New upgrade procedure at AA… good or bad?

Being a lowly Gold with AA that hasn’t flown them in years, I got this email a few days ago and sent it to my deleted folder faster than I could say “Ted,” since I really had no clue how this was different than the procedure before. Here’s what the email said:

Dear [Mr. Lucky],

We understand that AAdvantage Gold® members like you value your upgrade privileges, perhaps more than any other benefit. And, of course, we know your time is valuable. That’s why we have made a significant improvement to our 500-mile upgrade process – now it’s easier than ever.

Simply request your 500-mile upgrade as usual, and once your upgrade window opens, we will attempt to confirm your request up to three hours prior to departure. If a seat is available, you will receive a confirmation via email, voice mail or pager. If we are unable to confirm your upgrade, our new functionality will automatically give you the opportunity to be added to the airport upgrade standby list when you check in – whether you do it online at*, at the airport Self Service Machine or with an airport agent. The date and time of your original request, along with your elite status level, will determine your priority on the airport upgrade standby list, regardless of when or where you check in for your flight. Once at the airport, upgrades will be confirmed by the gate agent at the time of boarding.

So, if you request a 500-mile upgrade, you’ll only have to ask once and your original request date/time and AAdvantage elite status level will determine your priority whether your upgrade is confirmed in advance or at the airport. We hope this improvement will help you get the most enjoyment from your AAdvantage Gold membership. For complete details, visit…leupgrades.jsp.

Thanks for flying with us. It’s always a pleasure to serve you.

Rob Friedman
AAdvantage Marketing Programs

After heading over to the AA forum on FlyerTalk to do some investigating, I quickly found out that this is apparently causing bigger changes for some than they might have expected. My understanding is that electronic upgrades (be they complimentary for Executive Platinum members or using 500 milers for everyone else) were processed first by status and then by the time of the reservation. Then within 24 hours of the flight the upgrades would clear based on status and then time added to the waitlist via online check-in or at the counter. The new procedure is the same except even within the 24 hours of the flight the upgrades still clear based on status and then the time of the booking, with check-in time not playing a factor at all.

Now as much as I like the sound of that as someone that flies mostly low fares and books in advance, does that really make sense? Let’s compare this to UA’s upgrades, which clear the day of the flight by status, then fare class, and lastly time added to the waitlist. The frustration for some at AA now is that the last minute top tier customers that are often buying high fares can’t do anything anymore to increase their priority on the waitlist, like checking in as early as possible. Now an EXP that booked a cheap fare nine months ago will always clear before an EXP that buys a full fare ticket last minute.

Again I might have something wrong here, and if I do please let me know, but this is the way I understand it. If I am in fact correct I think it’s time for AA to switch to a system like UA where the fare class factors into the upgrade, thereby not isolating some of the best customers. I certainly wouldn’t call this much of an “enhancement” for AA, at least in the true sense of the word. Only time will tell if they stick to their guns on this, though…

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