Domestic upgrade priority on American Airlines is based on:
- Elite status level
- Whether the passenger is connecting off another American flight
- Whether the passenger is full (Y or B) fare
- Time of request
Time of check-in does not matter for domestic upgrades. When you check in, your upgrade request time carries over from the list prior to the airport — even though you are asked whether or not you want to be added to the airport standby list for an upgrade.
Prior to August 1, international upgrades were different. If you did not clear an upgrade in advance, the “time of request” tie-breaker for an upgrade was based on time of check-in rather than time of original request.
Getting Status is reporting that American’s international upgrade priority changed on August 1, aligning with domestic upgrade priority, in that time of check-in will no longer matter. When a passenger waitlisted for an upgrade checks in their time of original request will now carry over to the airport upgrade list.
While those ‘in the know’ could improve their chances of an upgrade by checking in as soon as the window to do so opened, I actually like this change since the vagaries of check-in time seem an odd thing to base priority off of (although time of request is also in some ways an odd tie-breaker as well, privileging elites who book early).
I far prefer American’s upgrade system over United’s and Delta’s.
- American gives its top tier elites (8) confirm ‘systemwide’ upgrades valid on any American flight, including international, each year. These upgrades are valid on any fare. At United such elites have to spend what usually amounts to being a few hundred dollars over lowest fare to upgrade internationally. What can be especially frustrating is when a customer buys a higher fare for the chance of upgrading and then does not clear — 100,000 mile flyers are essentially buying an expensive losing lottery ticket. Delta is even worse, requiring nearly full fare (Y, B, or M fares) in order to be eligible to upgrade or even waitlist for an upgrade.
- American gives upgrade priority primarily based on elite status. In contrast, United and Delta will prioritize full fare customers with 25,000 mile elite status over a mid-tier fare customer with 75,000 mile elite status. They value fare on a given trip over loyalty.
- American offers ‘complimentary unlimited upgrades’ only to their top tier elites. Gold and Platinum members earn 2000 miles worth of upgrades (Four 500 mile upgrades) for each 10,000 miles flown, and then choose which flights to request upgrades on (and can buy additional upgrade certificates if they wish). This means that Golds and Platinums have a better chance of getting upgraded when they choose to request one, because they aren’t competing against every other elite every time. So while getting upgraded more than 20% of the time means coming out of pocket, upgrade percentages for lower tier elites can be higher as well.
With the US Airways merger, I’ve expected complimentary unlimited upgrades to come to American. They’d be giving up a revenue stream (the sale of so-called “stickers”). But it seems hard to take away what is perceived (incorrectly, in my view) to be a benefit (free upgrades) from US Airways elites.
This would imply a lower revenue stream related to the first class cabin. American also earns higher revenue from mileage co-pays — American tends to release more confirmed upgrade space which any member can claim with miles, and a cash co-pay applies domestically to all members, even elites (something US Airways does not do either, so domestic upgrade co-pays could go away post-merger, further reducing the revenue premium that American earns from the forward cabin).
It’s the reduction in revenue attached to domestic first class that makes a reduction in the quality of the premium product likely. US Airways does not serve meals in first class on flights under 3 hours and 15 minutes. American serves at least a snack (like a wrap or a salad) outside of regular meal times even on my 612 mile Chicago – Washington National flights. That’s why I’ve written that US Airways elites are hungry.