Guide To American Airlines Complimentary Elite Upgrades

Guide To American Airlines Complimentary Elite Upgrades

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One of the great things about having elite status with an airline is being eligible for complimentary, space available first class upgrades. Admittedly these won’t always clear, but if you’re realistic and strategic, it’s possible to get lots of value out of this perk. In this post I wanted to take a look at American Airlines’ system for complimentary upgrades, especially in light of the program changes we’ve seen in recent months.

American Airlines elite upgrade basics

All American AAdvantage elite members are eligible for unlimited, complimentary, auto-requested upgrades to first class on domestic flights, as well as select short haul international flights. Elite members aren’t just eligible to upgrade themselves, but are also eligible to upgrade a companion traveling with them.

The major catch, of course, is that a large number of elite members are generally competing for a fairly limited number of first class seats. The devil is very much in the detail when it comes to these benefits, so let’s cover everything you need to know.

Which routes are eligible for complimentary upgrades?

American AAdvantage elite members are eligible for upgrades on American marketed and operated flights in select regions. This includes:

  • All flights within the United States, including to & from Hawaii
  • Flights between the United States and Canada, Mexico, the Bahamas, the Caribbean, Bermuda, and Central America (Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama)

Upgrades are valid from economy or premium economy to the next class of service, which will generally be marketed as first or business class. For flights with both first and business class (like premium transcontinental routes), complimentary upgrades aren’t offered from business to first class.

Upgrades are valid on paid tickets, except for Concierge Key members and Executive Platinum members, who are also eligible for complimentary upgrades on award tickets.

Receive complimentary upgrades on many American flights

How are complimentary upgrades prioritized?

How are American Airlines complimentary first class upgrades prioritized?

  • They’re first prioritized based on your elite status; Concierge Key members clear first, then Executive Platinum members, then Platinum Pro members, then Platinum members, then Gold members
  • They’re then prioritized by your rolling 12-month total of Loyalty Points

In other words, if two Executive Platinum members are requesting complimentary upgrades on a flight, the one with the higher Loyalty Points total would clear first.

It is worth noting the upgrade hierarchy beyond complimentary upgrades. Within each elite tier:

  • Upgrades “supported” with systemwide upgrades or mileage upgrades clear before complimentary upgrades
  • For Executive Platinum members, upgrades on revenue tickets clear before upgrades on award tickets
There’s a specific order for American first class upgrades

When do complimentary upgrades clear?

American Airlines complimentary upgrades can start clearing at the following windows, based on your elite status:

  • Concierge Key members can start to clear up to 120 hours before departure
  • Executive Platinum members can start to clear up to 100 hours before departure
  • Platinum Pro members can start to clear up to 72 hours before departure
  • Platinum members can start to clear up to 48 hours before departure
  • Gold members can start to clear up to 24 hours before departure

It’s worth understanding that just because upgrades can clear that far in advance doesn’t mean they actually will. Quite to the contrary, more often than not they won’t, even if the cabin is mostly empty. Upgrades can clear all the way up to 40 minutes before departure, and in some cases even after that, as onboard upgrades happen if there are no shows.

So consider it a blessing if your upgrade clears at the window, though certainly don’t expect it.

Upgrades can clear up to 120 hours before departure

How do complimentary companion upgrades work?

All AAdvantage elite members are eligible for complimentary companion upgrades:

  • Companion upgrades can clear the same time as the upgrades for the elite member
  • If you’re booked on the same reservation then the companion upgrade can easily be requested, while if you’re on separate reservations, you’ll have to call American to link the two tickets
  • Up until the airport, the companion has the same upgrade priority as the elite member; at the airport the companion would only automatically clear based on their own status, but an agent can manually change it so that the companion gets the status priority of the elite member
Companions of AAdvantage elites are also eligible for upgrades

How do Alaska Airlines elite upgrades work?

Alaska Airlines and American Airlines have a partnership, offering reciprocal upgrades between the two airlines. How do upgrades work on American Airlines for eligible Alaska Mileage Plan members?

  • Alaska Mileage Plan MVP 100K and MVP 75K members are eligible for complimentary upgrades on American, on all the same flights as AAdvantage members
  • These upgrades are also valid for one companion booked on the same reservation
  • Upgrades can be confirmed up to 72 hours before departure, and are prioritized immediately behind AAdvantage Platinum Pro members
  • Flights must be marketed by Alaska or American to be eligible, and basic economy fares are excluded from this
  • The upgrade process is automatic, and you can call American Airlines reservations if you want to opt out of this
Alaska elite members are also eligible for American upgrades

Bottom line

American Airlines offers complimentary upgrades to all AAdvantage elite members, as well as their companions. On paper, American now has one of the most generous complimentary elite upgrade policies. The catch, of course, is that not all upgrades will clear. The more people that are eligible for upgrades, the higher the percentage of people who will be denied upgrades.

The above should give you a basic understanding of how upgrades are prioritized, though.

If you’ve an AAdvantage elite member, what has your experience been with complimentary upgrades?

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  1. Kevin Wilkerson Guest

    I Totally agree with Steve. I bought a 1st class return ticket from London to Dallas and was refused entry to the Flagship lounge when flying Business class to Mexico City and back this week. I am a UK based 5 million plus AA member .!!

  2. Douglas Guest

    I pay for my first class tickets.
    I loathe sitting next to or behind an "upgrade".
    They're vile, uncouth, dirty, and terribly ill-mannered.
    None of these lowlifes know their way around first class.
    For example, one germ sitting in front of me demanded the flight attendant fix him a, "sex on the beach" cocktail!
    Another got so angry at the person seated behind him that he rose up and threatened...

    I pay for my first class tickets.
    I loathe sitting next to or behind an "upgrade".
    They're vile, uncouth, dirty, and terribly ill-mannered.
    None of these lowlifes know their way around first class.
    For example, one germ sitting in front of me demanded the flight attendant fix him a, "sex on the beach" cocktail!
    Another got so angry at the person seated behind him that he rose up and threatened to punch the poor elderly man.
    These "upgrades" are the lowest of the low, and deserve to be ONLY seated in the last 2 rows of first class.

  3. David P Guest

    I’m pretty satisfied with the upgrade program. As Platinum I found I received upgrades around 50% of the time. Now as PP, I’d say it’s closer to 75% of the time.
    Nothing wrong with AA trying to sell first class before offering them for free. My one suggestion would be that all monies spent at AA, including paid upgrades, should earn LPs.

  4. Steve Guest

    The fact that northern South America isn't eligible for Flagship lounge access OR complimentary upgrades is rather annoying. Most of the flights are on narrow bodies.

    1. dvnthkr1 New Member

      Completely agree! I flew on paid Biz to BOG in March on a 777-200 but had 0 lounge access. That was really strange.

  5. Grogg New Member

    Is the rolling 12 month loyalty points determined by the rolling number of loyalty points at the upgrade window, at the time of ticketing, or at some other time?

  6. bootus Guest

    Nice article - but what about Oneworld Sapphire and Emerald members - how do they fit into the pecking order of upgrades ... and does the companion rule apply to them too ?

  7. D3kingg Guest

    My upgrades clear 88% of the time as Platinum Pro. I’m based in an outstation Houston which is United territory. That would be the equivalent of being United or Delta elite based out of DFW.

    Anyways on a short domestic flight American fares are $407 and Spirit is $89. How can I not jump ship ? A 2 or 3 hour flight is nothing.

  8. Maxie Dean Guest

    If AA Exec Plat and companion are booked on AA domestic coach awards in same PNR, are they both eligible for upgrade ?
    If so , is the award upgrade process identical to the purchased ticket upgrade process? Thanks

    1. Steve Guest

      The fact that northern South America isn't eligible for Flagship lounge access OR complimentary upgrades is rather annoying. Most of the flights are on narrow bodies.

    2. Steve Guest

      Some how my post got duplicated. What I meant to say here is that upgrades work the same way in this scenario, but prioritized after EXPs with paid tickets

  9. Nun Guest

    What does "Up until the airport," mean? Let's say a day in advance I request an upgrade for 2, and my companion has no status. I arrive at the gate and it hasn't cleared. Do I have to make another request once I get to the gate?

    "Up until the airport, the companion has the same upgrade priority as the elite member; at the airport the companion would only automatically clear based on their own...

    What does "Up until the airport," mean? Let's say a day in advance I request an upgrade for 2, and my companion has no status. I arrive at the gate and it hasn't cleared. Do I have to make another request once I get to the gate?

    "Up until the airport, the companion has the same upgrade priority as the elite member; at the airport the companion would only automatically clear based on their own status, but an agent can manually change it so that the companion gets the status priority of the elite member"

    1. rjb Guest

      I have bounced around between Gold and Platinum on AA for years. Upgrades clear so infrequently as a Gold/Plat that I had 83 500 mile cert in my account when AA recently decided to cancel them in lieu of Loyalty Points. (useless to me)

      I get my One World status via another airline and I have access to MCE seats and airline which is far more useful to me than non-existent "upgrades."

      The...

      I have bounced around between Gold and Platinum on AA for years. Upgrades clear so infrequently as a Gold/Plat that I had 83 500 mile cert in my account when AA recently decided to cancel them in lieu of Loyalty Points. (useless to me)

      I get my One World status via another airline and I have access to MCE seats and airline which is far more useful to me than non-existent "upgrades."

      The only way you have a shot at a comp upgrade is on a short flight (i.e LGA to DCA) but in many cases the GA's don't bother clearing the list.

    2. DiogenesTheCynic New Member

      If any of the 500 mile upgrades were purchased, you should give AA customer service a call and ask them for alternative refunds to the Loyalty Points. I did this *after* I'd gotten the LP refund and was still (weirdly, a week or two later) sent by email some options, for refunds of the cost of the 500 mile upgrades or *5,000* miles per paid upgrade, obviously a far better deal. I was very surprised...

      If any of the 500 mile upgrades were purchased, you should give AA customer service a call and ask them for alternative refunds to the Loyalty Points. I did this *after* I'd gotten the LP refund and was still (weirdly, a week or two later) sent by email some options, for refunds of the cost of the 500 mile upgrades or *5,000* miles per paid upgrade, obviously a far better deal. I was very surprised this was still available. (And it didn't work asking them through chat -- I had to call over the phone.)

    3. Shawn Guest

      You must be based in a hub as I have had the exact opposite experience flying out of a non-hub. My upgrades almost always clear as a gold/platinum into and out of CMH and probably 25% of the time elsewhere.

      But I kinda agree. If I want to sit in F I book it. If I don’t care or it’s for work anything else is extra. I always sit in MCE and clear prob 40% of my upgrades otherwise.

    4. RemsPlat Guest

      From what I’ve read on AA’s website - only two elite members traveling together will be based on individual status if not cleared before the airport (I’m assuming “up until the airport” means day of travel or three hours before takeoff?). If one elite member and a companion (with no status) are traveling together, then it seems that the companion with no status continues to “possess” the status of the elite member that they’re traveling...

      From what I’ve read on AA’s website - only two elite members traveling together will be based on individual status if not cleared before the airport (I’m assuming “up until the airport” means day of travel or three hours before takeoff?). If one elite member and a companion (with no status) are traveling together, then it seems that the companion with no status continues to “possess” the status of the elite member that they’re traveling with (even if the upgrade hasn’t cleared yet).

      It doesn’t quite make sense why two elites would need to re-request the upgrade while one elite with a no status companion does (maybe they’re still trying to work out the kinks within their system?), but that’s what their website is hinting at.

  10. George Romey Guest

    AA (and other airlines) are monetizing the premium cabins and that's a good business decision. My beef is that those upgrade offers typically don't earn LPs. I find myself now just buying first outright when I book so that I get LPs. I'm finding that domestic flights will have reasonable first class fares but often requiring a connection in which there would be direct flights.

  11. Kuloko Guest

    I can tell you how complementary upgrades work for the current AA EXP: I am <70 h before a domestic flight with 4 F seats for sale. While I am not upgraded, I am offered "Move to First" for $97. The current AAdvantage program is pure garbage.

    1. Brian Gasser Guest

      Why is it unrealistic for AA to monetize unsold seats? If you want F, you wont pay the $97?

  12. Scudder Diamond

    Yay! I'm only number 27 on the upgrade list for the 8-seat F cabin on the 319!

Featured Comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

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Steve Guest

The fact that northern South America isn't eligible for Flagship lounge access OR complimentary upgrades is rather annoying. Most of the flights are on narrow bodies.

1
JohnRossa Member

Aha, so you HAVE a chance then!

1
Kevin Wilkerson Guest

I Totally agree with Steve. I bought a 1st class return ticket from London to Dallas and was refused entry to the Flagship lounge when flying Business class to Mexico City and back this week. I am a UK based 5 million plus AA member .!!

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