In 9 Days, American’s Confirmed Domestic Upgrade Space Mostly Disappears

A couple of months ago I wrote that the update American is doing to its booking classes in order to accommodate the sale of their new international premium economy product (which needs its own classes) for travel starting January 11 would mean the end of confirmed upgrade space as we know it.

That seems to be what’s happened. Take for instance Washington National – Dallas three days from now (January 5). It’s a Thursday and all 9 flights have confirmable upgrade (“A”) space available.

January 11 the confirmed upgrade bucket changes to “C”. In the past nearly every flight would be “A7” (‘at least 7 first class seats’) from the time the schedule opened until seats were no longer available. Looking out three weeks there are only 2 flights during the day where any confirmed upgrade space is available, and there are far fewer seats even on those.

Here’s what Dallas – Forth Lauderdale looks like a month out:

For both the DC – Dallas flight and the Dallas – Fort Lauderdale flight it’s only the first flight of the day and the last that has any upgrade space at all. SAD!

American already has worse award availability than United and worse availability than Delta for transatlantic flights at least. One bright spot has long been domestic upgrade space.

I have long assumed that American made domestic confirmed upgrade space (“A” inventory) widely available for all except premium New York JFK – Los Angeles and San Francisco routes because American doesn’t waive the cash co-pay required for upgrades using miles for elite frequent flyers the way that Unites does. American gets cash for the upgrade, not just miles.

American Airlines Domestic First Class

Of course 15,000 miles and $75 cash doesn’t even make sense to do when a first class fare is less than $200 over the coach price one way. You’re getting less than a penny per mile.

Nonetheless, American has made upgrade space available even when first is a greater premium over coach so it’s strategically useful to spend miles to confirm a seat especially when it’s getting so much harder to obtain a complimentary upgrade.

The reduction in domestic confirmed upgrade space is a devaluation for:

  • AAdvantage miles, which can be used to confirm upgrades
  • Systemwide upgrades, given to AAdvantage Executive Platinum members and upon hitting 2 million miles (and subsequent million mile thresholds). These eVIP international upgrade certificates used to confirm into revenue inventory years ago when used domestically. Now they’ve become tough to use even domestically.
  • Business ExtrAA ‘BXP1’ confirmed upgrade certificates

It’s possible of course that reducing the opportunity to confirm upgrades could make complimentary upgrades (usually at the gate) somewhat more likely.

Update: I wrote this post yesterday morning. Since then One Mile at a Time offered a very similar observation.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I wouldn’t hold your breath about gate complimentary upgrades becoming any more likely. On UA they’ve become less likely because now UA just sells the upgrades to all comers. Confirmable upgrades are almost impossible to clear unless there is a ton of revenue inventory that UA is confident they can’t sell, even at a steep discount.

  2. Wait, people actually used miles to confirm upgrades into AA’s pathetic domestic first? Shocking.

    And it has not been my experience that complimentary upgrades are getting more difficult to get. This EXP was over 90% success in domestic upgrades on AA in 2016. YMMV.

  3. @the_real_Bob what routes are you flying, and what days/times? I tended to use BXP1 certs on eligible fares to confirm domestic upgrades when there were only one or two seats left up front several days out.

  4. Gary –

    I fly from DEN, so mostly midcons. So DEN-HUB-XXX (and back). XXX varies – I don’t have a most common destination, my trips tend to be all over the place. About a third of the time XXX is international long-haul. In 2016 HUB was pretty even between CLT, DFW, and ORD. Haven’t noticed much difference between the DEN-HUB flights and the HUB-XXX flights. Still clear stuff at 100hrs sometimes, but 24-4hrs is common, as is at the gate.

    My domestic trips are generally Monday morning departures and Wednesday or Thursday afternoon returns. Sometimes its Wednesday departure, Friday return. Most of my tickets are booked months in advance. (I already have March and April trips booked) So we’ll how my clearance ratio changes once the prioritization scheme changes to EQD later this year.

  5. Oligopoly has its privileges…though, at the risk of contradicting myself, I’ll say that my first thought is that this gets me looking into Jet Blue and Alaska as alternatives.

    Anyway, thanks for this update, Gary. A big reason to stick with American, those confirmed domestic upgrades, goes down the drain. I just canceled a full fare international AA business ticket – accumulating status and miles is losing its appeal, as per the Mommy Points article you linked to at another recent post. In truth, I’d been considering doing so for other reasons anyway (not least the better quality of its international competitors). But this pushed me over the top.

    In fact, one silver lining is the timing of this move, before many folks again get stuck on the AA status treadmill for 2017.

    Any further thoughts from you on the best strategies (if they still exist) for securing domestic upgrades on whichever airlines would be very welcome.

    And happy new year!

  6. I’m already gone they are reaching bottom faster than anyone could have imagined
    Doug Parker has crashed the American Advantage into the ground.nose first
    Now that the playing field is level I’m with the remaining few airlines that still get customer relationships and value still matter

  7. For both the DC – Dallas flight and the Dallas – Fort Lauderdale flight it’s only the first flight of the day and the last that has any upgrade space at all. SAD!

    Donald? Did you take over Gary’s blog because Twitter closed your account?

  8. Completely agree that this is terrible. I used SWUs for companion upgrades (at least I would know for sure we would have ONE confirmed seat), and BXP1 certs for longer flights (ORD>SFO, for example) when there were only one or two F seats left, and I would sometimes even pay to upfare to be able to use it (and I’d say 25% of the time they didn’t even collect the certificate, shhhh, don’t tell anyone). But if all of that is gone, there really isn’t much left to like about AA. The fat-F**K doug parker can go F**K himself. And I would gladly tell that to his fat face.

  9. Hello everyone,
    I am taking a trip with my partner for my 50th birthday. Since, I do not have my fun traveling job anymore and looking for employment now, I would appreciate if anyone who wants to get rid of
    their systemwise upgrade or gift it to me and I can give you something back. I have a bad back, and will really suffer on the long flight to Europe.
    Please contact me if you can. Thanks,
    I do not need two of them, I just need one American Airlines systemwide upgrade for myself.
    Thank you!

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