Starts Monday: American Airlines Systemwide Upgrades Work On British Airways

Starting Monday, September 12th American Airlines systemwide upgrades will work on itineraries that include British Airways transatlantic and intra-European flights within Europe. This includes American Airlines codeshare flights operated by British Airways.

That means if you book an American Airlines flight across the Pond, and upgrade it, you’ll also be able to upgrade your connecting flight on BA within Europe. And it means as long as you have a domestic American Airlines flight in your itinerary, you can use a systemwide upgrade to move up a cabin on British Airways across the Atlantic.

This news was first reported by aviation watchdog JonNYC and is a big step forward in American’s joint venture with British Airways.

This requires an itinerary that has a mix of American Airlines and British Airways in order to upgrade on BA within Europe. There has to be at least one American Airlines segment in the itinerary in order for American to process the upgrade on BA. (One restriction is that systemwide upgrades extended to Alaska Airlines elites can’t be sued on BA.)

While American Airlines systemwide upgrades still let you move from coach to business class, jumping over premium economy, that’s not the case when upgrading on British Airways – it is a one cabin upgrade.

  • If you’re upgrading a coach ticket on a flight that has premium economy, the BA upgrade would be to premium economy.
  • If you want to upgrade to British Airways business class with a systemwide upgrade, you’d need to buy premium economy.

Bear in mind that intra-European business class on BA doesn’t get you much that an upgraded passenger doesn’t already receive. It comes with priority check-in and lounge access, but the connecting passenger will already be checked in and generally already have lounge access.

Business class (“Club Europe”) on BA’s intra-European flights gets you the same seat, with no more legroom than on Ryanair, but comes with a blocked middle seat as well as a meal and complimentary drinks.

Still, a passenger upgrading across the Atlantic need not be relegated to coach (‘World Traveller’) for their connecting flight, if upgrade space is available. You wouldn’t want to use a systemwide to upgrade only an intra-European segment of a larger ticket.

I expect to see American Airlines systemwide upgrades eventually extended further, to BA’s long haul flights into Asia and Africa. But that’s not available at this point.

This news is a huge JonNYC get, which I’ve verified. Systemwide upgrades are awarded as choice benefits starting at the Platinum Pro elite level (for those who fly 30 or more qualifying segments) and are given out at million mile thresholds.

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. Just so I fully understand, will we be able to use SWUs on BA-only point to point TATLs? And if so, assuming that it needs to be booked through AA, will the inventory show up on the booking site (in the same ways as the never-available “systemwide upgrade” flags are currently for AA metal)?

  2. The 30 segment rule is unduly punitive against those who purchase paid premium tickets. We’re bringing the revenue, so why require 30 flights? It adds no value and arguably incentives the purchase of low cost, money losing flights just to get volume.

  3. @Gary really surprised to see your note about SWUs issued to AS 75/100Ks. I presume you sourced that from AA, but I wonder how/if they’ll actually enforce it. IME they are “real” SWUs, just in a fake account. Once applied, it would seem to take some legwork for an agent (or automation) to determine that they came from an AS account shell as opposed to an AA account. More to the point, why go through teh headache of making this restriction? There can’t be that many out there…

  4. @BC – you need to book an American segment in conjunction with BA to use systemwides on BA (and this would cover the AA segment as well). Upgrade inventory on BA must be available, same inventory as awards

  5. @Gary – I’ve heard mixed stories about how readily available American upgrade space is for certificates. What do you think?

  6. Not at all complaining. It’s a positive development, but the need to have a leg on AA in order to use this severely limits the use. If you’re already located in an AA hub and would fly to LHR direct, it’s not usable unless you fly to another city before taking your AA flight. It’s not just hubs, BA has a lot of US destinations that are bookable through American (Baltimore, as an example). To take advantage to this, it would require adding about 4 or 5 hours and going through ORD. I’ve got to think most people in position to potentially take advantage of this have direct options on AA that are far more convenient. Again, it’s a positive step, but it’s probably of pretty limited pragmatic value for normal travelers.

  7. @Christian – since we’re talking about use on British Airways, the key is that upgrade space is the same inventory as award space, so available whenever awards are available

  8. @Gary,

    From the way I read this, it seems that the use of the SWU for upgrade would *not* include an AA-operated flight sold/marketed by BA, for example a BA holidays package that included an AA-operated TATL, correct?

    The included AA segment means AA-marketed.

    If so, a little less useful for us, but still a step in a good direction.


  9. Hi, I just received my choice awards. How easy is an upgrade to redeem (since there is a subject to availability disclaimer)? Do you do it after you book? Do you call them to use?

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