American Airlines Companion Upgrades Are Free Starting Thursday

American Airlines makes companion upgrades free starting Thursday. That’s officially the end of 500 mile electronic upgrades (‘stickers’).

If you have any 500 mile upgrades left in your account they’ll each be converted to 250 status-qualifying Loyalty Points. However if you have any purchased 500 mile upgrades in your account you should contact American and ask to have them converted to 5000 redeemable miles instead.

Original post February 28, 2022:

Currently American Airlines Executive Platinum and Platinum Pro members receive complimentary domestic upgrades. They can upgrade one companion on the same reservation, but if that companion isn’t eligible for complimentary upgrades themselves it will require a 500 mile upgrade certificate which they do not earn and therefore must be purchased.

All elites receive complimentary upgrades on flights less than 500 miles. Golds and Platinums, though, must use 500 mile upgrade certificates for upgrades on longer flights that they request to have processed during their upgrade window. Pre-pandemic 75% of upgrades were elite upgrades, whether complimentary or paid for using 500 mile certificates.

Golds and Platinums have earned complimentary 500 mile upgrades for each 12,500 (used to be 10,000) qualifying miles flown. However with the elimination of ‘elite qualifying miles’ as American moves to Loyalty Points as the way elite status is earned they’re no longer tracking elite qualifying miles. And they won’t be awarding complimentary 500 mile upgrades.

In fact, American – which was the last domestic carrier to charge for some domestic elite upgrades – is phasing out 500 mile upgrade certificates entirely.

  • Gold and Platinum members receive complimentary upgrades on domestic (complimentary upgrade-eligible) flights starting March 2. No 500 mile e-certificates will be needed for 500+ mile flights. As with Platinum Pro and Executive Platinum members, these upgrades will be auto-requested on eligible itineraries (so if there are two passengers or less on the itinerary, and you do not want the upgrade, you need to affirmatively opt out).

  • For now, 500 mile upgrades will still be required for companion upgrades.

  • However “[l]ater this year” companion upgrades will become complimentary, too.

  • And existing 500-mile upgrades will be converted to 250 Loyalty Points apiece.

Many years (two decades) ago 500 mile upgrades could be converted to 2000 AAdvantage miles on request. This was reduced to 500 AAdvantage miles, and then the conversion option was eliminated.

Converting to Loyalty Points is less expensive. There’s no liability for future travel American will book as a result of the conversion. And each is worth only 250 Loyalty Points. Still, I have a number of 500 mile upgrades still in my account from when I used to earn them over a decade ago. I rarely travel with a companion on the same reservation, and when I travel with my wife (who used to have complimentary upgrade status herself) and care about the upgrade I confirm it in advance and choose my leisure flights accordingly.

Nonetheless that’s a few thousand fewer Loyalty Points I’ll need this year, and one less process to worry about when upgrading a companion.

Of course this will make upgrades even harder for Golds (and especially harder for lifetime Golds not earning current status). That’s because right now Platinums may be careful about when to request upgrades, using only the complimentary ones they earn which might cover 20% of their travels if they’re flying all-domestic. But now they’ll be getting onto the upgrade list every time, pushing Golds even further down and making their already-scarce upgrades even less likely.

Lifetime Golds, of course, are below current Golds on the upgrade queue if they aren’t earning their status each year. That’s because upgrades will be rank-ordered based on number of Loyalty Points in the past 12 months after elite status level. Those earning status each year are ahead of those whose status has been earned from a lifetime of loyalty.

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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