American Now Offering Advance Paid Domestic Upgrades to Non-Elites

American Airlines has a new program to e-mail non-elite flyers with offers to sell first class seats if still available the day before departure.

Airlines Are Aggressively Trying to Extract More Revenue from Each Passenger

United is known to sell first class seats cheap to non-elites. They do this while elite frequent flyers remain on the upgrade waitlist and are not given the same buy up option. Presumably United doesn’t want them to know how cheap they’re selling upgrades out from under them. American Airlines, on the other hand, has always been more restrained.

American has sold upgrades at check-in to non-elites when they expected all elites requesting upgrades to receive them and they’d still have first class seats left. This has been known as “Load Factor Based Upgrades” (LFBUs).

As part of American’s plan to extract incremental revenue from existing passengers, they’re changing their approach somewhat to selling first class upgrades to non-elite frequent flyers.

American Airlines New Boeing 737 Domestic First Class

American Has a New Way of Selling Upgrades to Non-Elite Passengers

As reported by JonNYC at,

Effective immediately, AA will be offering non-elite members upgrade opportunities in advance of the normal 24 hour window for same.

Up to a week before the flight (usually just a few days) the non-elite will receive the offer and will be added to a version of a priority list.

The upgrade will clear if there is sufficient inventory after elite upgrades clear (with some left in reserve for walk-ups and irrops, etc., etc)

Reservation to be eligible for this must be made directly with AA.

As I understand the program, American is going to market first class upgrades to coach class passengers by email.

  • This communication will happen over email, so American will have to have your email address in the reservation.

  • The method of payment for upgrades will be the credit card used to purchase the ticket. So they’ll need that on file. The ticket will have had to have been purchased by credit card directly with American to be eligible.

How First Class Buy Ups May Affect Elites

Since these upgrades will be processed after elite upgrades the day before departure, they won’t reduce inventory for elite upgrades. If this process is successful I wouldn’t be surprised to see American withhold upgrade inventory more than they already do. I frequently clear domestic upgrades about 4 hours prior to departure.

As it is there’s a new reality for upgrades. Complimentary upgrades are getting harder and harder to get. And airlines are increasingly monetizing those first class seats.

Of course at American Gold and Platinum AAdvantage members have to pay for domestic upgrades with 500 mile certificates. These ‘stickers’ are either earned by flying paid tickets (2000 miles of upgrades for 10,000 miles 12,500 qualifying miles of flying) or are purchased.. Upgrading with paid certificates is often a worse deal than just buying first class. The price of domestic first is so much less than it used to be.

That’s why if you want to sit up front, here’s how to do it.

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. I like the idea of making money on these for AA but this will cost elites upgrades. What isn’t clear from your post is if the upgrade clears the day before does that mean those of us on the upgrade list standing at the gate are behind those upgrades at that point?

    I think AA should offer to sell actually upgrades (not upgrade list access)but they should do so to elites first. Then to non-elites. Many elites would pony up money to guarantee an upgrade. Especially business travelers that are forced to use corporate OTA’s that have policy in place that you can’t book First/Business domestically but can later expense out seat charges, etc. For example I’m a lowly AA Gold and my upgrade or MCE free selection doesn’t clear until 24 hours prior most times. There are times when I would pay to upgrade. Even out of pocket if it’s a long flight.

    Another approach might be to offer upgrades to MCE customers first as well but after elites. That is a better target as they already show willingness to pay more. For example say you have a flight and pay an extra $50 for MCE seats during the booking process. This could trigger AA to process that and then offer another upgrade a day or so later saying for another $150 you can upgrade for First. That way they are getting $200 out of that customer.

    Also I don’t earn 500 mile stickers until I hit 12,500 initially.

  2. “The upgrade will clear if there is sufficient inventory after elite upgrades clear (with some left in reserve for walk-ups and irrops, etc., etc)”

    If this is really the case, if they take the requesters credit card number at request time, but don’t actually process the upgrade until all elites on the list have cleared, then no big deal, and I’m not even sure why that would affect when elites get upgraded.

    But there’s a recent active thread on Flyertalk where an elite (EXP I think) had not yet cleared at check in time, but his 3 non-elite family members on the same flight were offered and accepted LFBUs when they checked in at T-24. This took the flight from F6 to F3, and he was the only one on the upgrade list. But sure enough, before departure, those 3 remaining F seats disappeared (to either paid F walk ups or irrops, presumably), and he was left back in coach.

    If AA starts selling *and clearing* upgrades to non-elites a week in advance, just because it looks like there will be enough seats for the elites to clear later, then that’s a huge devaluation for elite upgrades.

  3. Do you know if you will be required to have your AA # in the record to be eligible, or can you put in a partner airline (like AS) and still be on the list?

  4. The sticker policy changed so that it is now 4 earned for every 12,500 EQM earned.

    The nickel and diming of their Elites continues unabated. My loyalty was already hanging by a thin thread and is now essentially over.

  5. @AALifetimePlat – that’s right, although it’s qualifying miles, and you now earn a multiple of those for premium cabin fares purchased

  6. So for DFW-based EXP fliers who want to defect from the gutted AAdvantage program (AAdvantage a misnomer if there ever was one), where do we go? DL, UN?? Would either really be any better? In addition to domestic travel I make 3-4 international trips per year on paid Business class. It seems the loyalty programs are so devalued anymore that it is better to just buy-up to F on whatever airline has an open seat, and forget loyalty altogether.

  7. Citi just crooked the prestige card. July 23rd 2017. No AA lounge access, no golf, point with 1.25cents on

  8. My most recent 500 mile sticker upgrade only processed 3 hours before the flight and I know from others on the flight that the LFBU upgrades were available (my friends did not take the offer). I was curious if my upgrade would have still processed if someone checked in earlier at the airport. Hopefully they handle this well and in the best interest of elites while still making money.

    And my flight didn’t have a meal which I knew since it was a late departure, but I sure would be bummed to find out I paid for a upgrade on a route that normally has a meal, but it’s past dinner time.

  9. Anyone who is still loyal to any of the big 3 is either hub captive or is not paying attention. There is no benefit to loyalty anymore, the future is entirely pay as you go. The airlines wanted it that way and they believe that they will revenue and profit that way, they probably have MBA’s so I am sure they have it right. So far I am finding that it is costing me less, providing me with more choice in routes and class of service, and allowing me to take more direct flights…but I am sure Doug and Scott have it all figured out and now that I’ve taken my 100,000 miles and $15,000 annually spending away they are pleased to have room to accommodate more valuable customers.

  10. Loyalty is done with for AA. The free agent route is looking more realistic for me. Shame as an EXP they continue to water down benefits to loyal customers. Bottom line is their bottom line, they want more $ for everything they can make $ off of. Its going to get much uglier for all of us with elite status.

  11. @Jeff I have a DFW-LHR-MXP trip in September……paid Business class….carefully considering just bypassing AA altogether (and foregoing use of SWU’s which may or may not be useful) and trying out another alliance.

  12. I’m EXP and there were 8 FC seats available the night before my morning flight to Portland. I was first on the upgrade list and didn’t clear. They are lying to us all.

  13. I’m a 2million miler with lifetime platinum. I flew over 30 round trips last year from DFW to majors and minors. I requested upgrades to all 60+ segments with the majority booked two weeks in advance. I wasn’t’ upgraded once.

    At this point, I’ve determined that my 500 mile upgrade credits are worthless. The only thing platinum does for me is early boarding (i.e., a place for my carry on) and access to upgraded coach seats.

    Airlines used to have issues filling up a flight and charged more for seats. But with predictive technology, they have figured out how to balance routes, volume, price and loyalty so that virtually every flight is packed. I know…I’m the SOB that sold them the software to do this years ago. It’s always been about profit and it always will be about profit. That’s called capitalism. When loyalty affects profit, they will shift again.

    Face it. We’re just not that special anymore, so put on your big boy/girl pants and stop whining 😉

  14. Left AAdvantage a year ago for good, actually, left “Loyalty” programs for good, too (the Loyalty always goes in one direction). I just buy the cheapest ticket for the class of service I want (notice: I never buy the *cheapest* ticket on the *cheapest* airline, that’s nuts).

    I can’t say I miss it. So much less stress and time wasted worrying about qualifying, redeeming, upgrading, etc. Good riddance.

    My daughter (non-status) just got an upgrade to first at checkin for $50. I’ll take that over the upgrade list any day.

  15. I’m an EXP and am I at a 100% success rate on SWU upgrades during my time as EXP (4 years or so) and run about 85% success rate on domestic upgrades, including 4 this week (2 of which cleared at 100 hours). The constant “upgrades don’t happen” whining is amusing and not a uniform situation. If you convince yourself that the sky is falling, you’ll perceive that the sky is falling.

    I also don’t judge the utility of AAdvantage by the domestic upgrade program. Very minor factor.

    IF this program is implemented in the way that AA is saying it will be – shouldn’t affect elite upgrades at all.

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