Is American Considering New Systemwide Upgrade Restrictions?

Filed Under: American, American AAdvantage

JonNYC is extremely knowledgable about everything related to American, and more often than not correctly predicts what’s going to happen. Yesterday he Tweeted the following, suggesting that American is considering limiting systemwide upgrade usage to the account holder:

He actually suggests proactively writing in stating that you’re opposed to this (assuming you are):

I reached out to American to seek clarification, and American has confirmed that they have no plans to change their systemwide upgrade policy.

That’s not to say they won’t do so at some point in the future (I appreciate how openly Jon shares rumors, and I know they’re all well sourced but obviously not everything comes to fruition), but it does make me believe that this change isn’t imminent.

Unlike many other airlines, I find American’s communications people to be very honest and straightforward, so this isn’t like Qatar, where they’ll completely deny something, and the next day it comes true (if that were the case, I suspect I would have gotten a “no comment”).

So that’s good news.

Now, I had written out an entire post before hearing back from American, and I don’t want it to all go to waste, so I figured I’d address the hypothetical situation anyway, starting with a bit of history with systemwide upgrades at American:

American cut systemwide upgrades in half a few years ago

As of 2016, American reduced the number of systemwide upgrades that Executive Platinum members receive from eight to four. This was obviously a huge reduction for Executive Platinum members, and sadly came at a time when they were making all kinds of other negative changes to the program.

The next major change I was expecting

Historically systemwide upgrades have been valid for a one category upgrade, from economy to business, or from business to first.

American is just finishing the process of installing premium economy throughout most of their longhaul fleet, and the fear many have had is that American will eventually truly restrict systemwide upgrades to a one cabin upgrade, meaning you can upgrade with them from economy to premium economy, from premium economy to business, or from business to first.

This would be a massive devaluation to systemwide upgrades. However, we might not see this, at least in the near future. Delta and United are also both installing premium economy, and for the time being both airlines continue to allow upgrades from economy to business. So I don’t expect American to lead in this regard, but rather to follow.

So the question is whether Delta will change their policy in any way.

The implications of limiting who systemwide upgrades can be redeemed for

If American were to consider a policy change (which they’re not, at this time), I have a few general thoughts:

  • If something like this were to be introduced, I would guess that they’d still allow you to upgrade a companion traveling on the same flight/reservation, since anything else would be plain unreasonable
  • I know airlines deal with a lot of fraud related to selling miles, systemwide upgrades, etc., so it could be that a policy change would be taking aim at that
  • Delta upgrades are only valid for the SkyMiles member and up to one companion traveling on the same reservation, so American would potentially be matching Delta’s policy here

Personally I don’t see any upside to a policy change like this, and only downside.

It’s not like this would really help Executive Platinums in any way. Systemwide upgrades are hard to confirm in advance. For those who are waitlisted, Executive Platinum members would clear ahead of those who were sponsored but traveling alone.

Bottom line

Jon is a great source and I trust this was under consideration, though I’m happy to hear that American has no plans to change their systemwide upgrade policy.

If they were to make this change at some point in the future, I don’t really see any upside or downside for Executive Platinum members when it comes to upgrade clearance. It sure seems to me like the primary motivation for such a change would be to reduce the sale of these upgrades, which I know is an issue airlines deal with.

Lastly, personally a change like this wouldn’t impact me much. Systemwide upgrades are hard enough to clear as an Executive Platinum member, so I don’t remember the last time I sponsored someone who wasn’t traveling with me, since the odds of clearing on most routes as a non-elite aren’t great.

While we know it’s not happening now, how would you feel about a policy change like this?

  1. At least allow SWU use for companion flyers on the same record locator as the SWU holder.

    Also, I might prefer Y to PE if confirmed SWU at booking is more readily available.

  2. I used a majority of my SWUs in past for others! It was an awesome gift to friends who would otherwise never experience a business class seat on an international trip. It benefited me to allow me to do that, and it benefited AA exponentially by providing a much higher level of customer appreciation than would be obtained by me getting yet another upgrade. I value this much like I do the Hyatt Guest of Honor program. Its a huge win for EVERYONE.

  3. SWU’s go to waste now because they’re so hard to use. Making them harder to use would just be one more cut to EP. Perhaps they should just rename EP status “Economy Plus”. That’s what it really stands for these days.

  4. I did not use the 4 SWUs that I have acquired last year. I let the expire.

    In 2017 I was lucky and able to redeem SWU for me and my boyfriend in:


    This year I could not care less since I’m not with AA anylonger.

  5. I prefer to just buy 1st Class seats rather than risk the upgrade lottery.
    I smile to myself knowing the freeloader didn’t get his upgrade because I pay for the seat. Free upgrades should really be eliminated.

  6. I think that a potential (and fair) option for the topic of single category upgrades is to revert back to the 8 system-wide upgrades, but indeed only allow for one category upgrade per use (so it would take 2 SWU’s to go from economy to business class). Maintains the ability to go directly from economy to business, but also adds flexibility and benefit for those that enjoy premium economy.

  7. This EXP would be in favor of AA making this change. Course I always travel solo and have never sponsored an upgrade in my life.

    I also find the “SWUs are too hard to use” reactions highly amusing. I’ve already used all of my January 2020 expiration date SWUs and in more than 4 years of being EXP I not yet missed an SWU request (all coach to business on intercontinental flights.)

  8. Unless you are gifting your SWU to another EXP I see little opportunity for that upgrade to clear. So don’t think that would be an issue. If you can’t use it on anyone that’s part of your record then that’s a big issue imo.

  9. I’m convinced Jonnyc is an intentional AA leaker. There’s just no way he’d know the inside info he does without having real, direct sources inside AA. He seems to strategically leak info like this, I’m guessing to do exactly what he did this time – gauge the response of AA frequent flyers without making it obvious that this whole charade is arranged by AA.

  10. It’s still a great program when there is no minimum (sans basic economy) requirement to use a SWU. That’s an issue I wish UA would relax on (needing at least a W fare basis).

  11. Considering restrictions upon SWUs in various ways has come up at AA over the last 2 decades, and they have restricted them in ways before. Further restrictions being in consideration again and further restrictions coming in place in the future shouldn’t be all that surprising for this airline.

    And things AA has considered before with SWUs and skipped on doing at times has sometimes been done at a later stage in time. So even if this restriction on SWU transferability doesn’t come soon, it could be reconsidered later for implementation anyway.

  12. This new policy would prevent people from selling them – which I support. What I would like to see is this restriction but better availability and allow for the upgrade of one companion on the same PNR – same as domestic upgrades are now.

  13. Lucky, please select a new featured graphic when writing AA posts. The 77W cabin one is so overused on OMMAT.

  14. SWUs are already pretty worthless, except for last minute trips IF confirmed upgrades are available in both directions. It’s silly to waste them on a short trip, but I won’t risk a long trip in coach ( of any kind). Once I spend money on business class, the added value of an upgrade to F is negligible. This means if I can’t book a coach ticket and use the SWUs for a confirmed upgrade in advance, I will end up paying them nothing for a trip that will never be taken. Less money for AA. They are completely misunderstanding what a frequent flyer program is supposed to do-encourage flyers to book paid tickets more often

  15. Love @Jacob idea of going back to giving us 8 SWUs but each is good for one cabin upgrade and you can use 2 to go from coach to business.

    I also think AA should let you cash in an unused SWU (since they can be hard to use) for miles. Since I believe AA requires 25k miles plus big co-pay to upgrade from Y to J, then an SWU should be worth 25k miles if you don’t use it.

  16. @jonnyc has no knowledge. He has an inside source (I think his bf) that sometimes feeds him confidential information. Other times, he just stirs the pot and causes trouble. He gets suspended from FT on a regular basis for being such a tool.

    Believing anything this guy says is up to you. He is wrong more often than he is right. People just focus on the few times he has actual (stolen) information.

  17. Are you considering charging a subscription fee for this blog? Is Russia considering bombing the USA? Everything is hypothetical.

  18. My guess is that rather than allowing completely banning direct Y>>J upgrades, they will still allow them, but it would either be a smaller inventory or lower priority on the waitlist compared to PY>>J.

  19. Cool post. If you’re quoting AA directly though, in corporate communications-speak what JonNYC posted and what AA told you are not mutually exclusive at all.

    I.e. AA could very well have “no plans to change their systemwide upgrade policy,” yet such a change could also be being “actively considered” internally.

    If it ends up happening, yet another step in AA’s race to the bottom…

  20. I dont know how I feel about this. On one hand, I completely respect attempts to prevent fraud. On the other hand, when I had SWUs, I used them for others almost as often as I used them on myself. Because of that, AA has gotten at least a couple more customers, and at least one who has been encouraged to keep flying AA on the chance that more SWUs could be earned and gifted. This type of thing is why frequent flier programs work for airlines. Its ‘free’ advertising and happy customers.

    The hard part today, of course, is that it is so difficult to get an upgrade to clear ahead of time. Spending a SWU or miles for an upgrade on AA metal seems nearly impossible these days. If they are looking for change ideas, I wouldnt mind seeing AA allowing you to “cash in” an upgrade for a set amount of mileage (given that so many go unused for various reasons). For example, if you happen to have a spare SWU, but dont have enough miles to get award tickets for your family on an upcoming trip, you could use the SWU to get the miles needed. It would encourage the folks that fly a lot to KEEP flying a lot because they know they can still get use out of a SWU that might otherwise have been wasted.


    As far as my accuracy– which is legendary– gotta love it; one guy says my info is SO uncannily accurate that I *must* work for AA, otherwise how could I so consistently have this caliber of info.

    Then the other guy takes a break from banging his sister -just- long enough to say I’m only occasionally right– which is very laughable, obviously.

    If/when I post things I’m not sure about or are just rumor, I clearly notate them as same.

    – The real– and amazing– JonNYC

  22. I must be the only person *NOT* complaining about using SWUs. Each year we take (2) trips AA62/63 MIA-CDG-MIA and each time we are able to use our SWUs. (Its been like this for years.)
    Some times at booking they clear and some times they clear one month or so after booking. We book 5 months in advance.
    I guess it’s a good route with award availability. Or, my EQDs is in the high range?

  23. I fly TATL in economy at least 24 times a year (I.e. at least once a month), this obsession with having to have confirmable space at booking is quite strange, I’m going to take the flight no matter what, I’ll waitlist for a SWU and if it clears great, if it doesn’t I’ll try the next flight, with 4 SWU and 24 flights, I’m going to be in the back at least 20 times!

    As for the idea that they would restrict SWU to the Advantage member only, that would be a real shame, not because I like to give mine away but this year I was lucky enough to be gifted one that cleared, would be great if that happened again!

    I’m not greedy, don’t expect a gift every month, but I understand that there are people who get to EXP with little flying and perhaps the expiration of the SWU just doesn’t work for them so the ability to gift them is great. How the airlines ensure that a gift is truely a gift however, I can appreciate the issue.

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