JonNYC tweets about American considering a change to their systemwide upgrades that are provided to Executive Platinum and ConciergeKey members: that they would only be usable by the member themselves (and presumably other passengers on the same reservation) and could no longer be gifted to family or friends.
So, if AA was seriously considering limiting SWU usage to Just the account holder, in favor or opposed?
— JonNYC (@xJonNYC) February 19, 2019
Is American Ending the Ability to Gift Systemwide Upgrades?
Jon doesn’t write about such things just to stir the pot, he’s clearly been told this is an idea on the table. One Mile at a Time says American has “no plans to change their systemwide upgrade policy.” Although that’s not inconsistent with considering such a change going forward (having no plans is not the same thing as won’t solidify plans).
In fact, he’s confident enough that it’s an idea on the table he suggests writing to American to let them know your feelings about it.
Or, put slightly differently; write in and tell AA that you know this is being actively considered (they’ll lie and say it isn’t, of course,)and let them know just how unacceptable it would be
— JonNYC (@xJonNYC) February 20, 2019
Gifting Upgrades Isn’t Why Upgrades are Hard to Get
Obviously the biggest issue for people with confirmable upgrades is being able to use those upgrades. If American made this change they would tell you it’s in order to make the upgrades easier to use. And a limited number of upgrades would go to top tier elites themselves rather than the friends of other top elites.
However it’s disingenuous in the extreme to suggest the challenge in using these upgrades has anything to do with too much demand. In 2016 they cut the number of systemwide upgrades they give at 100,000 miles in half from 8 to 4. Fewer systemwide upgrades in circulation didn’t make upgrades easier to get because upgrade inventory has gotten far less generous.
- New management is far more restrictive making upgrade space available
- They’ve also been removing business class seats from Boeing 777-200s and 787-8s
- Two years ago they realigned booking classes and even made confirming upgrades on domestic flights much harder
The challenge using these upgrades has nothing to do with the number of upgrades available and everything to do with offering fewer premium seats on the fleet, and refusing to allow those seats to be taken by confirmable upgrades.
Suggesting the issue is too much competition from other elites — putting member vs. member rather than member vs. stingy revenue management — would be scapegoating in the extreme.
Also fighting back against the narrative that this is about making sure that Executive Platinums and ConciergeKey members themselves get upgraded and not friends and family of other top elites is the fact that they just increased the upgrade priority of companions.
The truth is it’s all about breakage, making upgrades cheaper to offer because more of them would go unused if they cannot be given away. And by the way they’d be taking away benefits and scaling back costs at the same time they are requiring more revenue from a customer to earn these in the first place.
Gifting Upgrades is Important for Customer Loyalty
Eliminating the transferability of upgrades focuses too heavily on the spreadsheets and misses the loyalty drivers of the program. Currently if you can’t use them yourself you can at least give them away. If you fly exclusively domestically you can still give them away.
Most importantly giving your loved ones a better experience is often more important than having that experience yourself. Hyatt has their ‘Guest of Honor’ benefit where a top elite gifting an award night also gifts their status for the stay and I don’t understand why the importance of this isn’t better understood.
You spend your travel year with a brand, you’re the best ambassador possible for the brand, you want the people who matter most to you t have the same experience that you do. You want to be their travel hero. Flying business class is nice. Being able to give that to a best friend, or a child, or sibling is even more important because it reaffirms the value of your loyalty in a meaningful social context.
Systemwide upgrades are the most valuable benefit of 100,000 mile elite status. For me, though, most of my paid travel is domestic since most of my work travel is domestic. When I travel internationally I use miles. And I’m certainly not going to risk traveling internationally on American Airlines in coach with their 10-abreast seating on Boeing 777s and 9-across seats on 787s. So I’m not going to buy coach and waitlist for an upgrade. As a result I wind up giving away my systemwide upgrades.
If I can no longer do this, the most valuable Executive Platinum perk will have zero value to me whatsoever.