American AAdvantage Complimentary Upgrade Promotion on Selected Regional Routes

AAdvantage Geek reports that American is now offering complimentary upgrades to all elites on certain regional carrier flights.

American remains the only US carrier which charges its bottom and mid-tier elite members for upgrades. American’s 100,000-mile flyers get unlimited complimentary upgrades. Other elites earn 500 mile upgrade certificates based on their flying, receiving 2000 miles worth of upgrades for each 10,000 miles flown. That used to be the standard in the industry, all other carriers have switched to offering all elites upgrades without burning these certificates. American, though, continues to sell these upgrade certificates to its Gold and Platinum members who want to upgrade beyond the complimentary certificates that they earn.

So it’s interesting news that they’re running a complimentary upgrade promotion on select routes.

[F]rom October 18 through December 15, 2011, AAdvantage Platinum and AAdvantage Gold members will receive complimentary upgrades for travel on any published fare on American Eagle nonstop flights between:

New York JFK – and Nashville, Cleveland, Washington Reagan, Toronto, Baltimore-Washington, Columbus, and Raleigh Durham.

New York LaGuardia – and Atlanta, Cleveland, Columbus, Minneapolis – St. Paul, Nashville, Charlotte, Detroit, and Raleigh Durham

Los Angeles LAX – and Albuquerque, Houston Intercontinental, Phoenix, Denver, San Diego, and Oklahoma City

It’s a temporary promotion, rather than a change to the program, and that tells me that they are either addressing a temporary situation or they’re testing a concept and evaluating results.

The temporary situation would be less demand for seats up front on these routes, if those seats are going empty and elites are unwilling to spend to upgrade them, they have an opportunity to do something free for members. Although this seems unlikely to me, that members wouldn’t want to upgrade New York – Minneapolis or Atlanta, or Los Angeles – Houston, Denver, and Oklahoma City. Even on American Eagle aircraft. Perhaps American experts, of which I am not one, will have better insight here into what’s going on.

Another possibility would be testing for the future, since American remains the only carrier without unlimited complimentary upgrades for all elite members, confining themselves to a set of specific routes and less desirable (due to Eagle aircraft) they limit the losses on sale of 500-milers.

Pure speculation, because I’m not sure what they’d learn, other than that when they give away upgrades they don’t generate revenue from the sale of upgrade certificates. I imagine there has to be an upside that they would try to measure and weigh against.

Regardless, it’s an interesting development and for Gold and Platinum members flying these routes it’s an interesting development over the next couple of months.

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’m Gold and recently flew DCA-JFK on a connection a couple weeks back but noticed two empty seats in 1st Class as I walked back to coach. Seemed very odd to me at the time (since I don’t fly AA that often for regionals/shuttles).

    I’m betting this is one of those things that doesn’t really cost them much out of pocket and increases competetion in those markets (ex: I’d never have considered choosing AA over the Delta/US Air shuttles out of DCA to NYC, but now I might since the playing field is leveled for upgrades).

  2. The e-mail they sent out about this was heavy on promoting the amenities on Eagle in first as well as the fact that it was now available on all CRJ-700s. I assumed this is trying to create awareness of this fairly recent change and to get people to actually try it out (to see it’s not that bad for an RJ) rather than any sort of free-upgrade trial.

  3. If AA opens up the paid 500 mile windows a bit more and gives EXP at 4 days, Plat at 3, G at 2 and 24 hrs ahead gives comp upgrades to EXP and at 12 to Plat and at gate to Gold, as needed, that will still not lose too much revenue and still keep mid tier elites very happy.

    I would rather be a Gold on AA with the thought that I can buy up to beat the EXPs and Plats. I know EXP 500 milers are free now, but they can just abolish free 500 milers for EXP and just give all paid upgrades first then all free upgrades at the end. They would lose very little revenue and keep a lot of people happy.

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