Was I Almost Downgraded On A Paid First Class Fare?

Filed Under: American, Travel

I was supposed to jet off on a fun round the world trip in Emirates first class this weekend with Matt, though sometimes plans change. Unfortunately I have an emergency to attend to in Florida. I had just landed in Dallas this afternoon, at which point I found out I needed to fly to Tampa as soon as possible.

Last minute fares were outrageous, as you’d expect on a Thursday afternoon in late August. And given my valuation of American miles, paying cash was still a better value than redeeming miles. The good news when fares are ridiculous is that paid first class is often only marginally more expensive.

In this case first class was only $80 more than economy, which seemed worth it… especially since literally the only unassigned seat in economy was a middle towards the back of the plane. So I paid the extra $80 for the last first class seat. At this point it was just a couple of hours before departure.

After ticketing my reservation I went to select a seat, only to realize that there weren’t any first class seats left to assign! While some airlines will block first class seats in advance, American isn’t one of them. They’ll typically allow you to assign any first class seat in advance.

So it seemed like they were legitimately overselling first class.

I went to check in online, though wasn’t able to… because they weren’t able to assign me a seat. I was told to check-in at the airport.


At the airport check-in kiosk I received a departure management card, indicating that I was confirmed on the flight but didn’t have a seat assignment. This is pretty common as a non-elite if you’re in economy, though that was my first time getting such a card as a first class passenger.


I headed to the gate, and about 10 minutes before boarding approached the gate agent:

“Excuse me, do you know when I’ll get a seat assignment?”
“You’re number one on the upgrade list, and there should be a misconnect.”
“Just to clarify, I shouldn’t be on the upgrade list. I’m on a paid first class ticket.”
“Oh… I’m sorry. You should get a first class seat, don’t worry. Hold onto this boarding pass in the meantime.”

She handed me a boarding pass for a middle seat in economy, which wasn’t exactly reassuring. But it’s not like I had much of a choice, and ultimately my priority was getting home, regardless of what seat I was in (and I wouldn’t have made any sort of a fuss if I were downgraded, other than contacting customer relations after the fact for a fare adjustment and to see what their policy is).


Sure enough right as boarding began the gate agent handed me a boarding pass for a first class seat, and said “see, I told you there would be a misconnect.”

Of course this isn’t at all a big deal — if anything I’m writing this to get my mind off the reason I’m traveling home — but I found it to be an interesting situation nonetheless.

It raises a couple of questions, as this was my first time seeing American oversell first class:

  • Was the reason they oversold first class because they knew someone would misconnected? I was booking literally a couple of hours before departure, though I would be surprised if the reservations system would be that smart (I figured they’d “release” the inventory/seat when they knew someone would misconnect and then resell it, but the back-end technology fascinates me)
  • What is American’s correct procedure when it comes to downgrading passengers? Is it by status, fare class, time booked, having a seat assigned, or some other metric?

Has anyone experienced a similar situation, of an airline overselling in first class?

  1. @ Ben — Most importantly, I hope your family is OK. We had to make a similar trip 2 weeks ago when my mother had a heart attack. Thankfully, she is OK. In fact, we will be in Tampa for her 71st this weekend! We will keep you in our prayers.

  2. What happens with your money if you get downgraded? Do they refund the difference and give you some miles for the inconveniences? I hope that they can’t walk away with your money since it would means that they can oversell $10k tickets and put you on economy.

    Please explain this, I’m curious!

  3. Lucky – Please do keep everyone up to date once you know more. People on this blog care about you and your family. Hopefully, nothing too serious and everyone is ok.

  4. Hope everything is ok with the family Ben as thats the main priority here – This has happened to me before on AA but it turned out just like your situation. Sending you best and positive wishes your way. All the best my friend.

  5. @ Matthew — Never noticed this on UA, but interesting to know, especially since I’ve been buying lots of fake-first P-class on UA lately.

  6. If cash fares were outrageous, wouldn’t it have made more sense to save the $80 instead of caring about a middle seat? Maybe you’re super rich I guess so that doesn’t factor in.

  7. @ Jon — His decision has nothing to do with wealth or income. He basically chose to pay $80 to upgrade from a horrible coach seat to first. I would have made that same choice back when I was a broke college student!

  8. Another “mystery” post. Why not be upfront and tell people why you suddenly have to get to Tampa? You try to say that you are forthcoming, but with posts like this you really aren’t!

  9. Last month I was flying from LHR-LAX on AA and they had oversold business class by 3 seats,I volunteered my seat for a nice sized travel voucher. I was surprised that they were overselling a premium cabin as well.

  10. Along with others, never really met you or your family but feel like I have through your blogs, and so I do hope everything is ok!

    As for your ticket, I know they have official policy on what to pay in compensation for involuntary downgrades (and for this, y-ups are y fares), but never heard of over-selling first.

  11. What a funny boarding pass, looks like an old style paper ticket. Haven’t seen this in Europe our Asia for more than a decade.
    Doesn’t the U.S. have e tickets and mobile/self print boarding passes yet?

  12. “Another “mystery” post. Why not be upfront and tell people why you suddenly have to get to Tampa? You try to say that you are forthcoming, but with posts like this you really aren’t!”

    THIS ^^^^^^^^!!!!!

    Ben, you owe your readers an explanation on EVERYTHING YOU DO!!!!1!!! NO PRIVACY EVAAAR!!!!!!!!!!!

    YOU OWE US!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!111111!!!!1!2!111

    Bus srsly, hope things are okay or turn out okay, and you keep on looking after you. Let us know how things are at whatever level of detail or generality you want when/if you feel like it. Thoughts are with you.

  13. I hope your emergency turns out to be a false alarm. If it’s not a burden, please keep us updated so we know you’re okay.

  14. So you got the seat you paid for and the whole point of this article was to pitybrag about a family issue.

    This site’s gone to pot.

  15. So I’m not sure about American but some of the other US airlines sell an economy class ticket that includes an upgrade to first class (I forget the fare type). In that case, yes they could oversell first class and since it’s an upgrade they won’t owe you anything.

    Maybe that was your fare. On the flip side, I hope your emergency turns out ok.

  16. So maybe they oversold, but maybe it was good inventory management… But basically, this is all much ado about nothing? You were almost kinda bumped but weren’t? I guess I do get this post

  17. your situation is in my prayers and thoughts. Whether it is family or something else, I hope everything is all right. You have my deepest sincerity.

  18. omatravel has the answer. And Ben, I’m *really* surprised you haven’t realized it, given how much you travel on American.

    You *did not* buy a F (flexible/refundable) ticket, you bought a YUP (instant upgrade) ticket, which is basically an economy ticket plus upgrade (although unlike complimentary/mileage upgrade, it gives you F mileage/point earning). Most importantly, it does *not* guarantee a first class seat, especially in the case of IRROPS.

    There are countless threads about this on FlyerTalk. http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/american-airlines-aadvantage-pre-consolidation/1110881-aa-instant-upgrade-yup-kup-up-ticket-fare-consolidated.html

  19. (sorry if the previous comment came across as harsh… in retrospect, you probably weren’t thinking of fare classes given your personal emergency. Hope everything turns out OK.)

  20. Here’s what really happened.

    Gate Agent A: “Hey Gate Agent B, hold my beer and watch this!!”
    Gate Agent B: “Ok!”

    Gate Agent A: “Here you go!”
    Ben: “um, ok, I guess…”

    Gate Agent B to Gate Agent A: “Did you really just give that Executive Plat blogger on a paid F fare a Middle Seat Boarding Pass?”
    Gate Agent A to Gate Agent B: “Yeah, that was awesome”

  21. Never been into that situation personally but heard some Chinese trip report that MU oversold their J cabin from PVG to SIN, and the guy got RMB6000 compensation(for three pax)

  22. Triple-hopped into and out of the US last week with AA/US – all I can say is never again. From losing bags, to loading the nearest destination into the onboard planner because where we were actually going wasn’t in there (they didn’t correct it till well after takeoff either) to overquoted flight times, snack towers of doom in the lounges to filthy planes it was a really poor experience.

    AA/US doesn’t know its arse from its elbow at the moment and its only going to get worse with the big system switch over in a few weeks.

  23. I was brung up the old fashioned way: ‘If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all’. Particularly if you’re talking about ‘family’. A couple contributors here could learn something from that.

  24. Hope all is ok

    Really? Do you think that it’s AA computer system? It could be a Day of Departure specialist in Revenue Management who decided to do this. It’s foolish to think things like SWU or oversold F class fares even on domestics are not handled by a real person. There is too much money at stake for AA to let a computer do it in the last minutes before departure. Why do some SWU clear before others despite status? Why did they oversell when thee were mis connects?
    There are more people involved than you think.

  25. Hey Ben – Sending you and your family our best. Remember, there is an army out here that cares about you. Truly, let us know if you need anything.

  26. I had a fairly crazy experience with BA where I was downgraded for an 10+ hour international flight. Took a lot of wrangling, time, effort and blogging, to get a minimalistic compensation. If you care to read, you can find my last chapter (3rd of 3) here: http://myndset.com/2015/06/30/british-airways-downgraded/. There is a part one and two that recounts the way they tried to handle it!! Quite clear that BA (AA partner) does not have a slick process.

  27. AA doesn’t typically oversale first class, however if there is irregular operations, I have seen them oversale first class only by 1 seat.

  28. I echo so many others: I’ll keep you and your family in my thoughts and do hope everything is okay. Al the best to you and your family, Ben.

  29. @gene – clearly you don’t understand what broke means. When you’re broke you have to scavenge for the cash to get a ticket in the first place. An extra $80 would be a luxury. But it’s cool, some of us actually appreciate the value of money

  30. So your emergency – $20 says that it’s a medical thing. Have you had a bit of a rave recently (if you know what I mean ;))

  31. best wishes to your family…

    don’t know about YUP fares, but didn’t know they would instant upgrade two classes (unless it’s a two class flight).

    wonder if it was a FAM who took your seat just as you booked, and then didn’t fly at the last second?

  32. @ Ben — Yes, I appreciate the value of money — that’s what I get paid to do for a living. I am fortunate enough to never fly in coach.

  33. I was once complimentary upgraded into a sold out first class once on United 24 hours before departure. I did eventually get a seat at the gate last minute.

  34. Airlines have a shadow inventory they work from to oversell. I would think it should be smart enough to see guaranteed misconnects and sell the seat.

  35. What is with some of the aholes on here. Why he went home is nobody’s business but his. And @James. You’re a homophobe si do us a favor a crawl into a hole.

  36. What is with some of the aholes on here. Why he went home is nobody’s business but his. And @James. You’re a homophobe so do us a favor a crawl into a hole.

  37. Gotta love all the mindless lucky-brigade drones whose comments on this post veer things completely off-topic.

  38. I wonder what fare class you booked into? Was it actually a Y fare or was it an F fare? Sometimes the webpage shows those YUP fares as F but they are really Y.

    Glad you got the seat you were expecting though.

  39. Hope all is well in Florida.

    But am sure that AA management was secretly hoping u stayed in that middle seat in Y. 🙂

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