Quirk About American Airlines Upgrades Lets You Skip A Cabin

An interesting story American Airlines upgrade story – compounded by terrible customer service – tells me it’s worth reminding that American Airlines does not offer any way to upgrade to premium economy before the day of travel and that no American Airlines upgrade instrument will cover the cost of a premium economy upgrade.

This is actually a good thing because it means that all advance upgrades, and upgrades paid for with a certificate, still skip over the premium economy cabin.

This papssenger flew Dallas to Maui and received an upgrade at the gate from coach to premium economy. However they “were told that 500-mile upgrades were only good for 1-cabin upgrades, and that since this was a three-cabin aircraft (772), that meant Coach to Premium Economy.”

As best as I can tell,

  • Business class had only one seat available, they couldn’t both have been upgraded to business anyway
  • They may have been offered a day of departure upgrade to premium economy
  • However if that is true, they shouldn’t have been charged 500 mile upgrade certificates, it should either have been free based on eligible elite status or available for a fee to consider.

The passenger, correctly, believed that their 500 mile upgrade certificates shouldn’t have been deducted, and complained to the airline. American responded, the passenger responded, and American responded again:

Got a nasty call from that same [customer service] agent today, saying that she thought she had already told me that there would be no refund in stickers, and chastising me for not rejecting the upgrade when I found out (at the gate) that the stickers in question would not be upgrading me to First.

…She initially reiterated that AA CR is a “single point of contact” system, and that there was nobody in AA at all she could escalate my complaint to. However, after telling her I was going to open another complaint specifically about Her (now that I have confirmed that she’s quoting incorrect rules), she told me she’d transfer the complaint to someone else, and immediately hung up.

…She called back again to correct herself that this will NOT be escalated.

She said with vigor that she has reviewed everything, and confirmed all of what she said and also (this is worth noting):

“Class R is used for sticker upgrades from Main Cabin to Premium Economy.”

The passenger writes that on their return flight from Maui to Dallas the airline again offered an upgrade to premium economy complimentary for them (based on top status) and paid for with 500 mile upgrade certificates for their companion.

Since they “did not want to spend another 8 stickers, and there was not a pair of PE seats together” they gave their free upgrade seat to their companion and sat in extra legroom coach.

Here’s the letter from American Airlines confirming that 500 mile upgrade certificates are only valid for upgrade from coach to premium economy on aircraft that offer a premium economy cabin – which is 100% false.

Credit: meechyathere

American Airlines doesn’t offer AAdvantage redemption or elite upgrades into premium economy. The only premium economy upgrades are day of departure paid, or complimentary for top elites. Upgrades from coach with systemwides, miles, or 500-mile certificates are to business/first class. A passenger already in premium economy can upgrade to business/first class with these same instruments as well.

But there is no such thing as an e-500 upgrade to premium economy. As American Airlines spokesperson Brian Metham confirms,

Unfortunately, the customer was given incorrect information. Customers aren’t able to upgrade into Premium Economy using e500s (or other instruments like systemwide upgrades and miles + cash).

Right now, the only option to upgrade into Premium Economy is through our Day of Departure Upgrade product.

Since 500 mile upgrades cannot be used as payment towards a premium economy upgrade, I’ve asked American how this member can get their 500 mile upgrade certificates back.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. Wouldn’t it be nice if all of the rules and ticket classes were less complicated? There’s never a time for rude service on part of the customer nor airline. But reading through all these rules makes my head hurt!

  2. Did American have any comments on the quality of the customer service hear?

  3. AA service has been wonderful during
    Covid but was horrible before covid and rapidly returning to horrible as travel resumes. This is why I’m leaving them for Alaska now that they are one world as well.

  4. The action of a gate agent calling a passenger is what amazes me about this incident. Unless they agreed to communicate with each other as follow-up re this matter, it is so wrong. Any phone calls or emails should be handled by a corporate customer service human automaton. Airport customer service employees should only add concise remarks to the reservation history and/or advise a supervisor or manager about any discrepancy.
    It almost sounds like the gate agent was trying to badger the passenger into agreeing with her (possibly fearing a complaint report). So unprofessional.
    I’m an AA/LAX retiree and can’t imagine that my former co-workers would harass a passenger in this way!

  5. @MilleFeuille it wasn’t the gate agent that called, it was customer service, I’ve added a parenthetical to make this clearer in case others read it the same way you did.

  6. I’m confused – on domestic flights American basically treats Premium Economy as Main Cabin Extra. For example, I am booked MIA-LAX in June on a 777. As lifetime Platinum I was able to pay coach and select a Premium Economy seat at no extra cost (on upgrade list for business).

    Either this person, if truly an elite, booked too late to just assign themselves a Premium Economy seat or flights to Hawaii are treated differently than other domestic flights with respect to classification of Premium Economy.

    DL treats Premium Economy as a separate class (and even considers Comfort + an upgrade that only top level elites can book at no cost) but not American.

  7. Everybody wants everything for nothing … this is the everyone gets a trophy syndrome.

  8. It’s not a “quirk” that lets you “skip a cabin” – it’s a policy that means SWUs are still good for Y—>J upgrades.

    No-one in American’s elite program wants PE to be treated as a separate cabin for upgrade purposes.

  9. AC.. on long haul flights to Hawaii Premium Economy is sold as a separate cabin and service.

  10. @Tim – No it’s not, this is a case of a customer rightly wanting the rules to be applied consistently as they (correctly) understood them to be. If we can’t have any expectations regarding a company’s rules or policies then we never know what we’re actually buying. That’s chaos, and if your mentality is, “I’ll buy anyway and be thankful for whatever I get,” then you’re nuts.

  11. American Airlines sucks in the customer service department. They “misplaced” our luggage. At one point we asked to please escalate to a manager and were told that there was no manager & decisions were at the discretion of the cs agent.
    Finally got our luggage 3 days into our trip after calling everyday several times a day. And on the way home we had a stop for a few days in Oregon yet they tagged our luggage through to our final destination! Thankfully, our flight home from Oregon was on Alaska Airlines and they were able to get our bags for us quickly! Never was compensated by American.
    I will never fly them again!

  12. Copying Delta. Main cabin. Skip comfort. They move me right to first class

  13. AA has empowered their staff to be rude. Never will fly them again, their attitude is rehensible

  14. “…forwarding your comment to the leadership team for review…”

    Geeze Louise! If just one… more… comment… is forwarded to the leadership team for review it will break the camels’ backs! What beyond those reviews will they be able to accomplish? Not that they’ve been accomplishing much for years, anyway, except Kirbifying the airline, long after the eponymous executive decamped.

  15. Like that term “Kirbifying.”
    I’ll mention it to past and present AA airport staff with whom I still keep in touch.

  16. Pre-covid, I did miles upgrades a couple times on international flights (MIA to/from Brazil) from premium economy into business. When they say “Upgrades are valid to the next cabin of service” here: https://www.aa.com/i18n/aadvantage-program/miles/redeem/award-travel/upgrade-with-miles.jsp

    I assumed that meant if you were in regular coach, you’d go to premium economy. If you’d go to business, then I might have to book a coach flight and use a miles upgrade!!

  17. Until Doug Parker goes, customer service for those below EP will suck. He has stated as much that he doesn’t care that customers are miserable because they will fly anyway. I am flying them because I am EP, and I enjoy the OneWorld choice of airlines, but DP needs to go.

  18. If you aren’t satisfied, just Google “doug parker”, it will give you a phone to his secretary or someone else propably, that will show some concern.

  19. I had a horrendous experience with AA in November where they made me book multiple tickets because I couldn’t use the credit from the original flight (don’t ask me why) on another when I needed to change the location being flown through. They issued me over 1k in flight credits and refused to refund any of the tickets even after I followed procedure by asking for a refund within 24 hrs of booking on atleast 2 of the flight changes.. super sketch. Had to dispute with my Amex which took care of it in a Skippy. Sticking with delta from here on, even if that means driving a couple hours out of my way to catch the flight at a hub.

  20. This exact scenario happened to me last month flying from Maui to DFW. As an Exec Platinum, I was told differently on the phone than by the gate agent as to what was needed to upgrade my companion for the flight home. Gate agent was adamant that I should use e500 certificates to upgrade even to Premium Economy. Exec Platinum desk says that there is no upgrade to Premium Economy for domestic, and that only Biz class qualifies for upgrades.

    We ended up taking the “upgrade”, and what a joke the premium economy is!!! No extra legroom, crappy service, in fact, absolutely no difference in the snack or drinks in economy. Cannot imagine paying for those seats, when an exit row seat is far better!

  21. I can’t stand when these morons at “customer service” approach every situation with a “you’re wrong” attitude. We’ve all experienced it. #HUACA should never yield a different result. We should always get the right result, every time.

  22. Thirty plus years flying AA much of that Lifetime Platinum it’s always a hoot to read comments like some here. I’ve had zero CS issues in that time over millions of miles on many 2-4 sector one-way itineraries. Maybe understand rules in advance and try being nice like a normal human.

  23. I too have had unreasonable problems with American airlines and their upgrades.not satisfied with their interaction with its customer base or lack of customer service resolution.

  24. I still don’t understand why people get upset that they didn’t get the seat they didn’t purchase to begin with. If you wanna fly first, book it- not that difficult to understand. I’m an ex platinum member and don’t rely on my status to get moved up front, I pay for the seat I want. JUST SAYIN’!

  25. My flight was international paid via BA for AA flight main cabin just under $800, l was offered an economy plus upgrade for $200 +, declined this as I knew main cabin was empty from 30 backwards.
    After the flight took off I moved 2hrs later to an exit row seat but knew the Alfa female in the crew was looking for blood as when I was eating my meal, she walked past twice and said can I keep my mask on between eating and drinking portion’s of my meal,the word beech comes to mind,I never could spell,but guess who came to ask me to go back 5 yards to my booked seat,but no more for this guy she must have been on rations if you know my drift,the other ladies were very nice and sweet, this tuf stewardess of later years of age must have been reliving her past,and wearing pants she looked more like the staff who clean the 777’s between flight’s,but have to wear hardier clothing, she had no class, and must have been getting low wages,it is terrible to have just one member capable of nasty niffs,I suppose if I had said too much she would have arranged a greeting for me on landing,AA will never see my cash again. PS my previous 2 flight’s were Premium.

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