Should US Airways Elites Be Upset With The New AAdvantage Program?

Filed Under: American, US Airways

Yesterday American announced the details of their 2015 AAdvantage program. This is the next step of the US Airways and American Airlines integration, whereby next year they’ll be merging the Dividend Miles program into the AAdvantage program.


A vast majority of people are thrilled with the changes. And they should be — when you look at what Delta SkyMiles and United MileagePlus have done over the past couple of years, American’s program mostly staying the same is great news. From my perspective the program even improved, as American added complimentary same day changes for Executive Platinum members, a benefit which is long overdue in my book.

But that hasn’t stopped some US Airways flyers from expressing their disappointment. One of the most vocal is Carolina Travel Girl, who isn’t happy with the changes at all:

These changes are not in any way (other than an increased mileage bonus) good for the current US elites. The current AA elites who don’t know any better are basically not affected…

So these changes aren’t good in any way? And those of us AAdvantage loyalists are just happy because we “don’t know any better?” Fascinating.

Carolina Travel Girl then explains that she’s a Chairman’s Preferred member this year, but won’t be next year.

Where do we even begin?

These changes are good for Chairman’s Preferred members

Chairman’s Preferred members are going to be getting eight systemwide upgrades per year. Currently they get two systemwide upgrades, which are also valid for a companion. So at a minimum they’re doubling the number of systemwide upgrades they’re getting.

US Airways Chairman’s Preferred members still get complimentary upgrades, a 100% mileage bonus, fee waivers, etc.

The one downside is that stickers are required for companion upgrades. So if you always fly with companions then yes, that’s a big negative. But if you only fly with companions sometimes, you can even use those excess systemwide upgrades to confirm their upgrades at the time of booking.

Who wouldn’t love unlimited complimentary upgrades?

Ultimately, I think those unhappy with the program changes just lack perspective. I totally get why US Airways elite flyers are pissed about complimentary upgrades going away.

In theory.

Because a substantially smaller percentage of US Airways’ passengers are elite members. Upgrades consistently clear, even for low level elites.

What kind of a barbarian would want to see that go away? No one, right?

Here’s a question for US Airways flyers — when’s the last time you saw an upgrade list 30+ people deep after everyone had cleared? Because hub-to-hub, that’s the norm for other airlines.

I think the real objection US Airways flyers have — and the perspective they lack — is that US Airways undoubtedly has the lowest proportion of elite flyers of any major US airline.

US Airways doesn’t have as global of a network as American, Delta, or United, so people aren’t flying US Airways as often, and thus aren’t earning status with them. I mean, US Airways doesn’t even fly to Asia, so earning status is a lot tougher than with American, Delta, or United.

That’s understandable, and that’s why upgrades usually clear.

But just pulling up some upgrade lists for United for tonight, here’s how they look — they’re both 30+ people deep, and it’s not even Sunday, Monday, or Thursday:

United-Upgrade-List-1 United-Upgrade-List-2

So I think the real frustration a lot of US Airways flyers have is actually with the fact US Airways is merging with an airline that has a higher percentage of elite flyers.

Some people seem to have the misconception that every American flight goes out with first class cabins half empty because they’re refusing to upgrade elite members.

The reality is quite the opposite.

A US Airways Silver or Gold member might actually clear transcon upgrades. They might actually clear a hub-to-hub upgrade. How often do you think a Gold or Platinum member at American would clear a Miami to Los Angeles upgrade if they had unlimited complimentary upgrades? Almost never, I’d say.

And that’s not because American is denying people upgrades, but because there are more elites, and some people are actually paying for the product.

Sticker upgrades aren’t punitive

With American, Gold and Platinum members earn four 500 mile upgrades for each 10,000 miles they fly. And on top of that, they’ll soon get unlimited complimentary upgrades on flights of under 500 miles (which make up over a third of domestic upgrade eligible flights).

Carolina Travel Girl says:

And we will be subjected to the outdated ‘Sticker’ program where, if you fly 50K miles, you will earn 10 stickers… good for one transcon upgrade.

So you get four stickers for every 10,000 miles of flying, so by my math that’s 20 stickers… good for two roundtrip transcon upgrades, if that’s how you choose to redeem them.

Then she says:

Also, if you want that upgraded flight, make sure you only book it for late in the year after you have earned those stickers.

The good thing about sticker upgrades is that you don’t actually have to have stickers in your account when you request the upgrade. You just need them by the time you check-in.

So you can request upgrades for as many flights as you’d like, and if they clear you’d just need the stickers by check-in.

The way I view American’s sticker upgrade system is that it basically allows you to prioritize which upgrades are most valuable to you. In a vast majority of cases flights aren’t going out with empty seats upfront. Instead, the elites that value the upgrades the most are getting them.

I challenge Susan (or anyone else) coming over from US Airways to take some American flights and count how many empty seats they see in first class. Chances are if they’re sitting in the back it’s not because evil American wants those seats to be empty, but rather because American has more elite members than US Airways, so there’s more demand for those seats.

And I think that’s the crux of the frustration.

Bottom line

I get why US Airways flyers are unhappy. My read on the situation is “we just wanna keep getting complimentary upgrades into our first class product that’s about as classy as a frat party. It might not be much, but it’s ours, damnit!”

But I think the frustration is misdirected. US Airways members’ real complaint should be with the fact that US Airways is merging with an airline that has a much higher percentage of elite passengers than they’re used to. American just has a different way of allocating those seats among elite members, so that people get the upgrades when they value them most.

And even if you’re not happy with the changes, do realize that AAdvantage is still the lesser of the evils.

Think American’s new program is “so bad” that you’re better off with Delta or United? I’d love to hear all about it! 😉

  1. @Lucky
    As a US flyer, let me say this
    If AA system of stickers is SO much better, make the EXPs pay for it as well.
    THEN the Plats and Silvers have a chance
    AND if seats are still empty (as ONLY the folks who really want it will ask for it)
    then let us have complimentary upgrades
    Let us all be truthful.
    US flyers will have almost no upgrades on AA
    – There are few elites (according to you)
    – there are VERY few CPs (stands to reason)
    So the few US Plats like me will be fighting with all the other AA Plats who flew 25k less
    At least in the past I coud buy up to CP
    That is gone
    For the same 75k flying I can get free award changes on both DL and UA and I would get upgraded quite often on both
    My advice to the US folk is – jump ship
    Go to UA for better Star awards (no fees to go TATL)
    and if you are mainly domestic go to DL.

    There is no use to staying w AA- forget the touts bought by AA on this blogosphere
    I think DL did it best – DM is 125 and can be achieved by spend as well as flying
    UA is next – PP on spend, 1k only by flying
    AA is last

  2. US Gold member here. I flew AA yesterday EWR-DFW. They had seats available in first class when I checked in, but it would have cost $90 since I haven’t had the opportunity to earn any stickers. I said “thanks but no thanks” and had Admirals Club access, Which I milked until I was one of the last to board. When passing through the first class cabin on my way to coach, I noticed two empty seats.

    On the bright side, AA’s Main Cabin Extra seats are light-years ahead of US’s “Choice” seats. Part of my justification turning down first class was that I already had extra legroom, in the 2nd row of coach, and that all the $90 (of personal cash) would buy me is a meal. However, I could buy a $10 meal in coach and expense it to my company (I was traveling on business).

    I posted my complaint about the sticker program on Carolina Travel Girls page, so I won’t repeat myself, but long story short, I feel it shortchange the mid-tiers. Also, after being spoiled by US for years, I am opposed (rightly or wrongly) to empty seats in first if elites are sitting in coach.

  3. So happy about stickers. I am Plat, MIA-LAX is probably the route I fly most often, and I purposely chose the widebody flights when I can. When I request an upgrade – which is most of the time – I clearly about 80% of the time, and that would never happen on UDU or with free companion upgrades. Never.

  4. Flew to Chicago today where only 4 of 11 first class seats were occupied. As a US platinum I sat in coach.

    Also you must not fly a lot of legacy north east US routes. Out of Pittsburgh when they call zone 1 (50k and up) there are over 60 people boarding and the upgrade list after 16 first class seats are filled is easily over 30 people.

  5. @fifi

    No idea what you are talking about. American Airlines is the only airline that allows you to achieve status by spend using EQP. United and Delta have minimum spend requirements, but still require you to meet minimum mileage. American allows you to meet minimum spend requirements in lieu of minimum mileage.

    Thrilled that US FFers are leaving though – don’t need them at AA.

  6. United upgrade lists are ridiculously long, but hopefully United upgrades will be more consistent next year for 1K, due to the spend requirement. But, … knowing United, they’ll just sell those empty 1st class seats rather than upgrade us, lol

  7. @ Lucky

    “The way I view American’s sticker upgrade system is that it basically allows you to prioritize which upgrades are most valuable to you.”

    Absolutely agree with this statement. I miss when PMUA still used e-500. When I was Premier and Premier Executive, I could clear hub-to-hub or transcon (even PS flight back then) upgrades if I carefully select what flights I’d like to upgrade. After the merger, even as 1K I constantly had to battle under the complimentary upgrade system. I still remembered one time I flew Denver to SFO (hub to hub for sure). As a 1K, I was #11 on wait list and the list has more than 50 people…

  8. Agreed. I went through the same thing as low-level US elites when Continental ate United. As a MP Silver, I was used to 90-95% upgrade success. It was rare that I would even miss a Monday morning flight ORD-DCA or ORD-DEN. But when the merger flooded the system and created substantially more elites (because it’s easier to earn status when one airline has nine hubs and flies everywhere) my upgrade percentage dropped to the 10-15% range.

    I would have killed to have the 500 mile upgrade certificates back, and I think it would have made everybody happier to be able to choose when and where they wanted to be upgraded.

    Perfect example: twice I’ve been upgraded from a completely empty exit row. I declined both times, and I’m not sure if they cleared someone on the list after me since we were about to push. It’d be great if a passenger who really wanted that upgrade (“Oh no, I booked a week ago and I’m in 33E!”) could have gotten it.

  9. @ Ryan — So I’m curious, in that case do you still prefer “unlimited complimentary upgrades” if you primarily fly the legacy US routes with upgrade lists 30+ people deep after everyone cleared? If so, sounds like you’d never get upgraded, no?

  10. @ Pat — And as a US flyer I can totally see your frustration there, at least based on what you’re used to. All I can say is that empty seats in first happen a TINY percentage of the time. Of the 100+ flights I’ve taken on AA this year, it has been fewer than a handful of flights that have left with empty seats in first class, and all but one of those were on flights of less than 500 miles.

  11. @lucky I clear just fine and the unlimited upgrades for under 500 miles covers me. Upgrades do not bother me, I just wanted to state US does have long upgrade lists in the northeast.

    I am disgruntled with removing the 4th tier. I will be over 100 segments but under 120. Had I credited to AA from the start I would have made EP. I was fine with not making chairman. Instead I will get grouped with AA platinum – I am not fine with this.

  12. Your article would be more credible if you state the source of your claim that US has much fewer elites than AA, UA, and DL.

  13. I’m always kind of surprised to hear about flights going out with empty seats in F — in 120 flights this year, admittedly mostly out of or into DCA, DFW or MIA — I’ve had precisely 2 flights with empty seats. And as an EXP, 30% of my DFW-DCA flights home on Wednesday nigts have not upgraded at all, and I generally book four weeks out. I’m thrilled that AAdvantage is mostly remaining status quo and keep thinking that the US flyers will change their tunes once they start flying a better product. However, I appreciate that for those folks flying on exclusively US aircraft now and in the future, the changes probably look like there’s now a cost for a crappy product for something that was once a free crappy product.

  14. AA said at the beginning of this year that US DM would be migrated into AAdvantage at the end of the year. I interpreted that to mean, that AAdvantage was the new program with all its Ts&Cs. People that thought that four tier system was going to happen were wrong. Many disagree with me on the interpretation, which turns out to be the result. AA just tweaks a few items – adding SDC for EXP and no stickers for <500 miles. The items US Air flyers are complaining are in the current AA program.

    If a 75K US flyer really wants free upgrades most of the time, then do mileage runs to get the extra 25K. One thing about the FF programs is that they are equal opportunity programs. Everyone can achieve that want if they really want it. And many here do no business travel at all and are EXP.

  15. AA said at the beginning of this year that US DM would be migrated into AAdvantage at the end of the year. I interpreted that to mean, that AAdvantage was the new program with all its Ts&Cs. People that thought that four tier system was going to happen were wrong. Many disagree with me on the interpretation, which turns out to be the result. AA just tweaks a few items – adding SDC for EXP and no stickers for <500 miles. The items US Air flyers are complaining are in the current AA program.

    If a 75K US flyer really wants free upgrades most of the time, then do mileage runs to get the extra 25K. One thing about the FF programs is that they are equal opportunity programs. Everyone can achieve that want if they really want it. And many here do no business travel at all and are EXP.

  16. AA said at the beginning of this year that US DM would be migrated into AAdvantage at the end of the year. I interpreted that to mean, that AAdvantage was the new program with all its Ts&Cs. People that thought that four tier system was going to happen were wrong. Many disagreed with me on the interpretation, which turns out to be the result. AA just tweaks a few items – adding SDC for EXP and no stickers for <500 miles. The items US Air flyers are complaining are in the current AA program.

    If a 75K US flyer really wants free upgrades most of the time, then do mileage runs to get the extra 25K. One thing about the FF programs is that they are equal opportunity programs. Everyone can achieve that want if they really want it. And many here do no business travel at all and are EXP.

  17. Thanks for commenting about the math – I just didn’t catch that when I re-read before publishing. I have since fixed the error and just have to say that my post was written in a high state of emotion. I know that you are aware of my deep affection for US Airways and the fact that the integration was so highly skewed in favor of the AAdvantage program upset me quite a bit. I have since put the sackcloth back in the closet (I was running out of ashes anyway). I am not nearly as knowledgeable as you about the ins and outs of the airline industry, but I can say with 100% certainty, that I was treated well as a US Airways elite… at every level…

    I have nothing against American nor the AAdvantage program. I will be doing everything I can to be able to achieve ExP on American in the future. That being said, I still do not believe the changes are favorable to US mid-tier elites who have lost not only complimentary upgrades for themselves, but also the ability to upgrade traveling companions; have lost the Companion Fee passes that came with the Barclay Card (not sure if the AAdvantage card offers those); and have lost the status that they had (because that tier no longer exists). As one commenter said about those little benefits: “there were all kinds of incentives to ramp up our leisure travel.”
    And now, for upgrades that were once complimentary, mid to low tier elites will be paying for them (when not using stickers)….hence my statement of “booking late in the year after you have earned those stickers.” Flights from our area (AGS, CAE, GSP, CHS, etc.) have risen quite a bit since the merger… so tacking on an extra hundred or two for an upgrade is just not feasible for many. Even the 500 mile free upgrade isn’t that great – anything less than 500 miles for me usually involves a Dash 8 or an RJ without a First cabin. As for the extra bonus miles, those aren’t such a big deal either for some as miles can easily be accrued in other ways.
    So yes, for the business traveler, the traveler who can comfortably make over 100K miles a year on business travel, maybe the changes are not so bad. But for the traveler who is either a business or a leisure traveler who happens to fly in the 60-100K range and is still loyal to the airline, the changes are not so great.
    I just think there could have been a bit more compromise.

  18. @Randy you are assuming I and others qualify on miles but I do segments. Per the AA program, you only need 100 segments for EP in 2014. That would be me, but US has required 120 for many years. But since I credited them to to US rather than AA, I believe I will get grouped in with platinum rather than EP. Yes it would be nice if I was wrong…

  19. @ffi – as a United Premier Plat I can assure you I never get upgraded and am typically anywhere from #3 to #15 on the upgrade list. I will agree the free award changes and priority boarding in group 1 are great perks to have above the 50K level though. It does feel more like 1k light without the dedicated line and chance at upgrades.

  20. @Susan–very well stated.

    @Lucky–I’m in agreement typically with your analysis on this blog, but I think you’re wearing rose-colored glasses with this. I’m a Cactus gold based in DCA. Most of my travel is business, domestic, point-to-point. As it stands, I rarely get upgraded to hubs like CLT when connecting, but I almost always get upgraded on direct A320 routes or Republic E-jet routes. Sure, some of these are under 500 miles, but most are not. No, the hard product and snack basket are nothing to fight for, but I will take a larger seat in which I can work comfortably, guaranteed overhead room, a lav up front, and a place to hang my suit-jacket instead of cramming it under the seat in front of me over the best seat in AA MCE. Much more classy than a frat party if you ask me–at least classy than F in an ex-TWA or ex-Air Cal Super 80. What really hurts more than the tougher upgrades is the change to MoveUp. Sure, MoveUp was limited to a 6-hour window, but it was free for middling mid-tiers like me–and I use it all the time. Soon, that’ll be gone, and for no good reason other than exacting moAAr revenue from frequent customers. Like Susan, I think US treats its elites remarkably well. But good point Lucky, at least AA flies to Asia–that’ll give me comfort after I pay $75 to take an hour-earlier flight to Memphis in coach.

  21. My dilemma started over a year ago when it was announced that US and AA were merging. To be honest, I was actually happy that the Justice Department blocked the merger. I’ve been a USDM member for over 18 years and have been Chairman’s for 14 of those 18 years and currently Chairman’s from qualifying last year. I almost always fly with a companion and 99.9% of the time we have both been upgraded to first.

    When the merger happened, the dilemma was to either to continue to be a USDM member or switch to another airline because, even though we love the upgrades, the most important thing to us is to continue to have status with a Star Alliance member and have access to Star Alliance lounges. However, by not continuing to credit miles to USDM, we would lose the fabulous awards chart that US has and their generous routing rules. We’ve had so many fabulous trips all over the world as a result.

    So, how did I resolve the dilemma this year? Since belonging in one of the Star Alliance members was more important, I switched to UA. I had to start from scratch on UA. Even though I did not have status on UA, my partner is Platinum with UA and I was able to get access to Star Alliance lounges as well as get on the upgrade list. I have now qualified as Platinum for next year as well as my partner.

    50% of the over 75K miles we each have flown this year were domestic flights on UA. Most of those flights were EWR-SEA route since my partner’s family is from the Seattle area. I have to say that none (zero, nada) of those flights were we upgraded to first. The only time we actually flew first was paying for it. While at the gate during those flights and looking up at upgrade list on the screen, I always complained to my partner that we would be already upgraded to first if we were flying US. But, c’est la vie.

    Now, I’m faced with a new dilemma, whether to continue with MileagePlus or switch again. I really don’t have any complaints about MileagePlus, but with UA devaluing their awards chart plus it’s getting harder to redeem premium cabins with Star Alliance members, I’m thinking about switching back to USDM. However, with US and AA loyalty programs merging next year, I’m not so sure now because I really don’t like the very restrictive AA routing rules. Plus, except for Cathay Pacific, I’m not too crazy about the other OneWorld members. Not crazy about Sky Team too.

    I wrote this long soliloquy to go through my thought process on choosing the best frequent flyer program for my needs. Since US and AA have merged, it’s a done deal and complaining about what’s good, bad or ugly about one FF over another will not change anything unless complaining makes you feel better. I guess you guys need to ask yourselves what things are most important to you and choose the FF program that best meet those things.

    @Lucky – I realize that you’re loyal to AA. But do you advise for us to switch back to USDM which will become AA eventually?

  22. I guarantee you the percentage of upgrades that clear for Platinums and Golds on most routes will be higher with this system. If they went with complimentary upgrades to all elites, the backlog would be huge. Allowing Elites to chose when and where they use their upgrades prevents big wait lists.

  23. Lucky, I think you state it perfectly when you say that the real issue that many US elites have is that US is merging with an airline that has many more elites.

    Just so I’m understanding this, if I’m ExPlat next year, I don’t earn any stickers, correct? Meaning, if I want to upgrade my wife when she flies with me, I’m always going to have to pay for stickers for her?

  24. Totally logical that AA has more elites by % of flyers compared to US and its only going to go up next year, as its easy to be loyal to such a huge airline. As a US Gold I didn’t gun for Plat this year knowing there was a good chance AA would stick to 3 tiers. And while I’m not exactly surprised, I still don’t get why they stuck with 3. Even with the pay-for-upgrade system I’m not expecting any upgrades next year as plat (have been AA gold and plat in the past), and the fact that I will have basically the same treatment as someone with 90k miles is pretty mind boggling.

    @David I don’t think losing MoveUp is much of a loss. Given you have to be at the airport to use it, its really only marginally better than AA’s stand-by, which will still be free. I’d rather have the option to pay $75 to make a meaningful change (e.g. from connecting to non-stop, or switch between my home airports DCA/IAD/BWI) which is impossible with MoveUp,

    Overall I think the changes are “meh”…the new normal with consolidation is that anything less than top tier status is meaningless when it comes to upgrades. Though with domestic first being what it is these days, its not much to miss out on.

  25. AA tries to favor high-spending customers. I see nothing wrong with it. I am positive AA will move to a revenue-based program too in the next year or so. I don’t see why that should not be the case. Also, seats can be empty in First class – no biggie. As long as coach is not oversold, AA better not create the expectation on mid-tier elite customers to be upgraded if there are seats available. That’s just bad business (and no airline outside of the US does that…).

  26. As an AA ExecPlat I will actually be worse off than a US ChairmanPreferred (or whatever they’re called) because I will only get (actually got them last week) 8 eVIPs while they will get two of their own SWUs and once merged in the 2nd quarter, eight eVIPs. And even lower tier US elites will be getting a batch of 500s based on their 2014 EQMs to kick start, so while most AA elites will have been using theirs throughout this year and likely have few left until they start earning again next year, US’s newly minted AA elites will have a nice stash to start using. So not sure what they’re got to complain about.

    BTW I often find F going out with empty seats, and I quite like it. Makes the cabin feel less harried unlike UA’s F cabins. Keeps the value proposition of F too. My upgrade rate is 100% since moving over to AA from UA, but as a 1K also, my rate with UA is about 20%. UDU isn’t all it’s cooked up to be.

  27. As an AAdvantage gold member, I’ve never had a problem standing by for a flight and getting a seat. I’ve only ever paid the $75 once because there was a substantially delayed flight that was going to start rebooking onto the one I needed to be on. As for upgrades, I’m 1-1 (I know, very small sample) on the year and that includes standing by after getting the upgrade and then still getting upgraded.

    Now, most of my flights are 500 miles or less, so I love the new changes – I’m not buying any more stickers! And for those of you that think that DL or UA are going to be any better, I doubt it. As lucky showed, upgrade lists are miles long and there are revenue requirements.

  28. Why should F always be full? Take a look at Europe’s Intra-business (okay not a stellar product but..) they will only fill with operational upgrades not status, Keeps the value of the cabin. UDU erodes that value, as a result of falling revenue in the cabin, service is reduced even further…snack basket anyone??

  29. Stumble upon this site. Interesting. But why not just buy whatever class of ticket you want and the problem goes away.

  30. @ Trader Henry — Well the problem goes away, but so does your bank account. 😉

    At the end of the day people become loyal to airlines because they’re looking to get some value out of the relationship, which is why this matters to people.

  31. @ Nick — To provide a bit of insight as to why American stuck with three tiers, it’s literally because they’re trying to change as little about AAdvantage for the coming year as humanly possible. Why? Because they have much bigger fish to fry with the integration, and this was basically the best of the options.

    The alternative would have been them completely “revamping” the program — you can bet that would have included award chart changes, mileage bonuses being cut, etc.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if they add a fourth tier with the 2016 program, but in the meantime I think we should be thankful that they went for as few changes as possible.

  32. As much as UDU are good in theory, in practice stickers seem to be a slightly better way… at least, for now. If — for example — UA thins out elite ranks significantly that may allow for higher success rate with upgrades.

  33. I’m a US Gold and all this year I’ve maybe missed 5-6 upgrades out of 50+ eligible flights (plenty more in CR2/Dash8). I’m not wholly opposed to the sticker system, but the new hard 500 mile rule puts my most common flight NYC-CLT outside of the window by 28 to 41 miles. I’m not wasting 2 stickers on that flight and I doubt anyone else will either. Meaning other than ExPlt, that cabin will run half-full frequently. Even now, it usually doesn’t fill up.

  34. It seems like most of you are only concerned with domestic rules & regs.

    For those of us who fly abroad, let us not forget that AA is the only legacy carrier that allows SWUs to clear on ANY paid coach fare (I think). For anyone with global travel considerations, this little fact far outweighs any petty sticker debate. Give me my free ExP drink for the 4hr domestic hop, and I’m perfectly happy in coach. I rarely touch the GMO crap that passes for food. Domestic F is a joke anymore…

  35. @David @DavidB I don’t think comparing AA’s upgrade policy to European carriers is fair. Non-american carriers have a much tighter upgrade policies, but they also have much better first class products. American first class products are crappy but plentiful. If American carriers want to adopt European policy, that’s fine, but they’ll also need to upgrade their product.

  36. @ffi Actually until a few years ago, EXP’s did “pay” and earn on the same basis as all other AAdvantage elite members. Even now, EXP’s must actively request upgrades. Yes back in those days 25K GLDs had a significantly better shot overall at clearing than now, and 50K PLT’s had a near sure-thing, if buying enough stickers.

    I never understood why US has had many 75k Platinum level members stay Plat— after all, the incremental price to buy up to CP was until 2014 pretty small compared to the extra benefits.

    @David @Nick If you are that frequent a MoveUp user or think there is a high probability of needing to change on a particular trip, you’re better off, when on AA, to be buying ChoicePlus economy fares that bundle in Zero Change Fees (whether same day or not, and no need to be at the airport to arrange) and other stuff you may or may not care about (bonus miles, extra luggage, cocktail). When the probabilities aren’t so high, the elite-level free same day standby likely serves adequately.

    @Dan up to now the 500 mile hard limit has had 50 miles “grace” in it so 519 and 1042 would be charged one and two, respectively. no idea if that will carry through of course. Also if you are a business or last-min traveler stuck on Y or B fares, those upgrades have up to now been free for Gold and Plat, if they do clear.

  37. One of the most snarky blog articles I’ve seen…Lucky, seems like you’ve got some angst against anyone that doesn’t find getting their program of choice devalued. I wonder if we weed through your prior posts if we’d find you so welcoming of changes that adversely impact you.

  38. @AAdvEXP

    Everything I’ve heard so far is the grace of 50 miles that exists for stickers is going away and it will be a hard 500 limit. The sticker itself might retain the grace, thus the upgrade for a 541 mile flight might only take one sticker. But who knows, AA hasn’t been rather helpful in answering my questions.

  39. As a longtime UA elite flyer I have to comment at this point…First, I was so jealous when I read that AA was doing a combination of the 500mi UG certs and Comp UG’s…Even though we will NEVER convince our Continental kin that we have inherited, it used to be so much better before the product was given away…This really does seem like the best way to please the frequent flyer on the short hops [read little to no service] and try to keep the “First” in First class on the longer domestic routes…When I hear fellow flyers complaining in the front of the plane, I often ask, “how did you think that this was going to improve, or even stay the same when they started GIVING it away…???” That really doesn’t make any kind of business sense does it…??? I mean, taking into account that a lot of us who are flying up there really are “businessmen” would we advocate for giving something away and improving that product in the business we run or work for…??? I have said on here before, when you start giving something away, its value is diminished…To that point, Pat, at the top of the comment section wasn’t willing to pay 90$ to sit up front EWR-DFW…90$ !!!, not 900$ which the ticket might cost, I don’t know, not 1500$ which 3-5 years ago the ticket might have cost…90$…!!!…!!! That seat which he/she apparently wants SO badly, and feels so cheated by not getting, isn’t even worth 90$ in his/her mind in the end…

  40. While I likely agree with you that US has a lower percentage of elites than other airlines, hub-to-hub is still pretty bad. My dad is a US CP based in PHX and he switched to DL Diamond this year because he had so much trouble getting upgraded on PHX-PHL and especially PHX-CLT flights. Even as a DL Gold or Plat he had much better luck getting upgraded ex-PHX to JFK/ATL/DTW. Not to mention that a lot of his business takes him to the middle of nowhere and DL is much better about having F on regional jets than US or AA.

    I think the problem with US is that they aggressively sell FC seats a lot of the time, they have small F cabins, and they tend to process upgrades earlier (which for most people is a perk, but for someone who rarely books flights more than 48 hours before departure is a problem since it mitigates the benefits of being CP) than other legacy airlines.

    Basically I think hub to hub flights are just bad across the board no matter what airline you are on. PHX is particularly hard on a US elite who does a lot of business in small regional airports on the east coast because you have no choice most of the time except to connect through CLT or PHL (usually to a regional jet/prop plane with no first, another point for DL) especially when all of the non-US airlines are so elite light ex-PHX and still offer frequent departures. Delta has a fairly large operation in PHX but most of the people flying from there are leisure travelers so its so much easier to get upgraded.

  41. Keep in mind those upgrade lists for United that you show also show employees who are listed for non rev travel who also want to fly in first. The employees are after all eligible paying customers of course, but from that list you show there’s no way of telling where the actual paying elite list ends and the employees begin. Looks can be deceiving.

  42. Some people here are still confused about stickers.

    @Susan writes that USDM elites have “lost not only complimentary upgrades for themselves, but also the ability to upgrade traveling companions… now, for upgrades that were once complimentary, mid to low tier elites will be paying for them (when not using stickers)….hence my statement of “booking late in the year after you have earned those stickers.”

    You can buy stickers for $30 online. As many as you want. Whenever you want. You can use those to upgrade yourself AND your traveling companions. It’s not true that “elites will be paying for [upgrades] when not using stickers.” The stickers ARE the payment. You can always upgrade for a fee of $60, $90, $120 or $150 depending on the duration of the flight. By buying stickers. No need to wait till late in the year, unless you insist on your upgrades being free.

    @Andrew writes – “Just so I’m understanding this, if I’m ExPlat next year, I don’t earn any stickers, correct? Meaning, if I want to upgrade my wife when she flies with me, I’m always going to have to pay for stickers for her?”

    No, you don’t have to pay. Whatever your elite status, you still earn your 4 stickers per 10k flown. If you’re EXP then you’re earning at least 40 stickers per year. That’s 8 transcon upgrades for your wife before you start needing to pay to upgrade her.

  43. @Josh
    EXPs accumulate stickers? Hmmm…guess I’ve been missing out. Might wanna edit that statement.

  44. Just to come back to the empty F seats on some AA flights issue. A major advantage of this is when a connection is missed or a flight is changed on the same day, I’ve more often than not been able to get on another flight in the F cabin, particularly on missed connections protected in F. This would be impossible on a CPU-based upgrade program since the F cabin would normally be filled on every flight going out given the average number of elites on any given flight. This has been my experience with UA since it made its change.

  45. @ffi and anyone else who thinks UA will get you better upgrade rates courtesy of the unlimited domestic upgrade policy….

    I am an EXP and have been so more or less continually for the last 13 years. I now am a 1k on UA because I switched my flying to UA this spring purely for scheduling reasons.

    As a 1k that flies on mixed fares and with a PQD spend of nearly $20k this year (I am not an el cheapo elite), I cannot get better than 50% upgrade rate on the year. Folks who fly in and out of IAH, SFO, IAD and EWR routinely do MUCH worse than me. Thee is no doubt that you will fare better on AA as a Plat than if you were Plat or Gold on UA (unless you fly exclusively Y/B fares).

    Regarding the contention that evips on AA are the holy grail, I would like to remind folks that AA has severely cut the allocation of evips both far out and close in and that further tightening will only make them more useless. I used to travel using evips with the kids which has been effectively impossible for well over a year based on revman policy changes. And don’t even get me started on award availability. AA has virtually none and has recently proven that they don’t mind sending planes out half empty before they let you redeem miles. The only saving grace is CX at this point.

    All the airlines have their issues at this point. Just ask yourself what’s most important. For me, it is schedule, but for others it may be earn rate or upgrades or whatever. But consolidation will screw all of us, and it is unrealistic for US elites to think they would not have to take it on the chin.

  46. @Josh EXP’s do not earn stickers. companion upgrade stickers need to come from either using prior balances, buying, or redeeming miles for them.

    @Doug There does exist an algorithm-driven system, at checkin kiosks only, that offers upgrades for cash in cases where the elite queue is empty. It’s called Load Factor Based Upgrade or LFBU. Also little known but longtime existing is the fact that non-elites can buy stickers already, at a higher non-elite price, and take a spot in the queue below all elites. Historically that was only available to full fare customers but it would be simple enough to make it general.

  47. US CP for the last four years. For flights with F, upgraded 94-98% each year (and generally only missed it when booking only a few days out or when our work travel system messed up attaching the correct FF#). So yeah, these changes are BS. Wish DOJ had rejected this merger. US’s F product got the job done. AA was the one in bankruptcy; US got its finances worked out. So why are we keeping the AA system that failed?

  48. @ JGM — If I’m not mistaken Delta was also in bankruptcy, and is now one of the most profitable airlines in the world. 😉

  49. @ JGM — No, American wasn’t in bankruptcy because they had too good of a first class product (which is what you seem to be suggesting based on US Airways’ product “getting the job done”). They were in bankruptcy because they had a horrible route network, unsustainable cost structure, and inefficient aircraft. That’s what they’ve worked on fixing, quite successfully.

  50. CP member here, I will admit that the new changes preturb me a bit. But thats life, what I really will miss the 7 day upgrade window being gone for CP at least when there were no upgrades avail/left I could just buy first class ticket with prices somwhat reasonable for a week in advance. Now I’m sure I’ll be spedning quite a bit more yearly to ensure I am upfront. I will say that the ” NEW American” should probably model more after US considering how they are the ones who have been buying up ailines left and right over the years. To Many AA brass that still have a job in my opinon.

  51. Hi, Lucky! I am new to this AA “sticker” thing so the question is probably pretty stupid… But does US Gold earn any stickers when they are flying US metal starting Jan.1? I am currently a US Gold but I am not able to keep my Gold status next year. In fact, I wouldn’t even be a silver starting March… However, I will be flying roughly 10000 miles in Jan. and Feb. solely on US Metal… Wondering if I will get the 4 stickers? Also, if I do, how do I apply it when I am no longer an elite flyer? Thanks!!!

  52. Lucky- old thread, but here is my experience flying American Metal as a chairman convert. The fact that EPs are automatically put in line when they buy the ticket vs the Usair math which took into account your rolling 12 miles and flights is killing me. Chairman for 4 years, 165+ each year and I’m behind a guy or gal that got status matched because I bought my ticket 7 days out rather than 30?

    If they would fill the seats when the window opened based on loyalty rather than when you bought the ticket, I think I would be thrilled. But I’m four flights away from flipping to Someone else, it just doesn’t make sense.

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