American Airlines Adds Free Upgrades For All Elites, Eliminates 500-Mile Upgrades

American Airlines Adds Free Upgrades For All Elites, Eliminates 500-Mile Upgrades

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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
American is expanding complimentary upgrades to all elites

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
500-mile upgrade stickers are being eliminated

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
These changes are good for some, bad for others

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.

I’m indifferent and not surprised about these changes

Bottom line

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?

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  1. GoDFW Guest

    I had 100+ 500 mile upgrades on my account with 10+ years of travel, a lot being international on AA from DFW. These upgrades kept coming in and I never found it usable. Now they were converted to 25,000 loyalty points, which only counts towards 2023 status qualification, these loyalty points will expire early 2023 in a poof.
    They were free, so no complaints, but there should have been some other way to balance...

    I had 100+ 500 mile upgrades on my account with 10+ years of travel, a lot being international on AA from DFW. These upgrades kept coming in and I never found it usable. Now they were converted to 25,000 loyalty points, which only counts towards 2023 status qualification, these loyalty points will expire early 2023 in a poof.
    They were free, so no complaints, but there should have been some other way to balance it out. They could have given us miles instead, 100 or 200 miles each possibly. There is no incentive to be loyal anymore. AA has clearly swung the pendulum the other way..good luck AA.

  2. PM Meehan Guest

    I have to laugh at the addition of free companion upgrades. I am Lifetime Platinum flying in & out of DFW. Can’t remember the last time I got an upgrade. I have even been as low as 26th on the list for an upgrade while waiting for my flight.
    I think if you read the notice they sent on this great new benefit, they are converting your upgrades to Loyalty Points, which I think...

    I have to laugh at the addition of free companion upgrades. I am Lifetime Platinum flying in & out of DFW. Can’t remember the last time I got an upgrade. I have even been as low as 26th on the list for an upgrade while waiting for my flight.
    I think if you read the notice they sent on this great new benefit, they are converting your upgrades to Loyalty Points, which I think only gets you to the various elite levels, if I am reading their notice correctly. If that is the case & you have Lifetime status, that conversion is worthless.
    AA has been sliding downhill since they “merged” with US Air& all the US Air people took over. I have been married to AA since the mid 80’s, but it might be time for a divorce.

  3. chris Guest

    Just got upgraded on my basic ticket. Gold member, oh yes!

  4. SH Guest

    Does anyone know what happens to your 500-mile upgrades if your elite status expires? I’m currently Gold, my status expires on March 30, 2022. I currently have 41 500-mile upgrade stickers in my account.

    It sounds like AA will convert the 500-mile stickers at some point later this year. But if my Gold status expires at the end of this month, will my 500-mile upgrade stickers expire/disappear? I have a ton of them and...

    Does anyone know what happens to your 500-mile upgrades if your elite status expires? I’m currently Gold, my status expires on March 30, 2022. I currently have 41 500-mile upgrade stickers in my account.

    It sounds like AA will convert the 500-mile stickers at some point later this year. But if my Gold status expires at the end of this month, will my 500-mile upgrade stickers expire/disappear? I have a ton of them and don’t plan on flying AA all that much in this year.

  5. It depends Guest

    Not loving the conversion rate. I have more than fifteen 500-mile upgrades in my account at the moment. None purchased; 3,125 miles flown for each one. 250 points for each one is disappointingly and surprisingly low. Especially when you consider the difference in cost between a first class ticket and a coach ticket which is what those stickers were used for, and compare that to the value of 250 points.

  6. burritolmiles Guest

    I'm only Gold and I got my first upgrade today. I like it.

    1. WishMaker New Member

      Lucky,
      How will that work for flights paid with miles vs cash. Will this new upgrade policy also apply to them for Plat and Gold ?
      Thanks.

  7. AtTheBeach Guest

    I haven't used those 500 mile things in years. Preferred watching them float in and out of my account rather than endure the humiliating experience of waiting for the inevitable non-upgrade. What an unpleasant airline.

  8. Gary Rifkin Guest

    I wonder if they'll reconsider at some point. The loyalty points aren't going to do me much good as there's no way I'll requalify for ExecPlat under the new system. But I'd love some kind of cash compensation for the 38 500-mile upgrades that have been sitting in my account since I hit ExecPlat!

  9. Omar Guest

    This is annoying for EXPs who buy tickets at the last minute. Never understood why those paying the highest prices are discriminated against in the upgrade queue.

    OTOH I am looking forward to free companion upgrades in line with DL and UA.

  10. TravelFitForAKing New Member

    This is a huge devaluation. I'm so glad I didn't waste my AMEX $200 incidentals on upgrade stickers this year. My AA status buy-up was $495 for Gold. I think I'm going to use my $200 AMEX credit to offset the cost.

  11. Robert Fahr Guest

    "Stickers" so twentieth century. Like AA.

  12. WishMaker New Member

    So, what about flights paid with AAdvantage miles AKA "Award flights" for those that are not Consierge Key, Executive Platinum or Platinum Pro ? Today those are upgradable for these tiers only, will that also be expanded to Platinum and or Gold members ?

    1. Sel, D. Guest

      Platinum Pro? I wish! And look below in the comments - Lucky thinks maybe.

  13. Azamaraal Diamond

    Back in my working days in the UAE we flew OW to and fro - AA, BA, Canadian Airlines. Had top tier with CA but eventually was switched to AA Plat. Accumulated a great number of 500 milers. Then came retirement and points travel. Lost Plat and could never use the 500 mi certificates AA never flew anywhere near where i lived so could never get any status after Canadian Airlines passed.

    As bottom tier the 250 whatever points seem to have no value.

    Huge loss.

  14. Mark R Guest

    Just flew AA full fare first class DFW to SFO round trip. The outbound was a Dinner flight and the return was a Breakfast flight. To my shock, I was offered an ICE COLD sandwich for Dinner. 98% bread. No condiments on the tray. Inedible. On my return flight, the same ICE COLD sandwich was my Breakfast, no condiments. So dry I couldn’t eat it. First Class is a joke on AA. Oh, and the cockpit crew were served HOT Meals. WTF

    1. AtTheBeach Guest

      I got a crinkly bag of nuts on a full fare first class flight from BOS to MIA recently. Good times. I only fly American when I have no other choice now.

  15. Sam Guest

    Umm I have a dozen of these sitting in my account I paid money for. Now poof they are worth just loyalty points? That's bogus. They really need to offer refunds for customers in this situation.

  16. TranceXplant Member

    The fine print about 500 mile upgrades: "American Airlines reserves the right to eliminate or restrict the use of upgrades on certain flights and make other such changes at any time without notice. Use of upgrades to any future American Airlines destination is subject to approval."

    It takes a pretty loose reading of "make other such changes" to reach what amounts to a bait and switch for those who bought them. 500 mile upgrades...

    The fine print about 500 mile upgrades: "American Airlines reserves the right to eliminate or restrict the use of upgrades on certain flights and make other such changes at any time without notice. Use of upgrades to any future American Airlines destination is subject to approval."

    It takes a pretty loose reading of "make other such changes" to reach what amounts to a bait and switch for those who bought them. 500 mile upgrades could be used to buy something of real value, while 250 loyalty points are basically worthless.

  17. JohnC Guest

    The upgrade certificates were awesome. You chose what flights were a priority to get an upgrade. As a Gold member, I was able to get some really nice upgrades. Now they will be like Delta, where I have never had an upgrade. United is different for some reason, same policy, but I more than not was able to get a nice upgrade. Fortunately, at least I was able to get Platinum status with American, so...

    The upgrade certificates were awesome. You chose what flights were a priority to get an upgrade. As a Gold member, I was able to get some really nice upgrades. Now they will be like Delta, where I have never had an upgrade. United is different for some reason, same policy, but I more than not was able to get a nice upgrade. Fortunately, at least I was able to get Platinum status with American, so we will see. Lots of times I fly, I do not see to many Boarding Group 3 paxs.

  18. Tim A Guest

    One of the perks at work has been upgrade certificates. Since I've been Platinum Pro the last few years, I've been purchasing them, but using few of them. Now they're pretty much worthless. And I doubt my employer will replace that perk.

  19. JJ Guest

    This is appalling to those of us who PAID for these stickers. At the very very least, they should be converted to $30 each in AA Vouchers to use on a flight.

    1. Sel, D. Guest

      You mean Amex paid for? I don’t think people are speculatively buying these.

    2. Randy Gold

      I buy then all the time for companion - they are $40 each.

    3. WishMaker New Member

      Hi Sel,
      No: Most of us paid cash form them, not Amex.
      I agree with JJ that we should get $40 USD credit for each (that is the current price each for them). BTW if you do such purchase today, it will give you 40 Loyalty points and not 25.

    4. Carl Member

      Since we paid $40 for them, I'd suggest they should at least be worth face value. The people who chose to use miles to buy them are the most unlucky.

  20. Allen Member

    Horrible news. I have several dozen 500-mile certificates in my account, half of of which I paid for (mainly with AmEx incidental credits), with the assumption they would never expire and could be used as necessary as my status changes significantly from year to year (EP pre-pandemic, now merely Gold). Now they're being converted to what is effectively a useless, expiring "benefit" for me because my extensive travel won't return before 2023 for a variety...

    Horrible news. I have several dozen 500-mile certificates in my account, half of of which I paid for (mainly with AmEx incidental credits), with the assumption they would never expire and could be used as necessary as my status changes significantly from year to year (EP pre-pandemic, now merely Gold). Now they're being converted to what is effectively a useless, expiring "benefit" for me because my extensive travel won't return before 2023 for a variety of reasons. These 500-mile certificates were one of the few marginally feasible uses for the AmEx credits for me, so now this devalues all my AmEx cards with the airline credits, as I factored this into the net cost of each card. Bad news all around.

    1. Sal Guest

      Why would you assume they'd never expire of change? I never kept more than 8 in my acct because I was fearful of change or devaluation. It just never seemed like a policy that would stand the test of time.

  21. Brian Guest

    Ok, so what of the existing reservations that have 500-mile upgrade requests for companions already filed? If I'm now upgraded on different priority, what of my companion still using the 500-mile upgrades? Does she get pushed back behind the golds and silvers who didn't file a 500-mile upgrade? (I'm plat pro).

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ Brian -- Companion upgrades generally clear at the same window as the elite member, and that will continue to be the case. 500-mile upgrades continue to be required for companions for the time being, and we don't know when that will change later this year. When it does change, I imagine requests with 500-mile upgrades will automatically be made complimentary.

    2. frank Guest

      So what happens if you are EP and your companion is gold? Do you use the EP stickers (companion remove number) or keep the companion as gold status?

    3. Sel, D. Guest

      The golds and silvers will still be using 500-mile upgrades, albeit now complimentary. Your companion will be prioritized with you.

  22. upstater Guest

    I also used remaining Amex airline credit dollars to but 500 mile upgrades. I agree with @305 that we're getting toilet paper. When US Airways got rid of the stickers, there was a good mileage buyback for unused coupons.

    Further, it makes Amex Platinum even more useless.

    On another note, I was in PHL yesterday... it has been seriously downgraded as a hub, A West was completely unused, B and C empty most of...

    I also used remaining Amex airline credit dollars to but 500 mile upgrades. I agree with @305 that we're getting toilet paper. When US Airways got rid of the stickers, there was a good mileage buyback for unused coupons.

    Further, it makes Amex Platinum even more useless.

    On another note, I was in PHL yesterday... it has been seriously downgraded as a hub, A West was completely unused, B and C empty most of an awful 6 hour layover. Centurion was way over crowded, the AC between B and C pleasantly sparse. Service quality from ZRH was good, but the American Eagle connection on an E145 was awful!

    American is giving me a lot more reasons not to be loyal.

  23. Sel, D. Guest

    Side note: this was the opportunity to get more in line with Delta and UA for upgrades on redemption flights. This is a major pain point for non-EPs like myself. Lucky do you think that will ever change?

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ Sel, D. -- That's a great question. I think it's probably about 50/50 if award ticket upgrades get extended beyond Executive Platinum members at some point in the next couple of years. I wouldn't be surprised to see it, since airlines do tend to match one another over time. At the same time, American is in some ways charting its own course, between Loyalty Points and its Alaska Airlines partnership.

  24. Tri Flyer Guest

    Can someone explain how 250 loyalty points for the unused stickers is bad? I either received them for "free" for butt in seat miles flown, or paid $40 for each. If you use an AA cc, buying one would net you 40 loyalty points. When taking it back, AA is giving me 250 points...

    1. Eskimo Guest

      You are essentially paying $40 to get nothing + 40 LP.
      Using some old tree planting benchmark, donating $40 gets you 1 tree + 1600 miles + 1600 LP.
      Now rather than $40 for a sticker, I use that $40 to fly as an EXP, I would have got 440 miles + 440 LP.

      Now on the other end. If I reach 200k LP, anything extra, unless I can reach 350k LP, is...

      You are essentially paying $40 to get nothing + 40 LP.
      Using some old tree planting benchmark, donating $40 gets you 1 tree + 1600 miles + 1600 LP.
      Now rather than $40 for a sticker, I use that $40 to fly as an EXP, I would have got 440 miles + 440 LP.

      Now on the other end. If I reach 200k LP, anything extra, unless I can reach 350k LP, is useless.

      No matter what angle you see it, 250 LP for 1 sticker isn't close to a fair trade.
      If AA is at least fair, they should have given miles not LP.

    2. Kevin Rhodes Guest

      The amount over 200K isn't useless, because ties for upgrading are broken based on 12mo rolling loyalty points. So if you had 220K points and I had 200K points (and thus we are both Exec Plats), you would get upgraded before me.

      I'm fine with the 250 points as the stickers have always been worthless to me. I got 24 of them when I came over from US Airways Chairman status in the merger, and...

      The amount over 200K isn't useless, because ties for upgrading are broken based on 12mo rolling loyalty points. So if you had 220K points and I had 200K points (and thus we are both Exec Plats), you would get upgraded before me.

      I'm fine with the 250 points as the stickers have always been worthless to me. I got 24 of them when I came over from US Airways Chairman status in the merger, and have been ExecPlat ever since. Baffles me that people actually paid for those things, seems like the chances of being able to ever use them is pretty slim.

  25. Jay Guest

    A first class paying passenger won’t be downgraded to make way for an elite member will they? Is it only when there’s space?

    1. Tri Flyer Guest

      No, AA is just amending the way they upgrade coach passengers into empty first class seats

    2. Eskimo Guest

      Your F seat is safe, only if you don't challenge the authoritarian flight crew.

    3. CHRIS Guest

      Was that a serious question?

  26. uldguy Diamond

    Wow, American you keep making it harder for me to be loyal to you.

    I'm very much against the companion upgrade policy. Even as an Executive Platinum member, getting an upgrade is hard enough without someone dragging their spouse or whoever into the cabin with them. Those of us who travel on business almost always travel alone. This will just make it all the harder to score an upgrade.

    1. Jcil Guest

      Why should business travelers have priority for upgrades? If you really want to fly in front and are such a big hi-powered business guy, just pay for a first class ticket

    2. Tri Flyer Guest

      Cuz AA is a business that values revenue, a high percentage of which comes from business travelers.

    3. Leigh Guest

      I thought about your post for a bit.

      As an EXP I understand the concern about another EXPs companion being upgraded over me.

      HOWEVER, I also love to travel for leisure (need it after all the darn annual business trips), and frequently take a friend with me. It's been a treat to be able to upgrade a friend with me, and love to be able to help provide them experiences they usually would never...

      I thought about your post for a bit.

      As an EXP I understand the concern about another EXPs companion being upgraded over me.

      HOWEVER, I also love to travel for leisure (need it after all the darn annual business trips), and frequently take a friend with me. It's been a treat to be able to upgrade a friend with me, and love to be able to help provide them experiences they usually would never get. SO, I'm okay with the companion upgrade policy.

      Also, sometimes I am traveling on business with a client, and it's bad optics to be flying in the F cabin while they are in Y, so the companion upgrade has been very helpful several times to avoid uncomfortable situations.

  27. James K. Guest

    We need to beat the drum loudly that 250 loyalty points is indeed a horrible conversion rate for something valued at $40

    1. Tri Flyer Guest

      Assuming you used an AA cc to buy that sticker, you're getting 250 points for something that was valued at 40 points. Care to explain how that's a "horrible conversion rate"?

      You're literally getting a >5x return...

    2. Eskimo Guest

      You forgot to account the value of the sticker you bought not just the conversion rate. You don't get 250 for something that is 40. You gain 210 LP but lose 1 upgrade.

      See my explanation in your other reply.

    3. Jerry Diamond

      You could make an arguement that $40 spent on AA purchases would be worth 440 Loyalty Points to an EXP (480 if spent on an AA Credit Card).

    4. Azamaraal Diamond

      Simple

      5 X 0 = 0

      Heck = why not give 10,000 loyalty points

      10,000 X 0 - 0

    5. WishMaker New Member

      Such assumption is not the case for a lot of the 500 sticker holders, who had to earn them by butt in seat flying miles.

  28. 305 Guest

    Blew the Amex Plat $200 fee on 500mi upgrades the last two years. Now I get loyalty points equivalent to what I earn buying toilet paper through the shopping portal. Yay!

    Blew all my Business Extra points on Admirals Club day passes/BXP1 upgrades. I get upgrade space, but regarding the lounges, I haven’t been able to use one yet. Been turned away from AC every time. “No day passes today, but wanna sign-up for...

    Blew the Amex Plat $200 fee on 500mi upgrades the last two years. Now I get loyalty points equivalent to what I earn buying toilet paper through the shopping portal. Yay!

    Blew all my Business Extra points on Admirals Club day passes/BXP1 upgrades. I get upgrade space, but regarding the lounges, I haven’t been able to use one yet. Been turned away from AC every time. “No day passes today, but wanna sign-up for the credit card?” What a disingenuous answer

    This is an insulting valuation of money “spent” with AA across the board. And I’m not even going to get into how poor the level of service, both hard/soft product, has gotten.

    And one last thing, the miles are now worthless too; the “award chart” is a fantasy world. Everything is priced alla Delta SkyPesos now. Empty int’l J cabin? 250k one way!

    Even worse is their pricing of many F class domestic awards at 26k. That puts them conveniently jussst high enough they aren’t eligible with Avios, which can lower that price by 10k+ miles spent

  29. Mike Guest

    As an Executive Platinum member this won't affect me much, however, I feel that they devalue the higher Status Tiers. I hold Executive Platinum because I like having the unlimited upgrades, but if lower tiers are going to keep getting them it really loses some value for me.

    Getting companions for free will be nice, and I like the conversion to 250 loyalty points, since I have a ton of upgrades that have been sitting in my account for years now

    1. Tri Flyer Guest

      How exactly does it lose any value for you? You're still going to be ahead of the lower status flyers when it comes to that upgrade clearing...

    2. Eskimo Guest

      And you lose out to companions of every EXP higher on the list than you.

    3. Never In Doubt Guest

      You’re confused.

      Ben’s analysis is spot on.

  30. Eskimo Guest

    There goes my Amex incidentals. And I can't change airlines after January.

    1. lefty Guest

      You still can if you haven't used it

    2. Beachfan Guest

      I will be disputing any non Amex incidental purchase of these. They really don’t have a leg to stand for recent purchases.

  31. Terence Gold

    A more thorough approach on the to-be-expired stickers should be multiple options for the members:
    A. One sticker to 250 LPs
    B. One sticker to $40 Travel Credit
    C. Refund to the original payment

    But this is AWEdbaAAL now.

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

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JJ Guest

This is appalling to those of us who PAID for these stickers. At the very very least, they should be converted to $30 each in AA Vouchers to use on a flight.

3
uldguy Diamond

Wow, American you keep making it harder for me to be loyal to you. I'm very much against the companion upgrade policy. Even as an Executive Platinum member, getting an upgrade is hard enough without someone dragging their spouse or whoever into the cabin with them. Those of us who travel on business almost always travel alone. This will just make it all the harder to score an upgrade.

2
Randy Gold

I buy then all the time for companion - they are $40 each.

1
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