Along with the move to qualifying for elite status based on Loyalty Points rather than qualifying miles and qualifying dollars, American Airlines is eliminating 500 mile upgrade certificates and they are also processing elite upgrades earlier at the airport.
We’re beginning to roll out an enhanced upgrade experience in 2022 for status members at the airport: Upgrades will automatically clear 40 minutes before your flight departure if seats are available. This will apply to all airports within North America. Once your upgrade clears, you’ll be notified on the app or on the gate monitor.
With automatic clearance, you’ll have a more consistent experience and should know the status of your upgrade request sooner.
American Airlines Kiosk Screen
Elite upgrades can start processing in an elite member’s ‘upgrade window’ in the days prior to a flight. Often though elites will be fighting it out for a ‘battlefield upgrade’ at the gate.
However instead of having gate agents process upgrades, once boarding starts, this is being turned over to an automated process a few minutes earlier. This change accomplishes two things,
- It helps ensure upgrades are processed correctly. For instance legacy US Airways agents (especially) have been known to call up people for their upgrades to the gate and not upgrade anyone who isn’t there – even though the passenger might be in the club, and would see the upgrade on the mobile boarding pass in their app (‘More consistent experience’).
- It reduces agent workload. Last spring they started processing standby passengers an hour prior to flight when planes aren’t going to be full. This ‘Agent Assist’ process makes is easier for American to have just one agent at the gate on domestic flights that are less than 80% full. (Earlier standby clearance also makes it possible to clear standby and then list for an upgrade.)
Clearing upgrades 40 minutes prior to departure means clearing them before boarding begins so passengers won’t have to hold back, waiting to see if they get upgraded, rather than boarding to squat on overhead bin space. In theory an agent should come on board to upgrade a passenger, but that is hit or miss at best and an agent will never be criticized by the airline for not doing so with the explanation that they upgraded someone else that was at the gate in order to avoid delaying the flight.
This new process will apply to flights eligible for complimentary upgrades only. And it applies to the complimentary upgrade process only and not to customers waitlisted with miles or systemwide upgrades. (Elites should switch to complimentary upgrades about an hour before departure when trying to upgrade domestic flights, as a result.)