategize increasing your odds of upgrades, for elites.

  12. @lucky I do fly JFK LAX all the time and am EXPLAT and very rarely get the upgrade to Biz. You mentioned that you secure the upgrade with Business extra upgrades. Do the work the same as SWU? Which worked for us. We used expiring ones. Would love to know if the Biz extra upgrades will give us better odds. Thanks and love the column!

  13. @Dana – the BE Certificates operate just the same as an SWU or Cash + Copay. Only way they are different is you have to book a certain fare code to use (they do not work on deep discount economy)

  14. @Tom – Yes, and it’s even better in row 11 when row 10 doesn’t recline! Really tired of having the back of someone’s reclined head in my face up in F. Row 1 with no legroom is even worse.

  15. Thx for making me feel good about myself lucky, if flying exit row with empty middle seat is the same as flying first class my logbook suddenly looks much better.

  16. I love the picture. “Handmade sandwich,” LOL. I think AA’s sandwiches would actually taste better if a machine made them. It would certainly be impossible for them to taste any worse…

  17. Agree with the poster about the QF connection.
    That flight is pretty much exclusively for QF connections from LAX to YYZ.
    Flights connect from SYD/BNE/MEL on the codeshare QF3245.
    Considering that the inbound QF aircraft are A380/747/787 its no wonder there is hardly any availability…..

  18. The A319 is such a joke on that route. It was a 738 forever and that much better fit the demand, and made upgrades much better.

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