American Airlines Changes How Confirmed Upgrade Availability Works

Shortly after US Airways management took over at American Airlines, award tickets – especially in premium cabins internationally – because much harder to get. Then at the beginning of 2017 American eliminated most confirmed domestic upgrade space.

Now they’re making another change to how upgrade inventory is managed.

  • First class upgrades have booked into “A” inventory, whenever A space is available first class upgrades could be applied (for instance using systemwide upgrades, Business ExtrAA certificates or miles).

  • Business class upgrades have booked into “C” inventory, so whenever C space is available business class upgrades could be applied (using those instruments).

However Zach Griff writes that American has confirmed to him that they’ve changed how confirmed upgrades work, making only a subset of A and C inventory available for upgrade.

As part of AA’s change to the upgrade process, the Fort Worth-based carrier is adjusting how many seats are available as upgrades, according to a carrier spokesperson. The adjustment will apply to both systemwide and mileage upgrades.

…Going forward, even if there are seats in the “A” and “C” classes, upgrades to biz and first won’t necessarily be available. A spokesperson confirmed that the carrier will only offer a subset of seats in these fare classes for upgrades.

They aren’t simply reducing the amount of A and C space available but making upgrades a subset of those buckets, which makes it easier to those those buckets for other purposes (e.g. filing more fares for revenue travel). Last year American Airlines made the ‘R’ inventory bucket dual-use and complimentary domestic upgrade availability no longer matched when R space was published (even though those upgrades still booked into R).

Going forward now if you see C or A inventory (it can be searched at that doesn’t mean upgrade space is actually available. You may be able to see upgrade availability for a flight on the American Airlines website (including on the Business ExtrAA site) or can otherwise call and ask – but the process of searching for upgradable flights has become more challenging.

While American may not “expect any significant changes to upgrade availability” the word ‘significant’ may be doing a lot of work here, and in any case there’s nothing positive about this change for customers looking to upgrade.

Finally Griff writes that American told him “that upgrade space will continue to be managed on a leg-by-leg basis. That means that you’ll see the same space on a flight from LAX to JFK regardless of whether you’ve booked it as a single segment or as part of a larger itinerary (like LAX to LHR with a stop in JFK).” However American has, in fact, used married segment logic for upgrade availability on international flights for several years.

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. Good to see that while cash burn is at record highs and business travel (ie premium class bookings) are at record lows, the brilliant management at AA is laser-focused on making sure that loyal customers get as little value from their loyalty as possible. It is hard not to root against their success.

  2. Doug, I could not agree with you more. Well stated. And this is coming from a longtime AA ExPlat member. Sad.

  3. I just experienced the above. I got an alert from ExpertFlyer with C inventory on domestic portion of EDI-PHL-MIA. Called EXP agent. She saw the space butwas unable to ticket; she said it’s only for revenue.

  4. @ Gary — Parker told me that AA will rollback this change if Congress will give the airlines another $25 billion.

  5. This is bad news. It reduces the value of Experfflyer significantly, IMO. I don’t care about ‘A’ or ‘C’ inventory. I care about upgrade space.

    We just yesterday bought LAX-LHR RT in PE and upgraded into Business with SWU. I used EF to see which flights had inventory, and believed that. I also did look at AA where available SWU space is shown, but that’s not always as convenient.

    Definitely a degradation.


  6. Chasing away the best frequent flyers, AA must be trying hard to bankrupt itself. Parker may not be any good at running an airline, but he proving his ability to bankrupt one.

  7. At a time when Delta is wooing American customers away via status (over)matches American doubles down on yet another screwing of their most loyal customers. You have got to be kidding me!!!

  8. People quit only worrying about your upgrades. BTW long time EP and now lifetime Platinum (3 million miles) since retired. Airlines SHOULD try to sell every seat, especially in today’s climate, instead of giving them away as upgrades. I frankly don’t expect an upgrade anymore and if I want first I get a first class award ticket or pay for it. If you don’t like how AA is managing it you won’t get any relief w DL or UA.

    Learn to live with it instead of whining and you will be a lot happier

  9. @AC, it seems that you may have missed the point of the comments (certainly missed mine). It’s not about the number of upgrades- I can see the point about selling seats. It’s about the change to obfuscate things so that we can’t even make a determination of what’s really available as easily as before.

    Two separate issues. Availability and transparency.


  10. Why the focus on using a minimum number of letters? Do they get charged for filing another letter as a fare class and thus opt to make an existing bucket dual use? Last time I checked, there were 26 letters in the alphabet and they use just a few.

    I assume (hope?) there’s a practical reason for not just creating a new letter.

  11. @A/C I will take the opportunity to pile on. First of all, jacking around customers who have shown loyalty and who will be essential to any return to profitability, especially when the likelihood of actually selling those seats is just bad business. Secondly, using a logic that says competitors also screw theIr customers so it’s okay, is flawed logic. And thirdly, it’s beyond the realm of possibility that someone at AA will read the blogs and comments and actually have the courage and the business acumen to go back and tell Doug and the other clowns, this may not be a good decision.

    If you want to say “thank you sir, may I have another” that’s your choice.

  12. Scott Kirby come back to AA?? Oh yea they now have the grave digger named Doug Steenland on the board. More death by a thousand cuts imo.

  13. @ AC — You are clearly not familiar with Delta upgrade certificates. My husband and I have used 130 of these in the last 5.5 years, including 20 already confirmed for 2021 travel.

  14. You may have missed our post on FT but EF does show the upgrade “version” of A/C inventory for AA now:

    – Due to American now having different A and C class inventory for paid fares vs upgrades, we have worked with AA to be able to show you both versions on EF
    – As of now, the default Flight Availability and Award & Upgrade search will show the “upgrade” version of A/C
    – We are going to make a change so the Flight Availability search shows the paid version of A/C by default, however for now the workaround to see it is to change the POS to non-USA or to use the Don’t Show Interline Connections options which uses a different system and will show the paid inventory A/C classes.
    – When we make the default change we’ll post here again, likely sometime in November as it will take a bit of programing.
    Flight Alerts for A or C will always be for the upgrade inventory version as those classes are marked as Award/Upgrade classes internally.

  15. @EF Voice,
    Thanks for the update. Very useful.

    One thing not clear from w2hat you wrote (or not clear to me, anyway):

    When the dust finally settled:
    * Flight Availability will show the paid version of A/C
    * Will Award/Upgrade show the Award & Upgrade portion (you only mentioned that the Flight Alerts would show this, but not the Award/Upgrade search)?


  16. In order to get it to work on ExpertFlyer, “For AA Upgrades to get the most accurate results, upgrade searches should be done segment by segment.”

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