American Airlines Change May Let You Keep Your First Class Upgrade When Changing Flights

American Airlines processes domestic upgrades based on an elite member’s status and how close they are to flight departure. For instance, an Executive Platinum (100,000 mile) member can be upgraded from a coach ticket to domestic first class ‘up to’ 100 hours before departure, provided that upgrade space is available.

Upgrades are booked into the “R” bucket of inventory. This bucket was hidden. You couldn’t look up whether or not R was available to know whether an upgrade should process unless you were in American’s own systems.

Since mid-June month, however, American has started to utilize R both for revenue fares and for upgrades. That means R inventory is now ‘published’. Here, for instance, R is available even when there’s just 1 first class seat for sale in the cabin. That’s because it’s now the second highest bucket of first class.

Adding R to the list of first class domestic fares gives American greater flexibility and granularity to price how much they sell first class seats for.

What’s interesting is that just because there are seats available in R and upgrades book into R in fact R being available doesn’t mean you’ll get an upgrade. There are people waitlisted for upgrades on these flights even though R is available, and requesting an upgrade on one of these flights won’t get it auto-confirmed.

Furthermore, just like American does with the “A” fare bucket where they use it for paid fares and upgrades, getting an upgrade into A doesn’t mean you’ll earn miles at the upgraded cabin rate and getting an upgrade into R doesn’t mean you’ll earn miles on your coach ticket as though you’ve paid for domestic first (according to internal documentation, “QIK CHK and automation will attempt to re-add the applicable upgrade SSRs if an upgraded customer is rebooked into R class”).

So does anything really change, and why am I mentioning this minutiae? You can’t use the availability of R inventory for sale to predict an upgrade, so what use is it?

It turns out that,

  • Historically when you received a complimentary upgrade but changed flights (by choice, or when your flight gets delayed or cancelled) you weren’t supposed to keep your upgrade. If you had paid for coach you’d be put into coach and waitlisted for an upgrade. (Of course some agents have been more generous than this, but that’s how it was supposed to work.)

  • Recently there have been several reports that customers are retaining their upgrades when changing flights if they’re booked into R from a complimentary upgrade and R space is available on the flight they’re rebooking onto.

This change has been consistent in reports whether confirming a same day change to an itinerary, or swapping flights during irregular operations using the American Airlines app. Presumably because American sees you in R and is simply rebooking you into R, and R is now far more available since it’s been given a dual use as the second highest first class fare class.

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. Yeah!! Publish it and keep publishing it until American axes it. Gotta love these articles. Completely ruins everything for the savvy traveler who figure shit out on their own. I know 10x what these idiot bloggers know. Won’t share a damn thing. I hope others have their own secrets as well. Keep them to yourself. Everything that gets published comes to a very quick end. Showing good deals and great uses of miles is great, publishing every nuance like this is what has ruined travel.

  2. This has worked when switching flights through the app. However, it actually creates difficulty when switching over the phone. I booked an R business fare, and due to irrops had to change my flight…repeatedly. The app was not allowing me to switch, so I had to wait on the phone (2 hours for an EP!), and each time they wanted to book me into economy on the next flight, because they believed I was upgraded, rather than booked & paid for R fare class. So be aware that you’ll need to clarify if you booked R, as they will assume it is an upgrade otherwise.

  3. I’ve definitely noticed this happening over the past few months. I’m consistently booked on the oft-canceled A319 that operates a once-daily flight from CLT to SDF, and get the upgrade 100 hours out. A couple minutes after the flight is canceled, the app will notify me that I’ve been rebooked onto the next regional jet operating the flight and my upgrade has been preserved.

    I’ve also noticed that when a flight is canceled and the app offers me rebooking options, it’ll list which flights have a first class seat that I’ll be immediately upgraded into.

  4. @ Ryan — Sharing deals allows the maximum number of people to partake. In this instance, I don’t really see a good way to “game” this on a regular basis, and I doubt AA is gong to rush to fix it, so I highly doubt publicizing it will matter much.

  5. @Gary,

    Does this mean that business extraa upgrades will clear immediately if there is R space available?



  6. I think, technically, hat ‘R’ represents the second highest level of Domestic Business class (often referred to as “First”) as opposed to ‘A” which is the true First second tier.

    I’ve had some paid fares book into ‘R’ recently, but hadn’t realized that this use had just started.


  7. Gary,

    Sorry but I agree. This brings it up to AA’s attention. You bet this will be axed within a week or two. Please just take the article down.

  8. This is exciting news! Now if American will just let me keep my first class seat when they cancel my flight and rebook me on another flight but coach, then the circle of my happiness will be complete!

  9. You bet people will now be calling AA when their upgrade doesn’t clear after a flight change. This will cause AA to put a stop to this.

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