An Important Trick to Get Upgraded Ahead Of Others on the American Airlines Waitlist Sometimes

Using Information as Power for Upgrades

ExpertFlyer is an indispensable tool, especially for American Airlines frequent flyers.

  • You can search availability for American Airlines flights. (American flights didn’t used to show up on data sources like FlightStats, even when they published fare class availability.)

  • This includes upgrade and award booking classes (although not complimentary domestic upgrade classes).

  • Expert Flyer will send you an email when the space you’re looking for opens up.

I use Expert Flyer if I’m ever waitlisted for an upgrade, so that I’ll know if space opens up and my upgrade hasn’t automatically cleared.

I also use it when I really care about a cross country upgrade, I’d rather get it complimentary but I might be willing to use an upgrade certificate if the odds of a free upgrade don’t look good. I’ll set an alert for when “A” inventory (domestic first class upgrade space) falls to ‘less than 3’. And then I’ll consider calling American to confirm the upgrade.

There are plenty of other features and benefits of Expert Flyer, like seat alerts. If I book a flight fairly close to departure all the ‘good seats’ may be gone. But they might open up closer to travel since the passengers most likely in those seats may also be the ones getting upgraded. They’ll email me when one of the seats I’m interested in switching to becomes available.

Getting an Upgrade Manually Processed, and Possibly Jumping the Queue

One Mile at a Time reported last week that he had an Expertflyer alert set up for his flight from New York JFK to Madrid. He received an alert that upgrade space had opened for his flight, but he hadn’t yet cleared the wait list. So he called American and got them to manually process the upgrade.

He may have been number one on the list. Normally upgrade space won’t show if there are people waitlisted at all, it opens and people clear into it. In this case there was at least a lag. He was probably at the top of the upgrade list anyway, but if he didn’t he could have jumped the queue this way.

American Airlines Boeing 787 Business Class

American Using Married Segment Logic for Upgrade Availability

There’s another interesting anomaly that I’ve noticed, that several readers have asked about and that’s been discussed in several forums recently. American seems to be using ‘married segment’ logic for upgrade availability sometimes and on some routes. I’m not certain that this is intentional, but it throws a monkey wrench into how we track upgrade space but also creates an opportunity for jumping the upgrade queue internationally sometimes as well.

Married segments are where there’s availability in a given fare class (in this case “C” which is confirmed upgrades from coach to business class) on a set of connecting flights, but not for all connecting flights and possibly not for each of the two flights individually.

Oddly this is something that American President Scott Kirby spoke against on the airline’s 3rd quarter earnings call: he relayed that it made no sense to match prices for a given connecting route (which would mean either publishing lower fares, or making space availability in lower inventory buckets when traveling between a given city pair) when you’re going to come close to selling out both flight segments on your own. Why compete on price Florida to Oregon via Phoenix, when the flight to and from Phoenix will sell out at higher prices?

Incidentally, Delta uses journey control more than anyone else on award bookings.

To see what’s going on, yesterday I looked at today’s Dallas – Sao Paulo flight:

ExpertFlyer showed that there was no business class upgrade space (C = 0) for the Dallas – Sao Paulo non-stop.

However, business class looked wide open (C = 7, which means at least 7 seats since the bucket will never show a number greater than 7) if you searched Indianapolis – Sao Paulo.

It’s not surprising that upgrades would ultimately be a ‘gimme’ on this flight, with 23 business class seats showing open on the seat map as of yesterday morning.

However the space did not show up for all connecting markets. Searching Tuscon – Sao Paulo, the Dallas – Sao Paulo segment still showed no confirmed upgrade space available.

For sure a lot of upgrades would clear on this flight. They weren’t opening up the space if you just searched for Dallas – Sao Paulo. But folks originating in some cities would see upgrade space.

Pay Attention to Married Segment Availability, and Use it to Your Advantage

I’ve seen this in the past and assumed it was a glitch. I haven’t tried to get American to process the upgrade. But:

  1. I’ve seen several reports of customers calling American and getting their upgrades manually cleared when they’re originating in a city where the space is showing available using married segment logic.

  2. I’ve even seen a couple of reports of customers calling American and getting their upgrades manually cleared when they’re originating in a different city from where the space is showing available. I’m not sure how that’s possible, and I haven’t independently verified it, but these are fascinating reports.

You may not have success every time in this kind of situation. If you don’t, I’d definitely hang up, call back.

And there’s an important lesson here for tracking upgrades as well. If you are flying on a connecting route, do not just set an ExpertFlyer alert for the non-stop international segment. Check availability on (at least your) connecting route as well.

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. Would one way to narrow the search be to look at only markets with published fares?

    For example, ind-gru may be a published fare whereas pdx-gru may not?

    I’d love to test it but don’t know how to get an easy list of published connecting fares (as opposed to constructed ones).

  2. Gary, we’ve seen the anomaly of married segment logic being applied to upgrade inventory for years, it is an artifact of how the reservation systems work and we haven’t seen it as an intentional thing. This is why we recommend to all ExpertFlyer users to only search for AA upgrade inventory on a segment by segment basis as that is how the phone agents and upgrade wait list has applied it so far.

  3. EFVoice: While it may be an “anomaly”, AA agents also see the same thing, and several of us have been successful in getting them to confirm the upgrade when it does happen. The upgrade list, however (if/when it does process) does seem to follow the per-segment inventory. Obviously YMMV.

  4. @ExpertFlyer Voice – I understand that but I’ve gotten several reports of flyers taking advantage of married segment availability when the individual international segment shows C0. So I would manually check origin/destination as well as set up a recurring search for the standalone segment…

  5. I know this isn’t an EF 101 class, but how can you set an alert for married segment route? I thought you can only set one up segment by segment and not include connections. (or are you suggesting we set and alert for the married segment origin city to the international gateway city?)

  6. i don’t see what @Mike etc mean. I can only set EF alerts segment by segment. I can’t set an alert for a flight that doesn’t exist.

  7. the upgrade queue jumping trick (of immediately calling in when upgrade space opens up and asking agent to manually clear if currently waitlisted for upgrade) also happens and works on United. I’ve had several times where I’ve successfully done so for my wife (a non-elite pax) to get her cleared into biz class when i’ve seen R space open up.

  8. People flying out of Brazil don’t need EF nor to worry about upgrade space. Business class is empty due to the recent changes in the program and fare. It’s been really tough to then in Brazil operation.

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