American Airlines Is Very Bad At Selling Upgrades

American Airlines Is Very Bad At Selling Upgrades

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American Airlines has never been terribly aggressive about selling upgrades, at least in comparison to Delta Air Lines and United Airlines. As an elite member, I’d consider that to be a good thing, since it leaves more seats for elite members to be upgraded to.

To my surprise (as I don’t remember the last time I received something like this), I received an upgrade offer for an upcoming American flight. My only takeaway is that American is very bad at selling upgrades.

I had booked a $49 (non-basic) economy ticket from Tampa to Chicago, and today I received an email offering an “upgrade to a premium cabin,” talking about how “premium upgrade options are available,” and how I should “act now for best availability.”

I clicked through to the offer, figuring maybe I’d get a decent deal. My assumption was that the upgrade cost would be either the fare difference between economy and first class (so not a deal at all), or a slight discount. Well, it was neither of those things.

The upgrade cost was $336, which sure seemed steep, since that was more than the difference between economy class and first class at the time that I booked. Also note that if you take the upgrade offer, you don’t earn any bonus redeemable miles, elite qualifying miles, elite qualifying segments, or elite qualifying dollars, for the additional amount you’re spending.

I figured that maybe the cost of first class had increased, so I looked up the flight again — the economy fare was still $49, and the first class fare was still $373.

$373 minus $49 is $324. American has no change fees anymore. So if I want to fly first class, I have two options:

  • I could outright change my ticket to upgrade to first class for $324, and I’d earn bonus redeemable miles, bonus elite qualifying miles, and bonus elite qualifying dollars
  • I could take this upgrade offer for $336 (an extra $12), and I’d earn no bonus redeemable miles, elite qualifying miles, or elite qualifying dollars

Well, or I could just stick to my $49 ticket and hope for an upgrade, which is exactly what I’ll do. While I value first class, I don’t value it quite that much.

Bottom line

American Airlines isn’t very aggressive about trying to sell upgrades, and in a way that’s a blessing, since it leaves more seats for elite upgrades. Now I finally received an upgrade offer, and it’s $12 more than the difference between the economy and first class fare, and I wouldn’t earn any extra redeemable miles, or extra credit towards elite qualification.

I hope American Airlines keeps selling upgrades this way, because I’d say it’s good news for elite members. 😉

Has anyone else received an upgrade offer from American? If so, was it as silly as this one?

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  1. Kyle

    To follow up on this article (I'm glad you posted this, Lucky!) as I have recently learned the hard way that there are two up-sell options out there online/app right now: 1. an up-sell "fee" where you earn nothing but get the higher class of service and 2. a true up-sell that is the fare difference and you receive full credit for it too (miles and elite credit).

    Some recent insights: I'm getting close...

    To follow up on this article (I'm glad you posted this, Lucky!) as I have recently learned the hard way that there are two up-sell options out there online/app right now: 1. an up-sell "fee" where you earn nothing but get the higher class of service and 2. a true up-sell that is the fare difference and you receive full credit for it too (miles and elite credit).

    Some recent insights: I'm getting close to EP status this year and need more EQDs to get there so I recently purchased an up-sell from JFK to LAX in the app and was credited the extra amount I paid. Then I did it again for another flight from RDU to MIA and when I checked my ticket, it still reflected the original fare amount. Called AA today and spoke to a few different but very friendly agents who were sympathetic to my cause. They ended up refunding me for the up-sell "fee" by giving me a travel credit (this is fine since I'll use it anyway) and then I purchased the actual fare difference, which was just slightly more. Looking at some other future travel booked, I now see some up-sell options that disclose no credit and others that say I will earn full credit. I've logged a complaint with AA as they should at least give EQD and mileage earning credit for the former.

    Caveat Emptor!

    1. Lee Hasson

      Kyle,
      I just learned the hard way as well. I should have done what Ben suggested and cancelled the flight, got the credit and rebooked it. From the screenshot it must have noted that it wasn't going to provide EQD credit, however, I'm sure I, like most folks didn't notice that it doesn't include EQD earning and that they should really do something more much more obvious because its not intuitive that you wouldn't...

      Kyle,
      I just learned the hard way as well. I should have done what Ben suggested and cancelled the flight, got the credit and rebooked it. From the screenshot it must have noted that it wasn't going to provide EQD credit, however, I'm sure I, like most folks didn't notice that it doesn't include EQD earning and that they should really do something more much more obvious because its not intuitive that you wouldn't earn EQD. I submitted a case regarding this and the agent called me back and said "We're going to stand our ground" I'm really appalled at AA, but I guess I shouldn't be surprised because AA has really continued to degrade on all fronts. What's the cost to AA to provide EQD of $300 versus loosing $XXXXX, but I guess they don't need to care. It's now going to be my objective to avoid flying AA whenever possible.

  2. Englishder

    Has this happened to anyone on AA?
    My wife and I flew on a one way flight from Chicago to Houston yesterday. The plane was no where near full - perhaps 75% - but many people were were booked into middle seats while entire other rows remained empty. After everyone had boarded and the doors were closed my wife and I moved 1 row back to an empty exit row. We were told at...

    Has this happened to anyone on AA?
    My wife and I flew on a one way flight from Chicago to Houston yesterday. The plane was no where near full - perhaps 75% - but many people were were booked into middle seats while entire other rows remained empty. After everyone had boarded and the doors were closed my wife and I moved 1 row back to an empty exit row. We were told at that point to retake our original seats and that exit row seats carry an additional cost to book. I must have moved seats to lesser occupied rows literally hundreds of times in the past with nothing having ever been said on many different airlines. Has American changed its policy regarding moving seats before pushback?

  3. Joel Dowling

    I'm an EP with American, and I've observed the same thing. American are not aggressive about selling upgrades, and when they do try to sell the upgrades the offers aren't compelling.

    To which as an EP I can only say, keep up the good work American, don't change a thing.

  4. DCharlie

    Hmm. You could have just ended the title at "Bad" and it would still be a valid post.

  5. TootToot

    on the flip side, I just got an offer to upgrade for $100 for the final seat up front (i checked expert flyer before the upgrade and it was J1). This is for LAX-SJD. The fare difference between my fare and the price for that final seat was $530! Going from a middle seat to the pointy end, even for just a 2 hour flight seemed like a worthwhile offer to take

  6. AP

    I just got a business class upgrade offer from American on my base ticket cost of $212 for an LAX to BOS transcon flight (around thanksgiving). The offer was to pay an extra $581, but the ticket if I change the flight is only $599 vs they are offering $794.

    1. Math

      Got one for JFK->LAX from J to F for $400. Fare diff is about 1700. Didn’t seem worth it despite that.

  7. Paul

    I’ve had both. Last week from DEN to DFW I got a non basic economy for $49 and at check in an offer to upgrade for $59, so I took it as it was an early morning flight. Yesterday I got the same email you were talking about for my MCO DFW DEN flights and it was over $400….

  8. Franklin

    Yeah but people are dumb and they probably jump on anything that reads as a 'special offer.'

    1. Chris

      I was thinking the same thing.

  9. Mark

    Traveling from DCA-LVA and the upgrade price was over $1000 on top of the 150 for economy.

  10. Eskimo

    @Lucky

    To be fair, AA is still ahead (in greed) when they are the only airline selling stickers.

  11. Alex Manero

    They've been pushing upgrade offers in the app, even as platinum pro. I have a tpa-lax leg offer for $252 (a steep discount over the price difference of actually buying the fare. I also recently received and purchased a tpa-dca upgrade for $97, again a decent discount over the published fare. Interestingly I had that same nonsense tpa-ord offer and likewise declined :) I'm assuming they're working the kinks out on that or something

  12. Matt

    I have been getting offers on DFW/PIA ✈️ that I fly frequently. It is $97. The fare is $116 coach & $340 first on the route. No eqd's on the upgrade. Worth it to me because of having alcohol available

  13. FF78

    What should NOT be new to folks is that the AA pricing engine is a dumpster fire and that they should game the system wherever and whenever possible. :-)

  14. Scott

    I received an offer shortly after booking on the app to upgrade from Main cabin to Premium Economy from NRT-DFW at $186. Was booked late April for early March 2022 travel. We jumped on that offer.

  15. Matt

    You seem surprised every time you learn that American is a poorly run airline. Why is that?

  16. freqflyer

    With AA there is apparently no way to upgrade an economy award ticket. I recently flew AA, and the flight departed with EMPTY seats in first class. Gate agent said it was impossible to upgrade economy award ticket to first class with money or certificates or miles. Seems like a lost opportunity by AA revenue management.

    1. Alex Manero

      Ya its true. And dumb. But true

    2. Z.S

      EXP receive upgrades on award tickets.

  17. Texman

    Id never taken the upgrade either for the same reason cost was greater and it doesn't provide any eqms or eqds at least that's what a gate agent once told me. However recently on a flight from sat to sav, the cost was a little less and I actually did receive 2x eqms and fair difference in eqds.

  18. usr22

    As others have noted, the upgrade offer seems to get significantly better during online check-in. I recently got a ~$90 offer for DCA-DFW, which I gladly took advantage of.

  19. Andrew

    I received a $97 upgrade offer to first class from DFW to Greensboro. Seemed very reasonable.

  20. dander

    I got a $49 upgrade from Chicago to Madison. My bag charge was around the same $$$. No Brainer

  21. HChris

    I recently received a $350 upgrade offer from Economy to Biz from ORD to LHR when I checked-in via the AA app about 3 to 4 hours before departure... not sure what happened there, but I gladly accepted.

  22. JB

    I've always gotten these upgrade offers, and the offers on most of my flights the last 6 months have been pretty decent (around $90-150 for a two hour flight). But I've also seen $300+ offers (mostly to ORD ironically)

  23. JuneWon Lee

    I paid $56 to go from LAX to JFK and got an upgrade offer (which I took) to upgrade to Flagship First for $524! Considering a first class ticket would be over $2k one way I think it’s a great deal, but now I’m bummed that I won’t be getting anymore EQM or Award miles. :(

  24. kq747

    I have about 8 sectors in the next couple weeks on AA and have had an offer in the app since booking. Some are decent like $49 for BOS-PHL and BOS-DCA for $85 but DFW-BOS is $360...no thanks

  25. Sel, D.

    That $12 is nothing compared to some of the insanity I’ve seen on United.

  26. Charles

    Not so fast. Those prices are variable. Keep checking. I’ve seen outrageous offfers and then tempting ones. Seems based on load factors. But you will notice the upgrade will change from day to day.

  27. burritomiles

    I was booked in Econ on the a321t last week, LAX-JFK. I requested to upgrade using the 500 mile upgrades(I didn't have any). Day of check in my upgrade cleared and I bought 5 $40 upgrades and moved up to Flagship Biz. Thx AA!

  28. John

    Very interesting 'expose'. But I think there's a certain method to the madness and it may not be as 'bad' as it looks - at least from AA's perspective. AA might be counting on non-diligent customers who can't be bothered checking out the finer details like you did, Lucky. Those customers might be fooled into thinking they're being offered a great deal and actually go for it! Never under-estimate factors like stupidity, laziness or even...

    Very interesting 'expose'. But I think there's a certain method to the madness and it may not be as 'bad' as it looks - at least from AA's perspective. AA might be counting on non-diligent customers who can't be bothered checking out the finer details like you did, Lucky. Those customers might be fooled into thinking they're being offered a great deal and actually go for it! Never under-estimate factors like stupidity, laziness or even simple ignorance as tools that companies exploit to squeeze out the last drop of money.

  29. Peter

    Ben, While you don’t earn extra award miles or EQD, my experience has been you get booked into full are first/business (F or J) which comes with 3x EQM instead of 2x EQM per mile flown. I took those upgrade offers a few times, and they have at times been very good value. I got an offer to go from a $69 economy tickets to business from LAX-MIA On the 777-300ER for $280 and you...

    Ben, While you don’t earn extra award miles or EQD, my experience has been you get booked into full are first/business (F or J) which comes with 3x EQM instead of 2x EQM per mile flown. I took those upgrade offers a few times, and they have at times been very good value. I got an offer to go from a $69 economy tickets to business from LAX-MIA On the 777-300ER for $280 and you bet I took it. I just took the trip and did indeed get the 3x EQM.

    Since I will get the EQD waiver through card spend, I’m only looking to maximize EQM and buying the upgrade when the prices are the comparable or less than the published fare is actually a really good deal for EQM earning.

    1. Mick

      I’ve had some decent offers recently form ord to Nyc. Some ridiculous ones too. $1170 to jfk was good.

      Also back on United it was $79 a couple of days before the flight.

      Incidentally I flew on a Sunday night ord to lga a few weeks ago and got upgraded at the gate. I was 5th on the list?! Not sure how that happened. Full plane.

    2. Mick

      Just checked the app. I have an offer to move to first on ord to Aus for $546 lol. Wonder if it’s dynamic. Ie im platinum and may have a small chance of upgrade. Someone who may clear may be offered for cheaper to lock on revenue.

    3. hp12c

      I’ve also gotten the full J/F and 3x EQM on these upgrade offers - every time I’ve bought an upgrade over the last 3 months or so, which is a couple dozen segments maybe.
      My offers have been pretty reasonable. Almost always less than $200, and sometimes less than $100, for Northeast to Southeast flights and vice versa.

  30. Matt

    On a slightly different note I consistently find AA's IT to be far behind Delta and United. Super hard to do basic things on the website

Featured Comments Load all 38 comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

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Matt

You seem surprised every time you learn that American is a poorly run airline. Why is that?

Franklin

Yeah but people are dumb and they probably jump on anything that reads as a 'special offer.'

Lee Hasson

Kyle, I just learned the hard way as well. I should have done what Ben suggested and cancelled the flight, got the credit and rebooked it. From the screenshot it must have noted that it wasn't going to provide EQD credit, however, I'm sure I, like most folks didn't notice that it doesn't include EQD earning and that they should really do something more much more obvious because its not intuitive that you wouldn't earn EQD. I submitted a case regarding this and the agent called me back and said "We're going to stand our ground" I'm really appalled at AA, but I guess I shouldn't be surprised because AA has really continued to degrade on all fronts. What's the cost to AA to provide EQD of $300 versus loosing $XXXXX, but I guess they don't need to care. It's now going to be my objective to avoid flying AA whenever possible.

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