American AAdvantage has just announced major changes to how elite upgrades work, with all elite members now being eligible for unlimited complimentary upgrades within North America. Is this good or bad news, though?
American expands complimentary upgrades
As of March 2, 2022, American AAdvantage will change elite upgrades within North America (this roughly coincides with the launch of the new Loyalty Points program):
- Currently Executive Platinum and Platinum Pro members receive unlimited complimentary upgrades within North America, while this will soon be expanded to Platinum and Gold members
- Members will only need to use 500-mile upgrade stickers to upgrade travel companions; however, as of later this year, complimentary upgrades will be extended to one companion traveling on the same flight for all elite members
- At that time (later in 2022), all existing 500-mile upgrade stickers will be converted into 250 Loyalty Points each toward 2022 status qualification
How complimentary elite upgrades currently work
For some context on what exactly is changing here, let me explain how the current system works. All American AAdvantage elite members are eligible for space available upgrades in one form or another for flights within North America.
However, the way these upgrades are processed depends on your status:
- Concierge Key members get complimentary upgrades starting 120 hours before departure
- Executive Platinum members get complimentary upgrades starting 100 hours before departure
- Platinum Pro members get complimentary upgrades starting 72 hours before departure
- Platinum members get upgrades starting 48 hours before departure, but they have to use 500-mile upgrade stickers to be eligible, except on flights of under 500 miles, where upgrades are complimentary
- Gold members get upgrades starting 24 hours before departure, but they have to use 500-mile upgrade stickers to be eligible, except on flights of under 500 miles, where upgrades are complimentary
- All elite tiers can have companions upgraded with them as well, but additional 500-mile upgrade stickers are required for them (even for Concierge Key, Executive Platinum, and Platinum Pro members)
What are the 500-mile upgrade stickers that AAdvantage Platinum and Gold members have to use on flights of over 500 miles, and that all elite tiers have to use for companion upgrades?
- Each 500-mile upgrade sticker can be used to upgrade 500 miles worth of flying; in other words, an 1,800 mile flight would require four of these stickers
- Platinum and Gold members earn four 500-mile upgrade stickers for every 12,500 elite qualifying miles earned during a calendar year
- 500-mile upgrade stickers can also be purchased for $40 each by all elite tiers
Is American’s new upgrade program good or bad news?
Are the changes to American Airlines’ upgrade program positive or negative? It depends who you ask. Here are a few considerations:
- Since upgrades are prioritized by elite status, this shouldn’t impact Executive Platinum or Platinum Pro members much, since they’ll continue to be upgraded ahead of Platinum and Gold members
- Arguably this is good for many Platinum members, as they’re the highest elite members who are eligible for upgrades but don’t receive unlimited complimentary upgrades
- This is a mixed bag for Gold members — on the one hand they won’t need 500-mile stickers, but on the other hand upgrades will clear even less frequently
- The beauty of the 500-mile upgrade sticker program was that you could prioritize the upgrades that matter most to you, since not everyone would request an upgrade
- The addition of complimentary companion upgrades later this year is a mixed bag; on the one hand you can also upgrade a companion without having to use 500-mile stickers, but it will make upgrades even tougher for everyone below you on the upgrade list
My take on American’s upgrade changes
I’ve been predicting that American would make this change to its upgrade program for quite some time, so I’m not surprised to see this. American was the only one of the “big three” US carriers to not offer all elite members complimentary upgrades. Furthermore, with American and Alaska introducing upgrade reciprocity and aligning elite tiers, the concept of unlimited elite upgrades was the only option that made sense.
Of course offering all elite members complimentary upgrades sounds great (who doesn’t like a “free” upgrade?), but the problem is that you’re competing for a finite number of seats. First class will almost always be filled up with upgraders, so it’s just a function of how you choose to distribute those seats between elite members.
As an Executive Platinum member I guess I’m happy I’ll get companion upgrades without having to use 500-mile stickers. At the same time, I’m also more likely to lose an upgrade to the companion of a higher ranked Executive Platinum member.
Lastly, I can’t help but feel like the offer to convert each 500-mile upgrade sticker into 250 Loyalty Points is incredibly stingy. Many people paid cash for those upgrade stickers, and that’s a horrible conversion rate.
American Airlines is making major changes to upgrades for AAdvantage elite members. As of March 2, 2022, all AAdvantage elite members will be eligible for unlimited complimentary upgrades within North America. On top of that, as of later this year, unlimited complimentary companion elite upgrades will also be introduced. At that point 500-mile stickers will no longer have a use, and will be converted into 250 Loyalty Points each.
There’s truly no correct take on whether this change is positive or negative, it just depends on your particular situation, and what you value most. I will say that I think this change was inevitable.
What do you make of American’s new elite upgrade program?