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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  1. There are good days and bad days in this hobby!
    For leisure travel with Hubby, I just buy First Class.
    I wasn’t planning on trying to renew my Platinum status after last falls ‘Mileage $$ Run’ to LA via Miami and 777s. Nice stay at the Hilton H Hotel. (I’ll be back to this hotel for 2 of this years RTW – one on Qantas A380 1st Class. The other Polaris to NRT as backup in Cathay Pacific is still hosed up 🙁
    In the meantime I am trying to use my upgrade Certs but unsuccessful so far!
    Oh well 😉

  2. So, the lowest elite level AA requires you to spend $6000 whereas the lowest elite level on DL requires you to spend $3000? Is AA delusional or what? Seems like Loyalty Points is now the worst frequent flyer program in the US!

  3. Wish I knew this before buying 5 upgrades earlier this month. Used my $200 Amex Platinum credit to cover it. Lifetime Platinum now that I’m retired (former long time EP). Frankly the loyalty points don’t mean anything to me and feel I am being robbed out of the upgrades I purchased

  4. I feel sorry for anyone with purchased 500 upgrades in their account. Those cost $40, and will turn into just 250 ephemeral loyalty points.

  5. I have a few 500 mile certs that I have accumulated over the years. I currently have no status with AA and do not plan to chase it this year…or next. Can I redeem these certs for the 250 loyalty miles? If so, how? Thanx.

  6. Low level elites should probably consider moving to Alaska Airlines. Only 20,000 miles (one third of Americans) required!

  7. As a gold member who bought 5 of the 500 mile upgrades at the beginning of the year at $40 each, getting only 250 loyalty points each is a really poor value. I just checked and I can buy 5,000 AA miles for $188.13. Guess I should’ve used my $200 amex credit elsewhere!

  8. oH whatever on DL Skypeso. . .this is great news. I have the upgrade certs and rarely did I get upgraded even as Platinum. This is a much better deal. AA’s program is now head and shoulders above the rest in the industry (I know I’ve worked on these programs for 14 years). DL and UA will have to follow AA’s lead in the next few years or get left in their dust.

  9. Screwed!
    I bought many of these to beat future price increases
    and was told they were good for the lifetime of my account as long as I remain elite
    Being Lifetime Platinum I wasn’t worried

  10. AA eiltes are brainwashed if they think they will be upgraded.
    It will now be cheaper to buy a business class or first class ticket than struggling to reach the HUGE spend levels required for elite status. Best to be free agent and buy the cheapest J or F ticket. Let those Golds and Plats sit back in the bus with their silly “loyalty points”.

  11. Loyalty programs are not designed to reward past business; They’re to drive future business. AA has clearly mastered that aspect, for good or bad.

  12. On-time departures, clean airplanes and happy personnel drive future business. Not a loyalty points shakedown. Clearly, AA has not mastered anything.

  13. BS.. 250 loyalty points? I just bought a bunch of stickers and 250 “loyalty points” are a joke, when I can just manufacture that spend with my CC. I will definitely lodge a complaint on this. Positive move going forward, but they low-balled the compensation for existing stickers. Especially for those who paid cash for them. If they were earned for flights, no issue. Paid,,, bs

  14. I have 83 500 mile upgrades in my account. I stopped chasing status a few years back and now I am a free agent. I buy first when I need it and I get club access and MCE via my British Airways status. Screwed by AA again!

  15. @Ed it’s not at all apples to apples. AA requires $6K loyalty points. That could be spend but it could be flying. Delta requires $3K spend AND 25K MQM. Depends on your situation but AA could be a lot easier.

  16. So…what do those of us with unused AmEx travel credit “benefits” for 2022 do? Specifically, I am AA EP and have $250 in travel credits courtesy of my AmEx Aspire card left to burn (AA is my chosen airline because I’m a hub captive at CLT). I have been keeping 500 mile certificates (which I don’t earn, of course) in my account in order to upgrade my wife when she flies with me and I don’t have or don’t want to use SWUs. Should I use my travel credit to buy more 500 mile certs and let them convert to Loyalty Points? Can I even do this after March 2 which is only 2 days away?

  17. I am a lowly Gold with a ton of certificates accumulated when I was Plat/Exec Plat. I am maybe missing something but is AA pro-actively converting my certificates to 250 a piece, or do I need to request that?

  18. So I paid $40 x 7 =$280 for the ones in my account and they are getting turned into 1750 loyalty points I could earn for $43 by putting a rent check on my credit card.

    Well played, AA, well played. Though I think I am the one that was played.

  19. As a semi-frequent flyer out of DCA, I’m AA Gold and may hit Platinum this year. I like this change, as long as the Loyalty Points that result from the pending conversion count towards status. It’s not like I was getting upgraded very often with my 500-mile certs anyway.

    Those slamming AA for the high hurdles to earn status should check out the many opportunities through AAdvantage eShopping and SimplyMiles to seriously boost Loyalty Point accumulation. Add in some AA credit card spend for good measure, and it strikes me as far easier to qualify than on other US carriers.

  20. So by converting these certificates into loyalty points at this ratio (250 points per 500 mile certificate which cost $40), they’re basically saying that a new loyalty point is worth $0.16. So to buy into Gold status with spend on AA, you’d need to pay AA $4800. Platinum would cost $12,000, Platinum Pro $20,000 and Exec Platinum $32,000. Yeah right.

  21. As an EP, I had no choice but to buy 500 mile certificates to be able to upgrade my non-status traveler (wife) with me.

    As an EP, I could NOT earn them, I could ONLY buy them. (Thanks AA!)

    And as the article said, I will STILL need to buy them in the future, again, if my wife travels with me.

    What will they do, how will they price them in the future?

    I have to admit, the spouse thing is still borked at AA.

    I need to put my wife in the same record, which may or may not work, based on the ticket. She SHOULD get an upgrade if I do, but many MANY times she did not.

    I offer her my upgrade (and me sit in coach), but she wants to sit together… so we both end up sitting in coach.

    EP is not all that at AA.

  22. @ Zebraitis later this year all companion upgrades will be complimentary. In the meantime $40 stickers are still available

  23. Wow this is terrible news. I’m switching from UA to AA as a Silver and was hoping to play the upgrade game once or twice a year. Now it looks like it won’t be worth it. I guess I’ll be in the same position I was at UA, just without the BIS requirements. And I’m pretty ticked off with AA Shopping- screwed me out of 13k LPs so far this year. As others said: WFBF!!!

  24. I’m going to see when I bought mine and see if I can dispute the charge (assuming it wasn’t with Amex Credit).

    If everyone does it, they’ll do something other than crap points. I’m a lifetime play, and have no loyalty so don’t want loyalty points.

  25. The really bad part about this is (as swag says) these go from non-expiring certificates to points that expire this year (or perhaps next year, depending on how they convert them). I think this could get them in a legal bind for people who paid dollars for their certs, which were represented to be non-expiring. They will need to figure this out.

  26. @Aviators99 Good points. However based on how they handled the Citicard debacle, I doubt they fear any lawyer, judge, or legislature. They act with impunity. I think they will tell you if you don’t like it, get off the plane. Sad state of affairs.

  27. Did you know, the MICHIGAN CONSUMER PROTECTION ACT, Act 331 of 1976 under section 445.903 titled unfair, unconscionable, or deceptive methods, acts, or practices in the conduct of trade or commerce; rules; applicability of subsection (1)(hh).
    under section 3(s) says, “Failing to reveal a material fact, the omission of which tends to mislead or deceive the consumer, and which fact could not reasonably be known by the consumer.”

    Since American Airlines sold 500 Mile upgrades certificates for $40.00 each, some consumers appear deceived because they did not know their existing 500-mile upgrade certificate purchase would be converted to only 250 Loyalty Points.

    Suppose a 500-Mile upgrade certificate costs $40.00. In that case, I recommend American Airlines consider the value of this certificate could be used for a one-day pass to any American Airlines Admirals Club Lounge or even used for a deluxe room at a Red Roof Inn, Days Inn, or Super 8 Inn.

    Many states have similar consumer protection laws.

  28. @Ken A – I don’t see how Michigan can regulate the conduct of the American AAdvantage program under Supreme Court precedent (Northwest v Ginsberg)

  29. @Gary Leff: Excellent point. Hopefully, American Airlines will consider allowing their 500-mile upgrade certificate to be exchanged for a one day Admirals Club pass.

  30. @Gary, I read this case because you mentioned it a couple of weeks ago in a post. But I think the cash dollars involved here would make it a very interesting States case, Ginsberg notwithstanding. As I said earlier, the conversion rate is not the problem. It’s the expiration at the end of the year, when it was sold as something that doesn’t expire.

    But a civil class action would be at least as likely to succeed, and I think AA realizes that, and will have to figure something out w.r.t. expiration for those who paid cash $$.

  31. @Aviators99 If you’re upset, you can certainly write AA and file complaints with xyz. But I wouldn’t recommend suing. 1) You don’t have a case 2) AA may not even pay out the nuisance value 3) You might lose your account/status/miles.

    I’m a huge consumer advocate (I wrote the book on arbitration) but I don’t think there’s much to be done unfortunately. But I’m interested to hear what you find out if you shop this case.

  32. @kitten7, no, I really don’t care, personally. I’m just envisioning what will happen. I have a bit of experience in this area, too.

  33. @Jim F
    With my Aspire credit I’ve been buying the mileage multiplier every year. I never use the upgrade certificates and none of the other spend options on AA are worth anything to me. It’s normally a terrible value but it’s free miles basically. They have always honored this as an eligible spend.

  34. Doesn’t anybody see the forest through the trees? AA is getting the cash it so desperately needs by creating these “gimmicks” (and payback from ALL of these vendors) that will be useless to flyers because by the time is over and done with, so many people will have AAdvantage status – nobody will clear the waitlist or stand-by list. Just buy a first class or main cabin extra ticket if you want to sit in either of those cabins. As for me – I’ve seen the forest through the trees and it’s a ridiculous “gimmick” that I’ll pass on!

  35. I see lots of people upset about this, but I’m glad since I will never make PP under the new spending requirements. I refuse to buy airline tickets on my Aviator card since there are no travel protections. I don’t need to buy travel insurance to go to Chicago or LA, usually. My Chase card offers enough of that. Currently I have 29 500-mile stickers. So that’s 7250 LPs. I did not pay for any of them. That means I need 22750 LPs for Gold. I already have two paid business class tickets this year, and my usual spending gets me to Platinum or PP, so I should at least make it to Gold since only the big spenders seem able to make it that high now. This is the ONLY thing that has made me excited about this dumb new credit card based status. For a single woman with a modest income it’s tough. I work side jobs to pay for travel because it matters a lot to see the world, but have not enjoyed this change. I have been with AA over 20 years, but considered changing to UA for the first time this year. Going to play this out and see where it goes first.

  36. Spoke with AAdvantage Customer Service supervisor yesterday and was told that all inquiries by members who do not want LP are being sent to AA headquarters for their consideration. I was the 20th caller as of 11:00 AM EDT. The number of certificates don’t appear in the account page and I was told that I had 81. If you bought certificates AA says they will refund but as to converting to miles may be a stretch but they appear to be looking at doing something soon.

  37. I can’t believe they don’t even give some sort of valuable exchange for taking them away such as 50 or 100 miles or something for each upgrade.

  38. Hi Gary and community,
    I tried calling the AAdvantage customer service line twice, and both reps were clueless about the option to convert purchased 500-mile upgrades to AA miles instead of loyalty points. An email two weeks ago has gone unanswered. What’s the best way to contact AA to actually get this accomplished?

  39. My emailed request to convert upgrades to points was refused. I am with TravelPenguin; how do you find someone that can do this??

  40. Hello VFTW Community,

    I’m a AA Gold who received Gold via a status challenge with Hyatt. I’m not sure when they discontinued the practice of offering up 5,000 miles per 500-mile upgrade that was purchased (not earned via flying), but I called AA customer support in the week of May 5 and received an email from them on May 15 offering miles for any upgrades I purchased, and on May 25 I received 30,000 miles.

    I thought I missed the gravy train when I reached out to AA because several articles were posted about this deal, and a week had passed when I contacted them. At this point, I think the only thing you can do is get credit via the original form of payment.

    If you used your AA Plat or Gold back when they used to have the airlines incidental, I would be worried that AMEX’s RAT team might do a clawback because they think you’re gaming the system.

  41. I can see there are a number of NON finance people on this blog. Never buy today what will be worth less in the future. You do not buy points unless you need them. You do not buy upgrades until you need them. Net Present Future value of these items have to be looked at BEFORE they are purchased.

  42. Wow, tomri, way to tell us all how it is! I personally bought mine using an AmEx credit that wasn’t valid for ticket purchases and otherwise would have gone to waste. Does that meet your stringent qualifications for not being a total idiot? Or should I just have flushed the credit?


  43. I had purchased 6 this past year and complained to AA customer service when I heard about this. They gave me 5000 miles. Big whup. As Gold I have never been able to use the 500 stickers. I will start flying UA and DL but only sometimes AA bc they do have the most/best flights out of my city (TUL). AA, racing to the bottom.

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